Updated at 5:45 p.m. to add quotes, description, background
Mitt Romney made his sole visit to Maryland on Wednesday in advance of the state's April 3 GOP primary, telling a capacity crowd at a town hall meeting in Arbutus that President Obama is clueless about how to fix the economy.
The leading Republican candidate, dressed in an open-collar shirt and jeans, greeted an overflow crowd of several hundred people who waited outside , then spoke and answered questions from a friendly crowd inside.
Obama's poll numbers are hurting because "Americans are hurting," Romney said, to cheers. "Let's make sure that come Election Day, he is out of a job."
Inside the hall, Romney got more cheers from a capacity crowd.
"It's an honor to have the Republican nominee come here," said Stephanie Bagley of Timonium, who sat in the front row along with her husband, Mike, and their daughter, Danielle.
"We're huge supporters of Mitt Romney," she said.
"This is one of the few times Maryland Republicans can come out in public," said Mike Bagley.
The line outside the Dewey Lowman post began forming at around 11 a.m.
Merle Martin, of Frederick County, MD, said that she drove more than an hour to see Romney.
Describing herself as undecided but leaning toward Romney, Martin said that she came to experience the political process first-hand.
"I enjoy the process—to see it and be part of the political process," she said. "It's exciting."
Fresh from his March 20 victory in the Illinois primary, Romney, wearing a checked dress shirt with the cuffs rolled up, worked the supportive crowd with apparent ease.
Romney is the first Republican presidential candidate in 2012 to visit Maryland in advance of the April 3 primary, which offers GOP candidates the chance to win 37 delegates in a hard-fought political year. Romney is hoping to avoid a brokered Republican national convention with former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA.
The candidate was introduced by former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, an Arbutus native who serves as co-chair of Maryland for Romney.
"Why Arbutus?" Ehrlich asked the town hall crowd. "Because it's the center of the political universe."
"Arbutus," Romney said. "I don't think I've ever been here before."
Sticking to a theme of economics and the hardships felt on American families, Romney told the crowd he intends to repeal "Obamacare" and eliminate regulation that he said is stifling the nation's economic growth.
"I see our president attacking economic freedom," Romney said. "He doesn't know what he's doing. He attacks ecomomic freedom by making it difficult for banks to stay in business and lend."
Romney said that the campaign trail has allowed him to meet families across the country.
"I become more encouraged and more optimistic as I meet everyday Americans," he said. "I get the chance to see people across the country that love America and are doing things that make their lives better. I am also however weighed down by some of the troubles folks are having."
Noting that the median income has dropped in the last decade, Romney said that "these are trying times in America."
"I look at what he’s (Obama's) done in his almost three and half years in his office and I just shake my head," he said. "Virtually everything he’s doing is making it harder in this economy for people to get back to work. I say that because I understand what it is that fuels this economy; it’s freedom, economic freedom."
After the forum, Lutherville resident Leigh Erlandson said that she is more convinced than ever that Romney is her candidate for president in 2012.
"He's the voice of reason," she said. "The press needs to share his message about bringing people together."