President Obama on Monday staunchly defended the tone of his reelection campaign, dismissing criticism that his side has been too negative in attacking Republican rival Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and demanding that he release more tax returns.
In an impromptu news conference, Obama insisted that he has focused on substantial policy differences, such as jobs and taxes, and that his campaign advertisements have highlighted those divisions without crossing the line of fair play.
“If you look at the overall trajectory of our campaign and the ads that I’ve approved and are produced by my campaign, you’ll see that we point out sharp differences between the candidates, but we don’t go out of bounds,” Obama told reporters at the White House, after interrupting press secretary Jay Carney during the daily briefing.
The White House had not given any prior notice that the president would appear, but pressure has been mounting for Obama to take questions from the national press corps. He fielded questions on the recent killings of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the security situation in Syria and the sluggish U.S. economy.
With 2 1 /2 months remaining before Election Day, the 2012 campaign has been defined by its relentlessly hostile and bitter tone, with both sides engaging in daily attacks that have grown increasingly personal.
On Monday, the two campaigns sparred over Obama’s handling of the Afghanistan war. During an appearance in Goffstown, N.H., with Rep. Paul Ryan, his vice presidential pick, Romney told a crowd of 3,000 that the president has neglected to communicate with the American people about the conflict.
“When our men and woman are in harm’s way, I expect the president of the United States to address the nation on a regular basis and explain what’s happening and why they’re there, what the mission is, what its purpose is, how we’ll know when it’s completed,” Romney said. “Other presidents have done this. We haven’t heard this president do this.”
Romney’s charge drew a swift reply from the Obama campaign, which called on Romney to reveal his “secret plan” for managing the war and charged that the presumptive GOP nominee has not offered any details. Obama has said he would remove U.S. forces by the end of 2014.
Obama, who ran on a theme of “hope and change” four years ago, has been chided by Republicans, and a few Democratic allies, for the tactics his Chicago-based campaign team has engaged in this cycle.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, suggested last month that it might have been a potential felony for Bain, the private equity firm Romney founded and led, to continue listing him as chief executive in filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission three years after he said he left, in 1999.
More recently, Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that supports the president, produced a television ad that quotes a former worker of a company that Bain acquired saying his wife died after he was laid off and did not have health care.
Asked about those examples, Obama declared that “nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon.” And the president said he does not think Romney is “somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad.”
“But keep in mind,” Obama added, “this is an ad that I didn’t approve, I did not produce.”
Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, said that Obama failed to “stand up to dishonest rhetoric and attacks” from his campaign. The president’s stance “demonstrates yet again he’s diminished the office that he holds,” Williams said.
But Obama said it was Romney who was playing dirty, pointing to ads from the Republican that claimed the Obama administration was granting states waivers of the work requirement for welfare recipients. The White House has said states will get waivers on some welfare rules if they can show that 20 percent more people will find jobs.
“You can’t just make stuff up,” Obama said.
Asked why his campaign continues to demand that Romney release more of his tax returns — Romney has released his 2010 taxes and is promising to release 2011 soon — Obama said that Americans expect their presidential candidates to be “an open book.”
“This isn’t sort of overly personal here, guys,” Obama said. “This is pretty standard stuff. I don’t think we’re being mean by asking you to do what every other presidential candidate’s done, right?”
Rucker reported from New Hampshire.