At N.H. town hall, Romney says Obama has made economy worse

Mitt Romney again said Tuesday that President Obama has made the economy worse, speaking during a visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire and reclaiming an argument that seemed murky last week.

Calling Obama “a very nice fellow . . . who didn’t have a track record that we could look at” during the 2008 campaign, Romney blamed the president for the economy’s deterioration since he took office in 2009.

“The president came in, and he didn’t cause the recession, as you know . . . but he didn’t make it better, he made things worse,” Romney said, speaking at Bayside Grill & Tavern in Wolfeboro. “And he made things worse through a series of actions which hurt the economy at a time when it needed to be taking off. The recovery is extraordinarily anemic, again, because things he did made that recovery worse.”

The former Massachusetts governor took his campaign message to his own back yard Tuesday morning, holding a wide-ranging town hall with about 200 of his neighbors in this resort town near his vacation home and laying out his vision for the economy, health care, foreign policy and immigration.

The 2012 Republican front-runner had seemed to backtrack on a similar claim about Obama and the economy last week, and his critics have seized on that as proof of flip-flopping — an accusation that hurt Romney during the 2008 GOP nomination race.

Romney said that cap-and-trade climate legislation, which died in the Senate; Obama’s 2010 health-care law; and increased financial regulations have chilled economic growth as businesses have sat on the sidelines.

“What [Obama] did caused them to pull back, and so [the president] made the recession deeper and made it last longer,” he said. “He made things worse. And I’m absolutely convinced that we need to have someone to lead the country who understands what it takes to create jobs.”

Quickly pouncing on Romney’s perceived vulnerabilities as a candidate, the Democratic National Committee released a video Monday charging him with reversing course on his statements about Obama’s economic stewardship. Romney said last week that he didn’t contend that the economy was worse but that it hadn’t turned around. But at an event Monday, he said that the president has “made the recession worse.”

“Mitt Romney has a well-earned reputation as someone who changes positions with the political winds, but this is just taking things too far,” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said in a statement. “Does he really think no one is paying attention?”

Romney has drawn boisterous and supportive crowds here in New Hampshire, where he has become a favorite son. He leads in state polls and is expected to announce a fundraising haul of $15 million to $20 million for the second quarter, triple the amounts his rivals have reported.

Yet Romney has looked past his opponents for the Republican nomination and trained all his criticism on Obama. The strategy underscores his position as the GOP front-runner, and it also reveals how he would run a general-election campaign against the president.

Of the dozen questions Romney fielded at the town hall, nine were centered on domestic policy and three touched on foreign policy.

On foreign policy, Romney said that Obama too often “speaks loudly and carries a small stick” and that the engagement with Libya has turned into “mission creep and mission muddle.”

On energy and immigration, Romney seems to be carving out a middle ground, backing climate-change science and legal immigration, but stopping short of supporting cap-and-trade laws to curb emissions or an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Romney appeared with his wife, Ann, who said that the campaign is starting to coalesce and that she will be out on the stump for her husband in South Carolina and Florida.

Romney spent Monday working holiday parades, as did former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., one of his GOP rivals. Romney said the fireworks displays reminded him of his failed bid in 2008.

“It was very good in the middle, and then at the end it sort of petered out — that’s kind of what happened to me,” he said. “I’m hoping that this next time we end with a big bang.”

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