By Jonathan Easley - 04/25/12 01:15 AM EDT
Mitt Romney launched his general election campaign Tuesday in New Hampshire, telling supporters in a primary night victory speech that “a better America begins tonight.”
“After 43 primaries and caucuses, many long days and more than a few long nights, I can say with confidence and gratitude that you have given me a great honor and solemn responsibility,” Romney said. “And, together, we are going to win on Nov. 6.”
That will likely leave the former Massachusetts governor a little more than 200 delegates shy of the 1,144 needed to seal the nomination before the Republican National Convention in late August.
With his main challenger, Rick Santorum, out of the way, Romney romped through primaries in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who campaigned this week in Rhode Island, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has focused on Delaware, did their best to derail the former Massachusetts governor in those states, but each scarcely managed to make a dent.
The Gingrich campaign has said it will reevaluate whether it will continue in the wake of the loss in Delaware, but Paul has said he is committed to accumulating delegates for a role at the convention, even if Romney is the party’s official nominee before then.
Romney’s decision to speak from New Hampshire, rather than from one of the five states where he notched victories was made with the fall campaign in mind. The Granite State, where Romney owns a vacation home and maintains close ties, will be a critical battleground state in the general election; one recent poll showed President Obama with a 9-point lead there. It's also where Romney launched his presidential bid.
If his New Hampshire speech was a precursor to his campaign strategy, Romney will continue to try to appeal to voters by asking them if they’re better off than they were before Obama moved into the White House.
“Four years ago Barack Obama dazzled us in front of Greek columns with sweeping promises of hope and change, but after we came down to earth, after all the celebration and parades, what do we have to show for three and a half years of President Obama?” Romney asked.
“Is it easier to make ends meet? Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one? Have you saved what you needed for retirement? Are you making more in your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump?”
The crowd responded with an emphatic “no” to each question.
Romney, in his speech, also looked to flip the script on what will be a central theme of Obama’s campaign message on tax fairness and income inequality.
“I see an America with a growing middle class, with rising standards of living,” Romney said. “I see children even more successful than their parents — some successful even beyond their wildest dreams — and others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it.”
“This America is fundamentally fair,” he continued. “We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the very taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next.”
Obama also spoke from a battleground state on Tuesday night, addressing a crowd at the University of Colorado at Boulder about soaring student loan debt just moments before Romney was scheduled to speak.
The challenges facing each candidate are already well-defined.
Romney’s favorability numbers are historically low for a nominee entering the general election, and, according to polling, he trails among women and Hispanics.
Conversely, Obama is personally popular but will face an electorate — white middle-class males in particular — that views the economy as the No. 1 issue and sees Romney as better equipped handle it.
The president currently holds a small lead nationally over Romney, polling shows, and in recent weeks has pulled away from the former Massachusetts governor in battleground states that will be critical in determining the outcome of the 2012 election.
— Last updated at 9:15 p.m.