(Charlie Neibergal / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — Mitt Romney on Thursday takes the final step in what has been a low-key rollout of his presidential campaign, declaring in New Hampshire that President Obama "has failed America," and that he's best suited to take the president on.
The former Massachusetts governor, the tentative front-runner in a Republican field that has yet to gel, is launching his second White House bid by focusing on the fragile economy and making a general-election argument that America needs a more experienced hand to solve its problems.
Three years ago, at a time of crisis, Americans "gave someone new a chance to lead," Romney will say in New Hampshire, according to excerpts of his speech released by his campaign. Obama "didn't have much of a record but promised to lead us to a better place."
"We wished him well and hoped for the best," Romney will say. But now, "we have more than promises and slogans to go by. Barack Obama has failed America."
Since launching the exploratory phase of his campaign in April, Romney has visited the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire to reintroduce himself to voters. Seeking to head off his biggest liability before launching a full-fledged campaign, he delivered a speech on healthcare reform, pledging to repeal Obama's national plan even as he defended the similar Massachusetts model he signed into law.
On Thursday, Romney will again pledge to repeal what he calls "Obamacare," which he paints as part of a massive expansion of government under the president.
"We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy," he will say. Echoing John F. Kennedy, he'll add: "My generation will pass the torch to the next generation, not a bill."
Romney will speak from Doug and Stella Scamman’s Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, N.H. Polls show Romney strongest in the first-in-the-nation primary state, where he owns a home.
"Tomorrow voters will hear a serious speech for serious times," a Romney campaign advisor said Wednesday in previewing the candidate's remarks. "When President Obama was elected, we wondered what it would be like to elect a president with no experience, and now we know. Mitt Romney, from a lifetime spent in the private sector, has the skills and the ability to lead an economic turnaround."
Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans are taking aim at Romney as he enters the next stage of his campaign. Sarah Palin, though not a candidate, threatens to steal some of the spotlight as her bus tour is expected to pass within only a dozen or so miles. Rudolph W. Giuliani is also expected to be in the Granite State as he flirts with another run.
The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, is painting Romney as a flip-flopper on a range of issues, including healthcare reform, the TARP program and the auto industry bailout.
"He's going into this campaign with the same fatal flaws that doomed him the first time around: that he's seen as a wishy-washy, flip-flopping politician who lacks any core convictions or principles and who you simply can't trust to shoot straight with you," DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.
Romney will continue his kickoff tour with a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Friday.