Mitt Romney was endorsed by former rival Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE and auditioned another potential running mate while wrapping up his campaign swing through Virginia.
The Romney campaign is looking to make an aggressive play in Virginia, a state the candidate himself admitted Thursday "may well be the state that decides who the next president is." President Obama is kicking off his campaign there Saturday with an event at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
The Romney campaign hopes Bachmann's Tea Party appeal will help the presumptive Republican nominee attract conservative voters in the state, especially in the conservative Tidewater region where Romney was speaking Thursday. Bachmann offered a full-throated endorsement, saying she was excited "to lend my voice and my endorsement to Mitt Romney as our president to take the country back."
"Mr. President, you're fired, and instead we will soundly stand for somebody who believes in America, who believes in our children, who believes in hope and opportunities for our next generation," Bachmann continued.
Bachmann gave way to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who told Fox News earlier Thursday that while he wasn't "interviewing" for a spot on the ticket, he'd consider the offer.
“Any candidate that calls a potential nominee and says, 'Listen, you can help the party; you can help the country' — of course you would consider it," McDonnell said. "I’m not asking for it. I’m not interviewing for it. I just want to see Mitt Romney win.”
At the rally Thursday, McDonnell blasted President Obama for "a surplus of rhetoric but a deficit of results."
"Mitt Romney understands the American Dream because he's lived the American Dream," McDonnell continued.
McDonnell, like Bachmann before him, took time for special criticism of the Obama administration's environmental policies, arguing excessive regulations have prohibited Virginia companies from opening new coal mines and natural gas refineries.
McDonnell said Romney would enable Americans "to use all of our God-given natural resources to reduce our dependence on foreign nations."
Republicans have criticized the Obama administration’s decision against selling oil-and-gas leases off the Atlantic Coast despite a leasing moratorium that expired in 2008.
Romney picked up the energy theme in his remarks, who said there was "no question about energy having gotten more expensive under this president, and part of that is a result of his policies."
"The idea that you have powerful energy right off your coast … that's been lost by a president who said, 'No, the Department of Interior is studying it,' " Romney said.
But Romney's toughest words were reserved for the administration's handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. He said if reports from China "are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it's a day of shame for the Obama administration."
Chen, the blind dissident who had sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, wants to leave China with his family, the State Department confirmed early Thursday.
But under a deal reached with Chinese authorities, Chen was to remain in a university town in China and get regular check-ins with U.S. diplomats. Chen now says he only left the embassy because he felt his life was in danger and that he still wants to leave China, leading to howls from Republican lawmakers who say the administration has bungled its handling of the situation.
Romney largely echoed that sentiment in remarks while campaigning in Virginia on Thursday, saying it appeared that State Department officials "may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy."
The presumptive Republican nominee accused the State Department of putting Chen at risk to smooth over diplomatic relations ahead of visits from Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.
"We should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack," Romney said.
Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador to China, said Chen did not ask to leave the country and that State Department officials did not force him to leave the embassy.
"We engineered almost a maneuver out of 'Mission Impossible' to bring him into the embassy, provided all the medical care that he needed," Locke said in an interview with CBS News.