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Mitt Romney's former rivals become cheerleaders in bid to oust Barack Obama

Republicans close ranks as President accuses his tycoon rival of being out of touch with voters

Republican Mitt Romney's defeated opponents for the US presidential nomination yesterday closed ranks to support him, a day after Barack Obama launched his campaign with a scathing attack on Romney's privilege and economic philosophy.

The rivals-turned-cheerleaders praised Romney as a business leader and ex-state governor qualified to pull the US out of the economic doldrums. They attacked President Obama and the themes of hope and change he used in 2008 and which he dusted off at his campaign launch at the weekend.

"What are the changes?" said Newt Gingrich, ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, who abandoned his presidential bid last week. "More Americans lost their jobs since the Great Depression, more Americans lost their homes than in any time in history, more Americans are in poverty than at any time since the Great Depression, higher gasoline prices – and these are the changes under Barack Obama."

The election is almost certain to turn substantially on the state of the economy, which has stuttered only fitfully back to life from the deep recession inherited by President Obama. Poor data on US job creation, released last Friday, has given Republicans new heart that Obama may not, after all, be able to claim the economy is firmly back on the road to health by November.

Newt Gingrich yesterday toured TV studios to declare his willingness to campaign for Mitt Romney, telling CNN he has "great respect" for the success of Romney's six-year battle to become the Republican presidential nominee. "I believe he will be a dramatically better president of the United States than Barack Obama."

Also closing ranks, having waited to endorse Mitt Romney for many months after dropping her own White House ambitions, was Michele Bachmann, a favourite of the Republican's fiscally and socially conservative wings, which continue to harbour doubts about Romney and his relatively liberal record as governor of Massachusetts.

Ms Bachmann signalled that the Republican voters should look past those doubts to focus on economic issues that will decide the election. She dismissed Democrat attempts to paint the Republican party as "anti-women" because of their candidates' primary season stance against forcing employers to offer healthcare coverage for women that includes contraception.

It is a "myth" that Romney and the Republicans will have a problem with female voters, she said on CBS.

At back-to-back rallies in the battleground states of Ohio and Virginia on Saturday, Obama aimed to paint Mitt Romney, the multi-millionaire founder of a private equity firm, as being unsympathetic to ordinary people. "He has drawn the wrong lessons from those experiences," Obama said. "He sincerely believes that if CEOs and wealthy investors like him make money, the rest of us will automatically prosper, as well."