Presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, pressing to quiet debate over his wealth and business practices, is charging President Barack Obama with stressing his own re-election over job creation and being hostile to economic success.
Romney has sharpened his attacks on Obama this week in an effort to refocus the race on the president’s record, portraying him as disconnected from the concerns of ordinary Americans and inept at creating jobs. He told voters at a town hall meeting in the swing of state Ohio yesterday that, while Obama has held 100 fundraisers in the past six months, he hasn’t convened his jobs council even once.
“His priority is not creating jobs for you; his priority is keeping his own job, and that’s why he’s going to lose it,” Romney told about 800 voters at a community center in Bowling Green, a town in northwestern Ohio surrounded by corn and soybean fields. “He is simply out of touch with what’s happening in this country.”
The last public meeting of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness was Jan. 17. The panel is headed by General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama has “got a lot on his plate” when asked yesterday why the president hasn’t met with the council since then. Carney also said Obama has adopted “numerous initiatives put forward by the jobs council.”
Rick Gorka, Romney’s traveling press secretary, said he couldn’t provide the number of fundraisers Romney has held in the last six months.
As Obama and his campaign have spotlighted Romney’s business record, the Republican in increasingly combative tones is describing Obama as out of step with American views and values, painting him as hostile to capitalism.
“It is a philosophy which has as its intent taking from those that are building and growing enterprises to give to others that government wants to take care of,” Romney told donors last night at a country club near Canton in northeast Ohio.
Romney is hammering at Obama for his comment last week that business creators aren’t solely responsible for the success of their enterprises, saying the president’s views are anathema to the American way.
‘Can’t Understand It’
“This idea of criticizing and attacking success, of demonizing those in all walks of life who have been successful, is so foreign to us we simply can’t understand it,” the former Massachusetts governor and private-equity executive said at his Bowling Green event. “Barack Obama’s attempt to denigrate and diminish the achievement of the individual diminishes us all.”
He was referring to an excerpt of a speech Obama made in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13 in which he said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” The president had just referred to what he called “this unbelievable American system” that, through tax dollars, provides school teachers and roads and bridges used in commerce.
Romney invited all the business owners at his town hall gathering to stand and raise their hands if they built their own enterprises. Surveying the group, he shouted, “Take that, Mr. President!”
Romney is seeking to change the subject from what Democrats and some Republicans say is inadequate disclosure of his personal fortune -- estimated as high as $250 million -- and his role in job layoffs and outsourcing by companies that dealt with Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private-equity company he co-founded and led.
Joel Benenson, Obama’s chief pollster, said yesterday those topics speak to “a character dimension,” and are fair game for debate.
“It translates into where Romney wants to take the country,” Benenson said at a Bloomberg Breakfast with reporters in Washington.
Obama’s campaign is airing television advertisements questioning whether Romney is hiding something by refusing to release more tax returns beyond the 2010 filing he has provided and the 2011 records he has promised to disclose when they are available. Some prominent Republicans have added to the pressure on Romney, suggesting he release more returns to put the issue to rest.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat who is close to Obama, said yesterday he would seek a vote on a measure requiring federal candidates to disclose financial interests in what he called overseas tax havens.
Romney has said he had a Swiss bank account with Zurich-based UBS AG -- closed in 2010 -- and his tax return for that year showed he had investments offshore including in the Cayman Islands, a popular spot for investors who don’t want to file disclosures with the Internal Revenue Service.
While Benenson said the tax-return issue was resonating with voters, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told reporters in Washington that the issue was of no interest to the public.
“The American people are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ They’re not asking where in the hell the tax returns are,” Boehner said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “This is another sideshow intended to draw the American people’s attention away from the real issue.”
A New York Times/CBS News national poll released yesterday shows the presidential race a statistical tie, and that voter approval of Obama’s economic record has declined.
Romney is backed by 47 percent in the survey, Obama by 46 percent in figures including voters who said they leaned toward one of the candidates. Excluding those voters, Romney led with 45 percent to 43 percent for Obama.
The results, while within the poll’s error margin of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points, represent the first time Romney has had an edge in Times/CBS surveys since he emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee in early April.
In the latest poll, 55 percent said they disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy, while 39 percent expressed approval. In April, 48 percent disapproved and 44 percent approved.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in January 2009, when Obama took office. It rose to as high as 10 percent in October 2009, and was 8.2 percent in June, Labor Department data show. The economy has averaged 1.5 percent, quarter-on-quarter economic growth, during Obama’s term. Since the third quarter of 2009, the first full quarter after the recession ended, growth has averaged 2.4 percent.
As he publicly savaged Obama for his economic record, Romney was privately preparing to select a running mate. He told a voter questioning him in Bowling Green that he hadn’t yet chosen a vice presidential candidate, and that whomever he picked would be “a conservative.”
“We’re not quite there yet,” Romney’s wife, Ann, told ABC News in an interview to air today on “Good Morning America,” according to excerpts released by the network. “We’re going to be there soon.”