MANCHESTER, N.H.—Republican Mitt Romney was warmly welcomed back to New Hampshire on Wednesday, though one of his supporters urged him to distance himself from the new federal health care legislation.
Romney signed copies of his new book and spoke Wednesday at Saint Anselm College, where state Sen. Bob Letourneau said he was eager to campaign for the former Massachusetts governor if he runs for president again in 2012.
"I'm chomping at the bit," he said after Romney's speech. "I have 800 signs in my garage."
But Letourneau said he has been questioned by other political activists about Romney and health care.
"People have been coming to me and saying, 'Why are you against this health care policy from the federal government when your man, Mitt Romney, has done the same thing down in Massachusetts?'" Letourneau said before asking Romney to explain the differences between the health care legislation he signed in 2006 with the law President Barack Obama signed last month.
The laws share some core elements, including requiring individuals to buy health insurance and imposing tax penalties on those who don't. Both plans also penalize small businesses above a certain size that don't provide coverage to their employees.
But Romney said the Massachusetts law was passed without imposing price controls on insurance companies, cutting Medicare or raising taxes. The audience applauded when he said Obama has trampled on the Constitution.
"We solved a state problem with a state answer," he said.
Letourneau said later that most voters he hears from oppose the federal law and he hopes Romney continues to emphasize how the Massachusetts plan differs. If he does that well, he could turn a potential liability into a strong suit, he said.
"The word will get out," Letourneau said.
Romney campaigned long and hard in New Hampshire -- where he owns a vacation home -- in 2008, only to lose the GOP primary to Sen. John McCain. He has said he hasn't decided yet whether to run again, but he spoke Wednesday at Saint Anselm's New Hampshire Institute of Politics, surrounded by massive framed photos of past candidates, including himself.
Another audience member addressed Romney as "a future potential president," and asked him how he would help businesses that have been unable to hire more workers because of excessive taxes.
Romney answered by focusing on business regulations instead, saying he disagrees with Republicans who oppose all regulation but said excessive regulation is stifling entrepreneurship.
"If government really wants to help the private sector grow and thrive, and in a setting where China, Russia and others are competing with us for leadership of the 21st century, then we have to make sure our private sector can grow and thrive," Romney said.
Instead, businesses face regulations, taxes, and high energy costs that are killing the private sector, he said.
"I think its the most anti-jobs, anti-investment, antigrowth strategy we've seen since Jimmy Carter," he said.