ZANESVILLE, Ohio -- As he made his final pre-Super Tuesday pitch to voters, Mitt Romney on Monday stressed that in the face of improving U.S. economic numbers, he remains convinced the issue of the economy gives him the best chance in a potential general-election matchup with President Obama.
“I think as long as we're talking about the economy and jobs, and, by the way, shrinking the deficit, we're winning,” Romney said on CNBC’s Kudlow Report. “When we're talking about all other sorts of issues that come up, all of these extraneous ideas, that puts us behind. Focus on the economy -- that's where the president has failed the American people, and they know it.”
Romney downplayed the reports of recent economic growth and recovery, saying that an 8 percent jobless rate “is not the new normal. I mean, this president has a long way to go to be able to deliver on the promises that the American people expect. Incomes have not risen. Gasoline prices are high. The idea that everything's fine out there in America comes from people who are detached from America.”
Romney also told host Larry Kudlow that he rejects the perception the intraparty squabbling among GOP presidential candidates has weakened the party, saying that it has made him more able to challenge Obama.
“I anticipate that I'm going to be more able to debate, in the public square, Barack Obama, to point out why he's failed, to defend the policies that I have,” Romney said. “I've also seen some of the, I'll say, less than accurate attacks and charges against me. I've been able to fend those off. I know where they're going to come from when the Obama machine turns it on with a billion dollars of spending. I'm more ready to go after the president than I was when I got started.”
But Romney got a reminder of how difficult it will be for him to stick to his message when David Axelrod, the Obama reelection campaign's senior adviser, said on CNN that his campaign will pick up where other GOP candidates have left off on spotlighting Romney's work on health care as Massachusetts governor as a precursor to the Obama-crafted law.
"We used many of the same advisers who helped fashion that program in Massachusetts which, by the way, Governor Romney should feel proud about -- I don't know why he runs away from that. That's probably his singular achievement as governor of Massachusetts," Axelrod said.
Romney put his focus on the economy into practice at speeches and town halls across Ohio. Starting Monday morning at a factory in Canton, he explained that during his time in the private sector, he succeeded by focusing.
"When our president came into office there was one key job in front of him, and that was to get this economy going and put people back to work,” he said. "But instead of focusing his energy on that topic, he instead went off on a whole series of other things he wanted to do."
Romney continued, "One of the reasons we're having such difficulty coming out of the downturn we're in is because the president has failed to focus on what was most important to America, which is getting good jobs again."
Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's senior adviser, told reporters the former Massachusetts governor has not been “like other candidates who get distracted by noneconomic issues. He stays focused on the economy, and I think that, more than anything else, explains why he’s surging” in recent polls.