Chicago (CNN) - With an increasingly insurmountable delegate lead over his Republican opponents and the wind at his back heading into Tuesday's Illinois primary, Mitt Romney sought Monday to re-frame the presidential contest as a battle between himself and President Barack Obama over the future of the economy.
Speaking at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy, where Obama once served on the advisory board, Romney said the president has pursued an "assault on freedom" with stifling business regulations and high taxes.
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Romney made no mention of his GOP foes.
"This November, we face a defining decision," Romney told an audience largely comprised of college students, reading off teleprompter. "Our choice will not be one of party or personality. This election will be about principle. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot. And I intend to offer the American people a clear choice."
Over and over again, Romney returned to the theme of "freedom," attacking Obama's understanding of the concept.
But substantively, there was little new in Romney's remarks aside from a couple of references to struggling workers he has met along the campaign trail.
Instead, one Romney adviser said the main goal of the speech, both in message and in setting, was to demonstrate "contrast" with the president.
"For three years, President Obama has expanded government instead of empowering the American people," he said. "He's put us deeper in debt. He's slowed the recovery and harmed our economy. And he has attacked the cornerstone of American prosperity, our economic freedom."
Romney said President Obama's "heavy hand" has cast a pall of uncertainty over the economy, preventing entrepreneurs from investing or starting small businesses.
Inventors like Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and Steve Jobs would have never have succeeded in the current economy, Romney claimed.
The Obama campaign arranged a conference call Monday afternoon to respond to Romney's speech, and his chief GOP rival Rick Santorum mocked Romney for promoting "freedom" while also having passed a health insurance mandate in Massachusetts.
"Let's just be brutally honest about it," Santorum said at an event in Dixon, Illinois. "There is one candidate in this race who can never make this race about freedom because he simply abandoned freedom when he was governor of Massachusetts and he abandoned it when he promoted Obamacare in 2009."
Romney took three pre-screened questions from the audience after his speech, including one about how students would be better off under President Romney.
He pointed to the growing deficits in Washington and said young people should vote Republican because they are trying to avoid passing on debts to future generations.
"I don't mean to be flip with this," he said. "But I don't see how a young American can vote for a Democrat. I apologize for being so offensive in saying that while I catch your attention, but I mean that in the humor, I mean, there's some truth there."
UPDATE: In their call responding to the speech, Obama advisers said independent tax analysts have concluded that Romney’s tax plan will increase deficits by five trillion dollars over the next ten years.
They also took aim at Romney’s repeated claim that the regulatory climate is slowing economic production.
Princeton economics professor Cecilia Rouse, a former member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said there is “not actually any evidence that regulatory burden actually has a meaningful impact on employment or the economy now.”
Santorum hits back at 'economic lightweight' charge
Republicans ramp up efforts to slam Obama health law
Poll: Romney lead widens in Illinois
I would have one tiny shred of respect for Mitt if he didn't bash the President for doing 'something.' He could run on his own merits of healthcare creation and business knowledge, put forth new yet simple ideas and never have to stoop to a Santy or Newtie level, but he chooses and attempts to bring down Obama.
It may work on the mush heads who've been asleep for four years, but most of us have seen something other than the rightie rags or faux news. His positions are too fleeting for the neocons, his religion too unusual for the southern Jeebus lovers, and his life as a 1%er distance him from the everyman, thereby losing independents. Rich white man is getting to be a pretty small demographic.
The actions of the GOP since 2008 as a whole are the reason I'm voting straight D ticket. Why? Because I'm sane. Made that determination about the same time Bin Laden was tossed overboard.
The Bush tax cuts are still in place, so how are we being stifled?
@S.B. Stein E.B. NJ: "The problem is that the growing debts were created by the Democrats alone."
Your screen name should be "BS" because you are full of it! The debt ballooned when President Obama had the stones to put the cost of two wars and Medicare Part D on the books – which GW and the Repubs kept hidden.
The world economy tanked because of the de-regulation of the financial industry under GW Bush and the defunding of agencies that would have stopped predatory lenders.
Get your facts straight, including if it weren't for President Obama's policies we would have gone into a full-blown Great Depression; GM would not be alive today; Osama bin Laden would still roam the earth; and our economy wouldn't be turning around.
I think Mittens will like Chicago because their sky scrapers are the right height.
Mittens needs to learn how to say, "Chee-burger, chee-burger," if he plans on getting the Chicago vote.
I really wish that American owned media would stop giving Mittens a free pass on his non stop lies.
I feel badly for Illinoisans having to put up with the millions of dollars in negative campaign ads. In Florida, Mittens spent $15 million to get 50 delegates.
I think most right wingnuts will agree that Mittens is not very smart, but he may be white.
This "heavy hand" that Romney accuses Obama had, I wish it were only true. There should have been a "heavy hand" that punished all the economic predators that led us to the worst crisis since the Great Depression. I am sure there would be many "allies" that would be found guilty but it would have be a true step in the right direction. I can only hope Obama can do it in the 2nd term but I can never expect any of these Republican nominees to even think about it.
It's a shame...
Romney runs the MOST NEGATIVE political campaign in American history. This guy seems to have NOTHING positive to say as a politician. What the hell will he do and say as a president????????????????????????
I see the children at Fox foreign owned media with a hint of Saudi, are back at faux posting.
I bet Rommey would love to shove his fist into Santorum's face!
When mitten saays things that he knows are not true, then his lying. Bald face lies are not OK.
Just curious.... was this comment he made supposed to win votes? He claims it's humor, but then says it's truth?? Way to demean those students for having their own personal beliefs and ideals.
When mitten says things that he knows are not true, then he is lying. Bald face lies are not OK.
Every heard of Apple? The richest company in America right now, above Exon Mobile.And this was accomplished in the last 3 years.
What a nimrod.
The assult of our freedon was done big-time by Bush and Cheney. Two unfunded wars, tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, spying on our own citizens among others. Since President Obama has entered office, our economy is on the up-swing, Bin Laden is dead, our reputation around the world as good and decent people has brightened just to name a few. In a Republican is elected in November we will be at war with Iran withing six months. Women's right to control our own bodies will take hit after hit and the enviromental laws already weakened by Bush will be under attack. Love your country – vote for Obama.
Obama's going to destroy this guy in the coming presidential debates.
Post-primary election Romney = Dead On Arrival.
So Mitt Romney thinks that Steve Jobs wouldn't succeed in this economy? Maybe he didn't notice that the iPad came out under Obama. This achievement has made Apple the most profitable company in the world. BTW the Bush era tax cuts aren't doing anything for me because unlike Mitt I'm not rich.
Romney's problem is he can't tell you why he should president. He doesn't have a compelling life story that average people can relate to. And his weird plastered smile reminds of Carter's in its insincerity.
I don't see how young people can possibly vote republican. Most of the young people I know (I teach at a community college, so see lots of them daily) do not agree with republican social ideas of marginalizing gay people, messing with health coverage for all (we need to go to a single payer system here), refusing contraception to women, pro choice vs anti-abortion, etc. I suppose if they are trust fund babies they might want to vote republican, the tax cuts in effect now keep the money rolling in for them, but if they are part of the 99%, then the opportunities for realizing the "American Dream" are getting harder and harder to come by.
Losing 750,000 jobs a month, no one willing to lend American banks, or companies any money, two wars on credit cards is not a way to start a presidency especially since half of the congress and senate has taken a oath not to do their job. Three years latter, business profit at their highest, stock markets up, unemployment is moving in the right directions and the war cost is going down. Tell the truth Mr Mitty, you are going to vote for Obama yourself.
Rmoney is just repeating what he's been programmed to say. His nonsense about deregulation and high taxes are straight out of the GOBP playbook. Too bad that playbook is full of historically disproven policy failures like Rmoney's platform. He's a good parasitic 1%er, though, and he sure can repeat the Big Lies.
Forget the "assault on Freedom" and look at "The assault on Truth" – the campaign run by Romney, the well-oiled weather vane!