Milford, NH — Mitt Romney looked to get his small town swerve on Friday, returning to the same sprawling farm where he launched his campaign just over a year ago and then dishing out ice cream to supporters who had come to see him speak in a quaint town square - all as part on effort to address the economic concerns of the small town voters that make up the party’s base.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the presumptive GOP nominee, whose foray into the Granite state was somewhat overshadowed by President Obama’s announcement that he’d stop deporting most illegal immigrant students and young adults - forcing the former Massachusetts governor to weigh in on a thorny issue that threatens to complicate his efforts to reach out to another important slice of the electorate, Latino voters.
“I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered, and should be solved on a long term basis so they know what their future would be in this country,” Mr. Romney told reporters, hours after the president’s announcement.
Welcome to the opening day of the presumptive GOP nominee’s first traditional campaign trip of the general election - a jaunt that not only underscores the crucial role that both the Granite State and rural voters could play in the election, but also the unpredictable nature of presidential politics.
With his wife Ann at his side, Mr. Romney stuck with the same basic message that powered him to victory in the bruising Republican primary, telling crowds that while Mr. Obama has weakened the nation’s economy, he is ready to strengthen it.
“Every day our campaign grows as more and more Americans realize that we don’t have to settle for these years of disappointment and decline,” the former Massachusetts governor told the hundreds gathered to see him at the farm. “America can do better – and with your help, we will. Together, we’re going to take this campaign all way to the White House.”
From there, he hit the road, traveling to a rally in nearby Milford, where he rolled into town as a jazz band played a rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” from beneath a gazebo - and closed out the day by responding to the administration’s immigration decision.
The back-to-back events marked the beginning of a five-day foray into small towns in six states that Mr. Obama captured in 2008 and that are considered key battlegrounds in the November election.
Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who served as the rural outreach director for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 president campaign, said that the Romney camp is likely well aware that voters in these small towns could very well make or break his dream of becoming the 45th president of the United States.
“It is the rural vote that could put him over the top,” Mr. O’Connell said. “He is going to win it, it os just a question of by how much.”
With small towns feeling the economic crunch more than their suburban cousins, Mr. O’Connell said he thinks there is an avenue for Mr. Romney to rack up something close to the 19 percentage point margin that George W. Bush enjoyed in his successful 2004 re-election bid.
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, would like to see something like the results of his 2008 campaign, where he kept Mr. McCain’s margin of victory among rural voters to 8 percent points - and dominated in urban areas.
Mr. Romney’s bus tour - which actually does include several flights - will take him into the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Ohio and then further into the Midwest, where he has campaign stops planned in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.
Mr. Romney said Friday that it is the people living in these small pockets of American who comprise the the nation’s backbone and who feel more alienated than ever from the politics of Washington.
“The federal establishment has never seemed so hostile or remote – so disconnected from economic reality, and yet so willing to use restrictions and regulations, taxes and fines, commissions and czars to direct our daily lives,” Mr. Romney said, later offering up an explanation as to why he the slogan “Every Town Counts” is wrapped around his hulking campaign bus.
“Every town counts because the families who have lost a job, faced a foreclosure, or been forced to spend the money they were saving for college just to make ends meet are not statistics - They are our fellow Americans,” he said.
Freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty introduced the governor at his two stops. Over the next five days, Mr. Romney plans to share a burger with House Speaker John Boehner in Ohio, and campaign alongside a pair of Wisconsinites - Rep. Paul Ryan, House budget committee chair, and Gov. Scott Walker, whose political star is soaring after he beat back Democrats efforts to recall him.
This leg of his trip comes a day after Mr. Obama tried to hit the reset button on his re-election campaign with a speech in Cleveland, where he said the election will determine the long-term trajectory of the economy. Casting himself as a champion of the middle class, Mr. Obama warned that Mr. Romney plans to circle back to the same sort of Bush-era policies that created the nation’s economic woes.
Mr. Obama has struggled in recent weeks to stem the flow of bad press that has snowballed since the latest jobs report showed the country added a disappointing 69,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate ticked up the 8.2 percent. Mr. Romney and the Republican National Committee also raised more money than him and nation Democrats last month. To top it off, Mr. Obama handed Republicans a fat political target to train their fire at last week after he suggested the private sector is “doing just fine.”
Mr. Romney once again seized on those comments Friday to paint Mr. Obama as being out of touch with what is happening in the economy. And he panned the president’s roughly hour-long speech Thursday in Ohio, describing it as “a very … long … speech.”
“You might have thought that it would be a moment when he would acknowledge his policy mistakes and suggest a new course. But no. He promised four more years, of more of the same. Four. More. Very. Long. Years,” he said. “That’s really the divide in this race. The President thinks we’re on the right track and his policies are working. And I…I believe with all my heart that we can — that we must — do better!”
As Mr. Romney spoke at the farm, the political divide was clearly spelled out in the skies above him, where two airplanes flew overhead with dueling message - one towing a banner that read “Romney for President - 2012” and another towing a banner that read “Romney’s Every Millionaire Counts Tour.”