*** UPDATED WITH FULLER QUOTES ***
MERRIMACK, N.H. -- Mitt Romney toured an elevator parts company here this morning before speaking to a small gathering of employees and taking questions from the media.
He gave his standard stump speech, and took questions from employees on education (give it back to states -- testing is good, other parts of No Child Left Behind not-so-good) and tax policy (low taxes are good).
But the first three questions in the news conference weren’t about his event or policy, but about Rick Perry, the Texas governor who has bounded onto the 2012 presidential scene.
Romney repeated the line that he was a fine governor, and there would be time to contrast their records in debates.
"Gov. Perry and I are going to have plenty of opportunities to contrast our experience and our vision for the nation when we have our debates," Romney said. "There's going to be a lot of those. My guess is 10 or 15 before this is over. But, at this stage, all I've got to say about Gov. Perry is he's a fine guy, a fine governor, respect him. I look forward to seeing him on the trail and at the debates."
By the third question, he responded only: "I may have mentioned that I think he's a fine guy, and a fine governor," laughing slightly.
Asked by NBC if he was of the Tea Party, he said his small-government positions were very much in line with Tea Party beliefs, and that he would look forward to Tea Party support as they got to know him better.
“One of the great things about the Tea Party, in my view, is the Tea Party has exactly in almost every respect the same priorities as the rest of Republicans, many, many Independents, and many Democrats,” Romney said. “And that is government is too big, it's taxing us too much; we need to put in place, growth policies that get the country going again. That's what I believe, and there may be some people in the Tea Party who have differing views on different issues. That's the nature of any large group. But at the heart of the Tea Party effort is a belief that politicians have led us down the wrong road by spending too much money over time, that we should shrink the scale of government, and they're absolutely right.
“I look forward to having great support from Tea Partiers here in New Hampshire and across the country, and I believe that as they get to know me and my vision for the country, recognize that I'm not a lifelong pol, that I've spent four years in government, I tried to do more than that, but I wasn't successful, but as they get to know me better and understand how it is that I'm devoted to shrinking the size of government and encouraging the growth of the free economy, I think I'll get great support from the Tea Party.”
He also noted the strength of the Tea Party in Washington.
“The Tea Party has helped change the agenda in Washington,” he said, referring to the conversation being about spending cuts instead of taxes. “That's a good thing. You have to stand up and be heard for people to recognize the significance of the movement that the Tea Party represents -- government's too big, too intrusive in our lives and it should pull back.”
He also again repeated that he knows President Obama knows and Democrats love America.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to beat him. A child, who asked him sign an autograph, asked if he was going to take Obama's house.
Romney responded, “I'd like to.”