By KASIE HUNT
BEDFORD, N.H. (AP) — Sharpening his message ahead of voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Tuesday accused President Barack Obama of deepening the economic crisis and backing policies that will redistribute wealth instead of creating equal opportunity for people to do well.
Romney's allies, meanwhile, continued to aggressively criticize Newt Gingrich, his chief rival for the nomination. In Iowa, Gingrich lashed out and accused Romney of a "negative smear campaign."
Romney, a former businessman, told voters in an evening speech that his policies would turn the U.S. into an "opportunity society" while Obama's vision for an "entitlement society" would make more people dependent on government welfare.
"We will not surrender our dreams to the failures of this president. We are bigger than the misguided policies and weak leadership of one man. America is bigger than President Obama's failures," Romney said. "This America of long unemployment lines and small dreams is not the America you and I love. ... These troubled years are President Obama's legacy, but they are not our future."
Romney said that Obama "believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk."
Romney's message contrasts with the argument the Democratic president has begun to articulate for his re-election, in which he calls for a society that offers "fair play, a fair shot and a fair share." Obama argues that Republicans put the interests of the wealthy above the middle class.
"Giving more handouts to millionaires, billionaires and large corporations and making the middle class foot the bill are the same flawed policies that led to the economic crisis in the first place," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told New Hampshire reporters.
Romney planned to remain focused on his effort in New Hampshire as his allies criticized Gingrich on Iowa's airwaves.
Restore Our Future, a special political action committee, or "super PAC," that backs Romney, launched a caustic ad tying Gingrich to Freddie Mac, the quasi-government mortgage company, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. The spot also hits Gingrich for ethics violations and criticizes his record on abortion.
Campaigning in Iowa, Gingrich accused Romney of allowing a "negative smear campaign" fueled by a super PAC. He called on Romney to demand that ads run on his behalf by such groups be positive. Gingrich said Romney's comments aimed at distancing himself from the anti-Gingrich PAC ads were misleading and false.
Romney had refused earlier Tuesday to disavow the group's ads, saying it would be illegal for him to coordinate with the super PAC. He did say that such groups are a "disaster" and have made a "mockery" of the presidential campaign.
"Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season," Romney said on MSNBC. "We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs."
A 2010 Supreme Court decision paved the way for such groups to accept unlimited amounts of money from donors. The political campaigns are limited to accepting $2,500 per donor.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was using Tuesday's speech to open four straight days of campaigning in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary on Jan. 10. He must win the state if he hopes to become the Republican nominee.
Two weeks remain until voting begins Jan. 3 with the leadoff caucuses in Iowa, though Romney will campaign in New Hampshire through Christmas, a sign of the state's importance to his political strategy.
— — — Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Ottumwa, Iowa, contributed to this report. (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)