Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of running a hide-and-seek re-election campaign that assumes what the voters don't know about his plans for missile defense, Medicare and more "won't hurt him."
Delivering what amounted to a rebuttal from the same podium where Obama spoke a day earlier, the Republican nominee-in-waiting said remarks the president was recently heard making to Russian President Medvedev call "his candor into serious question."
"What exactly does President Obama intend to do differently once he is no longer accountable to the voters?" he asked.
Obama was overheard telling Medvedev several days ago that he will have more flexibility in negotiating an arms treaty once he is re-elected.
Speaking to newspaper publishers and editors, Romney also said he was not ready to declare a position on proposed legislation to protect confidential sources relied on by journalists.
"Do I see a role for confidential sources? Yes. Do I ever see a time when a confidential source would have to be revealed? Yeah, I can see that, too," he said.
Romney spoke one day after Obama delivered a scathing indictment of Republican economic policies in a speech to the annual meeting of The Associated Press.
In reply, the Republican challenger said Obama "criticized policies no one is proposing. It's one of his favorite strategies — setting up straw men to distract from his record."
Romney spoke to the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of News Editors on the morning after he swept to victory in three more primaries, in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
His wins widened his delegate lead, but rival Rick Santorum said he wasn't bowing out. Instead, he urged voters in the next-up Pennsylvania primary to vote for "someone whose views are forged in steel, not on an Etch A Sketch."
Romney didn't mention Santorum on Tuesday night but sought to cast Obama as an "out of touch" liberal whose personal background is hostile to a free economy.
His remarks came just hours after Obama's combative campaign speech in Washington, in which he attacked House Republicans' budget plan as "thinly veiled social Darwinism" that "is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it."
Obama called it "a prescription for decline."
After his speech Wednesday, Romney planned to head to a campaign event in the Philadelphia suburbs. He was to campaign in the state Thursday as well.
Romney won 86 delegates in the three races Tuesday, which pushed his total to 658 of the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination. Santorum has 281 delegates, Newt Gingrich 135 and Ron Paul 51.
For Romney, an end of the contested primary campaign could hardly come soon enough.
"I want to have our nominee start raising money, start organizing a national campaign and focus on President Obama and his agenda because this is time for us to start focusing on him rather than standing and focusing on one another in these primary contests," he told radio host Sean Hannity on Tuesday. "I think we've had, as of tonight, we will have had almost 35 or more state or territorial contests for the nomination. Maybe it's time to get going."
Obama has gained in the polls in recent months, particularly among women, as Republicans vie among themselves for support from a conservative party electorate. Santorum has devoted more time to social concerns — including birth control — than Romney, who has generally stayed focused on economic issues.
Surveys indicate Americans are growing more optimistic about the overall state of the economy. Unemployment has fallen in recent months, but it is still at a relatively high 8.3 percent of the work force.
Already, the early outlines of a general election ad war are visible. Obama's re-election campaign is airing commercials in a half-dozen battleground states that accuse Romney of siding with Big Oil "for their tax breaks, attacking higher mileage standards and renewables."
The ads are a rapid response to $3 million in commercials aired by an outside group, American Energy Alliance, blaming the president for rising gasoline prices.
In his campaign for the Republican nomination, Romney has collected endorsements from former President George H.W. Bush; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a tea party favorite; and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, author of a conservative budget that Republicans pushed through the House last week.
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