Mitt Romney, seeking to silence concerns that his campaign isn’t ready to take on President Barack Obama, made his first appearances since returning from a gaffe-plagued overseas trip and moved to shift attention back to the slow U.S. economic recovery.
“The president’s policies have not worked the way he’s said they would” on the economy, he said at a news conference in Las Vegas today. Asked if he thought the economy had slipped into recession, he said: “I certainly hope not.”
Romney’s appearance marked the second day he returned to the economic messages that Republicans say will defeat Obama. Yesterday, his campaign released a “white paper” to bolster Romney’s claim that he would be able to create 12 million U.S. jobs during the first term of his presidency, offering the sort of specifics that Republicans urged to reassure voters.
“Today I want to talk about making things better,” Romney said yesterday in opening remarks at a fairground in Golden, Colorado. It was a comment meant to be about his plans for the economy, though it could also be applied to his campaign’s direction.
Romney’s trip unveiled an upgraded operation aimed at getting back into the business of domestic campaigning, making last-minute scheduling changes by adding events, putting more senior staff on the road and providing new charter flights for the media traveling with him.
The former Massachusetts governor’s July 31 final stop on his six-day Europe trip was overshadowed by a clash with reporters at a Polish military grave site in which an aide told the media to “kiss my ass” -- an exchange that went viral on the Internet. Yesterday, two top aides chatted up reporters before a Colorado campaign appearance.
On the road with Romney was Beth Myers, who is leading his vice presidential search. Joining her was Kevin Madden, a senior communications adviser who worked on Romney’s 2008 presidential bid. Absent from the Romney road show was Rick Gorka, the traveling press secretary who swore at the media near the Warsaw war memorial. A campaign official not authorized to discuss the matter said he is taking some time off.
One cause of the tension between reporters and the campaign during the international trip was the scant opportunity to ask the candidate questions. Yesterday, Romney made a point of coming back to speak briefly with reporters in the rear of a jet before a flight between two Colorado cities. Today, he held a rare press conference.
“Sorry guys,” he said yesterday when asked about the process for picking a running mate, “I got nothing for you.” He avoided the question again today.
Democrats tried to keep voters from forgetting his foreign trip and sought to renew a debate that was raging in the days before he left for stops in England, Israel and Poland. MoveOn.org, a group that supports President Barack Obama, paid for an airplane outside his event with a banner behind it that read, “Welcome Back Mitt! Now Release Those Returns!”
The reference to Romney’s tax returns is part of Democratic demands that the former private equity executive release additional tax records. He has promised to make public two years of records for 2010 and 2011, both of which come after the 2008 financial sector collapse that may have prompted him to write off big losses.
The retooling of the Romney campaign comes as Obama has an edge over Romney in national polls. He led the challenger 51 percent to 41 percent in a July 16-26 poll of registered voters conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington. The survey, released yesterday, has an error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
The polling also found Obama leads 48 percent to 44 percent across 12 of this year’s key battleground states. The gap in these states has remained level in recent months, Pew said.
Romney’s campaign today pounced on the latest monthly job growth figures showing the creation of 163,000 jobs in July as the unemployment rate edged slightly higher to 8.3 percent.
“It’s another hammer blow to the struggling middle class families in America,” he said at the event in Nevada, a state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate, 12.6 percent.
In a radio interview yesterday, Romney charged that Obama was misrepresenting Republican tax proposals to distract from his own failed economic record. In new campaign ads and at a Florida appearance yesterday, the president said Romney’s plan would increase taxes on middle-income families while reducing them for wealthy people -- including Romney.
“He knows that that’s a completely dishonest characterization of my plan,” Romney told Sean Hannity during the interview, adding that Obama’s argument is “deceptive.”
Romney, who has ruled out using tax revenue to help reduce the U.S. debt, said his proposal is “very similar to the Simpson-Bowles plan,” a bipartisan report that recommended slashing $4 trillion through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Romney wants to lower tax rates as part of a broader overhaul that would also eliminate some exemptions and deductions.
The $4 trillion deficit reduction plan was proposed by the committee headed by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
“My plan does not reduce the share of taxes paid by wealthy people,” Romney said. “If anyone’s going to get a break -- a tax break -- it’s going to be middle-income Americans.”
The Republican also lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, for saying in a speech yesterday that Romney hadn’t paid taxes for 10 years and should release previous years’ tax returns to prove otherwise.
“It’s time for Harry to put up or shut up,” Romney told Hannity. “It’s untrue, dishonest and inaccurate -- it’s wrong. I’m looking forward to have Harry reveal his sources, and we’ll probably find out it’s the White House.”
Reid repeated the charges in a statement released by his office last night, accusing Romney of “hiding something.”
Romney today said he has paid taxes every year -- “a lot of taxes,” he added.
Romney’s strong rebuttal to the Reid charge also is one of the shifts Republican strategists have been pressing the campaign to adopt -- calls that grew louder during an overseas trip in which the presumptive presidential nominee riled British officials and the London media by suggesting their country wasn’t ready to run the 2012 Olympic Games.
Romney is entering one of the most closely watched periods of the election season. This month, he will name his vice presidential running mate and be formally nominated at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Romney, 65, got some support yesterday when he appeared with 10 Republican governors near Aspen, Colorado. Among those with him were New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell.
“In four years he’s added more to the national debt than the Bush administration did in eight years,” Christie said of Obama. “Governor Romney talks about dealing with the deficit and leading us to a balanced budget by the end of his second term and that’s the hope businesses need to create jobs.”
Romney also attended a fundraiser in Aspen being held in conjunction with a gathering of the Republican Governors Association that is attracting some of the party’s top strategists, donors and politicians.
Gloria Maytham, a retired dental hygienist who attended the event with Romney and the governors, said she wasn’t concerned about the so-called gaffes he made outside the U.S. -- particularly in Israel, where Romney broke from the position of prior Republican and Democratic administrations to assert that Jerusalem should be declared the capital, an issue that is considered a key negotiating point in Middle East peace talks.
“I’m glad he didn’t pussyfoot around,” said Maytham, an 82-year-old Denver resident. “I’m glad he spoke truth to fact.”
Maytham and her husband, Tom, 81, a retired director of the Denver Art Museum, typify the challenge the presidential candidates face in winning Colorado’s nine electoral votes.
Tom Maytham said he is undecided on who he will vote for, leading to dirty looks from his wife, who calls herself “a staunch Republican.”
“So far we’ve survived” with Obama in office, he said. “Romney seems to match his spiel to the audience of the moment.”