Mitt Romney, kicking off the first barnstorming tour of his general election campaign, returned to the New Hampshire farm where he entered the White House race to cast President Barack Obama as “detached and distant” from the economic struggles of average Americas.
“If there has ever been a president who has failed to give the middle class of America a fair shot, it is Barack Obama,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee he told a crowd of 500 supporters today in Stratham.
At the first event of a five-day bus tour, Romney also struck an upbeat tone about the country’s future, even as he assailed the economic policies of the Obama administration.
“The president’s plans have Americans wondering whether our future can be as bright as our past,” he told supporters gathered at the site where he announced his candidacy almost exactly a year ago. “That’s why, from now until November, our campaign will carry a simple message: America’s greatest days are yet ahead!”
Dubbed the “Every Town Counts Tour,” Romney’s trip is targeted at undecided voters living in the smaller cities and towns that dot six pivotal states in his battle with Obama.
After New Hampshire stops, Romney will continue through five more states -- Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- that all were all won by Obama in the 2008 election. Romney aides say the tour will focus on areas struggling in the current economic downturn, difficulties Romney attributes to the policies of the Obama administration.
Off the Path
“This is an opportunity to go to places that are little bit off the beaten path and visit towns and cities where people are really struggling in this Obama economy,” strategist Russ Schriefer told reporters gathered at Romney campaign headquarters in Boston for a pre-tour briefing this morning.
The trip also marks a return to the type of retail campaigning Romney did during his quest to lock down his party’s nomination. Since he did so in April, the former Massachusetts governor has maintained a limited public schedule. Most of his time on the campaign trail has been spent in closed-door meetings, with small business-owners in swing states, donors at fundraisers and strategy meetings with other Republicans.
Over the next five days, he plans to shake hands and kiss babies at pancake breakfasts, hamburger lunches, and ice-cream socials in at least 14 small towns and cities.
The campaign has chartered four new buses, adorned with “Every Town Counts” slogan on their sides, for the event. Chartered planes also will help transport the campaign and press corps from state to state, allowing the candidate to cover hundreds of miles in less than a week.
At today’s opening event at the 300-acre farm owned by Republican donors, Romney read from teleprompters set up on a small podium. A 30-foot crane paid for by the campaign rose out of the hay bales arranged as a backdrop to shoot footage for future television ads.
During the primary, Romney struggled to win support from Republicans in rural areas, who exit polls showed favored former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Now, Romney is working to consolidate his party’s base while also reach out to independent voters who may have voted for Obama four years ago and are now frustrated with the slow pace of the economy recovery.
“I have a simple message,” he said today. “Hold on a little longer. A better America begins today!”
Romney criticized Obama for giving what he described as a “very long” economic speech yesterday, saying he was asking for “four more very long years.”
Obama’s campaign attacked Romney, saying he’s promoting failed policies that benefit a few rich taxpayers.
“This middle-class-under-the-bus tour is going to give us a chance to highlight those differences,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, told reporters on a conference call today.
The two men dueled from different parts of Ohio yesterday, with Obama addressing a crowd in Cleveland just a few minutes Romney had finished a speech in Cincinnati. Obama spoke for about an hour, more than twice as long as Romney.
The bus trip offers Romney and his strategists an opportunity to audition potential running mates. Republicans joining him on the tour include former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, an early rival in the Republican presidential fight, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman, each considered top vice presidential prospects.
Burger With Boehner
Romney also plans to share a hamburger with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner in the Republican lawmaker’s home state of Ohio.
MoveOn.org, an activist group backing Obama, plans to trail the Romney camp in what the group dubs the “Romneymobile” -- a Cadillac with NASCAR-style corporate decals and a fake dog on top. The vehicle is meant to call attention to the widely cited story of Romney driving to a family vacation with his dog locked in a crate strapped to the top of his car, as well as references he has made this year to his wife driving “a couple of Cadillacs” and his friendships with NASCAR owners.
At the New Hampshire event, two planes circled overhead with dueling banners, “Romney for President 2012” and “Romney’s every millionaire counts tour.”
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