FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- Investing in science and research is one of the ways the U.S. can remain competitive and slow the loss of manufacturing jobs, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told Michigan audiences Saturday.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is from Michigan -- an auto-industry reliant state with one of the nation's highest unemployment rates.
"There is something we can do as a country to show we care very deeply about manufacturing and maintaining America's manufacturing base," Romney told media after addressing an audience in Flint, a Michigan city hard hit by the problems of General Motors Corp. and the domestic auto industry. "One of the things we can do is a better job investing in basic science and research."
Romney said the U.S. also must make its corporate tax rates more competitive, improve the quality of schools and reduce its dependence on foreign oil. He said the U.S. should insist that nations such as China have fair trade and currency rules.
He also discussed defeating the Islamic jihad movement and the war in Iraq during wide-ranging talks at Republican Lincoln Day gatherings.
Romney was finishing a two-day trip through Michigan, which may be one of the key states in determining the 2008 presidential election. He spoke Friday night in Livingston County and had Saturday appearances in Saginaw, Flint and the Lansing area.
At the Lansing-area gathering, Romney told reporters Michigan would be the center of his campaign if he won the Republican nomination.
"This is a blue state that could be a red state if I am the nominee," Romney said.
Other top-tier GOP candidates are Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Those candidates, along with Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, had supporters mingling with Romney backers during Saturday's stops.
John Michels, an unemployed 38-year-old from Flint Township, said he is leaning toward supporting Brownback. But he also likes Romney, whose father, George, was a popular Michigan governor in the 1960s.
"He's the son of a governor and he's been a governor himself," Michels said. "I think it's amazing he could be a Republican governor in Massachusetts. He must have been doing something right."
Romney was visiting Michigan for the first time since February, when he formally started his quest to become president.
Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized Romney for flip-flopping on issues, particularly abortion. Considered a moderate earlier in his political career, Romney casts himself as a conservative voice on the presidential campaign trail.
Some in both parties have questioned Romney's comments related to Osama bin Laden. Romney recently said the country would be safer by only "a small percentage" and would see "a very insignificant increase in safety" if the al-Qaida leader was caught because another terrorist would rise to power. Romney said recently "it's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person," noting he supports a broader strategy to defeat the Islamic jihad movement.
The Democratic National Committee, in a statement this week, said de-emphasizing the hunt for bin Laden in favor of the Iraq war "has made America less safe."
Romney criticized Democrats for focusing on a date for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. He said the U.S. needs to be united on the issue.
"It is essential America stand strong and united," Romney said Saturday. "America's strength always flows from standing united."
Romney is next expected in Michigan to give a May 12 commencement speech at Hillsdale College.