MANCHESTER, NH -- On the heels of S&P's downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, and with the financial markets in a free-fall, Mitt Romney let his background as a turnaround expert guide his lunchtime campaign speech to a Rotary Club here today.
"We used to joke that there are three rules to doing a turnaround," Romney explained. "Rule one is focus. Number two is focus, and three is focus."
And focus he did -- on what he called President Obama's failed economic leadership, accusing the president of taking his eye off of the nation's primary economic problem.
"When President Obama came into office, the most important thing -- job he had immediately in front of him was to get the economy turned around." Romney said. "We still have unemployment above 8%. In fact, it's above 9%, and we're three years into his four year term. Focusing on the economy was job one."
He told his audience of more than 50 Rotarians that the president's inability to create jobs and re-energize the sagging economy led to the S&P decision that the nation's balance sheet was out of order.
Speaking to reporters beforehand, Romney promised that if elected he would use his experience helping Massachusetts upgrade its credit rating last decade to do the same for the United States -- a feat one Democratic group pointed out was helped by raising revenues, a prescription which is not part of Romney's overall plan now.
"As Mitt Romney is out on the stump taking credit for Massachusetts ratings upgrade, he is conspicuously leaving out that he was able to achieve this by raising revenue," said Ty Matsdorf of American Bridge in a memo released this morning. "Perhaps it is because just last week he was decrying the president for trying to take the same balanced approach to solving the debt ceiling crisis."
While economic policy dominated his appearance here, Romney did take time to address other issues both in his speech, and in a Q&A session with the audience.
He opened his remarks to the press, as well as his stump speech, by lamenting the loss of the U.S. military personnel who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Saturday, calling them "among the very best of our nation," and saying that his wife Ann struggled to watch the weekend news coverage because it was so troubling.
Romney also defended his Massachusetts health-care law, saying he remained proud of the plan, but that it is "not a model for federal imposition."
And often critiqued for what some describe as a somewhat awkward campaign style, Romney did land one highly effective laugh line. Romney, who has a summer home on New Hampshire's Lake Winnepesaukee, was asked how to improve New Hampshire's reputation as a summer tourist destination. He first started speaking about Massachusetts, then paused for a moment, and finally replied:
"Perhaps the most powerful way to have more people see New Hampshire as a wonderful summer resort would be to have a president who summered here in New Hampshire."
Continuing over laughter and applause from the crowd, he added: "Although I think my friends in Wolfeboro would say, 'Way too much traffic.'"