ATLANTA, Georgia — Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of fostering a "web of dependency," amid a sharpening electoral battle over their competing visions for US society.
Under attack due to videotaped comments dismissing 47 percent of Americans as looking for government handouts, the Republican presidential nominee defended his views as the path to prosperity.
"My course for the American economy will encourage private investment and personal freedom," Romney wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today. "Instead of creating a web of dependency, I will pursue policies that grow our economy and lift Americans out of poverty."
He doubled down on the concept at a high-end Atlanta fundraiser, the third finance event in two days in which he has attacked Obama for embracing a more socialist-styled role for government.
America "does not work by a government saying 'become dependent on government, become dependent upon redistribution.' That will kill the American entrepreneurship that's lifted our economy over the years," Romney told donors here.
"The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class?" Romney went on.
"I do. He does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class? I can! He can't!"
Romney trails in the polls with just 48 days to go before the November 6 elections. Deficits in key battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida are especially worrying for the Republican challenger as they could decide the race.
Romney has acknowledged that his bombshell comments at a May fundraiser, which were secretly videotaped and then made public this week by Mother Jones magazine, were badly phrased.
But the former Massachusetts governor and his campaign have stepped up their attacks on social welfare "entitlements" as they seek to frame a philosophical debate over the choices facing Americans.
In doing so they have seized on a 14-year-old audio recording from 1998 in which Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, can be heard advocating for government-backed wealth redistribution.
"The trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody's got a shot," Obama says in the audio.
The White House responded Wednesday by saying Romney's camp was adopting "desperate" tactics that were examples of a campaign "having a very bad day or a very bad week."
"You sometimes witness an effort -- that seems desperate -- to change the subject. We might be witnessing that now," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Romney, who has been holding a series of fundraisers in California, Utah and Texas, heads to key swing state Florida on Wednesday to hold his first public campaign event since late last week.
It has been an awkward period for the nominee, who has fended off a backlash from Republicans worried about his gaffe-plagued campaign.
Last week, Romney set off a furor by criticizing the administration as being too sympathetic to Islamic militants just as the nation learnt that its ambassador to Libya and three other citizens had been killed in an attack on the Benghazi consulate.
Release of the fundraising video, and reports of internal campaign disarray, plunged team Romney into deeper turmoil, but their decision to embrace the anti-dependency message appears to have energized the campaign.
"Mitt Romney's vision for America is an opportunity society, where free people and free enterprise thrive and success is admired and emulated, not attacked," Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said in a statement.
Romney has also unleashed running mate Paul Ryan and several surrogates to help frame the economic debate as the campaign heads into the home stretch.
"Mitt Romney and I are not running to redistribute the wealth. Mitt Romney and I are running to help Americans create wealth," Ryan told supporters at a campaign stop in the battleground state of Virginia.