Vice President Joe Biden told voters in southern Virginia on Tuesday that Republican Mitt Romney wanted to put them "back in chains," sparking outrage from the GOP campaign.
Addressing a crowd that included hundreds of black people, Biden said Romney wants to get rid of new Wall Street regulations Obama signed into law after the 2008 financial collapse.
"Unchain Wall Street," Biden said. "They're going to put y'all back in chains."
Some conservative blogs claimed Biden had just made a reference to slavery. Danville, aside from being the last capital of the Confederacy, is racially split -- the city is nearly half black and half white. The crowd at Tuesday's event reflected that makeup.
Romney's campaign said the comments marked a "new low" for the Obama campaign.
"The comments made by the vice president of the United States are not acceptable in our political discourse and demonstrate yet again that the Obama campaign will say and do anything to win this election," said Andrea Saul, Romney's spokeswoman. "President Obama should tell the American people whether he agrees with Joe Biden's comments."
Other conservatives were even more outraged.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu decried the remark, which he said have racial undertones.
“Well, there’s going to be folks across the country that will try and take that as some kind of code word that is going to suggest that the Republicans are trying to be racial in their programs,” Sununu said. “That’s ridiculous. “
"This is your campaign, Democrats?" opined the conservative Human Events blog. "This is your “new tone” of high-minded civility? This is how you’re going to deal with the economic and fiscal crisis Barack Obama has inflicted on this nation through his policies – by telling them Republicans want to 'put y’all back in chains?'
"When Barack Obama spoke in Arizona, after the awful shooting rampage that left so many innocent people dead, he said it was 'important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,'" the blog post continued. "It was a big applause line, even though it was thin gruel, considering that Obama knew perfectly well liberals – all the way up to the New York Times – were openly blaming conservatives for inspiring that killing spree, merely by expressing their ideas. The Obama campaign now seems dead-set on making a fool of everyone who applauded his hollow, meaningless rhetoric."
Late Tuesday, spreaking at another event, Biden doubled down on his remarks.
"I’m told that when I made that comment earlier today in Danville, Virginia, the Romney campaign put out a tweet. You know, tweets these days? Put out a tweet, went on the airwaves saying, ‘Biden, he’s outrageous in saying that,’ I think I said instead of ‘unshackled,’ ‘unchained.’ ‘Outrageous to say that,'" Biden said.
"That’s what we had. I’m using their own words," he continued. "I got a message for them. If you want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies and the effects of their policies on middle class America. That’s what’s outrageous."
Obama's campaign stood by Biden, saying the comments were a variation on remarks he makes often about the need to "unshackle" the middle class. The campaign said the metaphor was meant to counter Republican calls to unshackle the private sector from Obama-backed regulations.
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter called the Romney campaign's outrage "hypocritical."
"Let's return to that 'substantive' debate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan promised 72 hours ago, but quickly abandoned," she said in a statement.
The flurry over Biden's remarks underscored what the Obama team knows is a constant risk with the vice president — that his penchant for speaking off the cuff can sometimes result in inartful or off-color comments.
In a less noticed gaffe Tuesday, he told the crowd he was confident their support would help the Obama-Biden ticket carry North Carolina. Biden was speaking in Virginia at the time.
Still, Obama's campaign sees Biden as one of its most valuable assets. The Scranton, Pa., native has a more natural appeal to working-class voters in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. He also has willingly embraced the traditional vice presidential attack dog role, often launching the campaign's most vigorous criticisms of Romney, and now Romney's running mate Paul Ryan.
© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.