By Tim Gaynor
TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won support from business leaders in Arizona on Wednesday, pledging to cap government regulation and free up American business to get the country out of recession.
"We have to be honest about the challenges we have, deal with them directly, create the certainty that enterprise requires, then stand back and watch the American entrepreneur and businesses do what they have done over the last couple of hundred years, which is grow, hire and be profitable," Romney told around 40 executives gathered at a Tucson Ford dealership.
Romney, who made a fortune running a private equity investment firm, set out a plan to kick start the economy by capping regulation, cutting healthcare costs and streamlining the immigration process to allow skilled, legal immigrants to boost competitiveness.
"I am devoted to making America the most attractive place in the world for business, for jobs to grow, for incomes to grow," he said.
Romney also took a swipe at what he described as Democratic President Barack Obama's failure to achieve economic recovery through stimulus spending.
The former Massachusetts governor is trailing behind front-runner Rick Perry, the Texas governor who leads the field of eight candidates battling to win the Republican nomination and a chance to unseat Obama next year.
"What's wrong in America right now is not going to be cured by a little cup of gasoline on the fire," Romney said.
"We need to fundamentally reshape the foundation of our economy and its relationship with government so that businesses are once again ... incentivized to invest in America and to grow here."
HIT BY RECESSION
Arizona has been hit hard by the recession and the collapse of the housing market in Phoenix and Tucson. Many of the local business leaders at the round table were receptive to his pitch.
"He's very knowledgeable about what it takes for businesses to accelerate growth and how difficult the global economy is ... I think he gets it," said Lisa Lovallo, an executive at Cox Communications.
"He's got a lot of energy and he's very committed. So that was, for me, motivating," she added.
For some in Tucson, Romney's experience in business made him a more attractive candidate than Perry, a favorite with grass-roots Tea Party conservatives.
"I see Governor Romney as more pro-business, more level headed and more experienced in the private sector and commercial sector" than Perry, said Robert Ramirez, president of VantageWest Credit Union, speaking after the round-table.
"We need someone who understands business in the White House to reestablish the confidence for consumers in this country," he added.
Some said Romney's experience in the private sector could give him an edge over the Texas governor with the business community as the primary campaign draws on.
"Mr. Perry is more of a career politician, so I think Romney has the advantage, and, over time, if he talks to a lot of business people, he will get broader based support," said Bill Assenmacher, who runs a local metal manufacturing firm, and liked Romney's pledge to cap regulations.
"I think Romney can make the difference, because he has been in private enterprise," he added.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)