APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney on Friday defended his personal wealth amid intensifying criticism from President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, which is trying to portray the former businessman as out of touch with most Americans.
Romney, who is worth up to $250 million, would be among the nation's richest presidents if elected. His Democratic and Republican opponents have thrust Romney's success to the forefront of the presidential contest as he tightens his grasp on the GOP nomination.
"If we become one of those societies that attacks success, one outcome is certain — there will be a lot less success," Romney said during a speech at Lawrence University in Appleton.
The former Massachusetts governor argued his case several days before the GOP primary Tuesday in Wisconsin. The state is a general election battleground and Romney is courting the working-class voters who are likely to play a central role next week and again in November.
Obama won Wisconsin by 14 percentage points in November 2008.
Though Romney grew up with wealth and privilege as the son of a Michigan governor, he has tried to downplay his early advantages and said in Friday's speech that he took "an entry-level job" after graduating from Harvard law and business schools.
"I loved cars and I was very tempted to stay in Michigan and go into the car business as he had but I knew I would always wonder if any success I had was due to my father," Romney said. "So when I got out of business school, I stayed in Massachusetts where I went to school and got an entry-level job with the best company that would hire me."
Romney spent virtually his entire business career with Bain Consulting and Bain Capital, the Boston-based private equity firms where he earned amassed the fortune that has allowed him to go for more than a decade without earning a regular paycheck.
Obama's campaign is pushing Romney to release years of tax returns dating to his career at the companies. Romney's GOP rivals have made the same argument, although the intra-party criticism has softened somewhat as the GOP begins to unite behind Romney.
Obama's campaign recently seized on reports that upgrades to Romney's California home include a car elevator, among other expensive renovations.
Romney campaigned with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who on Friday became the latest GOP leader to endorse Romney.