IRWIN, Pa. â€” The argument betweenÂ Mitt RomneyÂ andÂ President ObamaÂ over who is better suited to help American workers get back on their feet got personal again on Tuesday, with Mr. Romney saying he was â€œashamedâ€ of Mr. Obama for giving government loans to well-connected donors.
The overarching dispute is which candidateâ€™s view of government might lift a struggling economy: Mr. Romneyâ€™s belief in lower taxes and fewer regulations, or Mr. Obamaâ€™s vision of a vital role for government.
But the policy debate has descended into an angry tit for tat, with accusations of twists and distortions, ever since Mr. Obama began accusing Mr. Romney of shipping American jobs overseas while in the private sector â€” a message that appears to be resonating among some swing-state voters.
Mr. Romney, after a long weekend off the campaign trail, came roaring back by accusing the president of â€œcrony capitalism.â€ He cited Fisker Automotive, which received up to $529 million in federal loan guarantees in 2009 to develop hybridÂ electric cars, some of which were made in Finland, although the Obama administration says the federal money did not go overseas. Among the companyâ€™s investors is a venture-capital firm whose partners include John Doerr, a major donor to the president.
â€œIâ€™m ashamed to say weâ€™re seeing our president hand out money to the businesses of campaign contributors,â€ Mr. Romney said here in Irwin.
But the impact of Mr. Romneyâ€™s attack was somewhat blunted by distractions from prominent Republicans. First, Representative Ron Paul of Texas called on Mr. Romney to release more of his tax returns, an appeal echoed by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas andÂ National Review, the prominent conservative publication.
More troublesome, John H. Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor and a stalwart surrogate for Mr. Romney, had to retract a comment after saying Tuesday, â€œI wish this president would learn how to be an American.â€
Mr. Sununu, speaking during a press call, recognized the gaffe and rephrased his remark during the same call: â€œWhat I thought I said, but what I didnâ€™t say, is the president has to learn the American formula for creating business.â€ He apologized later on CNN, saying: â€œFrankly, I made a mistake. I shouldnâ€™t have used those words.â€
The off-message moments blew a bit of fog over what the Romney campaign had intended to be a coordinated series of sharp attacks on Mr. Obama over free enterprise. Mr. Romney returned to the trail in Pennsylvania with his campaign struggling to regain its footing after several days of withering attacks from the Obama camp about his tenure at Bain Capital and demands that he release more tax returns to illuminate the extent of his investments in offshore accounts.