BOWLING GREEN, OHIO — Mitt Romney, trying to fend off mounting pressure to release more of his tax returns, stepped up his offense against President Obama on Wednesday, turning Obama’s words against him to argue that the current occupant of the Oval Office is anti-entrepreneur.
For the second day in a row, the presumed Republican presidential nominee seized on a statement excerpted from a speech Obama made Friday in Virginia. At issue was the president’s quote: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
The flap over Obama’s comment has been building for days, fueled by Republicans who say it betrays a mind-set hostile to business.
“It shows how out of touch he is with the character of America,” Romney told a rally here. “This idea of criticizing and attacking success, of demonizing those in all walks of life who have been successful, is something that is so foreign to us that we can’t understand it.”
Though potentially damaging in isolation, the president’s words taken in context refer to the idea that the groundwork for success is laid by others.
“Somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.”
And Romney himself — campaigning through swing states such as Ohio, whose 7.3 percent unemployment rate is nearly a full point below the national average — has argued that Republican governors have helped create a climate in which businesses can grow.
“I was on a bus trip a few weeks ago, you may have seen, across Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan. . . . I was in Indiana, Wisconsin, and these are the states headed by Republican governors, and you know what? They are doing the right things, and it’s making a difference,” Romney said. “It’s time to have the principles of your state here applied in Washington.”
Romney, animated and at ease as he took questions from the audience, also suggested that Obama cares more about getting reelected than creating jobs.
“In the last six months, he has held 100 fundraisers, and guess how many meetings he has had with his jobs council?” Romney asked. “None. Zero. Zero in the last six months. So it makes it very clear where his priorities are.”
Meanwhile, Romney’s backers continued to express concern that he could sustain more political damage by his continued refusal to release more than two years of tax returns, an issue they say is also becoming a distraction from Romney’s message about the economy.
The candidate has released one year of returns and has promised to make his 2011 return available once it is complete. In April, he filed for an extension on his 2011 return, something his campaign said is similar to what he has done in other years; he has also made public an estimate of his tax liability.
White House press secretary Jay Carney added to the pressure Wednesday, telling reporters at his daily briefing: “If you are going to run for president, it’s not necessarily comfortable, but it’s 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.”
A number of prominent conservative voices have also urged Romney to release more of his returns. Among them are two of his former rivals for the Republican nomination, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as well as the editorial board of the National Review.
The chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, Wayne MacDonald, said Wednesday that while the decision whether to release more tax returns is ultimately up to Romney, “there’s certainly an upside” to revealing more about his personal finances.
“Certainly, I don’t think Mitt Romney has anything to hide, and probably the best thing to do is to eliminate any chance for [Democrats] to make this an issue,” MacDonald said in an interview.
But several other state-level party officials said Romney has released enough financial information.
Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry said that by calling for the tax returns, Obama “wants people to be jealous of and resent wealth” and that the president “is without question wanting a street fight in this campaign.”
If Democrats want more financial information from Romney, Curry added, they should pass a law requiring it.
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill have sought to do just that. On Wednesday, Rep. Sander M. Levin (Mich.) and Sens. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Carl Levin (Mich.) introduced legislation that would require candidates to disclose 10 years of tax returns.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, said that while it is up to Romney to choose whether to release more of his tax information, that decision should not be a crucial issue in the campaign.
“You know what Americans care about? They don’t care about Mitt Romney’s tax returns,” McDonnell said. “They care about their tax returns.”
Felicia Sonmez and David Nakamura contributed to this report.