BOSTON -- Mitt Romney set off Friday on a six-state campaign swing aimed at shoring up support among the white conservatives who shunned him in the Republican primaries but are crucial to his quest to unseat President Obama in November.
Romney's jaunt across battleground states will give him a chance to bash Obama's economic record and promote his own agenda, usually in that order, in rural areas, small towns and the Republican-leaning outskirts of large metro areas.
"This is an opportunity over the next five days to go to places that are a little bit off the beaten path and visit towns and cities where people are really struggling in this Obama economy," senior campaign advisor Russ Schriefer told reporters Friday morning at Romney's Boston headquarters.
For a wealthy candidate looking to shake a reputation as stiff and out of touch, the trip, billed as a bus tour featuring hamburger and ice cream stops, will offer opportunities to work on his regular-guy credentials.
In 2008, Obama won all six of the states on Romney's itinerary. This time, three of them are tossups that could tip the November election: Ohio, Iowa and New Hampshire.
But Obama holds an edge in the other three – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; a Romney victory in any of those states likely would signal doom for the president's reelection.
Schriefer said the former Massachusetts governor sees the small towns that he will visit in each state as "the backbone of America."
They also could be described as the backbone of Romney's campaign – bastions of culturally conservative older white voters, many of them blue collar.
Most important for Romney are the Ohio and Iowa small towns and rural areas where he needs strong turnout to offset Obama's advantage in more densely populated parts of those states.
Romney's tour opens Friday morning in Stratham, N.H., where he formally announced his candidacy in June 2011. It will be the first in a series of stops with vice-presidential tryouts. First up, in Stratham: U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Other potential vice presidential picks joining Romney on the tour, according to the campaign are former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Tracking Romney across all six states will be a Democratic National Committee bus tour of local politicians and others denouncing the Republican nominee's economic plans. Democrats have billed it a "middle class under-the-bus" tour.