On bus tour, Romney takes economic pitch to US heartland
* Republican reaches out to reliably Republican rural voters
* Says Obama policies have hurt the middle class
* Bus tour begins on farm where Romney launched campaign
By Ros Krasny
STRATHAM, N.H., June 15 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said President Barack Obama has failed to improve the prospects of middle class voters as he launched a bus tour on Friday that will reach out to rural voters in six battleground states.
Romney said Obama's speech on the economy on Thursday showed the incumbent had no new ideas to boost opportunity for Americans who have struggled to make ends meet in the aftermath of the deepest recession since the 1930s.
"You might have thought that it would be a moment when he would acknowledge his policy mistakes and suggest a new course. But no - he promised four more years of more of the same," Romney said.
"Four more very long years," he added, referring to criticism that Obama's 54-minute speech had gone on too long.
Obama aims to convince voters that they should consider the Nov. 6 election as a choice between his policies that would deliver widely shared prosperity and Republican policies that for the most part would benefit only the very rich.
Though Romney remains a blank slate for many voters, the Obama campaign hopes to tie him to former President George W. Bush. Polls have indicated that voters blame Bush more than Obama for the struggling economy.
"Why would we go back to those same policies that ended up being a house of cards that led to the economic crisis in the first place?" Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt told CNN on Friday, echoing the president's comments a day earlier.
The administration partly overshadowed Romney's bus tour when it announced on Friday that some 800,000 young illegal immigrants could be spared deportation, a move seen as appealing to Hispanic voters who hold the key to some swing states in November's election.
Romney hopes to keep the focus on Obama's stewardship of the economy, which many voters view as a disappointment. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that although Obama maintains a narrow lead over Romney, more voters think that Romney would do a better job managing the economy.
Romney is riding a burst of momentum as he has quickly united his party after a divisive battle for the Republican nomination. Polls show he has narrowed the gap with Obama, and he raised more money than the incumbent last month.
Obama, meanwhile, has struggled to overcome a string of economic and political setbacks in recent weeks that adds up to the roughest patch of his presidency since last summer's debt-ceiling crisis.
Republican and Democratic analysts say the election is likely to be close and the side that motivates its core supporters best will probably win.
REACHING RELIABLE REPUBLICANS
Romney's bus tour is a chance to reach out to the rural white voters who make up a crucial pillar of the Republican base.
"Washington's big government agenda should not smother small-town dreams. In the America we love, every town counts," he told a crowd of about 800 gathered at the farm where he formally entered the presidential race on June 2, 2011.
A year ago Romney was in the process of establishing his conservative credentials to win over skeptics within his own party, many of whom doubted the convictions of the former governor of liberal Massachusetts.
Now, with the nomination secured and a large campaign war chest at his disposal, Romney is taking aim at Obama.
He pointed out that wages have fallen and poverty has risen since Obama took office in January 2009, while the United States has taken on an unprecedented amount of debt that could compromise the living standards of future generations.
"If there has ever been a president who has failed to give the middle class of America a fair shot, it is Barack Obama," Romney said.
Romney's bus tour will visit six states captured by Obama in the 2008 election that are considered winnable for Republicans this fall.
"We're certainly campaigning on their turf rather than what we would consider our turf," Romney adviser Russ Schriefer said.
It is Romney's first stint of intense campaigning after weeks in which fundraising events took priority.
Stops are planned in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa Wisconsin and Michigan. Romney will be joined by key surrogates, including on Sunday his first campaign appearance with House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Washington.
Others include Republicans whom Romney is widely believed to be considering as his vice presidential running mate: Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
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