STRATHAM., New Hampshire (Reuters) - Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire former governor of Massachusetts, kicked off his second bid for the White House on Thursday, charging that “Barack Obama has failed America” by spending too much and not protecting jobs.
With unemployment high and the housing market still soft, the economy is President Barack Obama’s main weakness, although polls say he is still favored over all potential Republican opponents.
The Republican front-runner so far, Romney blamed Obama for the job losses and home foreclosures that have plagued Americans during the president’s first term.
“From my first day in office my number one job will be to see that America once again is number one in job creation,” Romney said, flanked by hay bales at a New Hampshire farm.
Job figures due out on Friday are likely to show little improvement in an unemployment rate that has hovered around 9 percent for months.
Despite Obama’s economic troubles, the Republican field is seen as weak with many party heavyweights staying out of the race.
Republican media star Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, is running close to Romney in some polls.
She arrived in New Hampshire later on Thursday as part of a bus tour that has fanned speculation she would soon announce her own White House bid.
Reporters flocked after Palin as she headed for a “clambake” seafood cook-out only a few miles away from Romney’s event. She said her presence in the state was coincidental and not aimed at overshadowing her potential rival.
Romney needs to win February’s primary election in this early-voting state to anchor his chance of winning the party nomination to face Obama in the November 2012 election.
Romney, who lost the Republican nomination to John McCain in the 2008 race, has a slimmer campaign team this time around, but the former head of venture capital firm Bain Capital has a powerful campaign finance apparatus in place.
He raised an astounding $10.25 million in an eight-hour phone-a-thon in Las Vegas last month.
Romney’s biggest stumbling block could be his support as governor for a Massachusetts healthcare program that became a model for Obama’s national healthcare overhaul. Many Republicans detest what they derisively call “Obamacare.”
On Thursday Romney repeated his pledge to repeal Obama’s reforms, should he be elected president.
Americans are also concerned about federal spending, the mounting national debt and a budget deficit projected to reach $1.4 trillion this year.
“Government under President Obama has grown to consume almost 40 percent of our economy. We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy,” said Romney.
“Barack Obama has failed America,” he said.
There are doubts about whether Romney is conservative enough for the current Republican Party. With Tea Party movement activists on the rise, the party has shifted to the right since the 2008 campaign.
Jennifer Horn, 46, a former Republican congressional candidate who now works with the conservative group “We the People,” said she was impressed by Romney but not yet ready to endorse him as a candidate.
“There are no freebies in the New Hampshire primary. There’s no question that he is the best known in the field. And this is his day. But he has a lot of questions to answer in the next couple of months,” Horn said.
Other Republican hopefuls like Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty trail Romney by a wide margin in most polls.
Romney’s Mormon faith might be a hindrance to winning the votes of evangelical Christians in the south.
On Thursday, Romney referred to the United States as a country where citizens are free to attend different churches, or not attend church much at all.
The tag of flip-flopper haunts Romney after he shifted positions on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control to position himself for the Republican nomination in 2008, having governed more from the center in Massachusetts.
Romney’s personal style has also been tweaked. After being criticized for his overly formal, CEO-type look in 2008, Romney has gone business-casual, often appearing tie-less in open-necked shirts. He sported that look on Thursday.
“A lot more people like this Romney more than the 2008 Romney,” O‘Connell said. “But he has to demonstrate himself to be a fiscal conservative.”
Additional reporting by Steve Holland and David Morgan in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham