Sarah Palin crashed her red, white and blue bus into Mitt Romney’s party yesterday, sweeping into New Hampshire for the final leg of her multiday East Coast tour as he was in the state declaring his candidacy for president.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, formally opened his bid for the Republican nomination with an assault on President Barack Obama’s economic policies.
“Barack Obama has failed America,” Romney said at a chili cookout doubling as a political rally in Stratham, New Hampshire. “When he took office, the economy was in recession and he made it worse and he made it last longer.”
Romney’s effort, though, to keep the focus on Obama -- and himself -- was undercut by Palin. Before his official announcement, she directed some barbs at him in comments in the Boston area. The bus tour that the former Alaska governor began May 29 in Washington then crossed into New Hampshire about the same time as Romney’s rally.
Later in the day, at a clambake in Seabrook, New Hampshire, Palin remained coy about her political intentions.
‘Plenty of Time’
Asked by reporters about her plans, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee said, “Why should everyone jump in there right now and start beating each other up in this primary process, showing the other guys our playbook? There’s plenty of time for that.”
Still, the attention her mere presence in the early primary state attracted underscored the power she has to influence the race, whether she becomes a candidate or remains a commentator.
“She’s become a large part of the discussion this week just by getting on a bus,” said Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire, moments after Romney spoke. “She’s going to be a force in the race.”
Today’s front page of the Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, treated Palin’s stop with a prominently displayed story and picture. Romney’s announcement was referenced on the front page with a small picture; the story on it ran on an inside page.
‘Best of Luck’
Palin, 47, insisted that she hadn’t intended to overshadow Romney’s announcement. She said in Seabrook yesterday that her arrival in New Hampshire simply “worked very well logistically” as the wrap up to a trip that included visits to historic sites in Philadelphia and Boston. “I say, best of luck to Governor Romney,” Palin said.
Her travel plans had remained a mystery to many Republican officials and activists even as her bus was making its way into the state. Kevin Smith, director of Cornerstone Action, a fiscally conservative think tank in New Hampshire, said that as of yesterday morning he had no details about the timing or location of her visit.
“If she’s coming up to win activists and prepare for a presidential run, this is not the way to do it,” he said.
Palin isn’t planning to participate in a candidate debate sponsored by CNN in New Hampshire on June 13.
Romney, 64, is making a concerted effort to build support in New Hampshire, a state critical to his campaign strategy.
After losing the New Hampshire primary in 2008 to the eventual Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, he has spent the past 2 1/2 years privately meeting with local activists and donating to Republican state candidates to build backing, according to advisers and party leaders.
He announced his candidacy under sunny skies at Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, the home of longtime party activists and a popular stop for Republican candidates. As hundreds of attendees cheered, he declared: “I’m Mitt Romney. I believe in America and I’m running for president.”
Romney, who co-founded Boston-based private equity firm Bain Capital LLC, attacked Obama for failed job-creation efforts, a lagging housing market, and high federal spending. He criticized Obama’s foreign policy record, saying the president has failed to defend Israel or adequately support Arab dissenters, and was too slow to take military action in Libya.
In an appeal to fiscally conservative Tea Party activists who helped Republicans rack up big wins in the 2010 elections, Romney promised to cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, balance the government’s budget and repeal the health-care overhaul Obama pushed into law last year.
He accused Obama of taking power from states and offering “European answers” to America’s problems. “This president’s first answer to every problem is to take power from you, your local government and your state,” Romney said. “And with each of these decisions, we lose more of our freedom.”
Still, before he can take on Obama, he must win the Republican nomination. His critics in the party see his role in the passage of a Massachusetts health-care law while he was governor as a major stumbling block, especially among Tea Party activists for whom Palin is a favorite.
The state law expanded coverage by requiring all residents to buy insurance. Such an individual mandate is central to the health-care plan Obama signed into law last year.
Romney, who last month sought to distance himself from the Massachusetts measure, yesterday stressed the differences between the state and national laws. He called the Massachusetts plan “a state solution for a state problem.”
He told voters at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire, today that, as president, on his first day in office he would issue waivers exempting all 50 states from the law.
Palin assailed the Massachusetts health-care law as she and her entourage prepared to depart for New Hampshire yesterday. “In my opinion, any mandate coming from government is not a good thing,” she told reporters in the Boston area. She also predicted that Romney will face a “big challenge” appealing to many Republican activists.
Another prospective Republican presidential candidate causing some commotion in New Hampshire yesterday was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “The reality is that Obamacare and Romneycare are almost exactly the same,” he told reporters before addressing a state party dinner in Manchester.
Giuliani, another unsuccessful 2008 contender, hasn’t ruled out another bid.
Romney today urged Republicans to stay focused on opposition Obama. “We need to aim at Obama,” he told a voter in Manchester, after his town hall meeting.
Romney joins former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas as declared candidates.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who earlier this year gave up his post as U.S. ambassador to China under Obama to explore challenging him, is weighing a bid, as is Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum plans to officially enter the race at a June 6 event in his home state.
Herman Cain, former chairman and chief executive officer of Godfather’s Pizza Inc., and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson also have declared their candidacies. Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, a Democrat-turned-Republican, has formed an exploratory committee.