WASHINGTON — With the Republican presidential nomination more firmly in hand after his three primary victories Tuesday, Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of hiding his true intentions and creating "straw men" to distract attention from his record.
Speaking from the same stage where Obama had spoken 24 hours earlier, Romney cited an incident last month when the president didn't realize the microphone was on when he was speaking to Russia's president to question whether Obama is telling the electorate the truth.
"He does not want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or the press," Romney said in an address to the American Society of News Editors convention in Washington. He cited Obama's remarks to President Dmitry Medvedev that he'd have more flexibility to deal with Russian concerns after November's election. "His intent is on hiding. You and I are going to have to do the seeking."
A day after primary wins in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Romney joked in response to a question about whether he'd asked his remaining rivals to drop out of the race.
"No, I haven't. But now that you bring it up," he said to laughter before adding, "I think people are free to make their own decision."
Still, he noted, "I hope that we're able to resolve our nomination process as soon as possible," saying that Republicans need to be "somewhat competitive" with Obama's "billion-dollar quest."
Romney's address came the day after the president delivered a scathing critique of Republicans before the same crowd, looking to frame the election as a choice between a president who's watching out for the middle class and Republicans intent on starving government.
Asked about Obama's address, Romney called it "rhetorical excess" and said there were too many "distortions and inaccuracies" to name them. He defended the House of Representatives' Republican spending plan, which the president described as "social Darwinism," and criticized Obama for saying that Republicans would roll back environmental regulations and allow corporations "to do whatever they want."
"These things are just straw men that have no basis in reality," Romney said.
He didn't mention his Republican rivals, aiming squarely at Obama, who he said thought that the answer to the economic crisis was "more spending, more debt and more government. The 'new normal' the president would have us embrace is trillion-dollar deficits and 8 percent unemployment."
Romney argued that his vision for the U.S. was one "where the pursuit of success unites us, not divides us" and where "poverty is defeated by opportunity, not enabled by a government check.
"If we become one of those societies that attack success, one outcome is certain: There will be less success."
He repeated his accusation that Obama had made the economic crisis worse and criticized the administration's $825 billion stimulus, saying it "was less a jobs plan and more the mother of all earmarks. The administration pledged that it would keep unemployment below 8 percent. It has been above 8 percent every month since."
Prominent economic analysts such as Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics have testified before Congress that the president's stimulus program helped rescue the U.S. economy from the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, Obama's economic team did say initially that the program should keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent, and it later conceded that it had underestimated the severity of the downturn.
Romney turned repeatedly to the president's "hot mic" comment to Medvedev and said it called his "candor into serious question.
"Unlike President Obama, you don't have to wait until after the election to find out what I believe in, or what my plans are. I have a pro-growth agenda that will get our economy back on track, and get Americans back to work."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow Steven Thomma on Twitter
For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington