Reporting from Manchester, N.H. — In his first meeting with New Hampshire voters since announcing that he would run for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday seized on new unemployment numbers to argue that President Obama is a failure.
“The truth is Barack Obama has failed America,” Romney said at a town hall meeting at the University of New Hampshire. “Today, three years into his term, we have more news that unemployment has ticked up again. We have 16 million people out of work or who just stopped looking for work, millions more are in jobs that are well beneath their capacities. We have home values continuing to decline three years later. Three years later, we have a record number of foreclosures; three years later, higher gasoline prices, higher food prices. People are feeling more squeezed.”
Romney was referring to new figures released Friday that show that the unemployment rate rose to 9.1% in May, with employers hiring 54,000 new workers, the fewest in eight months.
“The Obama prescription for the economy didn’t ail what hurt us. Instead it made things worse,” he said. “I believe it’s time for someone who’s had a job do the job of getting jobs for the American people.”
But while Romney pitched his candidacy based on his business background, he repeatedly refused to answer multiple questions from reporters about whether the nation’s debt ceiling should be raised. Voters at the town hall also raised the issue twice, with one visibly frustrated woman saying, “I am tired of the government raising the debt ceiling on my back.”
Romney praised congressional Republicans’ refusal to raise the debt ceiling without spending reductions.
“We’ve got our colleagues in the House that are doing a heroic job. They’re using every source of their strength to fight the excessive spending of this administration, and I applaud them on that,” he said. “They say they’re not going to raise the debt limit unless they see a commensurate reduction in spending and plans to hold down our spending in the future. Congratulations to them on keeping the battle going on.”
Romney, who officially kicked off his presidential run the day before, was introduced by his wife, Ann. Appearing tie-less and in skinny jeans, he emphasized his wife’s battles with illness and humble roots of his father, who went on to become Michigan’s governor and an unsuccessful presidential candidate.
“He was here running for president in 1968, and I hope I do better than he did," Romney said.
Although Romney's look is different from his unsuccessful 2008 White House run, some of the source material is the same. He retold a familiar story about heading to Boston's Logan Airport to receive a fallen serviceman’s casket when he was governor, and seeing a crowd of people watching from the terminal.
“I looked up there and every single person I saw had their hand on their heart, and I could not see the tears, but I could read the tears and sadness and respect and appreciation in their faces,” Romney said. “We are a patriotic people and we face extraordinary challenges right now, but we’re going to overcome those challenges.”
Romney repeatedly slammed Obama’s policies, and predicted that in 2012 Republicans would gain control of the White House and the Senate and retain control of the House of Representatives.
“This president has failed. Look, he’s nice guy, he’s well spoken; he could talk a dog off a meat wagon, and yet he hasn’t delivered,” Romney said. “He can’t keep blaming George Bush. This is now his economy and what he has done has failed the American people. And the borrowing and spending and $1.6-trillion deficit, these numbers are his, they’re on his back and it’s why he’s going to lose.”
Romney did not bring up his greatest vulnerability -- his Massachusetts healthcare plan that included an insurance mandate -- until a voter asked about coverage for people with preexisting conditions. He replied by trying to differentiate his plan from Obama’s, vowed to repeal the federal plan, and said the government could require insurers to provide coverage for people with preexisting conditions under certain conditions.
But the similarities between his plan and Obama’s continued to dog him on the trail. Protesters stood outside waving signs that said, “Hey Romney, the zoo called, they want their RINO back.” RINO is an acronym for "Republican in name only."
Tina Danger, a 26-year-old babysitter, said she was protesting Romney’s appearance because she was against socialized healthcare.
“Mitt-care is not a Republican value,” said the Manchester resident.