The Obama and Romney campaigns traded barbs Wednesday over a British newspaper report that quoted an anonymous Romney adviser suggesting President Obama doesn't understand the "Anglo-Saxon" heritage shared by Britain and the U.S.
Though Mitt Romney's campaign immediately distanced itself from the remark, Vice President Biden seized on it in a written statement scolding Romney's team for the "feeble attempt ... to score political points."
The Romney campaign then fired back, accusing Biden of pushing a "falsehood" in order to "prop up (Obama's) flailing campaign."
The back-and-forth set the stage for what is likely to be a rapid-fire, long-distance debate over the next week, as Romney visits Britain, Israel and Poland on an overseas tour. The Obama campaign has proven ready to pounce on anything perceived as a gaffe by Romney or his advisers.
The "Anglo-Saxon" quote appeared in a story published by Britain's Daily Telegraph. An unnamed Romney adviser was quoted saying: "We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special. ... The White House didn't fully appreciate the shared history we have."
The newspaper speculated that the quote "may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity," considering Obama's father was born in Africa.
Romney's campaign, though, quickly distanced itself from the remarks. Campaign spokesman Ryan Williams on Wednesday said "it's not true," though that if an adviser said it, the adviser wasn't reflecting Romney's views.
Even so, Obama dispatched Biden and top strategist David Axelrod to criticize Romney over the comments in the Telegraph.
"Despite his promises that politics stops at the water's edge, Governor Romney's wheels hadn't even touched down in London before his advisors were reportedly playing politics with international diplomacy, attempting to create daylight between the United States and the United Kingdom where none exists," Biden said in a statement. "The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Governor Romney's readiness to represent the United States on the world's stage. Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign."
Williams said Biden, with his statement, had just "diminished" the race "to a sad level" by using "an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign."
"The president's own press secretary has repeatedly discredited anonymous sources, yet his political advisers saw fit to advance a falsehood," he said. "We have very serious problems confronting our nation and American families are hurting, yet the Obama campaign continues to try to divert voters' attention with specious shiny objects. We have more faith in American voters, and know they will see this latest desperate ploy for what it is."
The unnamed advisers in the Telegraph story also reportedly criticized Obama as a "left-winger" who "doesn't value the NATO alliance as much" and is "very comfortable with American decline."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.