Republican front-runner Mitt Romney signaled his intention to make jobs and the economy the focus of his campaign as he kicked off his second try for president with an attack on President Obama's "failed" policies.
With an empty New Hampshire football field as a backdrop, the former Massachusetts governor recorded a two-minute video announcement Monday that included nods toward the more conservative "tea party" elements of his party. His campaign sent it to supporters, then posted it online.
Romney finished behind John McCain in the 2008 nomination contest, but recent polls show him the early leader for 2012. In a move driven mainly by the fundraising calendar, he filed candidacy papers with the Federal Election Commission; a ceremonial declaration will come by this summer. Romney is the second major Republican candidate to file papers, after former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The 64-year-old Romney, dressed casually in a dark jacket and checked sports shirt, said Obama's lack of experience in "the real economy" was the reason his policies hadn't worked. The president and most of his advisors "just don't know how jobs are created in the private sector," he said.
Romney contrasted that with his own experience as a venture capitalist, which helped provide him with the personal wealth that has fueled his political career.
"Sometimes I was successful and helped create jobs," he said, "other times I was not."
That acknowledgement, at the start of his run, appeared designed to inoculate Romney against renewed criticism about large-scale layoffs at companies taken over by his firm, Bain Capital. It also pointed to a very different set of issues than the ones he faced four years ago, when the war in Iraq topped the agenda.
In his brief remarks, Romney drew attention to New Hampshire, which stages the first primary, and Nevada, the first Western caucus. He is counting on victories in both to survive expected losses in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina, both dominated by social conservatives and evangelical voters who have never warmed to Romney.
His declaration came after an unannounced visit to the University of New Hampshire, where he said he spoke with students about the economy, and on the eve of the fifth anniversary of his signing of a sweeping Massachusetts healthcare law.
In the video, Romney did not mention healthcare, a potentially huge liability in the nomination fight because the state measure included a government health insurance mandate similar to Obama's, which has been denounced by conservatives.
New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley alluded to Romney's defense of his healthcare plan — he says he wouldn't impose the Massachusetts system on other states, which should be free to adopt their own plan — in attacking the Republican's reputation for altering his stance on major issues.
"Is he the socially liberal Mitt Romney of 1994 and 2002 — the man who ran for the Senate and who served as a progressive governor of a neighboring state — or is he the Mitt Romney of 2008 and 2012, who changed all his positions as soon as he started thinking about running for the Republican nomination for president?" Buckley said in a statement Monday.
Romney reached out rhetorically to the Republican right in the video, employing a familiar tea party reference to "the principles of our Constitution" as the source of American "greatness," a theme he repeated three times.
He accused "Washington politicians" of setting the country on a "dangerous course" that has become "even worse" under Obama. "But," Romney said, "I am also convinced that with able leadership, America's best days are still ahead," repeating a phrase popularized by Ronald Reagan and copied by politicians of both parties since.
Romney is considered to have the deepest fundraising network of the potential GOP contenders, but one advisor said the campaign was already looking ahead to the challenge of competing against Obama, who began his reelection bid last week amid predictions that he could raise $1 billion.
Among the decisions Romney will face is whether to participate in the first GOP debate next month. The Fox News Channel is sponsoring a debate May 5 in Greenville, S.C., and has said that candidates must have registered an exploratory committee or announced their campaign by April 29 in order to participate.