Romney looks past primary, campaigns against Obama

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, center, speaks during his tour of Screen Machine Industries with owner Doug Cohen, left, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, in Pataskala, Ohio.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PATASKALA, Ohio — Forget his GOP primary opponents. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is focused on a match-up against President Barack Obama.

“The president when he was a candidate said that he was going to take China to the mat,” the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday at a manufacturing plant. “Well, I’m afraid most of us thought he meant the wrestling mat. But instead he and we have been taken to the door mat.”

Romney’s take on Obama’s economic record in a general election battleground shined a light on his strategy as he leads the Republican field in polls and money five months before primary voting is to begin: ignore swipes from his GOP rivals, criticize the Democratic president on the economy, and campaign in important presidential swing states seemingly as often as states that vote early in the GOP primary.

It’s a sharp contrast to Romney’s approach four years ago when he ran for the Republican nomination as a virtual unknown and tried to — unsuccessfully — beat the 2008 leader of the GOP pack John McCain.

This year, it’s Romney who leads the Republican Party that typically nominates the candidate who ran — and lost — once before. His standing has afforded him the luxury of watching as GOP rivals like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty try to emerge as the alternative choice of primary voters.

Not that Romney will publicly acknowledge that he’s focused on November 2012 and Obama; doing so would enflame Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states and create an aura of inevitability that has destroyed other front-runners before him, like Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic primary in 2008.

Perhaps mindful of all that, Romney said Wednesday — in a state that isn’t slated to hold its GOP primary until May — that: “I’ve got to win the primaries first. That’s job one. Then comes job two, which is winning the general.”

His strategy, to be sure, could change if new — and potentially more exciting — players join the race. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has scheduled a visit to Iowa in September, a hint she’s more seriously weighing a campaign. And advisers to Texas Gov. Rick Perry are laying the groundwork should he decide to become a presidential contender.

For now, at least, Romney’s acting like the front-runner.

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Romney's campaign prepares for battle for president's seat