By Sam Youngman
WOLFEBORO, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Republicans prepared a counterpunch to the Democratic National Convention this week by introducing their new line of attack with a not-so-new question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
While Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent time on his boat in New Hampshire on Monday, his running mate, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, and other Republican officials converged on Charlotte, North Carolina, where President Barack Obama will accept his party's nomination and enter the home stretch of the 2012 race for the White House.
The Romney campaign kicked off its effort to "bracket" the convention with a new emphasis on what it called Obama's failed presidency, a theme Romney himself punctuated in his speech a week earlier to the Republican National Convention.
Asking Americans if they are better off than they were before the current president took over is hardly a new line in U.S. presidential politics, but Republicans ran with the phrase in their efforts to upstage the Democratic gathering.
They spent Sunday and Monday morning trying to highlight Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's answer of "No" when CNN asked him if Americans are better off than they were before Obama took office.
Democrats hustled to blunt that message on Monday.
"By any measure the country has moved forward over the last four years; it might not be as fast as people hoped," senior Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter told NBC's "Today" show. "The president agrees with that. He knows we need to do more. That's what this week is about, laying out a road map of how we can continue this progress, how we can continue moving the country forward."
The Romney campaign kicked off the week's counter-messaging Sunday night with a blistering preview of the Democratic convention, saying Obama "is going to give us a series of excuses, alibis and scapegoats."
"Every president since the Great Depression, except Jimmy Carter and President Obama, who asked for a second term could look back at the last four years and say, "you are better off than you were four years ago," it said in a statement.
Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, planned a campaign event in Greenville, North Carolina, before heading to the battleground states of Iowa and Ohio on Tuesday.
Reince Priebus, national chairman of the Republican Party, and U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah on Monday opened an "'Obama isn't working' Rapid Response Center" at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
Romney was spending much of the week in Vermont, preparing for his three debates against Obama, a campaign official said.
Rob Johnson, former campaign manager to Texas Governor Rick Perry's presidential campaign, said that when it comes to convention counterprogramming, "it is always a good thing to knock the other side off message."
Having a presence in Charlotte will help Republicans achieve that, Johnson said.
"This week it will be important for the Republicans to be in Charlotte to attempt to expose the holes in the propaganda of the Obama team," Johnson said. "There is no substitute for being on their turf in person."
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons shrugged off the new Republican attack line.
"Maybe that argument is the best they can do, but I think it will miss the mark," he said.
Simmons, who helped set up and run the Democratic response unit at the Republican convention in 2008, said polls continue to show that "George W. Bush is more responsible for what happened to the economy four years ago."
"Despite the GOP rhetoric, President Obama took us from losing 750,000 jobs a month when he took office to gaining jobs every month," Simmons said. "Really they are arguing that things are not as good as they could be. Much tougher case to make."
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)