WASHINGTON (AP) — Escalating an increasingly acrimonious campaign, Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney dug in Wednesday on his charge that President Barack Obama's campaign was being driven by "division and attack and hatred" and called on the president to lift the tone of political discourse.
Romney went on national television to say he thinks Obama is "running just to hang on to power, and I think he would do anything in his power" to remain in office.
Obama campaign spokesman Jennifer Psaki said Romney's comments once again seemed "unhinged." The Democratic campaign had a similar response Tuesday night when Romney first accused Obama of running a campaign of "hate."
Romney shot back: "I think unhinged would have to characterize what we've seen from the president's campaign."
"These personal attacks, I think, are just demeaning to the office of the White House," he added.
Democrats see Romney's escalating personal attacks on Obama's character as an attempt to dent Obama's favorability ratings with voters, which trump Romney's in most polls. The president's likeability factor has helped buoy his overall approval ratings despite a slow-growing economy and stubbornly high unemployment.
The latest rhetorical scuffle erupted Tuesday after Vice President Joe Biden told a largely black audience in Danville, Va., that Republicans would seek to "unchain Wall Street" and "put y'all back in chains" by loosening Wall Street regulations.
Biden later said he had meant to use the term "unshackled." But he did not apologize, and he mocked the Romney campaign for showing outrage.
In his interview Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," Romney said: "I can't speak for anybody else, but I can say that I think the comments of the vice president were one more example of a divisive effort to keep from talking about the issues."
The race for the White House has been lurching toward a more intensive stage following Romney's weekend introduction of conservative Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice presidential running mate.
Even before that, both campaigns and independent groups supporting them had been running increasingly provocative TV ads.
Priorities USA Action, a group supporting Obama, ran a commercial suggesting Romney was personally responsible for the death from cancer of the wife of a man who worked at a steel plant that was bought and subsequently shut down by Romney's venture capital firm, Bain Capital.
The Romney campaign is running an ad, widely discredited by independent fact-checkers, that accuses Obama of gutting welfare reform. Romney's team is also running an ad that criticizes Obama for raiding the Medicare trust fund, a charge the president's team labeled dishonest and hypocritical.
Romney was holding private fundraisers Wednesday in North Carolina and Alabama. The president was campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, the final day of his three-day bus trip through the Midwestern swing state. First lady Michelle Obama was joining the president for their first joint campaign appearance since May.
Obama's campaign was also launching state-specific efforts to target elements of Ryan's austere budget proposals, expanding beyond its opposition to the Republican vice presidential candidate's Medicare overhaul.
The developing Obama strategy comes as Romney and Ryan make clear they plan to campaign aggressively on Medicare, not run away from it. In person and in a television ad, the Republicans argued Tuesday that Obama is the one who cut spending for Medicare to put money toward his divisive health care overhaul.
In states with large military and veteran populations — Florida, Ohio and Virginia among them — the Obama campaign plans to attack Ryan's proposed cuts for veterans' benefits and care, a campaign official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the campaign strategy publicly and requested anonymity.
In Colorado, Ohio and Iowa, the campaign sees opportunities to capitalize on Ryan's proposed cuts to clean energy industries that are taking hold in those states. The Obama team will argue that cutting those investments would essentially cede new energy technologies — and the jobs that could come with them — to countries like China, the official said.
In Nevada and several other states, the campaign plans to push the impact of Ryan's budget on education, citing estimates that it would cut 200,000 children a year from Head Start, an early education program, and reduce Pell grants for 10 million college students.
The campaign launched an ad Tuesday in five states — Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia — that links Romney directly to the Ryan budget's impact on college grants.
Obama's team may launch other paid advertising on elements of Ryan's budget soon. But for now, the campaign is focused on getting its message out in local media and directly to voters through its ample grass-roots network, which still trumps Romney's ground game in some states.
Despite ramping up new areas of attack, Obama's campaign is still eager to link Romney to Ryan's Medicare proposals, both on the national level and in battleground states with a significant number of voters over the age of 65, including Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
The president's pollsters wrote in a campaign memo that Ryan's Medicare proposals are a "game changer" in Florida, the battleground state with the most electoral votes up for grabs in November.
Ryan, interviewed on Fox News Channel, said he and Romney believe Medicare can be a winning issue for Republicans in the fall. "Absolutely, because we're the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare," he said.
Ryan didn't say so, but the budgets he has written in the House both called for leaving in place the cuts to Medicare that he now criticizes. Romney has consistently favored restoring the funds, and his running mate said, "I joined the Romney ticket."
Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner criticized Ryan's answers, saying the Wisconsin congressman is "not ready for prime time."
"First, he attacked the president for the very same Medicare savings that he includes in his own budget," Kanner said in a statement. "In the same breath, he falsely claimed that the Romney-Ryan budget protects Medicare — in fact, their plan would end Medicare as we know it, leaving seniors with nothing but a voucher in place of the guaranteed benefits they rely on today."
The Obama campaign released a web video Wednesday that declares Romney and Ryan "plan to end Medicare as we know it." It features news commentators and liberal analysts such as economist Paul Krugman declaring that Ryan's House Republican budget would mean millions of older Americans would be unable to afford health care.
The video declares that Romney has lied about Obama's record on Medicare, and says Obama's proposal cuts payments to Medicare providers but offers more benefits to Medicare participants.
Romney and the Republican National Committee planned to release a new Spanish language TV ad Wednesday highlighting Obama's economic policies. Romney's campaign didn't say where it would run or how much money they plan to spend on the spot.