Romney Skips G.O.P. Rivals in Anti-Obama Speech
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APPLETON, Wis. -- Four days before the Republican presidential primary here, Mitt Romney swept into Wisconsin, sounding general election themes and offering a forceful -- and at times lyrical -- speech laying out a stark and clear contrast between himself and President Obama.
"Barack Obama and I have fundamentally different visions for America," Mr. Romney said Friday. "He spent the last three or four years laying the foundation for a new government-centered society. I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of our opportunity society, led by free people and their free enterprises."
If Mr. Romney adopted the tone of the presumptive nominee in his formal speech -- delivered in a dark suit and red power tie -- he also arrived in Wisconsin with the air of a front-runner, ahead in the polls and with the backing of prominent Republicans.
In an NBC News/Marist poll of likely Republican primary voters in Wisconsin, Mr. Romney led Rick Santorum 40 percent to 33 percent. Only 7 percent said they were undecided. Wisconsin is hospitable territory for Mr. Romney, who does well among moderates, those who do not support the Tea Party, college graduates and higher income voters.
On Friday morning, he picked up the endorsement of Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, a rising leader in the Republican Party and the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
"We're going to be entering a counterproductive phase in this primary if it keeps dragging on," Mr. Ryan said in an interview, urging his party to rally behind Mr. Romney. "Who would make the best president? Who has the best chance of winning? Mitt Romney wins on both points."
Mr. Romney, who often stumbles when reading from prepared remarks, delivered his 25-minute speech with the help of two teleprompters.
On a day when the Dow and the Standard & Poor's 500 ended their best first quarter in more than a decade, Mr. Romney crystallized his basic critique against Mr. Obama, should the economy continue to improve.
"President Obama did not cause the recession but he most certainly failed to lead the recovery," Mr. Romney said. "All in all, President Obama prolonged the recession and slowed the recovery. President Obama's economic strategy is a bust."
He added, "This is a president who was not elected on the strength of a compelling record of accomplishment but by a compelling personality and story."
Mr. Romney, who often says that Mr. Obama does not "understand" America and is taking his cues from the "Social Democrats in Europe," attacked him Friday for expanding the influence of government.
"Instead of doing everything possible to promote the power of the free-enterprise system to create jobs and get us out of this crisis, Barack Obama has promoted the power of government," Mr. Romney said. "And the results have been predictable and dismal, but he has 'transformed' us, as he likes to say, closer to his vision of a government-centered society."
He did not mention any of his Republican rivals, and kept his focus squarely on the November election, which he noted in his opening remarks was "222 days" away. He ended his speech by urging the crowd to, "Join me -- walk together this Tuesday and take another step until Nov. 6."
Because of the relatively long break between the primaries on Tuesday, when voters in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., head to the polls, and the next set of contests on April 24, a win for Mr. Romney here could help solidify his status as the presumptive nominee, even if he is still slogging away to hit the magic number of 1,144 delegates.
Mr. Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot in Washington, and a large win in Wisconsin could buoy Mr. Romney as he next seeks to deliver a knockout blow in Pennsylvania, Mr. Santorum's home state.
Mr. Romney also ramped up his wooing of female voters this week, organizing a Wisconsin "Women for Romney" conference call on Thursday, which featured Alberta Darling, a Wisconsin state senator, and Bay Buchanan.
Even his Secret Service detail seemed to be entering general election mode -- reporter bags were hand-swept, both the news media and the public had to pass through magnetometers, and some of Mr. Romney's staff members were sporting "hard pins," indicating that they have been cleared by the Secret Service.
Mr. Romney already had the wind of the Republican establishment at his back before his Wisconsin speech, where Mr. Ryan introduced him. He picked up the back-to-back endorsements of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and elder President George Bush this week, as well as the support of one Mr. Bush's sons, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the previous week.
The elder Mr. Bush made a similar point about the party rallying behind one candidate, reciting -- but not actually singing -- the lyrics from Kenny Rogers's song "The Gambler."
"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," Mr. Bush said, borrowing from the song at the urging of his wife, Barbara. "I think it's time for people to all get behind this good man." (In an apparent nod to Mr. Bush, as well as the "fold 'em" sentiment, Mr. Romney's campaign played the song -- twice -- before his rally here.)
Allison Kopicki contributed reporting from New York, and Jeff Zeleny from Washington.
First Published March 31, 2012 12:01 am