Potential GOP Presidential Candidates Go On Offense Against Obama in New Hampshire

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Five potential Republican presidential candidates came to New Hampshire on Friday vowing to take an immediate U-turn on the policies of the Obama administration if elected.

That is, if they ultimately decide to run for president.

Though none of the handful of possible Republican contenders who addressed a group of several hundred conservative activists here, including possible repeat candidate Mitt Romney, have officially said they will vie for the Republican nomination, each tried to appeal to Granite State voters who could help make or break their chances next year.

Romney said the fact that many Americans find themselves in dire economic straights is "simply inexcusable."

President Obama, Romney said, "could have learned better" from New Hampshire, in particular.

"He came to New Hampshire. He saw the mills in Manchester, he saw the buildings, he recognized that there was an economic crisis here," Romney said. "He could have learned that when you dealt with that economic crisis you believed in holding down taxes, keeping regulations low, balancing budgets, keeping government small. And that formula has filled those mill buildings."

"But he didn't look to New Hampshire," Romney added, "instead he looked to Europe."

Joining the former Massachusetts governor in his full-throated critique of the president's economic policies were former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain, all of whom were on hand for a presidential summit sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

Friday night's event was one of the first major "cattle calls" in this important early nominating state. Many attendees said they walked into the forum undecided about who they plan to support when their state holds its primary less than a year from now, and walked out without a decision.

Pawlenty, who launched a presidential exploratory committee in March and is an all-but-declared candidate, nearly made an official announcement Friday.

"I see a brighter future for our nation -- that's why I'm running for president," Pawlenty said, quickly clarifying, "considering running for president."

Pawlenty, who has been building up a campaign organization in New Hampshire, fielded a question from the forum's moderator about his shift from supporting a cap-and-trade energy policy to opposing it.

"I changed my position and said it was a mistake, it was stupid and I'm sorry," he said. "I don't try to defend it. Everybody's got a couple of clunkers in their record, that's one of mine."

And the forum was not without its awkward moments for Romney.

At one point he referred to what he called the "Obama Misery Index," telling the crowd, "We're going to hang him with that, so to speak."

He paused for a moment, and added, "metaphorically."

In his remarks, Santorum said it was time for a "drill baby drill" approach to energy policy with Americans facing painfully high gas prices. Bachmann, meanwhile, called for an overhaul of the country's tax system.

"Flat tax or a fair tax," she said, "let's get rid of what we've got and start over."

Cain, the founder of Godfather's Pizza, said he had a simple solution for reducing spending: "Cut, cut, cut."

"I can think of a few agencies in Washington, D.C., that might need to be cut all the way to the bone."

Friday's event was an opening act to a long period of candidate vetting that many Granite State voters seem to take as seriously as a part-time job.

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