Bedford, New Hampshire (CNN) - This is how it was supposed to be.
On Tuesday, Mitt Romney stood before an audience of affirmed supporters on a blustery night in New Hampshire and delivered a sustained critique of President Obama.
The formal speech seemed designed to project an image of the candidate as the GOP's 2012 standard bearer.
Reading from two teleprompters and towering on stage above the Bedford audience, Romney presented two starkly different visions of the "soul of America" he said was at stake in the presidential contest.
"These troubled years are President Obama's legacy but not our future," he said.
The Republican painted a picture of Obama's presidency as an "entitlement society" that sought to make everyone equal but ended up squelching personal successes and discouraging individual achievement.
"We’ve learned that President Obama’s idea of bringing us together is not to lift us up but instead to use the invisible boot of government to bring us all down," Romney said.
If it had all gone completely to Romney's plan - as it never does in politics - he would have been the clear front-runner heading into the early voting contests. Instead, polls show him trailing his opponents in Iowa and South Carolina, and he is forced to campaign aggressively in New Hampshire to maintain his lead among an electorate that notoriously bucks expectations.
Speaking to the audience of supporters, Romney harked back to his decision to enter the race this summer.
Since his first speech at a picturesque farm in New Hampshire, the candidate has watched a string of opponents rise and fall in favor among GOP primary voters who do not seem ready to crown Romney the nominee.
He acknowledged the need to protect his New Hampshire stronghold in impromptu remarks following his speech, which was devoid of any mention of his Republican opponents. Romney gestured to quiet the music his staff had begun to play and made an appeal.
"Your primary's coming up real soon. And I'd like to win," he said, telling the audience he needed their help. "You guys need to get out and ask a friend or two to make sure and vote on primary day. We just can't do that all ourselves, even with our office and volunteers."
Romney stayed after the speech and shook hands with every voter who waited for him. Often at previous events a campaign aide would step in and tell the former governor they needed to get going.
In his speech, Romney promised to institute a "merit-based society" by cutting taxes and regulations, capping federal spending, repealing Obama's health insurance program and reforming Medicare.
Romney said Obama had changed John F. Kennedy's famous line from a call for individual sacrifice to asking "what can the country do for you."
And he hit the president for looking out for his "friends," including unions and energy companies such as failed solar company Solyndra.
In advance of the speech, members of Obama's re-election team held a conference call to preemptively respond to Romney.
"Only a candidate like Mitt Romney could give a speech like this with a straight face," said Obama 2012 aide Ben LaBolt. "Governor Romney claims to want to level the playing field to create opportunity, but all his policies do is stack the deck against the middle class."
Romney will travel by bus across New Hampshire through Friday. On Wednesday, he will be joined at events by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Gov. John Sununu and Rep. Charlie Bass.