APPLETON, WI -- Mitt Romney might not have formally wrapped up the Republican nomination, but his speech here on Friday sounded more like a late-October general election pitch than a primary candidate's plea.
The 24-minute speech to an auditorium filled with supporters and Lawrence University students, the Republican frontrunner delivered a rebuilt stump speech which dissected the Obama administration's economic record and made no mention of, or allusion to, any other Republican candidate seeking the White House.
Romney, looking visibly rested after a weekend at his home in La Jolla, CA and a relatively light schedule of mostly fundraising events this week, stayed tightly bound to his economics-first thesis, and repeatedly hit the president for expanding the powers of government at the expense of free enterprise.
"Under President Obama, America hasn't been working. The ironic tragedy is that the community organizer who wanted to help those hurt by a plant closing became the President on whose watch more jobs were lost than any other time since the great Depression," Rommey said. "And instead of doing everything possible to promote the power of the free enterprise system, to create jobs and get us out of this crisis, Barack Obama has promoted the power of government. And the results have been predictable and dismal."
Romney also accused the president of "certainly" failing to lead the nation's economic recovery, and described what he said was the creation of a "government centered society," in which business and success are vilified, and the government's powers are wielded to "reshape the society into something that is more fashionable and politically correct."
It wasn't just the speech itself that lent today's event a general-election feel. Romney was introduced at the event by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the fourth leading figure in the Republican party (after Sen. Marco Rubio, Jeb and George Bush) to step off the sidelines in the last two weeks and back Romney's candidacy in hopes of ending the primary fight.
Security was also noticeably enhanced, with attendees and media all passing through metal detectors, and reporters' bags searched thoroughly by hand (a first) and checked by K9 units.
Previous efforts by Romney at delivering a broad, candidacy-defining speech have been marred by scene-stealing bad optics (see: Ford Field) or lackluster delivery. Neither were at issue today, as Romney delivered prepared remarks more confidently than usual off a tele-prompter, and was backed by a field of American and Wisconsin flags, neatly framed for television cameras.
Bruising attacks on President Obama's record aside, Romney closed on a hopeful tone, asking supporters to "join me" and "walk together this Tuesday," promising a future in which "the help wanted signs can be dusted off and we can start again."
The Obama campaign wasn't content to let the speech stand by itself, though.
"Mitt Romney’s latest attempt to pivot to the general election offered little in the way of new solutions and more of the misleading rhetoric that has become par for the course for him. Whether he is willfully ignoring the facts or rooting for failure, Mitt Romney’s speech overlooked key facts about the economic progress we’ve made under President Obama’s leadership. From 24 straight months of private sector job creation to a thriving automobile industry that is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs to lower taxes for every working family, the president’s decisive actions over the past three years have begun to pay off," Obama campaign spokesman Lis Smith said in a statement.