UPDATED 2:45 p.m. ET
JACKSON, Miss. - Campaigning in the Deep South, where he faces tough opposition from more conservative rivals for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney is promoting an anti-government regulation theme and a vision of a new environment in which regulators "see businesses and enterprises of all kinds as their friends."
At a townhall meeting here on Friday, Romney also slammed the Obama administration for imposing a moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill disaster last summer.
"We were in Pascagoula (Miss.) yesterday and we saw behind us a couple of large drilling rigs not being used right now," Romney said. "The use of drilling rigs is the Gulf is the lowest of any place in the world, lowest utilization. That's because of this president and the moratorium he put in place that's illegal."
The Obama campaign said the comments from Romney prove "that he will say anything in the pursuit of political gain."
"Contrary to Mitt Romney's rhetoric today, President Obama has aggressively pursued an all-of-the-above energy strategy by approving hundreds of drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico and making millions of acres available for oil and gas development. These actions will create jobs and generate economic activity in the Gulf region," said Lis Smith, a campaign spokeswoman.
"Mitt Romney, on the other hand, would continue tax subsidies for oil and gas companies making near-record profits and has opposed fuel economy standards that will save consumers thousands of dollars at the pump. These misguided policies would do nothing to reduce gas prices or create jobs," she said.
Current regulations on business, Romney said, "just choke us, overwhelm our ability to compete and to do the job that you are trained to do and the people across this country are trained to do. People are sitting around in Pascagoula wondering why they can't go to work, why we can't get oil out of the ground to help get the price of oil down, price of gasoline down."
Under a Romney administration, regulations would be "updated and modernized and streamlined," he said, and, "I want regulators to see businesses and enterprises of all kinds as their friends, and to encourage them and to move them along."
Usually highly critical of China and its trade practices, Romney said that the United States should follow the economic giant's lead when it comes to regulation. "It's pretty impressive over there," Romney said, referring to a visit to China after his 2008 presidential run. "How quickly they can build things. How productive they are as a society. You should see their airports compared to our airports, their highways, their train systems. They're moving quickly, in part because the regulators see their job as encouraging private people."
Romney faces a political headwind going into primaries in Mississippi and Alabama Tuesday from conservative rivals Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.