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Mitt Romney using North Las Vegas as backdrop for jobs plan

Romney meets UNLV Students

Steve Marcus

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney responds to a question from a reporter after meeting with students at the UNLV Student Union Monday, May 16, 2011.

He's not the first presidential hopeful to unveil a jobs plan: Jon Huntsman took that title last week. But when Mitt Romney outlines his vision for getting America back to work in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, he'll be firing the opening shot among front runners in a presidential contest that most expect to be won by the candidate with the most appealing economic improvement plan.

North Las Vegas has become a favorite backdrop for Romney's jobs messaging: He made an early campaign tour there in April to highlight the country's employment problems, returned in June to film a national campaign commercial to decry Obama's jobs recovery performance, and will feature the city and the area's festering 14 percent unemployment rate when he speaks to the nation Tuesday.

Expect that message to focus on lowering taxes and reducing regulation, stepping up domestic energy production and free trade, repealing the new health care law and reigning in the federal budget.

"Our country has arrived at a fork in the road," Romney wrote in a USA Today editorial published Monday, in which he gave a general outline of his jobs plan. "In one direction lies the heavy hand of the state, indebtedness and decline. In the other direction lies limited government, free enterprise and economic growth...I know in which direction lie the millions of jobs we need."

His proposal will include 59 initiatives, Romney wrote, the most unusual of which appears to be the creation of a "'Reagan Economic Zone,' a partnership among countries committed to free enterprise and free trade." It's not clear if that body would rival or complement the World Trade Organization, which stands for the same principles, but with which the United States has been disillusioned lately; the WTO has been slow to discipline China for unfair trade practices.

Romney's prime target in his speech will unquestionably be President Barack Obama, who hinted at his own coming jobs proposal, scheduled to be delivered before a joint session of Congress Thursday night, in a Labor Day speech in Detroit.

Obama's plan will rest heavily on investing in infrastructure: bridges, roads, and other construction projects to re-engage a division of the labor force that's been particularly hard-hit, especially in the Las Vegas area. He's also expected to speak about taxes, recommending an extension of the temporary payroll tax cut Congress approved last year, and an end to the tax cuts Congress approved for top earners during George W. Bush's administration.

"We're going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party," Obama said to a crowd of supporters in Detroit Monday. "Do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America...You say you're the party of tax cuts? Well then, prove you'll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans."

Romney, by comparison, aims to reduce the government's fingerprint on economic recovery. "Government itself cannot create jobs. At best, government can provide a framework in which economic growth can occur," Romney wrote in Monday's USA Today editorial. "The contrast between what the Obama administration has done and what I would do as president could not be starker."

Click to enlarge photo

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks to Sheldon Adelson after addressing a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, April 2, 2011.

But Obama isn't Romney's only adversary when it comes to the question of jobs.

Romney's taking a lot of heat on his right flank from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who presided over what some are calling the Lone Star State's jobs miracle -- Texas created more jobs than any other state during the recession, despite a huge influx of job-seekers -- and is using his power of that resume to poke holes in Romney's rhetoric.

"There is no one gonna be sitting on that stage [in California] who has the record of job creation I have," Perry said Wednesday, as reported in POLITICO. "There's one in particular who's created jobs all around the world. While he was the governor of Massachusetts he didn't create many jobs."

Romney has mostly touted his pre-gubernatorial career in the private sector at the helm of Massachusetts-based Bain Capital to establish his credibility on jobs. He's tried to paint that background as a more important strength than executive experience.

"I have spent most of my career in the private sector starting new businesses and turning around ailing ones," Romney wrote in Monday's editorial. "Unlike career politicians who've never met a payroll, I know why jobs come and go."

But his private sector experience is earning him some criticism too: While CEO of Bain, Romney did help get new businesses off the ground, but also advised companies through restructurings in which employees were laid off. Democrats are already hitting him on the campaign trail for layoffs incurred at his advisory direction.

Local Democrats, including State Senate Leader Steven Horsford and State Senator Mo Denis, are also expected to challenge both Romney's corporate record and his adopted economic platform Tuesday in a preemptive rebuttal of his speech at McCandless Trucking International.

"None of the Republican candidates have the right priorities for Nevada's middle class and seniors," Nevada Democrats said in a news release Monday. "While President Obama is fighting to protect seniors and put Nevadans back to work, Mitt Romney and the Republican field are fighting for tax breaks for corporations that ship American jobs overseas and special interests that are funding their campaigns."

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