Romney charges that Obama has “failed America”

By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) – Mitt Romney, the multi-millionaire former governor of Massachusetts, will kick off his second bid for the White House on Thursday with a hard-hitting economic message charging that “Barack Obama has failed America.”

The apparent front-runner in a wide open Republican field, Romney will start his campaign in New Hampshire, the early-voting state where a win in next February’s primary election would boost his chance of winning the party nomination to face Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama in the November 2012 general election.

Romney will blame “the Obama economy” for the job losses and home foreclosures that have plagued Americans during the president’s first term and helped renew fears that the economy could soon dip back into recession.

The economy is perhaps Obama’s main weakness, although polls say the president is still favored over all potential Republican opponents.

Polls show Americans are also concerned about federal spending, the mounting national debt and a budget deficit projected to reach $1.4 trillion this year.

“Government under President Obama has grown to consume almost 40 percent of our economy. We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy,” Romney will say in his speech, according to excerpts released by his campaign.

By contrast, Romney says he would balance the federal budget and cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, or less, if elected president.

Most opinion polls show other Republican hopefuls like former House of Representative Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty trailing Romney by a wide margin, although surveys are volatile this early in the race.

“In a relatively open field, Mitt Romney at this juncture is the front-runner from an organizational and fund-raising standpoint,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Romney has a powerful fund-raising apparatus in place. He raised an astounding $10.25 million in an eight-hour phone-a-thon in Las Vegas last month. Contacts from Romney’s days running the venture capital firm Bain Capital are another rich source of campaign donations.

But Republican media star Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, has been creeping up behind Romney in some polls. She is expected in New Hampshire later on Thursday as part of an East Coast bus tour that has fanned speculation she could soon announce her own White House bid.

Romney’s biggest stumbling block could be his support as governor for a Massachusetts healthcare program that became a model for Obama’s national healthcare overhaul. Many Republicans detest what they derisively call “Obamacare.”

Many wonder whether Romney is conservative enough for the current Republican Party. With Tea Party movement activists on the rise, the party has shifted to the right since the 2008 election.

REPUBLICAN MOOD

“In a less polarized environment, Romney would have vaulted to the top of the Republican hopeful list,” said Ross Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“Now, a moderate and responsible former office-holder has lost a great deal of appeal to angry and frustrated people. Someone who can offer stability is seen as rather dull.”

Romney’s Mormonism also might be a hindrance to winning votes in from evangelical Christians in the south.

The tag of flip-flopper haunts Romney after he shifted positions on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control to position himself for the Republican nomination in 2008, after governing more from the center in Massachusetts.

Still, as the only prominent moderate among current Republican contenders, Romney could benefit as his more conservative rivals fight among themselves.

“Romney, as the only recognizable moderate Republican, is in a nice position to be fighting over the bigger piece of the pie,” said Andrew Smith, director of the survey center at the University of New Hampshire. “If he gets in the 35 percent range of votes, he will win in New Hampshire.”

Recent polls have put Romney’s support in the state at 28 percent to 32 percent.

Romney has been expected to struggle in more conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina but a new Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa shows Romney leading there.

Romney’s personal style has also been tweaked. After being criticized for his overly formal, CEO-type look in 2008, Romney has gone business-casual, often appearing tie-less in open-necked shirts and crisply pressed jeans.

“A lot more people like this Romney more than the 2008 Romney,” O’Connell said. “But he has to demonstrate himself to be a fiscal conservative.”