Romney goes to Solyndra: unannounced visit to controversial energy company

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FREMONT, Calif.—Mitt Romney has made the Obama administration's loans to failed energy company Solyndra central to his argument that the president doesn't understand how to create jobs or stimulate the economy. The company received more than $500 million in federal funds.

[Related: Romney 'haunted' by past verbal gaffes]

On Thursday, Romney made his most blatant attempt yet to link Obama to Solyndra, making an unannounced visit to the company's headquarters in Fremont, Calif. The Republican candidate rode a bus with his traveling press corps to the site, riding shotgun for the half-hour ride.

Upon arrival, Romney spoke from a lectern set up on the side of the road outside the company's front gates, the same building where Obama held a 2010 event to tout the administration's investments in private business.

Motioning to the building, which now has a "for sale" sign on its exterior, Romney noted that Obama had touted the company as a "symbol of the success of his stimulus." But now, he said, the company is a "symbol" of other things, including "gross waste" and a "conflict of interest," citing the fact that Solyndra's executives were donors to Obama's 2008 campaign.

"It's also a symbol of how the president thinks about free enterprise," Romney said. "Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends."

Ronney's visit to the site was shrouded in secrecy. Reporters traveling with the Republican nominee were not told where they were going or what the candidate would be doing. The campaign press bus was driven to Romney's hotel just outside Palo Alto, where the candidate and his top aide, Eric Fehrnstrom, climbed on and sat in the bus' first row of seats. The details of the event were embargoed until Romney arrived outside the Solyndra site.

According to a senior Romney aide, who briefed reporters on the way to the event, the visit was not announced to the public because of fears "the Obama administration" and the company might try to block the event from happening.

Asked if the campaign really believed the White House might try to block Romney's event, the aide replied, "He is the president."

During a press availability with reporters, Romney defended his campaign's secrecy about the event.

"I think there are people who don't want to see this event occur, don't want to have questions asked about this particular investment, don't want to have people delve into the idea that the president took a half a billion dollars of taxpayer money and devoted it to an enterprise that was owned in large measure by his campaign contributors," Romney said. "This ought to be a big story, and I think there are a number of people among the president's team who don't want that story to get out. We wanted to make sure it did."

[Related: Obama campaign hits Romney's economic record]

Asked specifically he if believes Obama would have stopped the event, Romney dodged the question.

"I just think we wanted to make sure we would be able to have this event without it being shut down," he said. "We recognized we would not be able to be on the property across the street, and this is public property, and so we felt that if we came here that we'd be able to carry it off."

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