FARGO – In a brief campaign stop here Thursday morning, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney railed on the Democratic policies of President Obama, while emphasizing North Dakota’s prosperous Oil Patch as a shining example of what the rest of the nation could be like under Republican leadership.
“This is a president who does not understand energy. He is the problem, he is not the solution. It’s time to get him out of office,” Romney said to a roar of cheers from the nearly 300 supporters gathered in Fargo’s industrial park.
The former Massachusetts governor also unveiled a major endorsement at his Fargo stop.
Oil man Harold Hamm told GOP supporters at the rally that he officially backs Romney‘s bid for president and will also lead Romney’s Energy Policy Advisory Group.
“I am proud to support Mitt because I believe he is the only candidate with the private sector experience that we so desperately need in Washington,” said Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources.
The company leases more than 900,000 acres in the Oil Patch, making it the largest stakeholder in western North Dakota.
Romney kicked off his 20-minute speech by attacking Obama’s address Thursday in New Hampshire, where the president discussed growth of domestic oil production in places like North Dakota.
“He’s about as far away from North Dakota as he can get and still be in the United States,” Romney joked, before laying into Obama for his policies to restrict oil production.
“He’s responsible for it not being as much of an increase as it could’ve been,” Romney said. “He, instead, has tried to slow the growth of oil and gas production in this country. Far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head.”
Romney specifically lambasted Obama for limiting federal lands for oil production, reducing drilling permits, opposing the Keystone XL pipeline project and threatening the future of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – a technique vital to production in the Oil Patch.
“This is a president who’s not helping the situation, and then he takes his EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and uses them to stifle the production of oil and gas in this country,” Romney said.
However, despite focusing at least a quarter of his speech on energy, Romney did not make plans to stop in the Oil Patch during his visit to the state Thursday as some of his competitors have done.
Otherwise, North Dakota’s economic success in contrast to the nation’s recovery highlighted much of the morning’s event.
Helping to introduce Romney against the backdrop of his father’s business, North Dakota Lt. Gov Drew Wrigley showcased Fargo-based Wrigley Mechanical as a successful example of a job-creating industrial business here.
“We consider this sacred ground, a place for job creation and the future,” Wrigley said.
After a 20-minute speech, in which Romney also talked about growing jobs, the economy, foreign policy and defense, he took a few questions from supporters.
Following his appearance, Romney worked the crowd for several minutes, shaking hands and signing autographs for audience members near the stage.
After the rally, North Dakota Democrats accused Romney of continuing to distort Obama’s record and “pander to his party’s extreme-right flank to win votes from GOP primary voters.”
“He has alienated voters he needs to win in November’s general election,” Democratic-NPL Chairman Greg Hodur said. “North Dakotans understand that Mitt Romney is just one of those politicians that will say anything to get elected – and that someone who will say anything just isn’t fit to lead.”
North Dakota is among 10 states conducting caucuses or primaries on Tuesday.
Romney was the third presidential candidate to visit North Dakota in as many weeks.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hasn’t visited, and state Republican Party officials said they haven’t heard of any plans from his campaign that he intends to do so.
Originally posted: 10:30 a.m. Updated: 4:30 p.m.