By Jason McLure
BERLIN, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tried to avoid wading into the debate within the Republican Party about raising the federal debt ceiling as he campaigned in northern New Hampshire on Friday.
Currently the front-runner for the Republican 2012 primary nomination, Romney called on President Barack Obama to accede to Republican demands to slash government spending without raising taxes.
"The president has the power to deal with this almost by himself," Romney told voters in Berlin, New Hampshire.
Romney would not be pressed on whether he supports the line taken by Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who has called for deep, immediate cuts to federal spending, or a compromise approach backed by some Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.
"I've said all I'm going to say about that," Romney said.
Returning to familiar territory, Romney criticized Obama's healthcare reform law while defending the Massachusetts law he signed in 2006 that was used as a template for the federal legislation.
"What we crafted was in my view right for my people and my state," he said. "I am vehemently opposed to Obamacare because it forces the president's single model onto the entire nation."
Romney chose a visit to a struggling pocket of New Hampshire for Friday's meeting with local business leaders, where he criticized Obama's economic policies and touted his private sector experience.
New Hampshire had the highest median household income of any U.S. state in 2010, and currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States, at 4.8 percent.
But Coos County in the northern part of the state has not shared New Hampshire's good fortune.
Once home to several large paper mills, Coos County lost 2,000 jobs in the forestry and paper industry between 2001 and 2009 out of a population of 32,000, according to data from Berlin's city government.
Efforts at redevelopment have stalled. A $276 million federal prison completed in 2010 in Berlin stands empty because Congress has failed to allot funds to hire staff.
Plans for a proposed biomass electricity plant that would have brought $25 million annually into the local economy stalled after New Hampshire's other woodchip-burning power producers lobbied against the plant.
Joanne Roy, 51, who sold Romney a $6 slice of raspberry pie at her cafe in the town, said she was leaning toward voting for him in the primary as the Republican's best hope of defeating Obama in the 2012 general election.
"I didn't think he would be this personable," she said. "He's a business person first rather than a politician."
(Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Walsh)