By Mary Slosson
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took aim at President Barack Obama's economic leadership on Wednesday, saying the Democrat's policies were hurting, not helping, the U.S. economy.
"The president's policies almost without question have caused this recession to be deeper and longer than it would have been and have made this recovery more anemic than it should have been," Romney said at a campaign stop in a run-down North Hollywood community.
The former Massachusetts governor assailed Obama's handling of the economy, speaking against the backdrop of a foreclosed strip mall with mostly empty buildings and boarded-up windows.
Saying the mall had been "scrapped in part because of challenges of the economy," Romney accused Obama of being too distracted by other matters to focus on reviving the struggling economy and vowed that would be his highest priority if he is elected president.
Last month, the Republican White House hopeful took his campaign to a shuttered plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he accused Obama of failing to understand how to fix the economy and create jobs.
The early front-runner in the field of candidates competing for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Romney has zeroed in on the two issues seen as key vulnerabilities in Obama's effort to win a second-term -- the sluggish economy and the 9.2 percent jobless rate.
"Some years ago just weeks after he (Obama) was inaugurated he went on the 'Today Show' and he said 'look if I can't turn this economy around in three years, I'm looking at a one-term proposition,' and I'm here to collect," Romney said, drawing cheers from about 40 supporters.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, pre-empted Romney's campaign event with a dim assessment of the former governor's economic record.
In a conference call with reporters, Villaraigosa said Massachusetts ranked 47th out of the 50 states in job creation under Romney's governorship and had skyrocketing home foreclosures.
"Romney using LA - and I emphasis using LA - to blast Obama's economic policies is appalling," Villaraigosa said.
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who is behind most of his Republican rivals in polls, has also criticized Romney's jobs record as Massachusetts governor and his support for a state healthcare overhaul that was a model for Obama's federal law.
Asked about criticism from fellow Republicans, Romney would not be drawn into the intraparty rivalry saying only that he was campaigning against Obama.
(Writing by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Christopher Wilson)