By Ros Krasny and Scott Malone
SALEM/MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Republicans hoping to be chosen to run against President Barack Obama in the 2012 election blasted him on Thursday for bypassing Congress to fill politically sensitive posts.
He upset Republicans by making four recess appointments - naming Richard Cordray to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Board and filling three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.
Republican politicians who fanned out around New Hampshire to campaign ahead of next Tuesday's primary election criticized Obama for bypassing constitutional procedure and not waiting for Congress to approve the nominees.
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney labeled Obama as a "crony capitalist" in an attack where he said the president had stacked the labor board with "union stooges."
"This president is a crony capitalist. He's a job killer. This president has engaged and is engaging in crony capitalism," said Romney, a former venture capitalist who made a fortune buying and restructuring companies - often closing plants and offices in the process.
"It scares away real entrepreneurs," Romney said. "We don't want crony capitalists running our country."
He pointed to Obama's move to assign three people to the NLRB - bringing the five-member board to full strength for the first time in two years - as an example.
Romney said in a statement Obama's appointments to the NLRB give his political labor allies a "dangerous level of power over businesses and workers."
A recess appointment is made when Congress is not in session and it temporarily circumvents the requirement for Senate confirmation for those positions. Obama's picks for the four posts were all facing drawn-out Republican opposition.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the appointments, noting that while banks had well-paid lobbyists, ordinary Americans need someone like Cordray to protect them.
"Average Americans need someone representing their interests in Washington," Carney said in Washington.
RUNNING 'ROUGHSHOD OVER LAW'
Former Senator Rick Santorum, who made a stunning surge at the end of the campaign in Iowa to finish just eight votes behind Romney on Tuesday, said Obama was trying to go above the law since Congress was not actually technically in recess.
"We are a country of laws. Will I like it if the United States Senate blocks my appointments? No, I won't," Santorum said in Manchester. "But I respect the law, because that's what you are as president. This president routinely runs roughshod over the law."
"If the rule of law means nothing in this country ... Why don't we just say, 'Go ahead Mr. President, let you run the country out of the executive office, ignore the Senate, ignore the rules, do whatever the hell you want.' It's wrong and someone needs to stand up and say, 'Enough, Mr. President,'" Santorum said, drawing applause from the crowd of about 200 local businesspeople.
Santorum's rival, Ron Paul, a Texas congressman who came in a close third in Iowa, accused Obama of acting in "clear disregard" of the constitution.
"The president must be called to account for his actions," Paul said in a statement, adding that Congress may need to take action to rein in Obama's "flagrant contempt" for the rules.
"It is disappointing that a former constitutional law professor does not understand that the president is not a dictator or a king who can simply ignore the constitution whenever he feels frustrated by the system of checks and balances wisely put in place by our founders."
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, called Obama an "imperial president" and urged Congress to respond by refusing to fund the labor board.
"The National Labor Relations Board now has a majority that have never been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is a violation of the law," Gingrich said in Plymouth. "When a president decides to violate the spirit of the law and use the power of the presidency to reshape the government against the Congress, the Congress has an obligation to defend our rights."
(Additional reporting by Laura McInnis in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New Hampshire; writing by Deborah Charles)