President Obama predicted an onslaught of negative campaigning by "super PACs" during the general election, although he did not disavow his own fundraising machine or the outside groups backing him for president.
"One of the worries we have, obviously, in the next campaign is that there are so many of these so-called 'super PACs,' these independent expenditures that are going to be out there. There's going to be just a lot of money floating around," he said during an taped interview with NBC's Matt Lauer that aired Monday. "And I guarantee you a bunch of that's going to be negative."
Despite his concerns, Mr. Obama declined to say whether he would call on the groups not to run negative campaigns on his behalf or try to convince the Republican nominee to elevate the political discourse.
"You know, I think that you'll be able to see how we conduct ourselves in the campaign," he said. "I think it'll be consistent with how I conducted myself in 2008, and hopefully how I've conducted myself as president of the United States."
"It's not going to be enough just to say the other guy's a bum," Mr. Obama continued. "You've got to explain to the American people what your plan is to make sure that there are good jobs at good wages and that this economy is growing over the long term. And whoever wins that argument, I think, is going to be the next president."
Republican super PACs supporting Mitt Romney and former Speaker New Gingrich have raised and spent tens of millions of dollars, using it to pummel rival candidates in the GOP primary. So far, the super PAC supporting Mr. Obama, Priorities USA, has raised just $4.1 million, $2 million of which came from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg. But that figure is expected to increase rapidly after Republicans produce a nominee and the nation's attention turns to the general election.
Mr. Obama also blamed the founding fathers for some of the gridlock in Washington preventing him from becoming the transformational political figure he promised in 2008.
"Well, you know, it turns out that our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes," he said.
But he pointed to his administration's success turning the U.S. auto industry around, ending the war in Iraq and the "don't ask/don't tell" program for gays in the military, as well as improving jobs numbers as part of the record he can run on in November.
"So we've been able to get a lot done — not as fast as we want. Sometimes it's messy. The process is frustrating. I do think that this is going to be a critical election because, having yanked ourselves out of the risk of a Great Depression, having stabilized the economy, we now have a broader question, which is how do we take it to the next level?" he said.
The president declined to discuss Mr. Romney, who handily won the Nevada GOP caucus Saturday night, directly, but he obliquely referred to the former governor's status as a wealthy venture capitalist by defending himself against criticism that he has stirred up class tensions in the country.
"Nobody begrudges people who have been successful because they're making things, creating new products, new services. That's the American way," Mr. Obama said. "But what people also want to ee is that everybody is doing their fair share, that we're all pulling together, that we're creating ladders of opportunity for all Americans."
Mr. Obama also defended his wife Michelle's tenure as first lady, noting that she has admitted to have "reservations" about him pursuing such a high-profile political career early on but has gone on to launch anti-obesity campaigns and programs supporting military families.
"Even those folks who wish that I was doing more of this or more of that or questioning me on these policies or those policies, when you ask them about Michelle Obama, they give her a thumbs-up, and rightfully so," he said.
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