Flashing anger at the direction the presidential campaign has taken, Mitt Romney on Wednesday challenged President Obama to elevate the debate after a month in which Democratic operatives and the Obama campaign charged Mr. Romney was a felon and connected him to a woman's cancer death.
Democrats retorted that campaigning is a tough business and said Mr. Romney himself in his own attacks has distorted the president's record.
Together they marked a quick return to the tit-for-tat kind of campaign that had dominated for much of this year, with the exception of a brief blip of policy after this weekend's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan to be the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
"The president seems to be running just to hang on to power. I think he'll do anything in his power to try and get re-elected," Mr. Romney told CBS' "This Morning" program. "These personal attacks, I think, are demeaning to the office of the White House."
Late Tuesday, Mr. Romney, who is set to claim the GOP's presidential nomination later this month in Tampa, Fla., said Mr. Obama is running a "campaign of division and anger and hate." That followed a speech by Vice President Joseph R. Biden to supporters in Danville, Va., on Tuesday in which he told a largely black audience that Republicans wanted "to put y'all back in chains."
Mr. Biden's comments came as he was speaking about Republicans wanting to free up Wall Street from the restrictions Democrats have pushed since the 2008 Wall Street collapse, but Mr. Romney said the words sent a more ominous signal.
But Mr. Obama defended his running mate in an interview with People magazine, saying Mr. Biden simply meant people would be hurt by fewer financial regulations.
"In no sense was he trying to connote something other than that," the president said, dismissing the furor as politics.
"The truth is that during the course of these campaigns, folks like to get obsessed with how something was phrased even if everybody personally understands that's not how it was meant," he said. "When I'm traveling around Iowa, that's not what's on people's minds."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama had continued his verbal bruising of Mr. Romney, with the president labeling the GOP's tax plan "trickle-down snake oil" as he campaigned in Dubuque, Iowa, alongside first lady Michelle Obama.
Last month, Mr. Obama's deputy campaign manager accused Mr. Romney of a potential felony, arguing that Bain Capital, the company he used to run, may have broken federal law by listing him as its chief even after he says he left. And this month a super PAC backing Mr. Obama created a campaign commercial featuring a man who says his wife died of cancer after he was laid off from a steel mill owned by Bain, and lost his health insurance.
Both charges have been dismissed by fact-check organizations.
Those organizations have also disputed the veracity of Mr. Romney's own accusation that Mr. Obama cut Medicare by more than $700 billion in his health care law.
The president's campaign says that money doesn't come from benefits, but rather from lower payments to hospitals, drug companies and other providers.
And Mr. Obama said Republicans are the ones who would do serious damage to Medicare with the outlines backed by both Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan that would convert the seniors' health system from one of defined benefits into one of defined payments, under which the seniors would choose a plan and the government would pay the premiums.
"That means seniors would no longer have the guarantee of Medicare," Mr. Obama said during his Wednesday speech in Dubuque. "They'd get a voucher to buy private insurance, and because the voucher wouldn't keep up with costs, the plan offered by Gov. Romney's running mate, Congressman Ryan, would force seniors to pay an extra $6,300 a year, and I assume they don't have that."
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