Injecting racial politics into an election that already turned ugly, Vice President Joseph R. Biden told a largely black audience Tuesday in Virginia that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would put voters “back in chains” with a plan to loosen regulations on Wall Street.
The vice president then lowered his voice and said, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
Some in the audience laughed, but Republicans said the Obama campaign lowered itself to new depths of gutter politics.
“In case anyone was wondering just how low President Obama could go in his campaign for re-election, we now know he’s willing to say that Governor Romney wants to put people back in chains,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement. “Whether it’s accusing Mitt Romney of being a felon, having been responsible for a woman’s tragic death or now wanting to put people in chains, there’s no question that because of the president’s failed record he’s been reduced to a desperate campaign based on division and demonization.”
Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called Mr. Biden “a walking buffoon.”
Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary for George W. Bush, said Mr. Biden’s remark was “objectionable.”
“The press pounded [Sarah] Palin when she talked about ‘blood libel,’” Mr. Fleischer said via Twitter. “What will they do about Biden’s ‘chains’ remark?”
The Romney campaign demanded to know what Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president, thought about his running mate’s racially charged comment. Within hours, an Obama campaign official said the president was fine with it.
The Democrats’ camp said Republicans such as House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — Mr. Romney’s running mate — had used similar rhetoric.
“For months, Speaker Boehner, Congressman Ryan and other Republicans have called for the ‘unshackling’ of the private sector from regulations that protect Americans from risky financial deals and other reckless behavior that crashed our economy,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.
“Since then, the vice president has often used a similar metaphor to describe the need to ‘unshackle’ the middle class. Today’s comments were a derivative of those remarks, describing the devastating impact letting Wall Street write its own rules again would have on middle-class families,” she said.
A review of transcripts of public officials’ speeches and news conferences since January showed that only one Republican leader, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Texas, has used similar language, once on March 27 and again on Aug. 1.
Speaking about the need to reduce regulations to help the economy, Mr. McCarthy said, “We believe [the economy] can be stronger if you unshackle what holds us back.”
The Obama team provided no examples where the speech was to a largely black audience, used the second-person “you” as an address or for emphasis, or talked about putting people “back in chains.”