MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Asked what, precisely, he objected to about yesterday's presidential announcement that all U.S. troops would be leaving Iraq by the end of the year, Mitt Romney responded with a series of questions of his own.
"I believe you should listen to the commanders on the ground and understand from them what the timetable is to transition entirely to the Iraqi military," he said. "And the reports from the administration up until this point have been that we would have a presence that would extend beyond December by virtue of putting in place a status of forces agreement. And that negotiation was underway. Why did it fall apart? Was the president's administration out-negotiated by Iraqi leaders? Was there failure to communicate the needs of their military and our own? Or was this simply a political recalculation? And we won't know the answer to that until we here from the commanders in the field as to what's the truth."
Yesterday, Romney's campaign issued a statement slamming the president's decision to draw-down troops an "astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq," a position in line with that of much of the rest of the Republican Party, but which drew a sharp rebuke from President Obama's reelection campaign, which criticized Romney for not making clear his own timetable, and for his lack of foreign-policy experience overall.
"Mitt Romney’s foreign-policy experience is limited to his work as a finance executive shipping American jobs overseas,” concluded the Obama campaign.
In a brief but wide-ranging press conference in his campaign's New Hampshire headquarters, Romney also addressed critics who say he has been ignoring Iowa, and to a lesser extent, other early states in the primary calendar.
"You'll see me in the five early states quite a bit," he said. "Given the fact there are five states, and they're far apart, you can't get to all of them day after day after day, but you try to make a presence or showing in debates and in day campaigns, every time you get a chance to do so."
Romney pointed out that he was in Iowa on Thursday and New Hampshire today.
"We'll be campaigning across the country," he said. "Ultimately, I plan to campaign for support in all 50 states."
Romney also weighed in on the controversy surrounding Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom the Washington Post reported his parents emigrated to the United States two years prior to Fidel Castro taking power, something Rubio hadn't made clear in a number of speeches and during his 2010 Senate campaign. Rubio, whose name is frequently floated as a possible vice presidential candidate, has denied he embellished his parents' back-story -- for political gain, and Romney stood firm in his support for Rubio.
“I have the highest respect for Marco Rubio," Romney said. "I think his family's history having come to this country speaks for itself. This is a family that came with nothing, and Marco Rubio and his family deserve the highest praise and recognition. I think the world of Marco Rubio -- support him entirely, and think that the effort to try and smear him was unfortunate and bogus.”
In the wake of last week's contentious debate exchanges with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and the ensuing online ad war between the two camps, Romney was asked whether he believed Perry has the necessary tool kit, including the intelligence, to be president. Romney at first responded that he himself certainly did.
"I do," Romney laughed, before continuing. "I believe every single person on the stage in that last debate would do a better job than President Obama. If Rick Perry were the nominee, I'd be voting for him. I, of course, feel he's qualified, as I do the other people on the stage."
"I believe I'm the best-suited to beat president Obama and that's why I'm running," Romney added "So the other guys are fine, and gal, they're just fine, they're all qualified, but I don't think they bring as much to the table as I do, or I wouldn't be running for office."
Addressing the media before word of Nevada's decision to slide back it's caucus to Feb. 4 became public, Romney expressed confidence in New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner's ability to hold the line and protect New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.
"I take my cue from Bill Gardner," Romney said. "I have a lot of confidence in the secretary of state here. He's done a fine job over the years. I have confidence he'll continue to do so, as a superb secretary of state. I hope this gets resolved in a way that is favorable, and I can tell you this: we will make sure that New Hampshire remains the first primary in the nation. The people of New Hampshire have invested years and attention to the process of selecting nominees, and that is something I want to protect."
Before the press conference, Romney seemed to be enjoying himself working the phones alongside his volunteers here. He placed several calls to supporters in different parts of the state, and to would-be supporters. Some calls appeared to more effective than others.
Reaching a wrong number, Romney asked the person on the other end if they had ever heard of Mitt Romney.
"It's me," Romney said. "I'm on the phone."