LANSING, MI -- Mitt Romney made one of his most direct efforts to date to pivot to the general election, framing President Obama as an "old-school" liberal in a bid to court independent voters.
Back in his home state of Michigan, the state where Romney's primary win allowed him to begin putting away his Republican challengers in the battle for the Republican nod, the presumptive nominee cast Obama as even further to the left than Bill Clinton, the previous Democratic president who'd achieved political success by courting the center.
"President Obama chose to apply liberal ideas of the past to a 21st century America. Liberal policies didn't work back then, they haven't worked during these last four years, and they will not work in the future," Romney told an audience of several hundred at a community college here in Lansing. "New Democrats had abandoned those policies, but President Obama resurrected them, with predictable results."
The rhetoric was part of an effort by Romney to lay claim to independent voters as his general election effort begins to hit its stride. The former governor sought to accomplish that task, in part, by invoking Clinton -- one of the country's most popular politicians whose political standing has only improved since leaving office.
Recapturing Clinton's winning 1992 coalition -- which included women, suburban voters, moderates and independents -- could be critical for Romney if he wants to repeat Clinton's difficult feat of unseating an incumbent president, and of winning here in his home state of Michigan, which last went Republican in a presidential race in 1988.
"President Clinton, remember, he said the era of big government was over. President Obama brought it back with a vengeance," Romney continued. "President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we know it. President Obama is trying to tirelessly expand the welfare state, with promises and more programs, more benefits, and more spending."
The Obama campaign fired back, reminding Michiganders of Romney's push for a bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler (Romney didn't mention autos in his speech), and invoking Clinton for their own purposes.
"Now he wants to bring back budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and letting Wall Street write its own rules—policies that President Clinton compared to the failed economic policies that created the crisis, but ‘on steroids,'" Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said of Romney. "The American people won’t be fooled -- they know that this is the same economic scheme that crashed our economy and punished the middle class in the first place.”
Romney also touted his own biography as proof of his ability to guide the U.S. through a changing world in addition to his efforts to portray the president as a liberal.
Romney, who has long battle GOP and Democratic foes alike over characterizations of his business career, spun his time in private equity and management consulting as a career "at the leading edge of change and dynamism."
"Finding solutions and opportunities in an environment of change and turbulence is what I learned during my career and it’s something I want desperately to bring to the presidency. We can’t look backward," Romney said. "We have to look for those opportunities in a changing world. This is a time for new answers, new ideas and a new direction.”
And to sell his own forward-looking agenda, Romney assailed the Obama campaign's latest tech-savvy tool -- the online "Julia" game simulating a life's worth of effects on a woman -- as a model for government-guided life.
"Old-school liberals envisioned government guiding and providing every need of every citizen. Government would be at the center, the most important player in our lives. Have you seen by the way the president’s vision for the future?" Romney asked.
"To help us see it, his campaign has even created a little fictional character. It's on the website, living an imaginary life filled with happy milestones for which she will spend the rest of her days thanking President Obama. It’s called “The Life of Julia." And it’s a cartoon," Romney said. "By the way what does it say about a president's policies when he has to use a cartoon character rather than real people to justify his record? What does it say about the fiction of old liberalism to insist that good jobs and good schools and good wages will result from policies that have failed us, time and again?"