STRATHAM, N.H. — There were many of the trappings of a Mitt Romney presidential event: a sharp critique of President Obama, adoring fans vying for cellphone snapshots with the former Massachusetts governor, an oversized American flag.
Even the location had the feel of a White House run: It was the same farm where, in 2011, Romney officially announced his second bid for president.
But Wednesday, under a searing July sun, Romney reiterated that he is not running again and assured supporters and reporters that he was simply in New Hampshire to help elect Scott Brown as the Granite State’s newest senator.
“I got the bug to help Scott; that’s about it,” Romney said after delivering a speech that took direct aim at Obama and US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, whom Brown is vying to unseat. The 2012 GOP nominee knocked Obama’s handling of the economy, criticized the president’s foreign policy, and told supporters that Shaheen is a rubber stamp for the White House.
“Washington is not a place where New Hampshire wants to play a game of Simon Says,” Romney told the sweaty but upbeat group.
Shaheen, he said, “is the Simon Says senator. We don’t need that. We need an independent senator!” People in the crowd, many holding Scott Brown signs, cheered.
Romney said the economy has been “bumping along the bottom for a long time.” He told the crowd that the United States had lost esteem and influence around the world. Instead of shaping events through soft power, we have “become the victim of circumstance,” he said.
And he reminded everyone at Bittersweet Farm, estimated by a Brown aide to be attended by 300 to 350, that the people of New Hampshire have a chance to vote on Obama’s agenda by rejecting his “number one supporter, Jeanne Shaheen.”
Lauding Brown as an independent thinker, Romney introduced and endorsed the former Massachusetts US senator, who took the stage and promptly shed his jacket in the heat. Speaking in front of a large American flag on a barn and flanked by family, former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu, and Romney, Brown made the case that voters could show their disapproval with Obama by voting against Shaheen.
“Voters across this great state can send the clearest possible message: The Obama-Shaheen agenda ends right here, right now,” he said, adding that she was not the independent voice she had promised to be.
A June poll of likely voters in New Hampshire found that more have an unfavorable view of Obama than a favorable one and that a majority disapprove of the job he is doing. In that poll, the former senator trailed Shaheen by 10 percentage points.
Brown, blotches of sweat staining his blue button-down shirt, acknowledged the high temperature and his perspiration in his remarks. But, he said, “the heat is nothing, nothing like Senator Shaheen is going to find and feel in November. Because all across New Hampshire, Republicans are coming together in this race because they know, they know that the stakes are high. And we know that unity can make a huge difference.”
Brown faces a GOP primary but is expected to emerge victorious in the Sept. 9 party election. His advisers expect the endorsement of Romney, who handily won the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary, to help consolidate the Senate hopeful’s GOP base, allowing him to focus on Shaheen. Still, they say, Brown is not taking the party’s nod for granted.
Romney, for his part, has endorsed a number of GOP candidates in the 2013-14 election cycle, from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to a candidate for lieutenant governor in Alabama. All the endorsees who have faced primaries so far, more than 20, have won the GOP’s nod, a Romney adviser said.
Since his loss to Obama in 2012, Romney has also been outspoken on policy issues. He recently urged Republicans to back an increase in the minimum wage.
So for all his activity in politics and policy and the entreaties of supporters at the event Wednesday, was Romney running again?
“No, no, no,” he said, as he deftly helped set a supporter’s iPhone to take a selfie with him.
So why come back to a spot filled with presidential resonance?
“I’m helping Scott. This is all about helping Scott get elected,” Romney replied, sounding like he meant it.
Supporters, reveling in the shade after the event concluded, spoke highly of Romney.
Ruth Griffin of Portsmouth, N.H., who is in her 80s, said she had come for Romney and, like others, including Brown, expressed deep regret that he is not president.
“The worst thing to happen to me, to my family, my city, my state, and this wonderful country of ours is that we don’t have Mitt Romney in the White House,” said Griffin, a one-time GOP office holder.
As for Brown, she was interested to listen to what he had to say and was pleased with what she heard.
Harrell Kirstein, a spokesman for Shaheen, declined to comment on the Romney-Brown event, instead referring to statements from allied groups. He e-mailed a press release from the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
“I served with Mitt Romney and Scott Brown, and I can tell you they are more interested in promoting themselves and corporate special interests than fighting for middle-class families,” Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman Thomas McGee said in a statement in the release, echoing an attack Democrats used on Romney during his 2012 bid.
Perhaps Romney said it best as he took the stage: “It’s kind of like deja vu all over again, right here.”