VAN METER, Iowa — Mitt Romney flipped President Obama’s re-election team the proverbial bird on Tuesday, saying the Democrats’ attempts to make a big issue over Mr. Romney’s opposition to federal subsidies for Big Bird reflect their misguided priorities.
Speaking on a stage at a farm here outside Des Moines, the Republican presidential nominee said he was perplexed that Mr. Obama would be talking about “Sesame Street” rather than Main Street, at a time, he said, when household incomes are down by about $4,300, 23 million Americans are out of work or underemployed, and 47 million people receive food stamps.
He spoke just hours after the Obama campaign aired an ad starring Big Bird while highlighting Mr. Romney’s debate comments opposing federal funding for public broadcasting, arguing the Republican challenger was taking a tougher line against subsidies “Sesame Street” than he was against fraud on Wall Street.
“These are tough times with real serious issues. You have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird,” Mr. Romney told the hundreds gathered here. “I actually think we need to have a president who talks about saving the American people, saving good jobs and saving our future.”
Minutes later, a small airplane flew overhead towing a banner echoing Mr. Obama’s attack, reading: “Crack Down on Wall St. Not Sesame Street.”
Mr. Romney’s comments came hours after Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, Mr. Obama’s 2008 opponent, piled on in a separate interview Tuesday morning on NBC’s “Today Show,” saying Mr. Obama’s new Big Bird ad showed “a paucity of ideas and ways to criticize Mitt Romney,” Mr. McCain said.
“The one thing President Obama can’t run on is his record, so Big Bird, I guess, is a fun thing to talk about,” Mr. McCain said, adding jokingly, “I love Big Bird. I’m for an earmark for Big Bird.”
The feathers started flying in the wake of Mr. Romney’s comments in last week’s presidential debate that, despite his own personal fondness for Big Bird and public broadcasting, he would oppose future funding for PBS at a time of massive federal deficits.
“I like PBS. I love Big Bird. … But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it,” Mr. Romney said.
Hoping to exploit the comment, which Mr. Obama has repeatedly mocked on the stump in recent days, the Obama camp released a new ad Tuesday knocking Mr. Romney for ignoring massive financial fraud in the marketplace to go after a popular children’s TV character.
The ad questions how the Republican standard-bearer could take a stand against funding for the federally subsidized Corporation for Public Broadcasting but not support the Wall Street regulatory reforms that Mr. Obama signed into law in 2010 in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008.
In the spot, Big Bird is cast as the “evil genius who towered over Bernie Madoff and Kenneth Lay” — the disgraced financial adviser and the disgraced former head of energy trading company Enron, respectively.
The Obama campaign may have trouble on another front, though: The Associated Press reported that Sesame Workshop, which supports “Sesame Street,” wasn’t pleased that one of its marquee characters had been injected into the presidential debate.
“Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns,” the organization said in a terse, two-sentence statement. “We have approved no campaign ads and, as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down.”