EAGAN, Minn. - Mitt Romney, fresh off a resounding victory in Florida, came to a warehouse outside Minneapolis yesterday and attacked President Obama without mentioning his Republican rivals, as he tries to rally his fractured party and begin moving toward the general election.
“He’s detached from the American people,’’ Romney said of the president. “I will stay in touch with the American people, and I will lead us back to prosperity.’’
The speech kicked off the next phase of the Republican primary process, a string of caucus states including Minnesota that his campaign hopes to dominate. Yet Romney spent much of the day fending off criticism that he, not the president, was the out-of-touch candidate after he made comments that seemed to downplay the plight of the poor.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor,’’ Romney said on CNN. “We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.’’
The quote was a slice of an overall pitch on how the thrust of his campaign will center on helping the struggling middle class. Yet critics and rivals seized on the “very poor’’ comment and said it was the latest in a string of examples illustrating how the candidate - by far the wealthiest in the field - is oblivious to the needs of everyday Americans.
Newt Gingrich, his chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination, read Romney’s quote aloud to supporters in Reno, Nev., sparking boos.
“I’m fed up with people in either party dividing Americans against each other,’’ Gingrich said at the Great Basin Brewery. “I am running to be the president of all the American people, and I am concerned about all the American people.’’
Obama’s reelection campaign also piled on.
“So much for ‘we’re all in this together,’ ’’ Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, wrote on Twitter.
Several weeks ago, Democrats and Romney’s Republican rivals criticized him for saying, “I like being able to fire people who don’t provide services to me,’’ even though he was speaking about giving consumers the power to fire health insurers.
Aboard his campaign plane, Romney said his latest comments were being taken out of context.
“No no no no. I - no no,’’ he said, when asked what he meant about not caring about poor people. “You’ve got to take the whole sentence, all right, as opposed to saying, and then change it just a little bit, because then it sounds very different. I’ve said throughout the campaign my focus, my concern, my energy is going to be devoted to helping middle-income people, all right?’’
His problems did not end in Minnesota. Just as he was taking the stage, several protesters from Occupy Minneapolis and Glitterati, a group of gay-rights activists, poured glitter on Romney’s head. Several other Republican candidates - including Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty - have also been “glitter-bombed.’’
Romney tried to take it in stride. “This is confetti!’’ Romney exclaimed to his supporters at Freightmasters, a shipment warehouse that was filled with golf carts. “We just won Florida!’’
After his rally in this Minneapolis suburb, Romney was set to fly to Las Vegas for a rally. The Nevada caucuses, which Romney won four years ago, will be held on Saturday. He is also planning to spend time in Colorado, which is holding caucuses with Minnesota on Tuesday. Romney won both of those contests in 2008.
In addition to his past successes, Romney has the most expansive national organization, the most money on hand, and the most momentum out of Florida. Such strengths are expected to give him the upper hand in the seven contests, including Maine, this month.
Romney also released new radio ads yesterday in Colorado and Nevada, both seeking to convey his positive qualities.
Romney’s stop in Minnesota sparked speculation that he would receive Bachmann’s endorsement. The Globe’s Boston.com website reported yesterday that she and the Romney camp were in talks. But Bachmann yesterday denied that any endorsement was forthcoming.
“I talk to all of the candidates on a regular basis,’’ she said on Fox News. “I enjoy talking to them. We had a wonderful relationship and camaraderie on the presidential campaign trail. That continues, but I haven’t yet made a decision about who I will endorse or if I will endorse before the nominee is chosen.’’