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Romney criticizes Perry after raising money in his state

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a business roundtable at a local car dealership, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011, in Tucson, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin

Updated 10:05 p.m. ET

TUCSON, Ariz. -- One day after staging a fundraising raid on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's home state, Mitt Romney courted business audience here on Wednesday, making his first visit of the 2012 campaign to a state where Gov. Jan Brewer just moved up next year's presidential primary date.

In a meeting where he fielded questions from a group of about 40 business leaders, Romney emphasized his business credentials and let slip that he had spent the previous day in Perry territory - raising money in Dallas and Houston.

As he has through most of his campaign, Romney continued to train his sharpest criticism on President Obama, calling Tuesday's GOP victories in two special congressional elections votes of no-confidence in the administration's economic policies.

"He said let me borrow $800 billion to stimulate the economy and then I'll hold unemployment below eight percent, and it has not been below eight percent since," said Romney. "By his own definition, he's failed. So give someone else a chance. And obviously I hope to be that person. Because what I do is what the country needs. . . I do turnarounds." The reference was to Romney's experience at Bain Capital, an investment firm he co-founded.

Romney also criticized Obama's Middle East policy, a factor in the New York City congressional race that Democrats lost Tuesday in a district with a heavy concentration of Jewish voters. Obama's efforts to push Israel to a peace agreement that would include a retreat to the Jewish state's pre-1967 borders have backfired, Romney argued. "When you are not committed to your allies and those who share your values, you encourage adventurism," he said. "I think Jewish American citizens have been disturbed by the president's policies with regard to Israel."

Among his GOP presidential opponents, Romney mentioned only one by name - his chief rival, Rick Perry, alluding to their differences on immigration. Romney repeated his call to "secure the border," a subject on which he has clashed with Perry during the last two Republican debates. Romney favors a border fence. Perry, who oversees 1,200 miles of border with Mexico, contends that's impractical. The two also have disagreed over Perry's decision to provide tuition breaks to children of illegal immigrants.

"I'd like people to come here legally," Romney told the crowd. "Those who come here legally tend to start more businesses."

It was a strategic message in a state that enacted one of the most stringent crackdowns on illegal immigrants last year (later largely rolled back by a federal court) and Brewer just announced plans to move the presidential primary to Feb. 28, potentially making her state a key player in the presidential eliminations process.

Romney appeared to have been a hit with at least one member of the audience. "We were actually liking Rick Perry. But after the last two debates, we said, we're switching, that's it," one man told Romney after the event. "He couldn't have done what you did today, inviting people to put him on the spot."

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated how much Romney said Obama borrowed.

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