GOLDEN, Colo. — Mitt Romney sought to refocus the presidential campaign on the U.S. economy on Thursday, outlining plans to help the middle class in his first rally after a difficult overseas tour.
Before an enthusiastic, mostly older crowd of about 2,000 supporters — with several hundred more gathered outside in the late-morning sun hoping to glimpse the presumptive GOP presidential nominee — the candidate described a five-point program he called the “Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class.” His campaign is touting it at 24 events in 13 states.
The ideas were a repackaging of broad goals that Romney has talked about for months. They include increasing energy independence, improving education and job training, increasing trade, reducing the deficit and helping small businesses.
What was new was the urgency.
Romney returned to the United States after a tour that at times made him look less statesmanlike. He met with foreign leaders and pledged U.S. support for Israel against the threat from Iran. But he also managed to antagonize the British while in London and offend the Palestinians during his trip to Israel.
The Colorado event was Romney’s first in the state since the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last month. Romney, who like President Obama stopped campaigning on the day of the attack, acknowledged the tragedy and noted that in Thursday’s crowd was McKayla Hicks, who had been in the theater next door and was shot in the mouth.
“We love you and we pray for you,” Romney said of the victims, as the crowd gave a standing ovation. “You’re in our hearts and you’re in our prayers.”
If Romney’s gaffes abroad dominated headlines over the past week, supporters in Golden didn’t seem to mind.
“The media spun it,” Duke Harris, 69, a retiree from Aurora, said of the foreign trip. “You can’t believe what you read anymore, on TV or in the paper.”
Still, Joni Janak, 68, a jazz singer who lives in Golden, said Romney must do more to explain his positions in detail.
“He needs to be stronger,” she said. “He needs to tell us strongly what he’s going to do when he gets into office.”
Obama campaigned Thursday in Virginia and Florida, where he highlighted a new independent study by the Tax Policy Center that found that, under Romney’s plan, millionaires would get tens of thousands of dollars in tax cuts while 95 percent of the population would pay about 1.2 percent, or $500, more in taxes.
Obama said that the analysis “found that if Governor Romney wants to keep his word and pay for his plan so that he does not increase the deficit even more, the average middle-class family with children would be stuck with a tax increase of more than $2,000.”
In a conference call Thursday morning, Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Romney’s campaign, attacked the credibility of the Tax Policy Center report, which was released Wednesday.
“That report you referenced is a joke,” he told reporters. He repeated a criticism first voiced Wednesday, that one of the study’s three authors, Adam Looney of the Brookings Institution, served as a senior economist on Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
The other two authors are Samuel Brown and William Gale, who are affiliated with Brookings and the Tax Policy Center. Gale worked in president George H.W. Bush’s administration, as an economist at the president’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Also Thursday, Romney fired back at Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who has been citing sources he refuses to name to allege that Romney did not pay any taxes for 10 years. “It’s time for Harry to put up or shut up,” Romney said, adding that his claims are “wrong.”
David Nakamura and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.