(Emmanuel Dunand, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Derry, N.H. — Brimming with self-confidence after a debate performance that attracted generally favorable notices, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney took something of a victory lap Tuesday morning -- and a sharp swipe at President Obama.
Romney portrayed Obama as out of touch with the plight of ordinary Americans at a time of persistent high joblessness and sputtering economic growth. And he couched his remarks along the lines of a question that candidate Ronald Reagan posed to devastating effect in successfully unseating an incumbent Democratic president.
Returning to a pair of local businesses that he visited in his first presidential run, four years ago, Romney said that "things aren't better now than they were four, five years ago." He told reporters that "people expected things to get better in 2011. It hasn't happened. You can't blame George Bush any more. President Obama is going to have to take responsibility for the fact that we are still in a very troubled economy, and you can't solve a crisis unless you recognize a crisis."
Photos: Potential 2012 GOP candidates
His remarks, outside the Derry Feed and Supply Co., included what some saw as a jab at Tim Pawlenty, considered by some Republicans as the most serious challenger to Romney, who leads in early preference polls of GOP voters.
In response to a question about differences in the economic remedies being prescribed by the Republican candidates, Romney said he was reminded of a question he was once asked: "Who do you think would win a debate, about running a business, between Jack Welch [the former GE chairman] and a second-year business student?"
Romney went on to say that "that would be Jack Welch" and that there is a difference between merely mouthing words about a problem and actually understanding what those words mean and finding solutions.
"The words are easy. The experience took a long time to get," he said, referring to his years in business, including as an executive of a venture capital firm. Asked if he was referring to Pawlenty, Romney declined to answer directly, noting that he hadn't mentioned any names, and then turned the topic back to what he said were Obama's shortcomings.
Romney said he felt all of the Republican candidates had a good night in the two-hour debate, his first of the 2012 season, and that everyone, including himself, "was lifted a bit by the experience."
He also had compliments for the newest candidate in the race, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. "I thought she did a very nice job," Romney.
As he shook hands with patrons of diners in Derry and Manchester, Romney received compliments for his debate performance. He leads by a wide margin in statewide polls in the first primary state and is the nominal frontrunner in the GOP contest.
Romney felt confident enough, in chatting with the owner of a local hardware store, to promise a return visit in four years, when "I'll probably have Secret Service with me."
The owner, Brad Benson, who also chairs the town council, introduced Romney to some 40 reporters and photographers clustered on an abnormally chilly morning by expressing the hope that, as president, Romney might be able to help spur the local economy in small towns like Derry.
However, the "tough times" that Romney deplored in Derry have had an uneven impact, with some businessmen, like Benson, who employs about 100 people, starting to hiring new workers again.