Republican candidate Mitt Romney attends a town-hall-style meeting in… (Jae C. Hong, Associated…)
EUCLID, Ohio — Mitt Romney's campaign events tend to be picture-perfect and planned with such attention to detail that a late start might be considered a failure. By that measure, Monday was a rare day when the campaign went off-track.
A backer introduced Romney by slamming President Obama for taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, comparing Obama to Ronald McDonald. And when a woman said Obama should be tried for treason, Romney didn't disagree and asked the woman to follow up her question.
Later, when asked by reporters about the treason comment, Romney said he did not believe the president should be tried.
But by then, the moment was already being compared unfavorably to Sen. John McCain's handling of a similar situation during his 2008 run against Obama.
When a woman said she couldn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab," McCain responded immediately and forcefully: "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about."
The Romney campaign cried foul, pointing to a 2011 Labor Day rally in which Teamsters President James P. Hoffa used foul language to refer to Republicans and said Democrats should take them out. Obama later took the stage and made no mention of the comment.
Asked later, in a radio interview unearthed by BuzzFeed, whether Obama should have disavowed the remark, White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer said the president shouldn't be expected to "serve as the speech police for the Democratic Party."
He said it did not make sense to "ask the president to approve or disapprove" of remarks made at events he attended "as a guest."
Romney received a boost Monday night when Rick Santorum announced his endorsement of his former rival. Santorum, in an email to supporters, said the decision came after a "candid, collegial" meeting the two had Friday in Pittsburgh.
And the Associated Press reported that Romney told a Cleveland television station that he deserved "a lot of credit" for the U.S. auto companies' revival — even though he advocated they go bankrupt rather than get a federal bailout. The industry is important in Ohio and vital in Michigan, where Romney will be campaigning Tuesday.
Monday marked Romney's third visit to Ohio in three weeks, and he argued that Obama had failed to deliver on his promises and did not deserve another term. Obama kicked off his reelection bid here Saturday, and his campaign unleashed tens of millions of dollars of advertising Monday in Ohio and several other swing states. Two new polls showed the men statistically neck and neck, six months before the election.
Romney did not mention the advertising, the polling or Obama's appearance here, but he pressed his argument that Obama, even by his own measures, had failed working Americans.
"Americans in the middle class are feeling squeezed, even if they have a job. And obviously most of our citizens have a job, but boy, these are tough times," Romney told hundreds of supporters in a stamping facility outside Cleveland.
But his concerns about the middle class — in a state where the recovery is actually stronger than it is nationally — had to compete with the day's controversies.
Earlier, Ohio state Auditor Dave Yost introduced Romney at the event by criticizing Obama for taking credit for the killing of Bin Laden. That was akin to "giving Ronald McDonald credit for the Big Mac you had for lunch — I mean, everyone knows it's the guy at the grill that deserves the credit, not the pitchman on TV," he said.
Romney has repeatedly praised Obama for ordering the killing of the terrorist leader, but he did not comment on Yost's remark when he took the stage except to thank him for attending.
He largely sought to contrast what Obama promised as a candidate and what he has delivered as president.
"At the … Democratic convention about four years ago, the president got up and spoke about hope, change and together we can do anything, but he hasn't lived up to those kinds of expectations," Romney said. "The American people … hoped that this president would be able to be successful. I sure did. And he has not been. … I want to do my very best to help them, and I'm convinced that my experience will help me get this economy going and get people back to work."
Two polls released this week show Obama and Romney virtually even in a number of key swing states. Romney led Obama 48% to 47% in the Politico-George Washington University Battleground Poll, which surveyed 1,000 voters last week. The president led Romney 47% to 45% in the USA Today/Gallup Swing States Poll that took the pulse of 951 voters in 12 swing states.
Signs of optimism on the economy in states like Ohio, where the Republican governor has heralded employment gains, could help Obama and complicate Romney's efforts to make the case against him. The unemployment rate in Ohio has dropped from 9.1% in February 2009 — Obama's first full month in office — to 7.5% in March, which was lower than the national average that month of 8.2%.
But Romney, while discussing how the nation's unemployment has declined to 8.1%, said Obama should not take any credit for those economic gains and should not celebrate until the unemployment rate drops below 4%.
"It's not that more people in our workforce have been able to find jobs," he said. "Instead, it's that the number of people have dropped out of the workforce, and that's why that percentage has come down."