Mitt Romney framed the 2012 presidential election in a speech here Tuesday night as a choice between an “entitlement society” dependent on government welfare and an “opportunity society” that enables businesses to flourish.

Trying to sharpen the contrast between himself and President Obama, Romney delivered what his campaign billed as a closing argument as Republican voters prepare to select a nominee in Iowa and in New Hampshire. Romney looked past his GOP opponents to present a preview of the campaign he would wage in a general election with Obama.

“Even if we could afford the ever-expanding payments of an entitlement society, it is a fundamental corruption of the American spirit,” Romney said. “The battle we face today is more than a fight over our budget. It is a battle for America’s soul.”

Romney delivered a speech, complete with teleprompters, before more than 150 supporters inside the picturesque Bedford Town Hall. In his 13-minute address, Romney lamented the “invisible boot of government” that he warned would bring the country down. In Obama’s “entitlement society,” Romney said, “everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk.”

“Once we thought ‘entitlement’ meant that Americans were entitled to the privilege of trying to succeed in the greatest country in the world,” Romney said. “Americans fought and died to earn and protect that entitlement. But today the new entitlement battle is over the size of the check you get from Washington.”

Romney invoked President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, in which he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

“President Barack Obama has reversed John Kennedy’s call for sacrifice,” Romney said. “He would have Americans ask, ‘What can the country do for you?’ ”

Romney pledged to loosen federal regulations, exploit domestic energy resources, cut taxes and cap spending to create an environment in which he said the private sector could reach its full potential. “We’re bigger than the misguided policies and weak leadership of one man,” Romney said. “America is bigger than Barack Obama’s failures.”

Obama, meanwhile, has seen his support with middle-class families and independent voters grow in recent weeks, as he has outlined a society based on “fair play, a fair shot and a fair share.”

Obama’s campaign pushed back on Romney’s message, saying the Republican candidate’s policy prescriptions would hurt middle-class families.

“Only a candidate like Mitt Romney could give a speech like this with a straight face,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

“Governor Romney claims to want to level the playing field to create opportunity, but all his policies do is stack the deck against the middle class,” LaBolt said. “He has repackaged the same policies that caused the economic crisis and led to the insecurity middle-class families have been facing.”

Romney’s speech came just two weeks before the Iowa caucuses kick off the nominating contest. Trying to claim momentum in what remains a fluid Republican battle, Romney will embark Wednesday morning on a three-day bus tour across New Hampshire, with planned factory tours and spaghetti dinners in both working-class and well-to-do corners of the state.