The former Massachusetts governor on Thursday made official his White House run and offered a blistering critique of President Barack Obama. Romney says he would rein in Washington spending and put the country on a course toward economic recovery.
Romney, the closest thing to a frontrunner in a Republican field that lacks one, made his announcement in New Hampshire, a state crucial to his strategy. He came in second place in New Hampshire during his 2008 bid and has invested heavily in the state since.
During a farm visit, Romney said his first priority will be to make America the world's top job creator.
His pitch was 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 political 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 said, 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 promised, "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-forming 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 said. "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 said, 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 said.