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After debate, Romney searches New Hampshire for votes (and laughs)

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DERRY, N.H. — Fresh from his debate performance, Mitt Romney paraded through two diners, a hardware shop and a feed store here Tuesday morning, continuing his offensive against President Obama and again pitching himself as the Republican most capable of reviving the nation’s beleaguered economy.

Sidling up to likely primary voters as they enjoyed their eggs, toast and morning coffee, the former Massachusetts governor mused about the Boston Bruins (they beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Monday night), his old Chevy truck (he doesn’t drive it much) and poodle skirts (he loves the 1950s).

But most of all, he talked about jobs. It’s a message he hopes will win him a new job next year.

A woman came up to Romney in a parking lot and said her husband had been living in Saudi Arabia for three years because he couldn’t find a job in the United States.

“That’s three years of President Obama’s four-year term,” Romney told her.

“If I’m president of the United States, there will not be a day I’m not getting briefed on or thinking about bringing American jobs to America,” he added. “Job one is making America the number-one job creator in the world. So, for me, it’s everything you can do — every lever we can pull, which is taxes, regulation, trade policies, energy policies, rule of law, good schools and a government that doesn’t spend more money than it takes in.”

Asked what he could do to help her husband, Romney said: “I will go to work and get your husband back to work.”

As he hammered his jobs message, Romney also sought to turn the page on health care, widely perceived to be his greatest vulnerability in the 2012 presidential contest. He told reporters he should not be judged on the state law he championed in Massachusetts, but on the federal program he has proposed. And he said there is little daylight between his position and those of the other contenders.

“We all agree that Obamacare is the wrong direction for the nation,” Romney told reporters, referencing Obama’s federal health-care overhaul. “And if people want to look at what’s happening in Massachusetts, why, I’m not running for governor of Massachusetts. I’m running for president of the Untied States. And my plans for the nation are like those of the other governors, just with a little more specificity.”

Romney seemed confident as he strolled the streets of Derry. He visited Benson Lumber & Hardware as well as Derry Feed & Supply, two businesses he toured during his 2008 presidential campaign. As he walked down the sidewalk, chased by nearly 50 reporters and cameramen, a man driving a dirt truck honked and shouted: “Way to go, Mitt! You’ve got my vote.”

“Five years ago, it was, ‘Who the heck is this guy?’ ” Romney told reporters. “And now, it’s, ‘We know who you are.’ ”

Over and over again, at every turn, Romney touted his private-sector experience. He told one table at a Derry diner: “I didn’t spend my life in politics. I spent my life in the real world. I was only in politics four years as governor — and I didn’t inhale.”

Later, talking to reporters, Romney took a shot at Obama’s economic record: “A lot of people can say the same words, but to understand what those words mean and to actually craft solutions that work to create jobs, in that circumstance, it’s helpful to have actually created jobs — to understand how an economy works because you’ve worked in it, to sign the front side of a payroll check.”

Romney also had some awkward moments during his morning spin through New Hampshire. After visiting with diners at Blake’s Restaurant, Romney tried to make a joke to the owner of the century-old Manchester spot.

“I saw the young man over there with eggs Benedict, with hollandaise sauce with the eggs there,” Romney said. “And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce in hubcaps. Because there’s no plates like chrome for the hollandaise.”

The two laughed, but the owner didn’t seem to get the joke.

Later, at Mary Ann’s Restaurant in Derry, Romney posed for a picture in front of a jukebox with a few waitresses, who were wearing poodle skirts. Suddenly, he jumped forward, with a startled look on his face, and said: “Oh, my goodness!”

It seemed as if one of the women had touched him from behind.

Asked later about the incident, Romney told reporters that nobody grabbed his butt. He said it was a joke referencing an incident during his last campaign when someone grabbed him at a fundraising event.

“I was just teasing the girls,” Romney said. “It was funny.”

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