APPLETON, Wis. - Mitt Romney, delivering his most presidential speech to date, ignored his fellow GOP candidates, looked past the remaining primaries, and urged voters in Wisconsin today to join him on the path to Election Day, posing a confident contrast between himself and the current administration in what appeared to be Romney's first speech of the general election.
Addressing an auditorium of voters at Lawrence University, Romney paid no attention to the ups and downs of the slog that has been the Republican primary, instead pivoting his attention directly to President Obama, reminding the crowd not of their civic duty to vote in the Wisconsin primary early next week, but of their obligation this November.
"As you know, in 222 days something really quite extraordinary is about to happen in America," said Romney. "We're going to have an election. And across this country, millions and millions of Americans are going to be able to do something that is really quite amazing - they're going to choose not only their president but an entire House of Representatives and also a third of the U.S. Senate, and the entire world is going to be watching us.
"By about midnight on Nov. 6, or maybe a little earlier or a little later, we're going to know the results of millions of Americans exercising their right to vote. And in doing so, making a choice so profound that it's really very difficult for us to grasp it," said Romney. "No one can predict the next crisis that the next president is going to confront, know what the world is going to look like at the end of the next president's term."
Even the Obama re-election campaign acknowledged that the direction of Romney's speech made an obvious turn toward the general election, saying in a prepared statement, "Mitt Romney's latest attempt to pivot to the general election offered little in the way of new solutions and more of the misleading rhetoric that has become par for the course for him."
Romney, who debuted several new lines during the speech, appeared more comfortable and more impassioned than he has in previous speeches, delivering a message suggesting that it is President Obama, and not himself, who is out of touch with Americans.
Remarking that Obama's economic plan is a "bust," Romney railed on the president for believing he's doing a good job running the country.
"I'm not kidding," said Romney. "He actually thinks he's doing a great job - a historically great job."
"I mean, how can this be?" asked Romney. "Is it because the president is so disconnected from what's happening in America that he doesn't grasp the real consequences of his failures? And the answer's easy: The answer's yes, of course. This is a president who was not elected on the strength of a compelling record of accomplishment but by a compelling personality and story.
"There was much about the campaign of Barack Obama that appealed to many Americans, and though the reality has failed, the hope and change he promised, he remains surrounded by true believers who attack anyone who challenges their power and, as we see each day, they will fight even more fiercely to hold onto that power," said Romney. "Of course, all that's to be expected. That power loves power and never lets go easily is hardly new. And that a White House has lost touch with the American people, I guess we've seen that once or twice before, as well. But we should also remember that candidate Barack Obama pledged that he wanted to transform the nation and, unfortunately, that's exactly what he's been doing, and that's one more reason why I believe this election is so critical."
Forecasting the upcoming campaign, Romney warned that the during the next phase of the election a "deafening cacophony of charges and counter-charges" will be heard, and predicted that by Nov. 6 most Americans will "be afraid to turn on your TV."
"So now, in the relatively quiet period before the storm, let's start with something basic facts about which there can be no debate," said Romney, who then launched into attacks on Obama's record, mentioning the unemployment rate, foreclosure statistics and the shutdown of manufacturing plants.
Pointing to his career in the private sector, Romney said that the choice, come November, "could not be more clear and profound."
"This last year I've been all over the country, from student union cafeterias to kitchen tables to factory break rooms to board rooms I've heard frustration and anger but rarely hopelessness. Many Americans have given up on this president, but they haven't ever thought about giving up on ourselves, not on themselves, not on each other, not on America," said Romney.
"We have a sacred duty to restore the promise of America and we'll do it. We'll do it because we believe in America. This Tuesday, I want the people of Wisconsin to join me, join me in the next step of the journey to that destination - Nov. 6 - when across America we can give a sigh of relief and know that the promise of America has been kept," said Romney. "The dreamers can dream a little bigger. The 'help wanted' signs can be dusted off and we can start again. And this time, we'll get it right, we'll stop the days of apologizing for success at home and never again apologize for America abroad."
The Obama campaign's statement attempted to rebut several of the points in Romney's speech.
"Whether he is willfully ignoring the facts or rooting for failure, Mitt Romney's speech overlooked key facts about the economic progress we've made under President Obama's leadership," said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the president's re-election campaign. "From 24 straight months of private sector job creation to a thriving automobile industry that is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs to lower taxes for every working family, the president's decisive actions over the past three years have begun to pay off.
"We've seen what happens when Mitt Romney is in charge and it's greatly at odds with his message today of more jobs, less debt, and smaller government," said Smith. "During his four years as governor, Massachusetts had the fourth-worst job-creation rate of any state in the nation, debt increased by 16 percent, government jobs grew six times as fast as private sector jobs, and taxes increased by $750 million each year. Mitt Romney may hope that Americans never learn about his failed record in public service, but he can't make them forget that his policies today mirror those that created the economic crisis in the first place."