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.
You can follow Kevin Bohn on Twitter @KevinBohnCNN.
Romney can never be better then Obama in my eyes. Maybe if Romney actully as a leader in your 3 debates stood up for the gay soldier in Iraq who got booed or tell the audience Not cool to cheer about anothers misfortune and maybe if Romney cared more about PEOPLE then Walmart and Exxon, maybe, just maybe then I would like Romney but even then I highly Doubt it. NONE of the repub candidates thus far even come close to being electable.
I'd like to really see what Romney did in the private sector. There doesn't seem to be anything out there about what jobs he created or sent over seas.
Since day 1 when President Obama took over the White House the Republicans have had a withering racist attack on this ,non-adult,incapable...basically BLACK president. They lost me right then, revealing them,selves as al;l the worst that they could level at Obama.
Mr. Rommey you donot have a clue yourself on how to get the economy going again thats why you donot talk about your plan for us the poor and middle class, you just criticize Pres. Obama and Gov. Perry. I do know this much you donot want to raise taxes on your rich buddies saying it hurt job creation if thats the case we should be booming with jobs but Noo! because you and your buddies dont want to pay your fair share. Another thing i do know is you and your buddies the Republicans want to put Social Security in the stock market, But you dont talk much about these plans do you.
The problem with Pres. Obama is after the outcry (or shoudl I say the out Whine) by republicans when he pushed the Health Care plan through about not compromising (despite the republican ideals included) He's been acting more like a republican than a democrat. The republicans have gone so far into crazy, that when trying to meet them on the middle ground, he's acting like a Reagan. Of course it is amusing to see the republicans say such behavior is liberal
Mitt, share your plan with us.
Mr Romney, do you, like all Mormons, believe that Jesus Christ appeared in the United States in 1820? When he answers yes, he is finished. Because every evangelical in this country believes this is blasphemy.
Those 100 people may help u get the repub nom doubt it. See Mitt Michigan has seen what the teabaggin party of NO has done to our state. Alot of us still remember ur Gov daddy like we remember the 1965 66 67 riots. BTW know why unemployment is down in MI? Because President Obama saved the auto companies and unlike you they hired back American workers using American made partsand not only made profits but paid workers bonuses. So u and ur kind keep outsoursing our jobs and getting richer while snuffing out the middle class. Give it up!
The older I get the more I miss Reagan.
i think romney is jumping the gun..romney and perry think they got the republican nomination, they better and turn around , because anything can happen between now and the primaries.. Herman Caine already won the straw poll for Florida and we umay get many more surprises later.. these two debate among each other but nothing what they say don't make no sense because they always say something else later.. they talk about putting a fence up to keep out the immigrants and put more boarder guards, you know how much of the government money they will be using... better they put borders around the whole united states and keep the canadians, cubans and haitians out.. you know how they sound...they don't sound practical, they'll cut all the other programs just to put up their borders... i don't think so..
The republicans have stalled, obstructed, and fought every effort Obama has made to improve the economy and/or life for Americans, and now they denounce him for not working miracles.
The standard GOP economic principles, taken to extremes in the W administration, put us in this mess. The GOP is now insisting that the only solution for our mess is those same principles, taken to an even greater extreme. And people are believing this??
Romney's experience in shipping jobs overseas is not what the country needs.
What Romney doesn't understand is that he is not now competing with President Obama. There are many steps ahead to reach there. He likes very much to be treated as a front runner but this is not the case. He should understand where Rudy Giuliani's bid was buried. It was in Florida. Romney doesn't do well there either, and without Florida, it is all way blackout to the White House.
An island lovefest for the cult of corrupt corporatists. Nothing to see here, folks. And there's no way Mittens carries Michigan after his attacks on the auto industry bailout, which is highly regarded in MI as a success,