QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - Mitt Romney tried to refocus on middle-class economic issues as his bus tour wound through Pennsylvania on Saturday - though Democrats pushed the likely Republican presidential nominee off of his original itinerary.
Romney rerouted his tour after Pennsylvania’s former governor, Ed Rendell, and several other Democratic officials held a press conference outside the Wawa gas station where the former Massachusetts governor had planned an early afternoon stop. Protestors gathered outside the store.
So Romney decided to visit a different Wawa store.
“Why we’re at this Wawa, instead of the other Wawa?’’ Romney said as he paid for a meatball hoagie. “I understand I had a surrogate over there already, so we decided to pick a different place. My surrogate is former governor Rendell, who said we could win Pennsylvania.’’
Instead of making prepared remarks to the crowd gathered outside the first location - Romney’s advance team had set up a microphone - the Republican’s bus went instead to the second Quakertown Wawa and made a quick tour through the store.
The detour threw Romney off the jobs-and-economy message he had been pushing earlier in the day.
“I think we have to have a very careful review of who’s giving a fair shot to the American people,’’ Romney told a crowd of several hundred packed into a warehouse at Weatherly Casting and Machine Co., next to the train tracks that run through Weatherly, about 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Criticizing the president, Romney slipped and referred to Obama as a “governor.’’
“Governor might have been a better job for him to have started with,’’ Romney joked.
The stop was the first of three planned appearances in small towns in this state with 20 electoral votes that Obama won in 2008 with 54 percent. No Republican presidential nominee has carried the state since 1988.
Romney appeared with former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a possible running mate, who told the crowd, “Mitt Romney’s message is: It will be better.’’
The tour is intended to challenge Obama in states where he is strong. Romney is targeting smaller cities and towns through the state’s more conservative midsection.
Romney is on a bus tour, but he planned to fly each night to the next state and ride from town to town during the day. It is his first traditional campaign swing since the primary and is aimed at undecided voters in six pivotal states won by Obama four years ago: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa.
The tour represents a new mode for Romney in the general election. During the primary, Romney sometimes ran into trouble in less-scripted environments, and the bus tour probably will test him again. He has also long faced questions about his ability to connect with average people.
The last time Romney was in Pennsylvania, he campaigned with Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and said he was “studying’’ the Cuban-American’s ideas for legislation that would allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country to work.
The opening of Romney’s six-state, five-day tour was overshadowed by Obama’s announcement Friday that the United States would no longer deport some young illegal immigrants who came to this country as children. In response, Romney softened the harsh rhetoric he used in addressing illegal immigration during the contentious GOP primary campaign.
Romney also took time to do an interview for CBS News’ “Face the Nation’’ program. Sunday will mark the first time he has appeared on a weekend political talk show since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.
Romney told host Bob Schieffer that the president’s decision to allow some young illegal immigrants to stay in the country instead of deporting them was a largely political move.
“If [Obama] really wanted to make a solution that dealt with these kids or illegal immigration in America, than this is something he would have taken up in his first three and a half years, not in his last few months,’’ Romney said.
N.C. seeks blue law change
RALEIGH, N.C. - Adding a twist to blue laws in an increasingly red state, North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature is toasting a measure to keep the booze flowing at the Democratic National Convention.
President Obama and other Democratic Party headliners are set to be in Charlotte for the nominating soirée held every four years, which kicks off with a Labor Day party at a stock car track. The state’s government-run liquor stores are closed Sundays and for the Monday holiday, presenting a potential problem for bars, restaurants, and hotels needing to replenish depleted alcohol stocks.
The convention is expected to draw tens of thousands who will spend millions on food and drinks. To the rescue is a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Raleigh sponsoring a bill to keep the Alcoholic Beverage Control stores in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, open for Labor Day 2012.