TAMPA, Fla.—Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney sharpened his attack on President Obama’s economic record Tuesday at a speech designed to counter Obama’s State of the Union address in the evening.
He predicted Obama will use his State of the Union address to offer a falsely rosy view of the economy under his leadership, hiding the truth of high unemployment and foreclosure rates in what will be an opening salvo of Obama’s own reelection effort.
“Tonight, the president will do what he does best. He will give a nice speech with a lot of memorable phrases. But he won’t give you the hard numbers,” Romney said
“What he’s proposing is more of the same: more taxes, more spending, and more regulation. And all of his proposals involve “big” government and “big” pricetags,” he said.
Instead, Romney envisioned what his own State of the Union address might look like a year from now if elected president, promising he’d “have the courage to tell the American people how it is.”
He offered no new policy prescriptions to get the economy moving—but reiterated his support for lowering taxes, repealing regulations, opening new domestic energy production markets and cutting government spending.
“I’d use the State of the Union to lay out an agenda that will get our country back on track and get our fiscal house in order,” he said. “My agenda would make government simpler, smaller, and smarter.”
Romney’s tone was notably sharper than in past addresses as he works to puncture former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s momentum coming off his overwhelming win in the South Carolina primary. Gingrich’s popularity appears to stem, in part, from his willingness to pugnaciously take the fight to Obama, a style Romney may now be trying to better emulate.
“You know that this president has run out of ideas. He’s run out of excuses. And, with your help, 2012 will be the year he runs out of time,” Romney said. “What he’s proposing is more of the same: more taxes, more spending, and more regulation. And all of his proposals involve ‘big’ government and ‘big’ price tags.”
The speech was designed to show that Romney is waging a two-front war, taking on Gingrich in Florida—as he did aggressively in Monday night’s debate—while saving his the harshest firepower for Obama.
It was also intended to show Romney at his most presidential. The speech was billed as a major economic address—Romney delivered it using a teleprompter in front of an invited crowd of several hundred supporters and volunteers.
And the speech was intended to sharpen Romney’s economic message. Aides believe part of Romney’s troubles in South Carolina, where his poll numbers cratered over the course of a week, was that he traveled from rally to rally in the state, without delivering any definitional address. This speech—with it’s tight economic message about how to get the economy moving again—was designed to correct that.
“The rallies were great, the crowd enthusiasm was high… but I think what we wanted to do here in Florida, and do early, was to give a defining speech ,” said senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. While spending much of Monday blasting Gingrich as an erratic and unreliable leader, Romney’s address omitted mention of Gingrich or his other rivals for the Republican nomination. His only glancing reference to Gingrich came at the speech’s end when Romney said the Republican party must nominate someone with “the character, the judgment, the seriousness, the sobriety” of a proven leader.