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Romney, Huntsman take on Obama, economy

On a day that brought a disappointing report on unemployment, Republican presidential contenders seized on President Obama’s record as evidence that he is unequipped to solve the nation’s persistent problems.

In his first meeting with New Hampshire voters since his formal announcement Thursday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reiterated his judgment that Obama “has failed America.”

“Today, three years into his term, we have more news that unemployment has ticked up again,” Romney told an audience at the University of New Hampshire, referring to a government report showing paltry job growth and a 9.1% unemployment rate. “We have 16 million people out of work or who just stopped looking for work, millions more are in jobs that are well beneath their capacities. We have home values continuing to decline three years later. Three years later we have a record number of foreclosures; three years later, higher gasoline prices, higher food prices. People are feeling more squeezed.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, speaking to an audience of influential Christian conservatives in Washington, segued from a discussion of “the lack of liberty in China,” where he just finished serving as U.S. ambassador, to “the encroachments on liberty here at home: the new healthcare law, the seemingly unstoppable growth of government, the resulting mass of regulation and debt, the list goes on and on and on.”

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With the federal government’s growing deficit and debt, he said, Americans “are not buying a freer, more prosperous nation. We are not buying national investments for future generations. No, what we are buying is serfdom. What so many in the establishment do not get in this fight over the extension of the debt ceiling is not just about debt. It is not just about spending cuts. It is not just about confidence in our bonds and our debt. It is about the size of government and the role of government in our society and our lives.”

The dual criticisms are an indication of the drumbeat of criticism that Obama can expect from GOP candidates from now until election day — though neither on Friday proposed much in the way of solutions to the most intractable problems.

Romney, while pitching himself as the candidate best suited to deal with the economy, repeatedly refused to answer multiple questions from reporters about an immediate issue: whether he thought the nation’s debt ceiling should be raised. Voters at the town hall also raised the issue twice, with one visibly frustrated woman saying, “I am tired of the government raising the debt ceiling on my back.”

In his remarks, however, Romney praised congressional Republicans’ refusal to raise the debt ceiling without spending reductions.

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“We’ve got our colleagues in the House that are doing a heroic job. They’re using every source of their strength to fight the excessive spending of this administration and I applaud them on that,” he said. “They say they’re not going to raise the debt limit unless they see a commensurate reduction in spending and plans to hold down our spending in the future. Congratulations to them on keeping the battle going on.”

Romney predicted that Republicans would gain control of the White House and the Senate and retain control of the House of Representatives.

“This president has failed. Look, he’s nice guy, he’s well spoken, he could talk a dog off a meat wagon and yet he hasn’t delivered,” Romney said. “He can’t keep blaming George Bush. This is now his economy and what he has done has failed the American people. And the borrowing and spending and $1.6-trillion deficit, these numbers are his, they’re on his back and it’s why he’s going to lose.”

Romney did not bring up his own greatest vulnerability — his Massachusetts healthcare plan that included a mandate to purchase insurance — until a voter asked about coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. He replied by trying to differentiate his plan from the one signed by Obama. He vowed to repeal the federal plan and said the government could require insurers to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions under certain conditions.

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But the similarities between Romney’s plan and Obama’s continued to dog him. Protestors outside the event included Tina Danger, a 26-year-old babysitter, who said she was picketing Romney’s appearance because she opposes socialized healthcare.

“Mitt-care is not a Republican value,” said the Manchester, N.H. resident.

In Washington, Huntsman told the audience about his efforts on behalf of Chinese dissidents while he was ambassador, and his executive experience in supporting restrictions on abortion and cutting taxes.

“As governor of Utah, I supported and signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk,” he said. “I signed the bill that made second-trimester abortions illegal and increased the penalty for doing so. I signed the bill to allow women to know about the pain an abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for an abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions in Utah if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

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“You see, I do not believe the Republican Party should focus only on our economic life to the neglect of our human life. That is a trade we should not make. If Republicans ignore life, the deficit we will face is one that is much more destructive. It will be a deficit of the heart and of the soul.”

seema.mehta@latimes.com

paul.west@latimes.com


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