ASHLAND, N.H. – The Mitt Romney campaign weaved through New Hampshire today on its first day of a three-day bus tour, keeping to a busy schedule that included stops at a breakfast joint, a pizza parlor, a steel cutting factory and a spaghetti dinner.
At the first stop, Romney spoke briefly with the media, answering questions about his stance on the payroll tax extension but declining to say whether he disagreed with House Speaker John Boehner’s rejection of the bipartisan short-term extension passed by the Senate over the weekend.
“I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth on the congressional sausage making process,” said Romney, standing in the Stage Restaurant in Keene, N.H. “I hope they’re able to sit down and work out a solution that works for the American people.”
“My hope is that the solution includes extension of the payroll tax holiday,” he added. “And recognizing, at the same time, this is not a dramatic restructuring that will help rebuild America’s economy, but it’s certainly a big help to families that are facing tough times in the Obama economy.”
Romney’s harshest words were saved for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom he implied would have to be ready to weather the negative advertising that is inherent in a presidential campaign.
“Speaker Gingrich has had a few less-than-generous things to say about me over the campaign, and you know I’m a big boy: That’s the nature of a campaign to point out distinctions with one another,” said Romney. “And with regards to the heat associated with ads, you know, if you can’t stand the relatively modest heat in the kitchen right now wait until Obama’s hell’s kitchen shows up.”
Gingrich responded to Romney’s kitchen analogy at his own event in Manchester, N.H., this afternoon, challenging the former Massachusetts governor to a debate.
“Look, I’ll tell you what,” said Gingrich. “If [Romney] wants to test the heat, I’ll meet him anywhere in Iowa next week, one on one, 90 minutes, no moderator, just a timekeeper.”
“So let’s test this kitchen. I’m happy. I’ll go in the kitchen. Go back and ask Gov. Romney: Would he like to come and play in the kitchen?” said Gingrich.
The rest of Romney’s day – which included hosting various journalists on his luxury motor coach for interviews in between campaign stops – was more lighthearted.
At Village Pizza in Newport, N.H., Romney ordered a small Hawaiian pizza – with olives – to go, for him and his wife, Ann, before serving more traditional pies to patrons who backed the booths during his drop by.
The next stop was a speech at Hypertherm, a plasma cutting manufacturer in Hanover, N.H., where Romney tried his hand at the tools, carving his initials into a piece of steel.
He turned for approval to his wife, who told him, “It’s cute,” to which Romney responded, “Cute is not what I was looking for. Impressive! Dynamic!”
Romney took questions from employees at Hypertherm, one of whom asked about his experience at Bain Capital and recent reports about the number of workers who were laid off or whose jobs were sent overseas during his tenure at the firm.
“The truth is this, in the business I was in, called Bain Capital, we invested in over 100 different businesses,” said Romney. “And some of them didn’t work. Some failed. Some ultimately laid off individuals and some went out of business.
“I know people in the Obama administration will try to put free enterprise on trial, and guess what that happens,” said Romney. “Those are the realities of what it’s like in a competitive, free enterprise system, and there are some who say that should never happen, businesses should never go out of business. But they will.”
Romney added that his experience turning around companies – at times adding as many as 100,000 jobs, gives him the experience to negotiate with countries like China and that he will know what impact “his decision will have on jobs in America.”
At the fourth and final stop of the day, the Romney campaign rolled into the Ashland American Legion in Ashland, N.H., where he and Ann Romney manned a winding line of hungry supporters. Mitt Romney served the spaghetti and his wife dished out the sauce.
“We love you all, we appreciate you,” she said, introducing her husband.
“This feels like home here, this group,” said Mitt Romney.