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Republicans go to N.H.; Romney's 'hang' gaffe

From NBC's Shawna Thomas
Manchester, N.H. -- It was all going so well for former Gov. Mitt Romney.

He was the only one at the Americans for Prosperity Presidential Summit that started off his speech sending his condolences to the people in Southern states who are dealing with the aftermath of deadly tornadoes, and he made a joke about the president’s birth certificate.

“The president finally produced a long-form birth certificate, and there was no one more disappointed than that amiable know-it-all windbag, Joe Biden.” 

The audience gave him a hearty laugh.

But in the midst of making a Reagan reference, he brought up some uncomfortable imagery when it comes to the current president.

“You remember during the Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter debates that Ronald Reagan came up with this great thing about the misery index, and he hung that around Jimmy Carter’s neck and that had a lot to do with Jimmy Carter losing. Well we’re going to hang the Obama misery index around his neck.”  

He continued, “ The fact that you’ve got people in this country really squeezed…We’re going to hang him with that, so to speak, metaphorically, with uh, you have to be careful these days.”

The audience laughed. The journalists around the room cringed.

He wasn’t the only one who slipped up, Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty basically announced his actual candidacy on stage (again). 

“I see a brighter future in our nation and that's why I'm running for president, considering running for president…to be formally and finally announced later.” He laughed at his own mistake as did the audience. 

Other participants in what will be one of many possible presidential contender cattlecalls were former Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain. All were warmly welcomed and still got a couple of tough questions from the conservative group’s president and moderator.

Romney thanked the moderator for asking about the Massachusetts health care law which some say was a blueprint for the national health care law.  He said that his state of Massachusetts was “spending hundreds of millions of dollars giving up free care to people who could’ve afforded to take care of themselves and so I went to work to try to solve a problem. And it may not be perfect. By the way it is not perfect.  Some parts of that experiment worked.  Some parts didn’t.”

Romney pivoted by saying he would never adopt a “one size fits all plan like Obamacare on the nation” calling it “unconstitutional.”  And he did a little crystal ball gazing when he said, “If and when I have the occasion to debate President Obama I’m going to ask him this question, “Mr. President why didn’t you call me and asked how it worked?”

Santorum was asked about his penchant for earmarks while he was in the Senate and admitted that he “aggressively earmarked money” because he came into office during President Bill Clinton’s term and wanted money spent on things the President wouldn’t have liked.  He went on to say that he thinks banning earmarks is a legitimate argument and that “we owe the American public cold turkey on this.”

Bachmann chose to read a long list of things she would change, most of these items focused on issues Congress could work on most of which dealt with downsizing government.  After the event, one audience member said she didn’t really connect with the Congresswoman until the question and answer period when Bachmann looked up from her notes.

Bachmann’s speech really was different from the other four in that her laundry list of items didn’t include very much about her own background.  Multiple audience members said afterwards that Bachmann and Cain were two they hadn’t heard from before in person, so this was, in some ways, an introduction for her to many GOPrs in New Hampshire.

What everyone could agree on at the summit was repealing the president’s health care law, and not raising taxes on the upper class but that the American people are ready for a truthful conversation about entitlement spending. 

Pawlenty summed it up for the group: “I believe we need to look the American people in the eye and tell them the truth…don’t scare them and freak them out, but show them the solutions and the way forward."