Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) – Mitt Romney emphasized his business experience Friday evening at a campaign stop in this historic mill city and noted that Rick Perry’s decision to seek the Republican presidential nomination would have no bearing on his own bid for the White House.
Perry will announce Saturday that he is running for the GOP nomination, and the latest polling shows that the Texas governor immediately will become Romney’s biggest threat. Perry, who is well thought of among social conservatives, will visit New Hampshire just hours after making his presidential announcement in South Carolina.
“He could do real well and if he does, why that will make it a more interesting contest,” Romney said in response to a question about Perry’s pending entry into the race. “I just don’t know how that will all work out. My predictions in this race relative to the other guys haven’t turned out to be spot on, so I’m going to avoid doing that.”
Romney even pledged to campaign for the eventual Republican nominee if he loses his second bid for the White House – a starkly different tone than taken by some of his rivals 24 hours earlier at a debate in Ames, Iowa. Several of the candidates seeking the nomination engaged in sharp exchanges at the debate.
“If Rick Perry, or frankly anybody else on that stage last night were our nominee, I will be up there working hard for them,” Romney told a group of reporters after addressing about 250 people at a meet and greet in the backyard of an influential state Republican. “Because anyone of the people on that stage as well as Rick Perry would do a heck of a lot better job leading this country than the current president.”
Romney, who has consistently led in the national polls, has focused his criticism on President Obama even as some of his rivals have offered harsh critiques of policy decisions he made as governor of Massachusetts. He also has remained laser focused on trying to highlight his successful career in private business – a theme he focused on Friday evening.
“I actually think that at a time when the number one issue on people’s minds is the strength of our economy and the ability of our economy to create good jobs, that it’s a real help from a credibility standpoint and from a leadership standpoint to understand how the economy works,” he said.
Romney also has made a strategic decision not to compete in the Iowa Straw Poll, an early test of organizing strength in that state but hardly a predictor of the eventual winner of the Republican presidential nomination. In August 2007, Romney invested heavily to win the Iowa Straw Poll, but lost the Iowa caucuses in January 2008. Most of his rivals are in Ames for this contest, which will take place Saturday.
Instead of Iowa, Romney's main focus in this primary election has been New Hampshire, a state where he has ties and hopes his economic message resonates.
While Romney does not live in New Hampshire - he is a resident of neighboring Massachusetts - he noted that he owns a second home in the Granite State where his family spends summers.
And a Romney campaign official said that the former Massachusetts governor plans to hold at least 20 more campaign events before the end of this month in New Hampshire.
Asked if he was trying to send a message to New Hampshire voters that he chose to spend the evening in the Granite State instead of participating in the Iowa Straw Poll, Romney took the high road.
“I am happy to be in New Hampshire tonight,” Romney said. “I respect deeply the Ames Straw Poll process. And were I participating this year in that process I’d be there. So I don’t want to try and draw a distinction about where I am relative to the other fine folks and their participating in the straw poll. And I did that when I ran four years ago. It was a great experience, I respect that experience. I’m happy to be in Manchester at the home of Ovide and Bettie Lamontagne and I appreciate the support that I got here tonight."