Mitt Romney and other Republicans mocked President Barack Obama for his comments earlier today about the private sector, casting the incumbent as out of touch with economic reality as he campaigned in a swing state.
“He said the private sector is doing fine,” the presumptive Republican nominee told several hundred gathered outside at a park in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Is he really that out of touch? I think he’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people. Has there ever been an American president who is so far from reality?”
The Republican National Committee weighed in with a Web video playing off Obama’s comments on the private sector, asking how he could fix the economy “if he doesn’t understand what’s broken?”
Placed on the defensive, Obama sought to clarify his comments when asked to respond to Romney’s criticism.
“It is absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine,” Obama told reporters this afternoon during a meeting between Obama and Philippine President Benigno Aquino. While there has been “some good momentum” in the private sector, “there are too many people out of work, the housing market is still weak and too many homes underwater.”
At issue were remarks Obama made earlier in the day at a White House news conference to discuss the economy.
“The truth of the matter is that, as I said we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last two -- 27 months; over 800,000 just this year alone,” Obama told reporters. “The private sector is doing fine.”
Obama’s re-election prospects suffered a blow June 1 after the government reported that hiring slowed last month, reinforcing Romney’s main line of attack against him.
Jobs in the U.S. grew by 69,000 in May, the fewest in a year and less than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of private economists. The unemployment rate increased to 8.2 percent, the first rise since last June.
Romney today hammered at Obama’s assessment of the economic environment.
“For the president of the United States to stand up and say the private sector is doing fine, is going to go down in history,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding by a president who is out of touch.”
The RNC video flashes headlines on last week’s employment report, including “Economy stalls as job growth slows” from the Detroit News, and then twice replays Obama’s comment that “the private sector is doing fine.” It ends with the question about how well he understands the struggling economy.
Romney also questioned Obama’s calls for additional federal spending to boost job growth.
“He wants another stimulus. He wants to hire more government workers,” Romney said. “Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?” he said, referring to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s June 5 victory in a recall election spurred by his push to restrict bargaining rights for public-employee unions. “The American people did.”
Obama said Romney and Republicans in Congress haven’t offered proposals to spur growth.
“What I’m interested in hearing from Congress and Mr. Romney is, what steps are they willing to take right now that are going to make an actual difference?” Obama said.
The president’s campaign accused Romney of trying to “talk down” the U.S. economy.
“Iowans got today what they’ve come to expect from Mitt Romney: angry, dishonest rhetoric about President Obama and zero new solutions to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class,” Obama re-election spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
Romney was last in Iowa less than a month ago, on May 16, and its place on his schedule signals his interest in trying to take the state from Obama’s column in the 2012 election.
Obama won Iowa in 2008 over his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona, 54 percent to 44 percent. As president, he’s frequently visited the state, including on May 24 when he dropped reminders about the time he’d spent campaigning there before his win in Iowa’s 2008 Democratic caucuses set him on the path to his party’s nomination.
An NBC News-Marist poll released May 31 showed Obama and Romney tied in Iowa, each with support from 44 percent of registered voters, figures that include those who are undecided yet leaning toward one of the candidates. Eliminating the leaners, 10 percent of voters in the state are undecided, the poll showed.
Pottawattamie County, where Romney appeared today, was won by McCain four years ago with 50.4 percent of the vote.
Republicans have touted figures showing they now outnumber Democrats in Iowa. The latest registration data from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office shows 607,936 registered Republicans and 595,423 Democrats. As in many states, independents will probably decide the outcome in Iowa and represent a larger group than registered Republicans or Democrats: 663,969.
Romney and his rivals in the Republican nomination race repeatedly visited before its caucuses that kicked off the nomination contest on Jan. 3. The state is one of about a half- dozen Democratic and Republican strategists say are most likely to determine the election.
Romney, 65, was initially declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses before a subsequent review gave a 34-vote victory to former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Santorum, who emerged as Romney’s main challenger, ended his bid for the Republican nomination on April 10.
The campaign for Iowa’s electoral votes will play out in a state with a better economic environment than the national picture. The state’s jobless rate in April was 5.1 percent, below the current national average of 8.2 percent and down from 6.3 percent in November 2010.
After his Iowa stop, Romney was scheduled to appear in Salt Lake City with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who faces a primary race on June 26, and attend a fundraiser there. He is taking the weekend off from the campaign trail.
To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com