May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in his second White House bid, was reminded of just how easily outside forces can distract a campaign’s message.
The former Massachusetts governor had intended to keep his focus on the U.S. economy and joblessness during an appearance yesterday at a metals stamping plant near Cleveland. He instead drew criticism, and his message was blurred by an Ohio Republican leader who compared President Barack Obama to fast-food clown Ronald McDonald and a supporter who said the president should be tried for treason.
On stage, Romney declined to challenge either statement, though he later told reporters that he disagreed with the treason remark. Days earlier, Romney had suggested that the presidential campaign had already become too ugly.
“Some of the rhetoric is too hot for both sides of the aisle,” he said May 4 at a stop in Pittsburgh.
Romney’s response to the treason remark stood in contrast to how Senator John McCain of Arizona handled a situation in 2008 when he was the Republican nominee and a supporter called Obama “an Arab.”
“No, ma’am,” McCain replied. “He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”
Romney’s appearance came hours before he received the public endorsement of former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, his one-time rival for the Republican nomination who withdrew from the race on April 10.
During the campaign, Santorum spent several months portraying Romney as a phony while offering himself as the candidate who best understood middle-class voters. In a statement on his website, Santorum said he and Romney agreed that “President Obama must be defeated.”
“Governor Romney has my endorsement and support to win this the most critical election of our lifetime,” he said.
Santorum said that he couldn’t consider an endorsement until after meeting privately with Romney in Pittsburgh on May 4 to discuss issues critical to “social conservatives, tea-party supporters, lower and middle income working families.”
During his stop in Ohio yesterday, Romney was asked by an audience member about taxes he paid to foreign countries on investments outside the U.S. Boos greeted the question.
“I’ll look at it,” Romney said. “I’m not familiar with that. I don’t think I paid any foreign income taxes, but I’ll be happy to take a look at it.”
Romney claimed a foreign tax credit of $129,697 on his 2010 federal return. To prevent double taxation, Americans who pay taxes to foreign governments for income earned outside the U.S. can receive a credit against their U.S. income taxes.
The foreign tax credit form on Romney’s return shows he received $1.5 million in passive income earned in “various countries.”
Romney, who helped form the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, has estimated his wealth to be as much as $250 million on financial disclosure statements. He earned $21.6 million in 2010, mostly from investments, according to tax returns he released in late January.
Democrats have raised questions about Romney’s ability to relate to people facing economic hardship, citing as one example his $12 million renovation of a San Diego-area beach home that includes an elevator for his cars.
Obama’s campaign also has criticized Romney for having a now-closed account with Zurich-based UBS AG, titling one of its ads as “Swiss Bank Account.” Obama’s campaign hasn’t directly raised the foreign tax credit issue.
The Democratic president claimed a $5,841 foreign tax credit in 2011 associated with overseas sales of his books.
The calculations that determine the foreign tax credit can be complicated and the amount of the credit depends on a number of limits and other rules. The forms and statements associated with the foreign tax credit make up 22 pages, or more than 10 percent of Romney’s 203-page tax return for 2010.
Another audience member suggested, as an aside to a question about adherence to the U.S. Constitution, that she thought Obama should be tried for treason.
Romney confined his answer to the question’s main thrust, saying, “I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired.”
After his event, he said, “No, of course not,” when asked if he agreed with the comment about treason.
In a prelude to Romney’s appearance, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost criticized vacations the Obama family has taken while in the White House, including trips to Hawaii and New York City.
“Mr. President, that’s not middle class and you stop lecturing us about our lives,” Yost told the crowd.
He also said Obama has taken too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“It strikes me as a little weird,” Yost said. “I mean that’s like giving Ronald McDonald credit for the Big Mac you had for lunch. Everybody knows it’s really the guy at the grill that deserves the credit, right, not the pitchman on TV.”
Romney’s decision not to publicly criticize some of the comments made during the event drew a rebuke from Obama’s campaign.
Rebuke From Obama
“We saw Mitt Romney’s version of leadership: standing by silently as his chief surrogate attacked the president’s family at the event and another supporter alleged that the president should be tried for treason,” Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric and time after time, he has failed to do so,” she said.
Over the weekend, Obama officially began his on-the-road campaigning for re-election with rallies in the swing states of Ohio and Virginia. With the economy the dominant issue in the November election, the president asserted that, while the recovery has been uneven, the U.S. is making progress.
The previous day, the Labor Department said employers added fewer workers than forecast in April and the jobless rate unexpectedly dropped as people left the labor force.
Romney said yesterday the tendency of workers to leave the labor force because of frustration over finding a job.
“You might assume that that number came down from 10 percent to 8.1 percent because of all the jobs that have been created,” he said. “That assumption would be wrong. The reason that percent came down was because of all the people that dropped out of the workforce.”
Ohio’s jobless rate in March was 7.5 percent, below the national average and down from 10.6 percent in January 2010. It was 8.6 percent when Obama took office.
The state has been a bellwether in presidential politics and no Republican has won the White House without a victory there. Obama won the state four years ago with 51 percent.
Both campaigns are preparing for a close contest. The most recent Gallup daily tracking poll, completed May 6, shows the race essentially tied, with Obama getting support from 45 percent and Romney 46 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
In Ohio, Obama leads 44 percent to 42 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week. That is within the 2.9-percentage-point margin of error for the survey, taken April 25-May 1.
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