President Barack Obama signaled he plans to make Republican Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded comments that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes a central part of his campaign’s closing argument.
“When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that, somehow, they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is maybe you haven’t gotten around a lot,” Obama said, in response to a question at a forum yesterday hosted by the Spanish-language Univision television network in Coral Gables, Florida.
“Are there people who abuse the system?” Obama said. “Yes, both at the bottom and at the top, because there are a whole bunch of millionaires who aren’t paying taxes at all either.”
While Obama was questioning Romney’s qualifications, the challenger told supporters on the other side of the state that the Democratic president has given up on strengthening the struggling economy. Seeking to turn Obama’s own words against him, he said the president has raised “the white flag of surrender.”
Both candidates took aim at Florida’s electoral votes, the biggest prize among the battleground states. They traded attacks in the first in a series of parallel appearances leading up to their first debate.
The president “said that, with regards to his first four years, he gets an incomplete,” Romney told voters in Sarasota, Florida. “We’re not going to let him take the course over again. We’re going to get someone new to guide this country.”
With 46 days until the election, the two candidates are narrowing their campaign focus to fewer than a dozen swing states where the race will be decided. The most populous among them is Florida, with 29 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
Obama and Romney appeared separately on consecutive days at the Univision forum with appeals to Hispanics, who make up 23 percent of Florida’s population. Obama captured 57 percent of the Hispanic vote there in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Romney is trying to get his campaign back on track after the Sept. 17 release of the video of his remarks to donors in which he said 47 percent of Americans are government-dependent “victims” who don’t pay federal income taxes and won’t vote for him.
“I care about every person in America,” he told several hundred donors at an afternoon fundraiser in Sarasota. “I know what it takes to help those people and I will.”
Speaking at a campaign rally later in the day, Romney opened a new line of attack, using a remark by Obama at the Univision forum. Asked to cite his failures during his term, Obama said he has been unable to “change the tone in Washington.”
“You can’t change Washington from the inside; you can only change it from the outside,” he said.
His Republican rival jumped on the comment, telling voters he’s eager to give Obama the opportunity to leave the White House.
“We’ll, we’re going to give him that chance in November, he’s going outside,” Romney said, standing in front of the Ringling Museum of Art, named for the family that founded the Ringling Brothers Circus that later became the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. “I will change Washington. We’ll get the job done from the inside.”
Obama and Romney appeared in the same state for the first time since they were formally nominated by their parties. The two candidates also are scheduled to sit for separate interviews for CBS’s “60 Minutes” program airing on Sept. 23, and next week both are set to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
Their first head-to-head debate will be Oct. 3 in Denver.
Immigration was a major topic of the Univision forum at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
Pressed by anchor Jorge Ramos, Obama said that “my biggest failure is that we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done” as he promised to do during the 2008 campaign.
Obama said dealing with the financial crisis was his top priority and blamed Republicans for backtracking on their previous support for reform. He also contrasted his support for creating a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants with Romney’s position and cited initiatives he has undertaken without Congress, such as a decision not to prosecute some people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
“My opponent would actually roll back the progress we have made,” Obama said.
At the Univision forum the previous night, Romney played down a central element of his plan for handling undocumented immigrants.
“We’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them,” he said. “We need to provide a long-term solution.”
During the Republican primary campaign, Romney differentiated himself from some of his rivals with a tougher stance. Romney said then he opposed legal status for undocumented immigrants without first requiring them to leave the U.S., a policy he termed “self-deportation.” He called for a series of actions that would “turn off the magnet” and make undocumented immigrants feel less comfortable in the U.S.
Romney said he would grant legal status to young immigrants who serve in the military or pursue advanced degrees, though he wouldn’t explain his broader immigration plans.
A Sept. 13 NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll of likely voters in Florida showed Obama leading Romney 49 percent to 44 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Another NBC/Journal poll showed Obama leading 50 percent to 45 percent in Colorado and Wisconsin, and with a 50 percent to 42 percent advantage in Iowa. The surveys were conducted Sept. 16-18 of 971 likely voters in Colorado with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 898 likely voters in Iowa with a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points and 968 likely voters in Wisconsin with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.
Romney is planning to increase the pace of his public schedule after criticism from fellow Republicans that the candidate was spending too much time fundraising.
Romney aides added stops in Colorado to a schedule that planned to have the candidate spending much of his weekend at his beachside home in La Jolla, California. Early next week, he will travel though Ohio on a bus tour with running-mate Paul Ryan.