PEWAUKEE, Wis. – Mitt Romney continued his fresh assault on President Obama here Saturday, again accusing Obama of promoting “a government-centered society” and questioning his commitment to American exceptionalism.
Opening a weekend of busy campaigning across Wisconsin before the state’s Tuesday primary, Romney ignored his two leading opponents for the Republican presidential nomination even though they spoke from the same stage at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s forum in this Milwaukee suburb.
Instead, Romney, who is trying to be seen as the presumptive GOP nominee, lashed out at Obama as he tried to frame what he sees as a general election battle for economic freedom and American revival, themes he rolled out in a speech Friday.
“President Obama believes in a government-centered society,” Romney said here. “He doesn’t call it that precisely, but you listen to his speeches, there’s no question he believes government guiding our lives will do a better job in doing so than individuals pursuing their own freedoms in their own ways.”
Romney recalled traveling abroad as a business consultant and Bain Capital executive and “standing a little taller, a little straighter, because I knew I had a gift that others didn’t have, and that was I was American.”
“Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” Romney said. “And I think over the last three or four years, some people around the world have begun to question that. On this Tuesday, we have an opportunity — you have an opportunity — to vote, and take the next step in bringing back that special nature of being American.”
But if Romney zeroed in rhetorically on Obama and the fall campaign, he also sounded notes that might appeal to conservative activists voting in the upcoming GOP primaries he still needs to win to secure the nomination.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Romney said, reciting the phrase from the Declaration of Independence. “Life is the first of those. I want to protect the sanctity of life.”
And as he attacked Obama’s health-care overhaul, he focused on the portion of the law requiring religious institutions to provide for contraceptives in their employee health-care packages. If elected president, Romney said, “I will restore and protect religious freedom.”
The Obama campaign quickly responded by calling Romney’s positions on women’s health “extreme.”
“From saying he’d overturn a contraception requirement that is nearly identical to one he protected in Massachusetts to saying he’d defund Planned Parenthood, which provides preventive health services to millions of American women every year, Mitt Romney continues to show why women cannot trust him,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
Romney was introduced here by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee who has a national following for his fiscal conservatism. Ryan endorsed Romney on Friday and is campaigning with him across Wisconsin this weekend.
“I think this primary’s been helpful,” Ryan said. “I think it’s been constructive. I think it’s brought these issues to the fore where we’re having the kind of debate we need in this country about the big ideas. But I think there comes a point where this primary can become counterproductive, where if we keep dragging this thing on it gets us off of the mission and the goal, which is this: Save our country in November by replacing Barack Obama as our president.”
Ryan called on Republicans “to coalesce around the person who we think is going to be the best president, who is going to deliver these kinds of reforms with the courage of conviction and the tenacity and the experience and the knowledge and the ability to do it… and in my humble opinion that person is Mitt Romney.”
This story has been updated.