Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney was criticized by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and conservatives for refusing to stake a position on Ohio's anti-union law, which is headed for repeal through a voter referendum. Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought to downplay his rift with the Tea Party at a New Hampshire country club on Monday, reassuring a crowd that he shares the paramount Tea Party goal of reducing government.

From the start of his campaign, Romney has been viewed with deep skepticism by Tea Party organizations that view his role in establishing universal healthcare in Massachussetts as a fundamental violation of Republican principles. FreedomWorks, a prominent Tea Party group, cited the move in boycotting and protesting a separate Romney speaking appearance on Sunday.

Romney distinguished the Massachusetts law from the federal healthcare law to which it has been likened, saying that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act because it curtails states' autonomy. He also dismissed the notion that the Tea Party represented a break with Republican principles, saying that it was a fiction constructed by Democrats seeking to tear us down, make it look like we're at each other's throats.

There's great interest to say, 'Oh, the Tea Party, oh, and the mainstream Republicans, oh they're fighting and they're different,' Romney said. The Tea Party has at its center core a belief that government is too big. Sound familiar? That's what we've been saying for years and years as a Republican Party, and they're saying it well and loud. The Tea Party is a powerful movement, saying government's too big, and I couldn't agree more.

The remarks came one day after Romney's first appearance at an official Tea Party event, at a stop on the Tea Party Express' national Reclaiming America bus tour. Speaking over a small protest sponsored by FreedomWorks, Romney stuck to the message of economic revitalization, couched in a critique of President Barack Obama, that has been central to his campaign.

We had last month zero job creation. A shutout is okay in baseball; it's not good when you're talking about jobs. We have zero confidence, zero faith in a president who created zero jobs, he said. It's time for someone who knows how to create jobs and get our economy going, and that's something I know. That's in my wheelhouse and I'll get America working again.