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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Presidential Campaigns Engage Over Obama\'s Comments on Change


President Obama said Thursday that changing the tone of politics in Washington must come from the “outside,” not from inside a town that is deeply locked in a partisan battle.

Mitt Romney quickly pounced, saying they were happy to give Mr. Obama the chance to try - from outside the White House grounds.

Campaigning in Sarasota, Fla., Mr. Romney described the president's remark as a stark admission of political failure and futility.

“The president today threw in the white flag of surrender,” Mr. Romney said at a large outdoor rally. “He went from the president of change to the president who can't get change.”

Mr. Romney, who has promoted himself as a business-minded outsid er, told the 4,600 people gathered inside a museum garden that “I can change Washington, I will change Washington. We'll get the job done from the inside. Republicans and Democrats will come together.”

Mr. Romney's quick attack reflects the intensity of the campaign environment with election day fast approaching. Both campaigns are trying to seize on anything - and everything - that a candidate says as evidence of a gaffe or mistake.

Mr. Romney's statement came just an hour after Mr. Obama's remarks during an appearance at a forum hosted by Univision. Asked by the host what his biggest failure was during almost four years in office, Mr. Obama said he was disappointed that he was not able to change the tone in Washington.

“The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside, you can only change it from the outside,” Mr. Obama said. “That's how I got elected, and that's how the bi g accomplishments like health care got done - was because we mobilized the American people to speak out. That's how we were able to cut taxes for middle-class families.”

Mr. Romney treated the snippet of the president's remarks as an admission of a personal failure. Mr. Obama's full comments suggest that he was talking about the power - and the limits - of citizen engagement in trying to help push forward changes in the nation's biggest, most difficult problems.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Obama's campaign said that the criticism from Mr. Romney reflected desperation on the part of the Republican campaign.

“Once again, Mitt Romney is trying to take the heat off himself by taking the president's words wildly out of context,” Lis Smith, the spokeswoman, said. “What the president said today is no different than what he has been saying for many years â€" that change comes from outside Washington, not inside.”

Ms. Smith added: “Mitt Romney apparently doesn't believe that change comes from the American people. Maybe that's because he has written off half the country in this election.”

Michael Barbaro contributed reporting.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.