Mitt Romney has been in London for a day and already he's causing a stir.
Credited with rescuing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he found himself weighing in on the London summer games that begin Friday.
"It's hard to know just how well it will turn out," Romney told NBC, referring to problems dogging final preparations. "There were a few things that were disconcerting."
Romney is on a three-country overseas trip, his first as prospective GOP presidential nominee.
He referred to a since-averted threatened strike and a security contractor's struggles to provide enough guards. "That obviously is not something which is encouraging."
His comments drew quick attention.
"Mitt Romney questions whether Britain is ready for Games," blared a headline in the Daily Telegraph. "Mitt Romney casts doubts on London 2012 preparations," said The Times of London.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters Romney and others would soon "see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver."
Meeting Thursday with Cameron, Romney softened his remarks. "Of course there will be errors from time to time" but they'll soon be overshadowed by inspiring Olympic performances, he said.
Back home, a "super PAC" run by former aides to President Barack Obama taunted Romney in an ad showing him at the 2002 Olympics waving to passing athletes from China, India, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland and other places.
The ad recycles a campaign attack on Romney over outsourcing and offshore bank accounts.
The Republican presidential candidate stressed the importance of the longtime transatlantic alliance in morning appointments with British Prime Minister David Cameron and one of his predecessors, Tony Blair. He’s also scheduled to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
“We have a very special relationship between the United States and Great Britain,” Romney said in an interview with NBC’s “Nightly News” yesterday. “It goes back to our very beginnings -- cultural and historical.”
London, where the Olympic Games begin tomorrow, is the first leg of a three-country trip intended to show voters at home that the former Massachusetts governor, who has little diplomatic experience, would be a capable commander-in-chief.
He exchanged pleasantries with Blair about the Olympics this morning in the former prime minister’s office. Romney’s wife, Ann, has a horse representing the U.S. in dressage.
“My wife has a horse competing in the equestrian,” he said. “She’s very pleased to be a part of it.”
Romney, the former head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, plans to see the opening ceremonies of the games and attend at least one competition. Tonight, he’s holding a fundraiser at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel with American bankers, some of whose firms are under investigation in connection with the Libor rate-fixing scandal.
It’s common for American candidates to visit the U.K., an important U.S. ally, during their presidential campaigns. President Barack Obama stopped over shortly before formally accepting his party’s presidential nomination in 2008. Romney met with British officials during a July 2011 trip to London.
This time the former private-equity executive arrives in the midst of a recession in Britain and a European debt crisis.
The U.K. economy shrank the most since 2009 in the second quarter and more than economists forecast, increasing pressure on Cameron to abandon Britain’s biggest austerity program since World War II. Gross domestic product fell 0.7 percent from the first quarter, when it dropped 0.3 percent, the Office for National Statistics said in London yesterday.
Britain’s government has blamed the euro-area turmoil for pushing the country into the first double-dip recession since the 1970s.
Romney’s trip also got off to a rocky start. Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph newspaper quoted an unnamed adviser as saying Romney thought the U.S.-British relationship is special because of a shared “Anglo-Saxon” heritage that Obama does not appreciate.
Romney distanced himself from the comment, saying he could not identify the adviser and disagreed with the criticism.
“You have a lot of people that offer advice, so I’m not sure who this person is,” he told NBC’s Nightly News.
Still, Vice President Joe Biden and top Obama campaign aides pounced on the report. “The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Gov. Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage,” Biden said in a statement.
Tonight, Romney plans to tap into his network of global business contacts to raise money at two fundraisers organized by executives from banks and other financial institutions.
Co-hosts for the events include Patrick Durkin, a Washington-based lobbyist for Barclays Plc; Eric Varvel, the chief executive officer of Credit Suisse Group AG’s investment bank; Dwight Poler, a managing director at Bain Capital Europe; Raj Bhattacharyya, a managing director at Deutsche Bank AG; and Whitfield Hines, a managing director at HSBC Holdings Plc.
The fundraisers were set to be co-hosted by former Barclays CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned on July 3 amid political pressure the London-based bank faced after it admitted to rigging global interest rates. He dropped his fundraising role soon after.
Later this week, Romney will travel to Israel and Poland for meetings with local leaders, policy speeches and visits to historical sights.
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