Romney's six-state bus trek is aimed at swaying undecided voters living "off the beaten path" outside of America's big cities. He started at the New Hampshire farm where he announced his presidential bid almost a year ago.
"If there has ever been a president who has failed to give the middle class of America a fair shot, it is Barack Obama," Romney told about 500 people standing in the sunshine outside a farmhouse plastered with the bus tour's slogan, "Every Town Counts." Romney criticized the economic speech Obama gave Thursday as "very long" -- the president talked for nearly an hour-- and said Obama is asking for "four more very long years."
"From now until November, our campaign will carry a simple message: America's greatest days are yet ahead," Romney said.
To hear Romney's advisers tell it, Romney will spend the next five days visiting the towns Obama forgot -- but in states the president won in 2008.
"We're certainly campaigning on their turf, as opposed to campaigning on our turf," senior adviser Russ Schriefer told reporters gathered at Romney's Boston headquarters Friday morning for a breakfast briefing.
From New Hampshire, the tour continues to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan -- six battleground states Obama carried when he was elected in 2008. Romney's campaign has four buses plastered with a new logo -- one without his "conservative, businessman, leader" tag line from the primary. Romney will spend each day on the bus and fly to the next state at the end of each day.
The former Massachusetts governor planned to roll through at least 14 small cities and towns over the five days of the tour. Aides say he will stop in the kinds of places that are hurting because of the bad economy -- not those, they say, that Obama has in mind when he speaks about how to make things better.
"Some people will call this ... the back roads of America. What he believes really is that this is the backbone of America -- this is where folks, as I said, work really hard and are really struggling," Schriefer said.
It's a new mode for Romney, who kept a limited public schedule through late April, May and early June, preferring to spend his time raising money and holding a handful of public events each week.
The bus tour will mix small, local venues with larger events and some "not necessarily traditional campaign stops," Schriefer said.
Over the next five days, there will be "a lot of ice cream, a lot of cheeseburgers, and a lot of classic retail," said Rick Gorka, Romney's traveling press secretary.
It will bring Romney back to the kind of retail politicking he hasn't engaged in since the early days of the Republican primary, when he campaigned in diners and coffee shops across Iowa and New Hampshire. With that opportunity, however, comes risk. Romney sometimes ran into trouble in the more unpredictable environments. At one stop at a New Hampshire diner, for example, a gay veteran confronted him about his opposition to gay marriage.
This time, Romney will be looking for undecided voters in battleground states that will decide the presidential election. The goal: winning over people who might have voted for Obama's promise of hope and change four years ago but who are disappointed in what the president has delivered -- or not delivered.
Americans "are tired of being tired. And they are tired of a detached and distant president who never seems to hear their voices," Romney said at the New Hampshire farm.
By starting in New Hampshire, Romney returned to where he began his bid for the Republican nomination. Nearly one year ago, he announced his White House campaign at a family farm here. About six months later, he won New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary in a landslide, though it took many more victories to triumph over his GOP rivals.
Romney was at the same farm Friday but with a new opponent in Obama, and a new challenge. While he led Republican polls in New Hampshire by double digits, the state voted for Obama in 2008 and for Democrat John Kerry in 2004. Romney will have an uphill climb in New Hampshire this year, though his advisers see opportunity there.
Joining Romney on the tour's first day were Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Both are considered potential vice presidential picks.
After the farm, he stops for ice cream in Milford, N.H., before continuing on to Pennsylvania. That next leg of the tour -- Romney has scheduled three stops in Pennsylvania's conservative midsection on Saturday -- goes through the hard-hit Rust Belt, where structural changes in the economy have led to significant manufacturing job losses.
On Sunday in Ohio, Romney planned to have a hamburger with House Speaker John Boehner, the highest-ranking Republican in Washington, in the speaker's home district. He'll also travel with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, an early supporter often mentioned as a possible running mate. Romney planned stops in Brunswick, Newark and Troy.
After Ohio, it's on to Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker recently survived a recall election sparked by his effort to limit collective bargaining rights for most government workers. Stops are scheduled in Janesville, the home of Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and the site of a General Motors plant that shut its doors in 2009.
Obama won Wisconsin by 14 percentage points in 2008 and the state hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1984. Still, Democrats won the state by less than a single percentage point in 2000 and 2004, and Walker's win has encouraged Republicans and made some Democrats nervous.
Romney returns to Iowa, where he narrowly lost the Republican caucuses, on Monday, with several stops in the eastern part of the state. Then he'll head to Michigan, where he was born and raised and where his father, George Romney, served as governor.
It will be Romney's first trip back home since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, a standing his father tried but failed to win in 1968.