QUAKERTOWN, Pa. — Mitt Romney on Saturday tried to refocus on middle-class economic issues as his bus tour wound through Pennsylvania — though Democrats pushed the likely Republican presidential nominee off of his original itinerary.
Romney rerouted his tour after former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and several other Democratic officials held a press conference outside the Wawa gas station where the former Massachusetts governor had planned an early afternoon stop. Protestors gathered outside the store.
So Romney decided to visit a different Wawa store instead.
"Why we're at this Wawa, instead of the other Wawa?" Romney said as he paid for a meatball hoagie. "I understand I had a surrogate over there already, so we decided to pick a different place. My surrogate is former Gov. Rendell, who said we could win Pennsylvania."
Instead of making prepared remarks to the crowd gathered outside the first location — Romney's advance team had set up a microphone — the Republican's bus went instead to the second Quakertown Wawa and made a quick tour through the store.
The detour threw Romney off the jobs-and-economy message he had been pushing earlier in the day.
"I think we have to have a very careful review of who's giving a fair shot to the American people," Romney told a crowd of several hundred packed into a warehouse at Weatherly Casting and Machine Co., next to the train tracks that run through Weatherly, Pa., about 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Criticizing the president, Romney slipped and referred to Obama as a "governor."
"Governor might have been a better job for him to have started with," Romney joked.
The stop was the first of three planned appearances in small towns in this state with 20 electoral votes that Obama won in 2008 with 54 percent. No Republican presidential nominee has carried the state since 1988.
Romney appeared with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a possible running mate, who told the crowd, "Mitt Romney's message is: It will be better."
The tour is intended to challenge Obama in states where he's strong. Romney is targeting smaller cities and towns through the state's more conservative midsection. Weatherly is in Carbon County, which Obama narrowly carried in 2008.
Romney also was scheduled to stop in Quakertown, in Bucks County, as well as at Cornwall Iron Furnace, a national historic landmark. That's in Lebanon County, which GOP nominee John McCain won in 2008.
Romney is on a bus tour, but he planned to fly each night to the next state and ride from town to town during the day. It's his first traditional campaign swing since the primary and is aimed at undecided voters in six pivotal states won by Obama four years ago: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.
The tour represents a new mode for Romney in the general election. During the primary, Romney sometimes ran into trouble in less-scripted environments, and the bus tour probably will test him again. He also has long faced questions about his ability to connect with average people.
The last time Romney was in Pennsylvania, he campaigned with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and said he was "studying" the Cuban-American's ideas for legislation that would allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country to work.9 comments on this story
The opening of Romney's six-state, five-day tour was overshadowed by Obama's announcement Friday that the U.S. no longer would deport some young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. In response, Romney softened the harsh rhetoric he used in addressing illegal immigration during the contentious GOP primary campaign.
"It's an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country," Romney told reporters after stepping off his bus in New Hampshire. Obama's executive order was problematic, he said, because "an executive order, of course, is a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents."
Romney declined to say whether he would reverse the order if he were elected.