MANCHESTER, N.H. -- On a day in which his Republican rivals took sharp aim at his reputation for political shape-shifting, Mitt Romney stayed true to one guiding, absolute principle of his campaign: Keep the focus on the president.
"Watching the president, he's blamed George W. Bush, Republicans, Congress, I don't know -- ATM machines. He looks for someone to blame," Romney said of the President Obama’s role in the country's economic woes. "The president should take responsibility, His economic plans didn't work. He borrowed $787 billion up there, and said it would hold unemployment below 8%. It has not been below 8% since--. He set the bogey. He missed it. He failed."
With two other major candidates prowling the backyard of the state where Romney holds his most commanding lead, the friendly crowd here with mostly economic questions put a positive cap on a day in which Romney was largely a target of attacks, not applause.
This morning, Romney found his New Hampshire fortress under assault by the man his campaign still treats as his primary rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry, in the state to file his primary paperwork, fired off the first shot at Romney during a radio interview this afternoon.
"Like it or not, the governor has been on opposite sides on a lot of issues," Perry said. "He was for banning handguns; now he's Mr. Second Amendment. He was the father of Obamacare."
Jon Huntsman's campaign joined the pile-on later this afternoon, releasing a Web video entitled, "Backflip," juxtaposing Romney's positions this cycle on issues like abortion and gun control with comments he made in Massachusetts races-past, and calling Romney out for what Team Huntsman described as failures to lead.
Perry and Huntsman weren't Romney's only antagonists today. Romney's own recent comments, this time on climate change, came back to haunt him after Web video, shot by a tracker from a Democratic group showing Romney speaking at a fundraiser yesterday, was posted online.
In the video, Romney, who was speaking at a private fundraiser the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, said, "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us. My view with regards to energy policy is pretty straightforward: I want us to become energy secure and independent of the oil cartels."
Democratic groups seized on the comments, noting the rhetorical contrast with Romney's statements earlier this summer, including at a town hall here in New Hampshire, in which he professed to believe that climate change was happening, and that human beings probably contributed to it, but that, as a layman, not a scientist, he did not know to what degree either was the case.
While his language has changed, Romney's actual policy prescription regarding energy and climate change has remained consistent this cycle. He says he favors developing both conventional and renewable energy sources, and routinely lambastes cap-and-trade programs, but the comments provided fodder for the recurring narrative of Romney as a politician who will shape his comments to his audience. It also provided cover for other campaigns to point out Romney supported stringent air-quality standards on power plants while governor of Massachusetts, regulations similar to those which he now opposes.
"Mitt Romney's positions change, often dramatically, depending on the audience or location," Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said in a statement released earlier today. "Voters need to consider the fact that Romney, in one week, changed positions on manmade global warming, capping carbon emissions, and Ohio's efforts to curb union powers."
In a statement, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul called those charges "ridiculous," and blamed the controversy on "hot air coming from career politicians who are desperate to hold on to power."
Back at the town hall, which the campaign says is Romney's 15th in the Granite State, the candidate offered responses to voters questions on debt reduction, gas prices and “Occupy Wall Street” that may open up future controversies.
Romney, who last week voiced strong opposition to President Obama's decision to remove all forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and has argued against pulling troops out of Afghanistan before December 2012, cited the end of both wars as part of a strategy to bring down government spending.
"Part of that will happen as we complete our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan because that's a portion of [reducing spending]," Romney said.
Asked if he would open the ANWR reserve in Alaska for oil drilling, Romney said he would, and that he would consider going one step further, opening up drilling on the continental shelf, including off the coast of Florida, a proposal he acknowledged has been unpopular there before because of fears of an oil spill.
"But if you say to the people in Florida, instead of the royalties going to the federal government, for oil drilling, how about it goes to the state?” Romney said. “Then they may change their minds in that regard. We'll let them; we'll let them opine on what they think is the right thing to do.”
Romney also suggested that any embrace of the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement by President Obama would be an awkward one, and that President Obama was at least, in part, responsible for the protest movement's very existence.
"If we had 6% unemployment instead of 9.1% unemployment,” he said, “this wouldn't be going on. So if we had a president who had understood what it took to reboot the economy and get us back to work, we wouldn't have this problem. We wouldn't have people protesting, because they'd be working. So, for the president to suggest, yeah, you guys, we're with you. It's like wait a second, Mr. President, they're protesting, in part, because of your failure."
And while Romney never mentioned any of his GOP rivals by name tonight, he did take what could be perhaps considered a parting shot at Perry.
Asked who he would be supporting in the deciding game of the World Series tonight, Romney said he's be backing the St. Louis Cardinals, who face off against Perry's beloved Texas Rangers in Game Seven.