“Turning around a crisis takes experience and bold action,” Romney said. “For millions of Americans, the economy is in crisis today, and unless we change course, it will be a crisis for all of us tomorrow.”
In the wide-open battle for the GOP nomination, Romney is the nominal front-runner, but he has weaknesses that an array of potential rivals are aiming to exploit.
One of those, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., released statistics Thursday that purported to show a better record on job creation than Romney, as he prepared to set off on his own swing through New Hampshire. Another, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, criticized Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan ahead of her arrival in New Hampshire for an evening clambake.
Their criticism and campaigning is a fresh reminder to Romney that the nomination is anything but assured. Romney’s decidedly understated announcement speech on a windswept hayfield here was an indication that he aims to keep his campaign centered on the economy and on proving to Republican primary voters that he can go the distance.
Romney, 64, is trying to demonstrate he has learned the tough lessons from his failed 2008 bid. After being lampooned as too stiff, Romney sought to use Thursday’s kickoff to show he has become a more easy-going candidate.
In an open-collar shirt, his gelled hair flipping in the wind, Romney spoke on a farm trailer surrounded by bales of hay and lilac trees. The campaign kickoff was called “A Cookout with Mitt & Ann,” and indeed Romney and his wife dug into crockpots to dish out bowls of Ann’s favorite chili to supporters.
In his first go-round, Romney tried to be everything to everyone, jetting from early-voting state to early-voting state after his soaring announcement speech at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. — a rollout he now says was “grandiose.” This time, with a far leaner campaign operation, Romney chose to declare his bid here in New Hampshire, a must-win state where he has deep roots and has focused most of his early campaign efforts.
“I am Mitt Romney, I believe in America, and I’m running for president of the United States,” he said, with a 250-year-old white barn and American flags behind him.
Romney’s no-nonsense 20-minute speech glossed over his vulnerabilities and signaled that he hopes to campaign on his own terms, taking his message past his Republican rivals and to the Democrats. He made the argument, as other candidates have, that he is electable — calculating, perhaps, that by tapping into Republican fears about four more years of an Obama presidency he can persuade primary voters to overlook his flaws.