Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts… (Darren McCollester, Getty…)
Reporting from Amherst, N.H. — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has struggled to craft a consistent economic message in recent weeks — first blaming President Obama for driving the country deeper into recession and then backing off that charge during a visit to Pennsylvania. On Monday in southern New Hampshire, he appeared to offer those conflicting messages within one sentence.
The former Massachusetts governor's remarks about the economy came at the end of a Fourth of July parade in Amherst, a heavily Republican town southwest of Manchester, during a pep talk with volunteers. He asked them to keep working for him all the way through New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary next year.
"Don't forget what this is all about," he told the group that crowded around him after he stepped onto a wooden replica of a soapbox in the town green. "We love this country; it's the greatest country in the history of the Earth, and we face extraordinary challenges right now. Our president has failed us.
"The recession is deeper because of our president; it's seen an anemic recovery because of our president. The people who want the status quo can vote for him, but people who want real change and jobs for Americans are going to vote for us."
Those statements — that the president had driven the economy deeper into recession but also that an "anemic" recovery had occurred — not only seemed to be contradictory, but also at odds with what Romney has previously argued.
In a June debate in New Hampshire, Romney said Obama "didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer."
Later, during a New Hampshire visit, he was quoted by NBC as saying the state's voters "want to see an economy that's growing again, and the president's failed. He did not cause this recession, but he made it worse."
But when asked to elaborate on those statements in a visit to a closed factory in Allentown, Pa., he backtracked: "I didn't say things are worse."
On Monday in Amherst, he combined both messages.
The differing statements address an issue that Romney and his backers see as the former businessman's strongest suit, both against his Republican primary opponents and, were he to win the nomination, against Obama in the general election.
They also pose a risk to Romney if they reinforce earlier criticism of him for shifting positions on issues like abortion rights, which he once supported.