When GOP front-runner Mitt Romney announced the formation of his presidential exploratory committee on April 11, he did it from the football field of the University of New Hampshire, declaring: “In Nevada, I walked through a neighborhood with homes vacant or in foreclosure. Unemployment there is over 13 percent. Across the nation, over 20 million Americans still can't find a job, or have given up looking.
“How has this happened in the nation that leads the world in innovation and productivity?” the former Massachusetts governor asked rhetorically before adding: “The answer is that President Obama's policies have failed. He and virtually all the people around him have never worked in the real economy. They just don't know how jobs are created in the private sector.”
When Romney formally launched his presidential bid on June 2, he was in New Hampshire again, at the Scamman family farm in Stratham. With wife Ann by his side, Romney’s speech lamented the state of the economy and blamed the White House for failing to end rampant joblessness: “Barack Obama has failed America. When he took office, the economy was in recession. He made it worse. And he made it last longer. Three years later, over 16 million Americans are out of work or have just quit looking. Millions more are underemployed. Three years later, unemployment is still above 8 percent, a figure he said his stimulus would keep from happening.”
“It breaks my heart,” Romney said, “to see what’s happening in this country.”
As voting was set to begin in the nation’s first primary state, Romney toured New Hampshire by bus, sounding the same theme. At rallies in Rochester and Exeter, Romney told voters that — as someone who had worked in the “real economy,” who “had signed the front of paychecks,” and who had launched brand name companies such as Staples and Sports Authority — he is the only candidate with the experience to turn America’s lagging economy around.
After two GOP debates in less than 12 hours, Romney does not mention his Republican rivals. Instead, as he has done throughout the campaign, he focuses his attacks on President Barrack Obama, calling him “a nice fellow who is in over his head and does not know what he is doing.” He continues, “the man has never led any organization, he is learning on the job and that is not what we need given the state of our economy.”
The Romney rallies feature a mix of local political celebrities — state senators and representatives and the Granite State’s U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Ann and several of his boys and grandchildren, and top national surrogates, former GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The undisputed star of the show, however, is Ann. She introduces Mitt by stating that they have been going steady since she was 16. She then tells voters that “Mitt has been successful at everything he has done. She states that he was “successful in business, turned around the Olympics and fixed the mess in Massachusetts.”
In closing, she shares that his most important successes have been as a husband and father — and that the family’s treasures are their children and grandchildren.
Since day one, Romney’s campaign has focused on New Hampshire and its key first-in-the-nation primary. He has relentlessly driven the message that the American economy is broken and that a hapless President Obama cannot fix it.
Among the GOP contenders, his campaign has rested on the proposition that only the “conservative businessman” Romney could defeat the president. Now, as he barnstorms the state on the “Believe in America” bus, Romney is closing with the same argument. Based on the crowds Romney is drawing and a slew of recent polls, it appears that New Hampshire’s Republican voters are prepared to provide him with a win.
Robert C. O’Brien, who practices law in Los Angeles, was a U.S. representative to the United Nations. He advises Gov. Mitt Romney on foreign policy issues. He can be followed on Twitter at: @robertcobrien. The views he expresses in this column are his own.
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