Romney in Stratham, N.H. (Evan Vucci/AP)
STRATHAM, N.H.—In an event widely viewed as the unofficial kickoff to his general election campaign, Mitt Romney slammed Barack Obama as an out-of-touch president whose politics have made it "harder" for Americans suffering under a weakened economy.
"Everywhere I go, I meet people who represent the best of America. They are hopeful, hardworking, determined and proud. But they are also worried and anxious. They are tired of being tired," Romney said in a speech at Scamman Farm, the same venue where he launched his 2012 bid a little over a year ago. "They are tired of a detached and distant president who never seems to hear their voices."
Among other things, Romney accused Obama of disregarding the country's concerns about the rising federal debt and suggested the president "ignored" opposition to his health care reform law.
Again citing Obama's comment last week that the private sector is "doing fine," Romney insisted Americans have never faced an administration "so hostile or remote (and) so disconnected from economic reality" and vowed that if elected, he would put the country back on track.
"If there has ever been a president who has failed to give the middle class of America a fair shot, it is Barack Obama," Romney declared. "I have a very different vision for America, and of our future. And I know what we must do to truly give our fellow Americans a fair shot and a better chance."
Romney's speech marked the launch of a five-day tour of six must-win battleground states this fall, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan. While he'll travel between the states on a plane, Romney's bus will wind through small towns his campaign says have been ignored by the Obama administration.
"We'll be traveling on what are often called the 'back roads of America,' but I think our tour takes us along much of the 'backbone of America,'" Romney said Friday, telling supporters that he planned to highlight the "quiet heroes" who have kept the American dream alive in spite of challenging economic times.
Romney's bus tour comes just one day after he held a dueling event in Ohio aimed at stealing the thunder from Obama's much-hyped economic speech in Cleveland. At one point, the presumptive Republican nominee took a swipe at Obama's remarks, which ran for almost an hour Thursday.
"Yesterday the president gave a speech. A. Very. Long. Speech," Romney said. "You might have thought that it would be a moment when he would acknowledge his policy mistakes and suggest a new course. But no. He promised four more years, of more of the same. Four. More. Very. Long. Years."
Romney described that as "the divide in the race"—arguing that Obama "thinks we're on the right track and his policies are working."
"I believe with all my heart that we can, that we must, do better," Romney said.
The Obama campaign held a conference call with reporters to mock what it repeatedly called Romney's middle-class-under-the-bus-tour and renew attacks on the former Massachusetts governor's economic record.
"We're calling it the 'middle-class-under-the-bus-tour," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said on the call, describing Romney's trip as "a tour of rhetoric, optics and pizzazz and no substance."
Villaraigosa charged that Romney "did a very good job at making money" as a businessman but that his economic plan was to "go back to the Bush years" while Obama would "make investments in the future" — notably in education and infrastructure.
"This middle-class-under-the-bus-tour is going to give us an opportunity to highlight those clear differences and the path forward that we can choose," he said.
Former Portsmouth, New Hampshire Mayor Tom Ferrini declared himself "honored that he decided to start his tour here" then accused Romney of swelling New Hampshire's debt while sinking the state to 47th in job creation.
But that wasn't the only protest. As Romney spoke, there was a dull buzz in the air, as two tiny planes circled the 300-acre farm where he stood. One towed a banner that read "Romney for President 2012," while another, sponsored by the liberal group MoveOn.org, offered another name for Romney's trip: "Romney's Every Millionaire Counts Tour."
But Romney ignored the commotion in the sky above his head. Speaking from prepared remarks, the former Massachusetts governor argued that if elected, he would begin getting the country back on track on "day one" of his presidency.
"Join me in the next step toward that destination of November 6th, when across America we can give a sigh of relief and know that the promise of America has been kept. The dreamers can dream a little bigger, the help wanted signs can be dusted off, and we can start again," Romney urged supporters. "And this time we'll get it right."
Olivier Knox contributed reporting.