By Sarah Huisenga
On a symbolic night for his campaign, Mitt Romney returned to New Hampshire to thank his supporters for his all-but-certain claim on the Republican nomination and to spell out the economic themes that will underpin his fall battle with President Obama.
Four years ago, Obama "dazzled us" with sweeping promises of "hope and change," Romney said. "But after we came down to earth, after all the celebration and parades, what do we have to show for three and a half years of President Obama?
"Is it easier to make ends meet?" he said, in a riff on presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's famous query in 1980, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
"Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one?" Romney asked, as the sign-waving crowd shouted, "No!" to each consecutive question. "Have you saved what you needed for retirement? Are you making more at your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump?"
Romney capped this off by suggesting, "If the answer were "yes' to those questions, then President Obama would be running for reelection based on his record, and rightly so. But because he has failed, he will run a campaign of diversions and distractions and distortions.
"That kind of campaign may have worked at another place and at a different time, but not here and not now," he said. Borrowing from a Clinton-era slogan, Romney added, "It's still about the economy, and we're not stupid."
On a night he was poised to sweep primaries in five states, after besting a crowded field of rivals, Romney said, "After 43 primaries and caucuses, many long days and not a few long nights, I can say with confidence, and gratitude, that you have given me a great honor and solemn responsibility. And, together, we are going to win on November 6!
"We launched this campaign not far from here on a beautiful June day on a farm in New Hampshire. It has been long and extraordinarily rewarding," he said.
In a speech that was billed, "A Better America Begins Tonight," the former Massachusetts governor spoke poignantly about his campaign-trail encounters with everyday Americans dealing with the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. "Everywhere I go, Americans are tired of being tired, and many of those who are fortunate enough to have a job are working harder for less.
"For every single mom who feels heartbroken when she has to explain to her kids that she needs to take a second job for grandparents who can't afford the gas to visit their grandchildren anymore for the mom and dad who never thought they'd be on food stamps for the small-business owner desperately cutting back just to keep the doors open one more month," Romney said. "To all of the thousands of good and decent Americans I've met who want nothing more than a better chance, a fighting chance, to all of you, I have a simple message: Hold on a little longer. A better America begins tonight."
The crowd roared and broke in with chants of "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt, Mitt."
Romney predicted that the general campaign would be a contrast of visions: Obama's, which he described as an all-powerful central government dispensing rewards and consuming too large a share of the economy, and his own.
"I see an America with a growing middle class, with rising standards of living. I see children even more successful than their parents, some successful even beyond their wildest dreams, and others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it," he said.
Romney also co-opted Obama's "fairness" theme, which the president has invoked to describe the gulf between an overtaxed middle class and an undertaxed elite. Romney suggested that fairness could be achieved any number of ways in society under conservative proposals.
"We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice," he said. "We will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing. We will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the very taxpayers they serve. And we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts onto the next.
"In the America I see, character and choices matter. And education, hard work, and living within our means are valued and rewarded. And poverty will be defeated, not with a government check, but with respect and achievement that's taught by parents, learned in school, and practiced in the workplace."
Romney was joined on stage by his wife, Ann Romney, a natural campaigner who has grown increasingly popular with Republican voters. And in a nod to the fact that he remains unknown to a large portion of the electorate, Romney promised to tell more stories about his family, including his father, George, the former governor of Michigan.
"I'll tell you how much I love the country, this extraordinary land where someone like my dad, who grew up poor, never graduated from college, could pursue his dreams and work his way up to running a great car company," Romney said. "Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of a state where he once sold paint from the trunk of his car."
The speech was billed as the turning point for a "new phase" of the campaign. Romney plans to reduce his public schedule while adding staff to both the national and state offices and continuing to replenish his campaign treasury with fundraising events.
In a statement, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said, "The title for Governor Romney's speech tonight should have been Back to the Future, because he has proposed a return to the same policies that got us into the economic crisis in the first place--forcing the middle class to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, letting Wall Street write its own rules, and eliminating investments in the security of the middle class.
"Despite all evidence to the contrary, Governor Romney believes that showering the wealthiest Americans with special giveaways will make the middle class thrive. We have tried those policies before. They didn't unleash growth, they didn't spur job creation and they didn't boost the middle class."