BOWLING GREEN — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of caring more about his own job security than about creating jobs for millions of unemployed Americans. While pressing his case against the Democrat, Romney showed no sign of caving into mounting pressure for him to release more of his tax returns.
Campaigning in Ohio, a state key to the political fates of both contenders, Romney said the president in the past six months has held more than 100 fundraisers for his re-election campaign and no meetings with his jobs council.
Romney is trying to portray Obama as out of touch with the economic pain afflicting millions of people, including those who go to work every day, while hoping to shift the focus from his personal finances and business record.
“His priority is trying to keep his own job, and that’s why he’s going to lose it,” Romney declared, building off fiery speeches in Pennsylvania the day before in which he accused Obama of believing government is more vital to a thriving economy than the nation’s workers and dreamers.
Having spent most of Tuesday courting donors across Texas, Obama spent Wednesday at the White House. His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, was speaking at a campaign fundraiser in Birmingham, Ala. Obama was heading out Thursday on a two-day campaign swing through Florida.
Democrats have pressed for the release of more of Romney’s tax returns and have hounded him about discrepancies over when he left his private equity firm, Bain Capital.
In his appearances, Obama has sought keep Romney focused on matters other than the sluggish economy, even releasing a single-shot TV ad Tuesday that suggests Romney gamed the system so well that he may not have paid any taxes at all for years.
“If you’re going to run for president, it’s not necessarily comfortable but it has become a tradition and it’s an important one, you make your tax returns available because you think the American people deserve that kind of transparency,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took a rare step into the presidential race Wednesday, saying Obama’s criticism of Romney’s career and taxes are meant to distract from the administration’s handling of the economy.
Boehner said Obama’s questions are an “attack on the private sector” and show he “doesn’t give a damn about middle-class Americans who are out there looking for work.”
Boehner also warned those, including fellow Republicans who increasingly are calling on Romney to make more of his past tax returns public.
“The American people are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ Boehner said. “They’re not asking where the hell the tax returns are. It’s not about tax returns, it’s about the economy.”
Carney said there was no specific reason why the president and the jobs council haven’t met for six months.
“The president has obviously got a lot on his plate,” Carney said. “But he continues to solicit and receive advice from numerous folks outside the administration about the economy, about ideas that he can act on with Congress or administratively to help the economy grow and help it create jobs.”
Obama’s campaign, in a web video released Wednesday, questioned Romney’s claim that he had “no responsibility whatsoever” at Bain Capital after February 1999, when Romney says he left the firm. SEC filings list him as sole owner and CEO through February 2001.
After being on his heels for several days, Romney launched an aggressive counterattack this week, punctuated by biting speeches, conference calls and a TV ad Wednesday accusing Obama of “crony capitalism.” The ad says Obama sent stimulus money to “friends, donors, campaign supporters and special interest groups” and charges that taxpayer dollars went to projects in Finland and China.
Romney also has seized on comments Obama made last week in Virginia.
Making a point about the supportive role government plays in building the nation, the president said, in part: “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Obama later added: “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
Romney lashed out at the remark while in in Bowling Green, in keeping with a strategy his campaign says will be a theme for the week, if not longer.
“This is the height of foolishness,” he said. “It shows how out of touch he is with the character of America.”
The attacks marked a substantial escalation for the often-reserved Romney, who has struggled to answer questions about his business career and personal tax returns. The former businessman, who would be among the nation’s wealthiest presidents if elected, so far has released just one year of personal income tax returns and promised to release a second.
That’s a stark deviation from a tradition created in part by Romney’s father, George, a presidential candidate a generation ago who released 12 years of his returns.
A defiant Romney has accused the Obama campaign of using the issue to distract voters from the economy. But it’s unclear whether Romney’s new strategy will be enough to change the subject. Several prominent Republicans have joined Democrats in pushing Romney for more transparency.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who challenged Romney for the GOP nomination — became the latest top conservative to pressure Romney to open his finances. Perry, who has released his tax returns dating back to 1992, said anyone running for office should make public as much personal information as possible to help voters decide.
The conservative National Review also urged Romney to release more tax returns even though it agreed with him that Obama’s camp wanted them for a “fishing expedition.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who features prominently in speculation about Romney’s choice for a running mate, vigorously defended Romney’s limited tax release.
“There is no claim or no credible indication that he’s done anything wrong,” Pawlenty said Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.”
Pawlenty accused Obama’s campaign of “hanging shiny objects before the public and the press, and the press is taking the bait.”