STRATHAM, N.H. - Mitt Romney returned Friday to the picturesque farm where he launched his presidential campaign a year ago to declare an end to "the era of big government" and to offer himself as the leader to steer the country to better times.
Addressing hundreds of flag-waving supporters under a brilliant blue sky, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee sought to root his candidacy in America's "can-do spirit" and promised his policies would unleash again the country's "spirit of entrepreneurship."
As he kicked off a five-day bus tour across six battleground states, Romney cast President Barack Obama as "detached and distant" from the struggling people he has met on factory floors, break rooms and diners across the country.
"Everywhere I go, I meet people who represent the best of America," Romney said. "They're hopeful, hardworking, determined and proud. But they're also anxious, and they're worried. They're tired of being tired. And they're tired of a detached and distant president who never seems to hear their voices."
"I hear you," he continued, "and I'll make sure I continue to hear the people of America when I'm president of the United States if I get your support."
After stepping off a newly-branded campaign bus to his "Born Free" theme song with his wife, Ann, Romney delivered what amounted to a retooled stump speech. He said he would campaign until November with a simple message: "America's greatest days are ahead."
But Democrats pushed back on Romney's vision. Obama's reelection campaign issued a statement attacking what it called "Romney Economics."
"On the campaign trail, Romney claims his experience as a corporate buyout specialist will bring positive economic results to the nation," the statement said. "He's making the same economic promises today as when he ran for governor. But as residents of these communities will quickly learn, Romney Economics actually resulted in slower job creation, more debt, bigger government and cuts to programs essential to the middle class. It didn't work in then, and it won't work now."
With the general election campaign intensifying and polls tightening nationally and in swing states, the former Massachusetts governor is trying to seize a moment that has Obama on the defensive.
More Americans are starting to tune in to the campaign, and Romney's advisers hope his bus tour - which should draw substantial media attention in a handful of hard-fought battlegrounds Obama carried in 2008, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa - presents him in a favorable light.
"Governor Romney has an opportunity to campaign on urban areas a lot," Romney strategist Russ Schriefer said. "This is an opportunity over the next five days to go to places that are a little bit off the beaten path and visit towns and cities where people are struggling in this Obama economy."
Along the way, Romney will appear with high-profile surrogates, including a number of potential Republican vice presidential running mates - former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) - as well as his family.
Introducing her husband in Stratham, Ann Romney said: "People feel like their American dream is sifting through their fingers. . . . I will tell you, hope is on the way."
In his speech, Mitt Romney ridiculed the major campaign speech Obama delivered in Ohio on Thursday, saying: "Yesterday the president gave a speech - A. Very. Long. Speech. . . . He promised four more years, of more of the same. Four. More. Very. Long. Years."
"That's really the divide in this race," Romney continued. "The president thinks we're on the right track and that his policies are working. And I believe with all my heart that we can - that we must - do better, and we will do better!"
In his 19-minute speech, Romney spoke of a dark cloud over the country's economy but tried to offer an optimistic vision.
"Even where factories are closed and jobs are too few, the spirit of enterprise - the spirit that powered America's economic engines for growth and prosperity - that spirit still lives strong," Romney said. "It is the goal of this campaign, and will be the mission of my presidency, to nurture that spirit and to see it flourish in this great land."
Romney mused about the character and values of small-town America, where he said "some of America's biggest dreamers" were born. He name-checked literary giants Mark Twain and John Steinbeck, inventors Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.
The pageantry of the event - Romney spoke from atop a farm trailer, with supporters standing on barrels of hay and waving American flags and Romney-logo pennants - evoked the picture-book imagery of the heartland.
Although amid the homespun simplicity, signs of Romney's well-funded campaign abounded: video cameras rose from 30-foot cranes to capture the candidate, reading from twin teleprompters on the 300-acre property of Doug and Stella Scamman, longtime Republican benefactors.
"In the days ahead, we'll be traveling on what are often called the 'back roads of America,' " Romney said. "But I think our tour takes, is gonna take us, along what I'll call the 'backbone of America.' "
Later, he added, "Washington's big government agenda should not smother small-town dreams. In the America we love, every town counts. Every job counts. And every American counts."