By Maeve Reston
3:05 PM PDT, November 1, 2012
DOSWELL, Va. — Mitt Romney used a shuttered barbecue business in Richmond to make his case against the Obama administration, arguing that the president’s tax policies and his healthcare plan would crush small businesses.
The former Massachusetts governor made an unscheduled stop at Bill’s Barbecue in Richmond, which opened its doors here in 1930 and closed its final location in September due to what were described in local press reports as financial difficulties. The Romney campaign released a Web video Thursday that included a tearful interview with the proprietor, Rhoda Elliott, who is the niece of the founder.
Romney visited the empty restaurant to talk with Elliott and members of her family about the restaurant chain’s downward spiral. Though the purpose of the campaign photo op was for Elliott to offer her criticisms of President Obama, she told Romney that the business began struggling about six years ago — when President George W. Bush was still in the White House.
“Five years ago it rippled a little more, and then it really hit, and from there things just got rougher and rougher, the taxes, federal regulations, the food regulations themselves cost each independent restaurant thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to comply with,” Elliott told the Republican candidate, who listened with his shirtsleeves rolled up and his hands in his pockets as a campaign videographer filmed the scene.
Though other barbecue restaurants in Richmond appear to be thriving, according to local dining reviews, Elliott said that the economic downturn had meant Virginians had less disposable income, leading to a drop in customers. "Usually when we have a small hiccup in the economy [customers] go from the white cloth … and we're the next step, and so we usually fare pretty good. But this one lasted so long,” she said, referring to the recession, “they went down the next step, and that's where it is right now."
"Taco Bell?" Romney asked.
"Yes, sir. And with everything, the taxes piling up and a bad decision here and there, it got so we just couldn't pay the bills," she said.
Elliott argued that the president’s healthcare law was going to place a heavy burden on the business, which she said had employed 200 people at its height and was down to 30 employees when it closed.
Romney pivoted to that point later in the day at his rally here in Doswell, using Elliott’s comments to frame his argument against Obama.
“The owner of Bill’s just told me that she’s going to close her doors ... and I said, ‘Why?’ – and she said taxes, federal regulations and then she also said Obamacare,” Romney told a crowd of about 2,000 people at an event center here. “Taxes, regulations and Obamacare. Those three things are crushing small businesses across America…. The president wants to raise taxes on small business. I will not raise tax on small business or on middle-class America.”
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