MOLINE, Ill. – Seeking to speed up his slog to the Republican presidential nomination and rehabilitate his standing with independent voters, Mitt Romney is now aggressively courting women.


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney addresses the crowd during a campaign stop Saturday, in Collinsville, Ill. Romney wrapped up a shortened campaign trip to Puerto Rico on Saturday in favor of spending more time in Illinois, where polls have shown him slightly ahead of chief rival Rick Santorum. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

 “These policies of the president are so out of touch with the American people,” Romney told supporters at a pancake breakfast in Moline. “You’ve got moms that are driving their kids to school and practice after school and other appointments and wonder how they can afford putting gasoline in the car, at the same time putting food on the table night after night.”

“This president doesn’t understand the economy,” he added. “He’s an economic lightweight and he’s made decisions that have hurt the American people. It’s time to put in place an economic heavyweight, and I am, and I’ll get that job done.”


Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney hugs his wife Ann as he appeared at his Iowa Caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in January. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Romney’s wife, Ann, who appeared with him here, was more direct in her remarks about Obama.

 “I love it that women are upset, too,” Ann Romney said. “Women are talking about the economy. I love that. Women are talking about jobs. Women are talking about deficit spending. Thank you, women. We need you. We all need you in November, too. We have to remember why we’re upset and what we’ve got to do to fix things.”

 Romney has consistently outperformed his Republican rivals among women voters, but he apparently is calculating that women could be the key to a big-margin victory in Illinois.

 Romney advisers believe former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s hard-edged conservatism makes him particularly vulnerable with women voters – particularly  in the populous Chicago suburbs, where women Republicans tend to be fiscally conservative but more socially moderate.

 In his Moline speech, Romney attacked Obama as having insufficient experience in the private-sector economy. “He learned about the economy probably by debating it in subcommittees here in Illinois and subcommittees back in Washington, D.C.,” Romney said.

 Then he bunched up Santorum with the president.

 “Senator Santorum has the same economic lightweight background that the president has,” Romney said. “We’ve got to get an economic heavyweight to replace an economic lightweight.”