MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney is opening his first formal day as a 2012 Republican presidential candidate by pitching himself as the one to heal the economy and issuing a direct challenge to the man he wants to replace: "Barack Obama has failed America," he says.
In excerpts released ahead of his formal kick-off speech Thursday, Romney hones in on the economic woes that are frustrating voters: a lack of jobs, persistent foreclosures and runaway spending in Washington.
It's a pitch tailored to the conservatives who hold great sway in picking the GOP's presidential nominee in Iowa and South Carolina — and the independents who are the largest politic bloc in New Hampshire. And it is as much a thesis on his viability as it is an indictment of Obama's leadership.
"A few years ago, Americans did something that was, actually, very much the sort of thing Americans like to do: We gave someone new a chance to lead, someone we hadn't known for very long, who didn't have much of a record but promised to lead us to a better place," Romney says, describing the man he hopes to meet head-to-head in November 2012.
"At the time, we didn't know what sort of a president he would make. ... Now, in the third year of his four-year term, we have more than promises and slogans to go by. Barack Obama has failed America."
In the speech, the former Massachusetts governor launches into a scathing critique of Washington, a place where he has never served. Decrying federal spending, the one-term governor promises, "My generation will pass the torch to the next generation, not a bill."
Romney comes to a presidential contest that lacks a front-runner. In the past week, the still-jelling field became less certain with hints that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was considering a bid. Tea party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is inching toward a run, perhaps giving the anti-tax, libertarian-leaning grassroots movement a candidate to rally around.
Romney sought to claim a slice of that constituency when describing families struggling to get by.
"It doesn't matter if they are Republican or Democrat, independent or libertarian," Romney says in remarks he planned to deliver at a farm in Stratham. "They're just Americans. An American family."
Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, her party's 2008 vice presidential nominee, continued a bus tour that not only highlighted her potential to upend the race but also served as a contrast to the lackluster enthusiasm for those already running for president. She was set to appear in New Hampshire at a clambake Thursday, although her aides and advisers were not providing schedules and her supporters in the state were left looking for guidance.
Romney has built an experienced political team, collected serious campaign cash and crafted a campaign that is ready to go full-bore. While his likely opponents have jostled for the spotlight, Romney largely has worked in private to fine-tune his political machine. He has chosen to weigh in through statements and editorial pages instead of interviews with journalists or town hall-style meetings with voters.
On Friday, Romney starts to shift that strategy. He has scheduled his first town hall meeting for Manchester and later planned to speak at a Faith and Freedom forum in Washington.
Party leaders have yet to rally around him. Romney hopes his tough talk will inspire support.
"We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy," he says, decrying Obama's health care overhaul — a federal version of the one Romney signed into law for Massachusetts.
"From my first day in office my No. 1 job will be to see that America once again is No. 1 in job creation," he says.