LANSING, Mich. — Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday branded President Barack Obama as an "old-school liberal" who is trying to resurrect failed policies, a new line of attack at the heart of the president's forward-looking re-election message.
The expected Republican presidential nominee said his general election opponent really wants to revive the policies of an outdated Democratic Party. Romney argued that he alone would guide the country in a new direction away from bigger government and higher taxes.
"The president is trying to breathe life into the failed policies of the past," Romney told supporters at Lansing Community College. "This is a time for new answers, new ideas and a new direction."
The charge is straight out of Obama's playbook.
The president has been arguing that Romney and congressional Republicans would pull the country back toward the Bush-era policies he says helped cause the recession. The argument is central to Obama's re-election campaign, which has adopted "Forward" as its slogan just as the general election begins to ramp up.
"We can't just go back to the way things used to be. We've got to move forward," Obama said Tuesday at a New York college.
Romney's broadside comes after a weeklong stretch in which Obama put benefits of incumbency on full display, starting with a surprise trip to Afghanistan, campaign rallies in two states that drew thousands-strong crowds larger than Romney's typical draw and a $25 million, monthlong advertising push in nine states. Romney, meanwhile, has spent the period trying to raise money to compete with Obama's cash stockpile while aides work behind the scenes to transition from a buttoned-down primary operation to a national campaign.
Romney's challenge is two-fold, however.
With polls showing a close race six months out, Romney is casting Obama as a liberal ideologue and himself as a can-do pragmatist – even as he works to court a conservative base that still hasn't warmed to him, but may be critical come this fall. To that end, Romney spent part of the day trumpeting the late-night endorsement – muted as it was – of former rival Rick Santorum, a hero to some conservatives.
Tuesday's appearance in Michigan – Romney's only public stop – was his first since narrowly defeating Santorum in the GOP primary here more than two months ago. Reminding voters that he was born and raised here, Romney's brother was in the audience and he noted that his parents once lived in the area.
Romney's father, George, is a former Michigan governor.
He did not address the revival of the U.S. auto industry based in the state, but was on the attack as he addressed supporters and compared Obama to another Democratic White House occupant, President Bill Clinton.
The former Massachusetts governor said Clinton represented a "new Democrat" who fought for welfare reform and tax cuts, and labeled Obama an "old-school liberal."
"President Clinton, remember he said the era of big government was over," Romney said. "President Obama brought it back with a vengeance."
Clinton, of course, is working to help Obama defeat Romney. At a recent fundraiser, Clinton attacked Romney for supporting Bush-era Republican policies "on steroids." Clinton said Romney's policies "will get you the same consequences you got before, on steroids."
Romney offered little detail about his new vision for the country.
He said generally that he would introduce new competition to health care sectors and education. He also promised to help revive the manufacturing sector by pushing for new energy, trade and labor policies.
"Of course I'm going to be discussing these in a lot more depth throughout the campaign," Romney said.
He did not address the resurgence of the American auto industry in his public remarks. The industry's health is critical for voters in Michigan and across the Midwest.
The night before, Romney re-ignited the bailout debate by telling an Ohio television station that he deserves "a lot of credit" for the recent successes of the nation's largest car companies.
"I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet," Romney said in the interview, which was conducted inside a Cleveland-area auto parts maker. "So, I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back."
Romney has argued that Obama ultimately took his advice for handling the auto industry's woes of 2008 and 2009. But the course Romney advocated differed greatly from the one Obama took.
GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy on the strength of a massive federal bailout that Romney opposed. Neither Republican President George W. Bush nor Democrat Obama believed the automakers would have survived without that backup from taxpayers.
The auto bailout, while decried by most Republicans on Capitol Hill, is largely supported by Democrats and Republicans in Michigan.
"Mitt Romney's empty promises on the economy today belie his opposition to the catalyst for Michigan's economic comeback: the auto rescue pushed by President Obama," said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. "`Mitt Romney didn't have the courage to bet on American workers."