Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney speaks at a rally at Long… (Jeff Kowalsky / EPA )
COMMERCE, Mich. -- During a homecoming rally in his boyhood state of Michigan on Friday, Mitt Romney thrust himself into a controversy over President Obama’s birthplace that has roiled at the fringe of his party, joking that “No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where we were born and raised.”
Though Obama’s aides have produced have both the short and long form of his birth certificate — showing that he was born in Honolulu -- critics of Obama have raised questions about his citizenship since the early days of the 2008 election. Romney has insisted that he believes the president was born in the United States, and his advisors have said that efforts by Donald Trump and others fan the flames of that controversy have been a distraction.
But before a crowd of thousands of supporters that gathered for a rally with Romney and his vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan outside of Detroit at Long’s Family Farm, Romney appeared to make an oblique reference to the debate when he was detailing his roots in Michigan, where his father was a three-term governor in the 1960s.
“I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised; where both of us were born,” Romney said after an emotional introduction by his wife Ann, who spoke of her father-in-law’s tradition of service.
“Ann was born at Henry Ford Hospital. I was born at Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” he continued, as the crowd roared with approval. “They know that this is the place where we were born and raised.”
After the comment, Romney returned to his standard stump speech, recounting his long courtship with Ann, and the Romney campaign sought to downplay the remark as an offhand comment.
“The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States,” Romney advisor Kevin Madden said. “He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised.”
But that was not the way that the Obama campaign, or Romney’s crowd, interpreted the remark. The mention alone immediately shifted the campaign narrative away from the unwelcome comments of Republican Todd Akin, the Missouri congressman who made the baseless assertion Sunday that women who are victims of a “legitimate rape” have a biological mechanism to shut down a pregnancy.
Though Romney called Akin’s comments “offensive and wrong” and called on him to withdraw from the Missouri U.S. Senate race, the uproar has distracted from Romney’s message this week on the campaign trail. At the Romney-Ryan rally on Friday in front of a red barn, a small plane paid for by the liberal group moveon.org circled overhead trailing a banner that said: “Sign of a wimp: dodging Akin questions” — a reference to a local interview earlier this week in which the reporter said she was directed not to ask the candidate about Akin.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement after Romney’s birth certificate comment that the presumed Republican nominee had “embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them.”
LaBolt criticized next week’s lineup at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., which will include Donald Trump and Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “Gov. Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America,” LaBolt said.
In a Gallup survey conducted the week before Obama released his long-form birth certificate on April 27, 2011, 24% of Americans and 43% of Republicans said the president was “definitely” or “probably” born in another country; while 56% of Americans and a little more than a third of Republicans said he was definitely or probably born in the U.S.
Shortly after the release, the numbers shifted, with only 13% of Americans and less than a quarter of Republicans saying he was definitely or probably born in another country. At that time in May 2011, 65% of Americans and 49% of Republicans said he was definitely or probably born in the U.S.
But the shift waned within a few months with an uptick in the number of Americans who believed Obama was born overseas. In a YouGov poll this summer, the numbers had returned to where they were before the birth certificate was released – 55% of Americans said that Obama was born in the U.S., 20% said that was false and 25% said they were not sure.