In a preview of the general election, Mitt Romney was poised, analytical, and confident in a speech he gave before the Newspaper Association of America in Washington on Wednesday.
Not only was the former Massachusetts governor riding high after three primary wins the night before, but he was for the first time in a while addressing a crowd not made up of campaign supporters. The result was an oratory that was less riddled with red meat applause lines and more focused on presenting contrasts between himself and President Obama, particularly on the economy, reforming entitlement programs such as Medicare, and foreign policy.
"Free enterprise has done more to lift people out of poverty, to help build a strong middle class, to help educate our kids, to make our lives better than all of the government programs put together," Romney said. "If we become one of those societies that attack success, one outcome is certain--there will be a lot less success. That's not who we are. The promise of America has always been that if you worked hard, and took some risks, that there was the opportunity to build a better life for your family and for the next generation."
Obama, who addressed the same group of newspaper editors and reporters on Tuesday, has been campaigning for re-election with the economic message that everyone "deserves a fair shot." It's a theme he's hoping will help win support from the public for increased taxes on the most wealthy in order to preserve government spending in some areas while also allowing the country to begin paying down its massive debt in earnest.
Romney also hit Obama on doing one thing as president and saying another thing as a candidate for re-election.
"As president, he has repeatedly called for tax increases on businesses. Now, as candidate Obama, he decides that a lower corporate tax rate would be better," Romney said. "As president, he's added regulations at a staggering rate. Now, as candidate Obama, he says he wants to find ways to reduce them. As president, he delayed the development of our oil and coal and natural gas. Now, as candidate Obama, he says he favors an energy policy that adopts an all-of-the-above approach."
But the bulk of Romney's remarks underscored his biography as a businessman and fiscal conservative who helped run the Salt Lake City Olympics and govern Massachusetts, and his 59-point economic plan.
"I understand some people are amused that I have so many ideas, but I think the American people will prefer it to President Obama's grand total of zero," he said.
While most of the themes touched on by Romney were broad and sweeping, he did go into slightly more detail on how he would address Medicare and Social Security reforms without raising taxes.
"I will gradually raise the retirement age for Social Security and reduce the rate of benefit growth for tomorrow's higher income seniors," he said. "I will introduce market competition and consumer choice to Medicare, while also preserving traditional Medicare coverage as an option, so that future seniors can get higher quality care at lower cost."
It was likely a defensive maneuver, as Obama took particular aim at Romney's endorsement of a Republican budget plan that would create a voucher system for future seniors that Democrats claim will reduce seniors' purchasing power and access to healthcare as costs rise.
Romney also repeated his pledge to repeal the president's signature healthcare law, which he has criticized as being a job killer and for making $500 billion in cuts in the Medicare Advantage program available to seniors who opt to spend their government subsidy on private coverage. This criticism from Romney is despite his own support for paring down Medicare spending.
Romney wrapped his speech by framing the election as a referendum on Obama's economic success as president.