CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley touted the nation’s economic gains under President Obama during a speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, as he sought to erase comments he made days earlier when he said Americans are no better off than they were in 2008.
Mr. O’Malley, a top Obama campaign surrogate and widely rumored 2016 presidential candidate, has spent the past two days furiously backtracking on comments he made Sunday during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” in which he answered “no” when asked if Americans are doing better now than they were in 2008 before President Obama was elected.
The governor, who has since insisted the country is better off but not fully recovered from the recession, pointed to job growth over the past two years as proof that Mr. Obama deserves a second term and argued that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney reverse the progress with deep spending cuts and tax hikes on the middle class.
“No president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Great Depression inherited a worse economy, bigger job losses or deeper problems from his predecessor [than Mr. Obama],” Mr. O’Malley said in prepared remarks. “But President Obama is moving America forward, not back.”
Republicans quickly seized upon Mr. O’Malley’s earlier comments that citizens are not better off, arguing that he accidentally blurted out what other Democrats are afraid to admit, that Mr. Obama has failed to lift the country out of its economic troubles in his first term.
The rocky start to the governor’s convention week also included a more minor setback Monday, when a planned musical performance by the governor — a part-time guitarist and Irish rock singer — and actor Jeff Bridges was canceled because of rain.
Nonetheless, he was upbeat early Tuesday as he addressed Maryland’s convention delegation and led a panel discussion hosted by the Democratic Governors Association, for which he serves as chairman.
He also received support from top Democrats who have stressed improvements under the president as a major theme in the days since Mr. O’Malley’s slip-up.
While attending a luncheon Tuesday with the governor, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer blasted critics of Mr. Obama, by comparing recent job growth to the nation’s job losses in the final months under former President George W. Bush.
“Last time, the country was going to hell in a hand basket,” said Mr. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “And today, people are better off than they were four years ago. Is it enough? No, it is not, because of this deep hole that had been dug by the previous administration.”
While Mr. O’Malley on Tuesday tried to put his gaffe behind him, it remains to be seen how the comments will affect the presidential race beyond the immediate firestorm.
Todd Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said the governor’s comments could go away in a matter of days or perhaps linger beyond the convention depending on the August job numbers to be released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mr. Eberly said an addition of more than 150,000 jobs could give Democrats something to brag about, while slower growth would give ammunition to Republicans eager to hammer the president over what appears to be the top issue in this campaign.
“The president gives his speech [Thursday] and then the very next morning, you’re talking about whether we’ve turned the corner or if the economy is still hobbling along,” he said. “Right now, you just don’t know.”