Mackinac Island, Michigan (CNN) - Mitt Romney, speaking Saturday evening at a key Republican conference, slammed President Barack Obama for his stewardship of the economy and said the incumbent is taking the country in the wrong direction.
"I just don't think he is equipped to deal with what is happening," Romney told a dinner of about 1,600 attending the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.
The crowd of activists, party officials and donors came to its feet when the presidential contender told them "the world needs a strong America. There's been no ally for peace like a strong America, and right now we have a president that doesn't understand how to do that."
Romney used the speech both to tout his business and financial background and chastise the Obama administration on everything from the economy and regulations to taxes and the proposed jobs bill.
After reminding the audience Obama had said he would serve only one term if he couldn't turn the economy around, Romney said, "I am here to collect on that," winning a round of applause.
Romney never mentioned his main challenger for the Republican nomination, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, or the expected brutal nomination fight ahead.
He did mention immigration, a topic on which Perry has been targeted.
At Thursday's debate, Perry defended Texas' law giving in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants and criticized those who had attacked that law. Romney said illegal immigration must stop and vowed to push for a border fence - something Perry has said does not work.
The former Massachusetts governor came to the podium to chants of "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt" and said he wanted to make history since "there never has been a president of the United States that was born in Michigan, and I am hoping to rectify that."
Emphasizing his Michigan roots, he talked about his father, George, a popular governor in the state and recounted the story of how he brought his future wife Ann to this island to celebrate her 16th birthday.
After Ann Romney came to the stage and talked about how they fell in love, the audience clinked their glasses and the couple kissed.
Michigan is expected to play a large role in helping to determine the Republican nominee since it will vote relatively early in the season.
While Romney as a Michigan native is thought to have a large advantage, Perry’s appearance is seen as evidence he is not ceding the state.
The two candidates approached the event and the day pretty differently.
Perry entered the dining room right before his introduction as the luncheon speaker and quickly exited after his speech, not engaging with much of the audience. He did receive a warm reception at the beginning and end of his remarks. After meeting privately with some activists and state legislators, Perry left the island retreat several hours after arriving.
For his part, Romney came on the island mid-morning and immediately ventured into a crowd of more than 100 well-wishers at the dock, enthusiastically shaking hands, walking several blocks through downtown and then staying on the island in his own sets of meetings with activists and donors through his dinner speech.
Romney came into the room for his dinner appearance well before the program began - going around to many of the tables shaking hands, engaging in conversation and receiving a hearty reception and applause as he moved around the room.
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