LONDONDERRY, N.H. – Mitt Romney made a swing through friendly territory here Tuesday morning, appearing relaxed and assured before he was to set off on a multiday bus tour through Iowa before the state caucuses next week.
Romney spoke to a full house at the Coach Stop restaurant, expressing confidence that he will be the Republican Party’s nominee. But he downplayed expectations in Iowa, where voters have been much more skeptical of his presidential bid and which will hold the first nominating contest of the primary season Jan. 3.
“I don’t have any predictions. No expectations are set,” he said in response to reporters’ questions about his prospects in Iowa. “We’re hoping to do well everywhere.”
Romney, who has campaigned less actively in the Hawkeye state, is running neck-and-neck there with former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul and is seeking a last-minute bump with his statewide tour. A political action committee backing Romney has blanketed Iowa airwaves with campaign ads.
Romney remains a strong contender in New Hampshire, where voters are familiar with his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. A recent Boston Globe poll showed Romney in first place, with 39 percent of the Republican vote in the state. Gingrich and Paul were tied at 17 percent.
A packed crowd showed up to hear Romney speak in this town just outside Manchester, where voters openly acknowledged Romney’s frontrunner status. One visitor addressed him as “President Romney.” Some in the audience were independents who were already sizing him up for the general election.
Romney speculated about the “hell’s kitchen” of attacks that he said he’ll have to weather while running against President Obama.
“They’re going to try and put free enterprise on trial. They’ll go after me as a business person,” he said. “They’ll go after the hundred-plus investments I made during my tenure and say this one didn’t work and that one didn’t work…they’ll say, Some of the businesses you invested in, they laid off people.”
He offered a retort by raising the subject of the auto industry bailouts approved under the Obama administration: “As president, you oversaw two enterprises that reported to you ultimately: General Motors and Chrysler. They both closed multiple plants and laid off lots of people. They closed dealerships across America, laid off thousands and thousands of people.”
He added: “And they’ll say, Yes, we did that to try and make them better.
“Same story for me, Mr. President.”
Romney will make stop in Portsmouth, N.H., before heading to Iowa for a speech in Davenport to kick off his bus tour.