Mitt Romney’s allusion to doubts raised by some of Barack Obama’s opponents that the president was born in the U.S. prompted a fundraising pitch from Obama’s campaign, as the Republican challenger later termed his comment “humor.”
Romney set off the political flap at a rally Friday in Commerce, Mich. “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” Romney, standing with his wife, Ann, told his crowd after noting he was born in Harper Hospital in Detroit, about 25 miles away. “They know that this is the place that we were born and raised,” he added.
Obama, the son of a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya, has provided a long-form birth certificate showing he was born in Hawaii in 1961.
Romney, in later saying his remark was meant as a joke, also said that Obama “was born in the U.S.”
Still, the birth certificate comment marked a departure for the former Massachusetts governor, who previously kept his distance from so-called birthers who question whether Obama was born an American citizen and thus may not be qualified to serve as president. Obama’s campaign pounced, linking Romney to the birthers.
“Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an e-mail. “But Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.”
The Obama forces followed up with its appeal for money. An e-mail sent by Jim Messina, the campaign’s manager, reprised the birth certificate remark and asks recipients to “take a moment or two to think about that, what he’s actually saying and what it says about Mitt Romney.”
It then asked for donations of $3 or more.
Romney’s campaign played down the candidate’s comment.
Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser, said the former governor “has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States.”
“He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised,” Madden said in a statement shortly after the rally.
Romney termed his remark a joke in an interview with CBS Evening News that aired last night. “The crowd loved it and got a good laugh,” he said.
He also said his words weren’t intended as a “swipe” at Obama, and that “I’ve said throughout the campaign and before, there’s no question about where he was born. He was born in the U.S. This was fun about us, and coming home. And humor, you know — we’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign.”
Romney’s rally comment capped a week of distractions from his economic message as he prepares to officially claim his party’s presidential nomination next week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.
Romney and other Republican leaders failed to persuade Senate candidate Todd Akin to step aside after an uproar over the Missourian’s comment that “legitimate rape” doesn’t often lead to pregnancies. And the posting of hundreds of pages of investment and tax documents from Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, fueled Democratic criticism about the private-equity firm Romney helped create.
Appearing on Friday with his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney tried at the Michigan event to return to the issues of creating jobs and sparking economic growth.
“This president tried,” Romney said at the Long Family Farm, Orchard and Cider Mill, about 20 miles away from companies such as General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. “He was headed in the wrong direction.”
Especially in Michigan, Obama is using the federal rescue of U.S. automotive companies as a selling point in his re- election campaign while Romney has criticized those efforts.
Romney said he wants “to get America on an entirely different track. And I know how to do it.”
Unemployment in Michigan was 9 percent in July, compared with a national jobless rate of 8.3 percent.
Romney said his economic plan is focused on five elements: “energy, skills to succeed, education, opening up new markets and cracking down on cheaters in trade, finally getting ourselves to a balanced budget and opening an era of encouraging small business.”
“If we do those five things, we’ll create 12 million jobs and finally see a rise in take-home pay,” Romney said.
Ryan, speaking before Romney, took a dig at Obama for saying during the 2008 campaign that some voters “cling to their guns or their religion.”
“This Catholic deer hunter is guilty as charged and proud of it,” Ryan said.
Obama carried Michigan by 16 percentage points in 2008, and led Romney by 6 percentage points in a Detroit News poll taken Aug. 18-20. The last Republican presidential candidate to win the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988.
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