Courting the middle class, Mitt Romney jabs Hillary Clinton on economics in Mississippi speech

Associated Press

Mitt Romney is renewing his pledge to fight for the poor and middle class in a speech that questions Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy and economic credentials.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee is set to appear at Mississippi State University Wednesday evening. The speech marks Romney's third public appearance since he shocked the political world earlier in the month by signaling interest in a third presidential run.

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In his comeback bid, Romney has focused particular attention on the poor and middle class as he tries to broaden his appeal.

"How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn't know where jobs come from in the first place?" Romney says in excerpts of the speech obtained by The Associated Press.

"We need to restore opportunity, particularly for the middle class. And that will soon include you," Romney continues in his remarks to Mississippi State students. "You deserve a job that can repay all you've spent and borrowed to go to college."

Romney has acknowledged privately in recent weeks that he will make a decision about the 2016 campaign soon, largely out of fairness to former supporters and donors stuck in limbo as he makes up his mind. While Romney was the overwhelming establishment favorite in the last election, the likely 2016 field includes other economic conservatives such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others who have taken steps towards campaigns of their own in recent weeks.

Aides report that Romney will likely signal his 2016 intentions over the next two weeks.

He currently has a skeleton staff largely working on a volunteer basis, although Romney has more than $2 million in his presidential campaign fund as of late November, which would give him a significant head start over some competitors should he enter the race.

Romney has consistently outlined three principles that could serve as the foundation of a campaign in his public appearances, while often referencing his work with the poor, sick and elderly as a volunteer church pastor — a topic he rarely addressed during his previous bids.

His new focus includes national security, improving opportunities for the middle class and ending poverty.

In his Wednesday speech, Romney recalls meeting people during his 2012 campaign who had fallen into poverty because of circumstances, such as losing a job, and those stuck in poverty for generations.

"These we have to help escape the tragedy and the trap of chronic generational poverty," Romney says. "It's finally time to apply conservative policies that improve America's education system, promote family formation and create good-paying jobs."

And he takes direct aim at the foreign policy record of Clinton, the overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination should she run.

"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cluelessly pressed a reset button for Russia, which smiled and then invaded Ukraine, a sovereign nation," Romney says. "We need to help make the world a safer place."