Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney on Friday criticized a restored 19th century bridge as another "Bridge to Nowhere" and a fresh symbol of the waste he says is rampant in President Obama's economic stimulus plan.
From the parking lot of a Ford dealership, Romney pointed to the nearby stone bridge that straddles the Contoocook River and called it a boondoggle. The town of Hillsborough received $150,000 in federal stimulus money to repair the Sawyer Bridge as part of a new park project designed to put people to work installing new benches, lights and visitor parking.
Those additions have not happened.
"This is the absolute Bridge to Nowhere if there ever was one. That's your stimulus dollars at work. A bridge that goes nowhere," Romney said.
The so-called Bridge to Nowhere rose to prominence as a symbol of wasteful Washington spending. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who died in a plane crash in 2010, set aside funding for a bridge to a remote island that local officials didn't really want. It was eventually nixed and resulted in overhaul to the earmarking, or funding lawmakers' pet projects.
Indeed, the freshly repaired bridge with its new concrete surface and black iron pedestrian rails stops just as it reaches the other side. The road it once served has shifted a few hundred feet and a replacement bridge connects the two sides of the central New Hampshire town.
Hillsborough's application for money from Obama's $800 billion stimulus program claimed the new bridge would be the centerpiece of a park for residents to walk or bike. But the town hasn't completed its portion of the project, leaving the bridge ready for visitors but still inaccessible to the public.
Romney seized on it as part of a plan that was "without question, the largest, one-time, careless expenditure of government money in American history."
Obama's campaign rejected the assertion and said the president's policies have helped create millions of jobs.
"When President Obama took office, we were in the midst of an economic crisis and losing 750,000 jobs a month," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. "The president's policies, policies that Mitt Romney criticizes, helped bring the economy back from the brink of another Depression and we've now seen over 4.2 million jobs created over the last 26 months."
Obama and Romney are expected to fight over New Hampshire. While it offers just four of the 270 electoral votes it takes to win the presidency, activists from both parties note that had Democrat Al Gore carried the state in 2000 he would have won the White House despite losing Florida to Republican George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, Romney on Friday launched his first general election ad with an appeal to four key swing states as he tried to set a positive tone while promising he'll start working on "Day One" for tax cuts, changes in health care laws and approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The ads, which don't explain how those tax cuts would be paid for or how soon health care laws could change, are upbeat and statesmanlike -- very much unlike the attack ads Romney supporters used during the primary campaign to crush opponents.
The ad was part of a new initiative by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to woo voters in North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa and Ohio. Romney followed it up Friday with a 30-minute "tele-town hall" meeting with residents of those states.