By Dan Balz, Published: May 28

BOSTON — Republican Mitt Romney will formally launch his second campaign for the White House on Thursday with an operation leaner and wiser than it was four years ago and a message singularly focused on what he sees as President Obama’s greatest area of vulnerability: jobs and the economy.

Romney and his advisers are working backward from November 2012. They believe that the economy will decide the outcome of the election and that the president has yet to convince voters that his economic policies have worked. They argue that Romney’s long experience in the private sector — his tenure as an elected official was just four years — makes him the Republican best positioned to challenge the president on how to fix what’s wrong.

“This election is going to be a referendum on President Obama and his handling of the economy,” said campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. “He didn’t cause the economic recession, but his policies have prolonged it and deepened it in some respects. We wondered what it would be like to elect a president who has no experience. Now we know.”

Democrats dispute all that and say Romney’s vulnerabilities on economic issues are far greater than the president’s. “The president made the hard choices, exercised sound judgment, and his policies are helping American industry give people jobs again,” said Democratic National Committee press secretary Hari Sevugan. “Mitt Romney made no choices, exercised bad judgment and has a record of helping big business take jobs away.”

Still, the president’s team has already shown it takes Romney’s candidacy seriously. The first video ad aired by a newly formed independent group that is run by two former White House officials targeted Romney.

When Chrysler paid back its government loan last week, a success for the president, the DNC blasted Romney for having opposed the auto bailout. Romney’s camp responded that he had favored a managed bankruptcy — a course they claim Obama eventually pursued. The argument is surely the first of many to come between the two camps.

The former Massachusetts governor begins as the front-runner for his party’s nomination, but hardly a prohibitive favorite. He narrowly leads the field in the latest Gallup poll, but the Gallup organization also called him “the weakest front-runner in any recent Republican nomination campaign.” He will be severely tested by his GOP rivals, who will all begin to target him.

Romney’s goal, according to advisers, is to keep his eyes on the bigger prize and to run his own race, not one dictated by the other GOP candidates or by the round-the-clock media culture. His hope is to convince Republican voters that, whatever flaws they may see in him, he is still the strongest candidate for the general election.

A series of interviews with Romney’s top advisers reinforced that message. “The economy is not just a talking point,” said campaign manager Matt Rhoades. “It’s the real deal. He [Obama] took his eye off the ball, doing all these other things. People are hurting out there. He’s the boss.”

 

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