CONCORD, N.H. — Mitt Romney seems to have swallowed a dose of the civility that his rival Jon Huntsman Jr. is trying to inject into the Republican presidential race.
No, Romney hasn’t quieted his full-throated assault on President Obama’s economic record.
But during a Monday morning campaign swing through this early primary state, he issued a call for bipartisanship and said the American people would be better served if Republicans and Democrats worked together to find “common ground.”
Asked at a town hall meeting here what he would do to overcome the polarization in politics, Romney said: “My answer is work with the guys across the aisle. Do a bit like Ronald Reagan did. You know, he had lunches with [Democratic House Speaker] Tip O’Neill.”
Then, referencing his four years as governor of overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts, Romney said: “I worked with Ted Kennedy, for Pete’s sake. . . . We found some common ground, and I think that has to happen in Washington.”
Earlier Monday, Romney made the same point at a roundtable of two dozen small-business owners in Salem.
“I didn’t attack my legislature,” he said. “I didn’t go out and say they’re a bunch of ‘Neanderthals’ or whatever word you might use to denigrate people.”
“Look,” he said, “good Democrats love this country just like good Republicans, and there’s no reason we can’t find some areas of common understanding.”
Romney’s comments on civility were a marked addition to his practiced stump speech, in which he relentlessly assails Obama and congressional Democrats for their stewardship of the nation’s beleaguered economy.
Romney’s remarks also are a sign that as he leads the Republican field by all accounts, he is looking beyond the tea party activists who have energized the GOP and is reaching out to more temperate Republicans and independents.
Indeed, the president of Mosaic Technologies, a company Romney visited in Salem, is a registered independent who said he voted for Obama in 2008 but plans to participate in New Hampshire’s Republican primary next year and is considering backing Romney.
The businessman, Thomas Desmet, said in an interview that Obama “deserves more credit than he gets for the financial crisis he walked into and how he turned it around — it was a turnaround.”
But Desmet said he is impressed by Romney’s singular focus on the economy and jobs.
“All too often, the candidates we see and hear about talk about these global issues and they forget about what’s near and dear here,” Desmet said. “It’s refreshing to see somebody with a focus on domestic policy and trying to fix issues at home.”
At his campaign stops Monday, Romney had several opportunities to criticize his rivals for the Republican nomination, but each time he demurred. Reporters asked what he thought of Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who officially announced her candidacy Monday in Iowa, but Romney said only that he has respect for her.
Still, Romney kept up his attacks on Obama, saying repeatedly that the president’s policies have “failed” the nation.
“Almost every step the Obama administration has taken has increased uncertainty, and that’s why Obama isn’t working. It leads to such a level of uncertainty about the future that people are unwilling to invest,” he said in Salem.
Romney criticized Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package, saying it did not create long-lasting jobs. He said he would have lowered tax rates, instituted fair trade policies and boosted energy independence to help create sustainable private-sector jobs.
“The challenge with so-called stimulus is it tends to be throwing a little gasoline on the fire,” Romney said. “It causes some heat. . . . It just doesn’t cause permanent heat. It’s not like putting a log on the fire.”
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, attacked Romney’s economic record. “As governor, Romney plummeted Massachusetts to 47th out of 50th in job creation and his failed jobs record is certain to become an issue in the Granite State,” Buckley said in a statement. “Now Romney’s plan is to double down on failed economic policies that got us into this crisis and end Medicare as we know it. Romney’s only hope is to continue to run from his failed job record in Massachusetts, just as he’s attempted to run from his previous positions on every major issue.”