Mitt Romney is starting to give anxious Republicans just what they want, moving from a defensive crouch over attacks on his Bain Capital record and launching a broadside against President Obama over the issue at the heart of the 2012 race -- jobs.
The Republican presidential candidate took to the stump Tuesday with a crowd-rallying vigor, and kept up the pressure during a town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The spark, for Romney, was Obama's now-famous comment Friday in which he suggested businesses owe their success to government investment. While Romney has bounced among various themes in recent weeks, his speech to a Pennsylvania crowd Tuesday and then to the Ohio crowd Wednesday zeroed in on that quote as illustrating a singular difference between his attitude toward the economy and Obama's.
"This is the height of foolishness. It shows how out of touch he is with the character of America," Romney said in Ohio. "When you attack success ... you will see under this president less success."
Romney accused Obama of trying to "diminish" individual achievement. Before he launched into his stump speech, Romney asked members of the audience Wednesday to raise their hands if they run a business. "Take that, Mr. President," Romney said after the hands went up.
Romney earlier described the comments as "stunning" and revealing" and argued they played into a larger narrative of Obama "changing the nature of America," calling his policies "extraordinarily foreign."
Romney said Obama wants Americans to be "ashamed of success." He suggested the comment was tantamount to saying Steve Jobs didn't build Apple or Ray Kroc didn't build McDonald's, calling the notion "insulting" and wrong.
While Romney was on the trail, House Speaker John Boehner turned up the rhetoric on Capitol Hill Wednesday, saying Obama "doesn't give a damn" about Americans looking for work.
But as Republicans turn up the heat on Obama, the president's campaign is fighting back. Democrats are accusing Romney of trying to distract from other controversies -- namely his refusal to release more than two years' worth of tax returns, and questions about when he left private-equity firm Bain Capital.
The Obama campaign called Romney's latest attacks "off the deep-end" and "over the top," arguing the president's comments were taken out of context.
"As President Obama said the other day, those who start businesses succeed because of their individual initiative -- their drive, hard work, and creativity. But there are critical actions we must take to support businesses and encourage new ones -- that means we need the best infrastructure, a good education system, and affordable, domestic sources of clean energy. Those are investments we make not as individuals, but as Americans, and our nation benefits from them. Apparently Mitt Romney disagrees," the statement said.
Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod countered as well via Twitter.
"Isn't it ironic that the guy who sticks his millions in foreign tax havens says the president's views are 'extremely foreign?'" he said.
It's unclear whether Romney will continue to build Obama's business quote into a theme of his campaign. The Romney operation, despite the developments of the last few days, is still pushing the message that the Obama administration helped create jobs overseas with its stimulus spending. A new Romney ad takes aim at what the GOP candidate has repeatedly called the Obama administration's "crony capitalism."
Obama made the controversial business remark this past Friday in Roanoke, Va.
"If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own," Obama said. "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."