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Mitt Romney addresses supporters in Colorado. Photo: AFP

Romney, Obama teams spar over economy comments

WASHINGTON — Rival campaigns for the White House used tit-for-tat web videos Monday to spar over the economy, with Mitt Romney’s team saying President Barack Obama’s “doing fine” remark shows he’s out of touch with middle-class voters.

In the latest example of campaigns using the candidates’ own words against them, Obama’s re-election team shot back against Romney’s proposals to lay off thousands of public sector workers like teachers and firefighters.

Aides to Romney rolled out a series of web videos Sunday and Monday calling out the president for remarks intended to reassure a jittery American public about the health of private business, but which backfired badly.

Obama had called a press conference Friday to discuss the US economy, saying “the private sector is doing fine” and suggesting the Republican drive to cut taxes on business and individuals was not necessary.

“Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government,” he said.

Romney, the Republican flagbearer who faces Obama in November’s general election, blasted the comments as “an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding” following a week of poor economic data including a worse-than-expected jobs report that saw the unemployment rate rise to 8.2 percent.

Obama later walked back his remarks, but the bell had been struck, and by Sunday team Romney unveiled a web video called “Fine?” complete with repeats of Obama’s comment, ominous music and a message which read: “No, Mr. President, we are not doing fine.”

They followed up on Monday with a video of talking heads announcing the latest poor jobs data, with a text message appearing on the screen: “Has there ever been a president so out of touch with the middle class?”

That has been an accusation more commonly leveled by Democrats, who cite several verbal gaffes by the multimillionaire Romney this year, including his comments that he is “not concerned about the very poor” or likes “being able to fire people,” to paint him as blind to the concerns of average Americans.

Obama’s re-election team cobbled together its own video drawing on Romney’s words.

“He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” the video shows Romney saying of the president.

“Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did,” he added, referring to the trade-union-busting Republican governor in the state who survived a recent recall election.

“It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

The remarks were “a stunning moment of candor from Mitt Romney,” according to Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.

“He mocked that idea that teachers can stay in the classroom, firefighters can stay at work and cops can stay on the beat,” she told a conference call.

Romney “countered President Obama’s job creation proposal with actually a job elimination plan… in order to pay for a $5 trillion tax cut that would give people like him a $250,000 tax break,” Cutter said, adding that the campaign would “welcome a debate about who is out of touch.”

US lawmakers must decide whether to let scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect in early 2013 or cancel them, a move that would bulge the national debt by $5 trillion over the next decade.

Obama supports a tax-cut extension for family incomes only up to $250,000.

A CNN poll from last October showed 75 percent of Americans support providing federal funds to states to help them hire teachers and first responders.

The sluggish US economy is clearly the top issue of concern for voters.

The White House has consistently touted how the economic recovery has created 4.3 million jobs in the private sector, while stressing that mass layoffs of teachers and police have shrunk the public sector.

Financial results released by US corporations have shown substantial profits in recent months and while companies are hesitant about taking on large numbers of new hires, they are adding jobs — 82,000 last month, compared with the public sector shedding some 13,000 jobs.

Obama and Romney are neck-and-neck in their race, with Romney arguing that his successful career as a former businessman and financier would make him a better choice for pulling up the economy.

Romney embarks on a bus tour Friday across six states, including battlegrounds New Hampshire and Ohio, to bring his “Believe in America” message to American families and business owners, his campaign said.

Written by | Agence France-Presse

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