CHANTILLY, VA - MAY 02: Women take photos as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event at Exhibit Edge, a woman-owned company that makes graphic and trade show displays, May 2, 2012 in Chantilly, Virginia. Romney's campaign has moved into general election mode now that his last challenger for the GOP momination, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, will announce the suspension of his campaign later today. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney turned sharply on Wednesday to refocus his campaign on jobs and the economy after days' worth of focus on the war in Afghanistan and the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.
Romney described the economy as "still bumping along the bottom" in a speech in Northern Virginia directed especially toward women voters, a core general election constituency, among whom he trails President Obama.
At a campaign messaging event in Chantilly, Va., Romney surrounded himself with female business leaders, and opened his remarks by praising them, and the small businesses they run as being "what helps the economy come out of a doldrum."
The presumptive GOP nominee, who trails Obama by double digits among female voters according to polls, also brought along his most effective surrogate with women -- his wife Ann, who cheerfully told the crowd, "We know what women can do, and how wonderful is the world, and how women actually do make the world go round."
In Romney's roughly 20 minutes of remarks, he did not mention Afghanistan or the president's remarks last night there on the anniversary of the killing of bin Laden. Instead, the former Massachusetts governor's speech revolved around the president's economic policies, which he argued were lethal to small business development and expansion.
"It was the most anti-small business administration I’ve seen probably since Carter," Romney said of the Obama administration. "Who would’ve guessed we’d look back at the Carter years as the good 'ol days, you know? And you just go through the president’s agenda over the last, uh, the last several years and ask yourself, did this help small business or did it hurt small business?”
Romney, who supports right-to-work legislation resembling the law on the books here in Virginia, also slammed the president's support of so-called "card check" legislation as another attack on small business.
"The attempt to change the playing field between management and labor is particularly frightening to a small business," Romney said. "If you're told that the government is going to now set the wages of the people that are working for you through mandatory arbitration, because they've been unionized in a way that the people themselves didn’t want, why you scare away entrepreneurs from starting businesses."
The Obama re-election campaign quickly fired back:
"Mitt Romney continues to double down on his familiar economic scheme: more budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy and letting Wall Street write its own rules -- the same formula that benefited a few, but crashed our economy and punished the middle class," Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith said in a statement.
Underscoring the importance of this battleground state and its 13 electoral votes, Romney will spend two consecutive days campaigning here, appearing Thursday at a marine construction company in Portsmouth, Virginia with Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, an early Romney endorser and frequently mentioned possibility on Romney's vice-presidential short list.
The two will also appear together tonight at a fundraising event in Arlington, the first Romney fundraiser at which press coverage will be allowed.
This weekend, President Obama will hold one of his first two official campaign rallies in Richmond.
Garrett Haake is an NBC News Campaign Embed Reporter. Read the national edition of First Read featuring Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro on msnbc.com.