CRAIG, Colo. — Set off by soaring music and a majestic local backdrop, Mitt Romney pulled up to the small town of Craig, Colorado promising to turn things around.
“I’m not going to forget Craig, Colorado,” he told an audience gathered outdoors Tuesday morning. “I’m not going to forget communities like this across the country that are hurting right now under this president.”
Supporters in this city of 10,000 residents enthusiastically lined the block to enter Romney’s Tuesday event, and a string of liquor stores and fast food joints on the main drag posted signs welcoming the former Massachusetts governor to the picturesque community.
But conversations with some local officials suggest Craig is not the ideal spot to deplore President Barack Obama’s economic stewardship.
After an overnight stay in this coal mining region, on Tuesday Romney criticized Obama for creating a hostile climate for American business owners and energy producers and touted his own plans for fixing the nation’s problems.
The presumptive GOP nominee said he decided to visit Craig after hearing the story of Frank and Kerrie Moe, who own a hotel in the city and who say a trickle down effect from overregulation on the coal industry is crushing their business.
Earlier this year the Moes told their story in a video produced by a conservative energy group backed by heavy-hitting Republican donors the Koch brothers. The video is titled “The Perfect Storm over Craig, CO.”
Romney said their message spoke to him.
“We said, we’ve got to come here and let you know that we care about what’s happening in Craig,” Romney told the audience after being introduced by the hotel owners. “We care about what’s happening in rural America.”
An area coal mine, Peabody Energy’s Twenty Mile, stopped production and bused in 148 miners to attend Romney’s event. Men wearing the trademark mining uniform of blue overalls with crisscrossing reflective neon stripes stood in clumps among the audience.
The general manager of Peabody’s Colorado operations, Pat Sollars, said the miners would be compensated for the time they spent at the event.
Sollars told reporters Romney understood how important coal production was to the nation’s economic security and growth, and said the president “doesn’t view coal as an essential element” in the nation’s energy future.
But he could not point to any Obama-era decisions that had affected the coal business here. Instead, he said he was worried about what the president could do if re-elected.
“I think right now our big thing is looking to the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city mayor told reporters the local economy had turned the corner. Unemployment in the county is slightly above the national average at 8.6% in March — down from 11.1% in 2010, according to the Department of Labor.
State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call acknowledged bustling coal production had buoyed Craig’s economy.
“The economy here in Craig and in Moffat County does seem stronger than a lot of our western slope communities,” Call said. “And that’s good. That’s a good thing. We certainly welcome that kind of opportunity.”
He faulted the Obama administration for slowing the approval of licensing requests for energy producers.
In his speech, Romney addressed signs of turnaround touted by Obama officials.
“Now his campaign these days is trying to find a twig to hang on to, some little excuse they can grab and say, ‘Look, things are getting a little better, aren’t they?’” he said. “And the answer is yeah, things are getting a little better in a lot of places in this country, but it’s not thanks to his policies. It’s in spite of his policies.”
CNN contributed to this report