Mitt Romney, campaigning in battleground state Iowa on Tuesday, scored a long-awaited — if not exactly surprising — endorsement in Washington from the last Republican occupant of the White House.
"I'm for Mitt Romney," George W. Bush told ABC News as elevator doors closed on him following a speech on human rights in Washington.
The endorsement promises to inject the 43rd president into this year's campaign, nearly four years after Mr. Bush left office amidst a financial collapse and two wars.
Mr. Bush wasn't the only former president emerging as an issue on the campaign trail, with Mr. Romney arguing on the stump that President Obama lacks the economic acumen of his Democratic predecessor.
Standing beneath a "Cut the Spending" banner at a campaign event at a downtown hotel in Des Moines, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama has ditched Bill Clinton's vow in his 1996 State of the Union that the "era of big government is over."
"President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship. It's enough to make you wonder if maybe it was a personal beef with the Clintons, but really it runs much deeper," Mr. Romney said.
"President Obama is an old-school liberal whose first instinct is to see free enterprise as the villain and government as the hero. America counted on President Obama to rescue the economy, tame the deficit and help create jobs," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said. "Instead, he bailed out the public sector, gave billions of dollars to the companies of his friends, and added almost as much debt as all the prior presidents combined."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded, saying that Mr. Romney wants to "reverse the policies that this president put into place that reversed the cataclysmic decline in our economy."
Mr. Carney said that when Mr. Obama took office the economy was headed south and the nation was shedding about 800,000 jobs losses per month. Now, he said, the economy has grown for 11 straight months and more than 4 million private sector jobs have been created over the last 26 months.
The back-and-forth coincided with a new New York Times poll that shows Mr. Romney has opened up a 3-point — 46 percent to 43 percent — lead over Mr. Obama. The poll also has Mr. Romney, despite the so-called "war on women," leading Mr. Obama among women voters.
Other polls, including a Washington Times/JZ Analytics survey released this week, show a large gender gap still exists, but the improving numbers for the former Massachusetts governor come as the Obama campaign and its super PAC allies ratchet up efforts to cast Mr. Romney and his former venture capital firm, Bain Capital, as a heartless job-killers.
The Republican National Committee helped the Romney camp counter that message Tuesday as part of a joint offensive aimed at turning the conversation back to economy, just days after Mr. Obama re-ignited the national debate over same-sex marriage by saying that he thinks gay couples should be able to wed.
The RNC effort included seven separate conference calls targeting media outlets in seven swing states, and an op-ed by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus that appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader.
"We cannot afford four more years of this president, because our children cannot afford to spend their lives paying off his debts," Mr. Priebus wrote, pointing out that on the Obama administration's watch the national debt has increased $5 trillion to $15. 6 trillion.
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