METAIRIE, Louisiana—On the second anniversary of President Obama's health care legislation, Mitt Romney aggressively argued for the law's repeal, calling it an "attack" on Americans' "economic and personal liberty."
"It's amazing how many things are wrong with it," Romney told a crowd of roughly 300 people gathered in a conference room at a local mall here. "I've got a whole list here."
Flanked by new campaign signage that read "Repeal & Replace Obamacare," Romney spoke of average people he's met on the trail who have struggled due to the costs incurred by the law. He pointed to the White House's decision not to hold an event to mark the law's anniversary as proof of the legislation's unpopularity.
"The White House is not celebrating Obamacare today. They don't have some big ceremony. The president is not giving speeches on Obamacare," Romney said. "There's a reason: Most Americans want to get rid of it, and we're among those Americans. I want to get rid of it too."
But Romney emphasized that it wasn't just "critical" to repeal Obama's health care law, but to also replace it with legislation that is better. He vowed to enact a law that "would actually make health care cheaper."
The event was in part an attempt by Romney to get out in front of an issue that is a political weakness for him—the health care law he passed as governor of Massachusetts was a model for Obama's law, according to the White House. But it was also an effort to turn the page on what has been a bumpy week politically for the Romney campaign.
Coming off a major win in Illinois, Romney aides had hoped to spend the week doubling down on their case that the ex-governor has a virtual lock on the Republican nomination. But frenzy over Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom's analogy on Wednesday—suggesting the transition from the primary to the general election could be like shaking an Etch A Sketch—quickly overtook Romney's victory lap and reignited criticism of the candidate as a flip flopper willing to say anything to win.
The flap seemed to stun the Romney campaign, which quickly tried to contain the issue by having Romney himself answer a single question at a press availability in Maryland on Wednesday reiterating that he is a conservative and would remain a conservative.
But few Republicans rose to the candidate's defense—frustrating aides who privately griped that the campaign cannot seem to catch a break even among members of his own party. By Thursday, the campaign was emphasizing a new narrative—pointing out to reporters that it wasn't Romney who made the Etch A Sketch comment but an aide.
It was a distinction that Romney himself made in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt—though he was careful not to throw Fehrnstrom, one of his longest and closest advisers, totally overboard.
"First of all, this wasn't me speaking. This was Eric. And you know, everybody's going to make a gaffe now and again. I've certainly made my share of them, and I'm sure others will. The other candidates have as well. And everyone understands, of course, that Eric was talking about the organization of a campaign, the next chapter of a campaign as you go from primary to general," Romney said, adding that he will "keep" the policies he's articulated heading into November.
But, he took a dig at rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who seized on the Etch A Sketch gaffe by flaunting the toy at campaign events.
"I know that in the nature of politics, people grab onto anything they can. And I just don't think that this is going to be a campaign that focuses on small items, toys and things of that nature," Romney told Hewitt. "This is a question about what kind of America we're going to have, and are we going to retain economic freedom in this country, are we going to have a population which believes the future's brighter than the past, or are we going to sink America with massive deficits and overwhelming debt. And that's what it comes down to, and these little gaffes from day to day, and they're going to be all over the place, that's not how we're going to decide the course of America."
But this week's events only emphasized what has been a major problem for Romney throughout the primary: His campaign has consistently stepped on what should have been good-news days with gaffes. Among them, Romney's comment on the morning after his Florida primary win that he's "not concerned about the very poor" and his offhand comment after a good debate performance in South Carolina that $374,000 in speaking fees he earned in 2010 "was not very much money."
In his interview with Hewett, Rommey acknowledged the problem.
"The timing was not ideal," the candidate said of his aide's Etch A Sketch gaffe. "But you never can estimate that every word that comes out of your mouth is going to absolutely the way you wanted to describe it."
But it was a bad transition into what is not expected to be a good weekend politically for Romney in Louisiana, which is set to hold its Republican primary on Saturday. Polls found Santorum leading Romney by double digits in the state—adding more fodder to talk that the ex-governor can't seem to strike a cord with voters in the South.
But Romney's campaign continued to emphasize the delegate race, suggesting that Santorum's expected win in Louisiana wouldn't do much to derail the ex-governor's momentum.
Still, Romney campaigned sparingly in the state. In addition to his event in Metairie on Friday morning, the candidate was scheduled to hold an event to talk about energy policy in Shreveport on Friday afternoon. Notably, both events were aimed at trashing Obama's policies and not those of his GOP rivals—an effort by the campaign to shift its message beyond the primary and on to November.
But that didn't stop Romney from appealing for votes.
"You've got a lot of delegates here. I want … Well, I'd like all of them," Romney told the crowd in Metairie. "I'm probably not going to get all of them, but I'd like as many as I can, so I'd like to ask you to get out and vote. Give me a good sendoff."
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- Mitt Romney