PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Barack Obama stoutly defended his economic record on Tuesday after a stream of bad news - and an uncharacteristic verbal misstep of his own - rallied Republican hopes that they can defeat him in November.
Acknowledging there is still a “long way to go” to repair the damage done by a recession he inherited, Obama insisted the American economy was on the right track despite recent signals that the country’s recovery might be fading.
“What we have been able to do over the last 3-1/2 years, after a decade in which we had been moving in the wrong direction, is to begin to point towards a trajectory where here in this country, everybody is getting a fair shot,” he told supporters at the first of a string of fundraising events.
His remarks to supporters, after what some political pundits say has been the worst week of his presidency, took care not to deny the subdued tone of recent economics indicators, but remained upbeat about the country’s future.
Disappointing May jobs data has challenged Obama’s claim that his policies are healing the economy. His own comment to reporters on Friday that the private sector is “doing fine” helped Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger in the November 6 election, argue that the Democratic president is out of touch with ordinary Americans.
Obama later tried to explain that comment, saying he meant the private sector has seen some momentum while other areas of the economy need help more urgently.
He returned to the issue on Tuesday, saying “there are a lot of folks out there who are hurting, a lot of folks who are looking for work or are underemployed, a lot of folks whose homes are underwater.” But he pinned the blame firmly on the policies of the previous Republican administration.
Republicans, buoyed by polls that show the election will be very close, have been hammering the president for that rare verbal misstep amid other news that could spell trouble for Obama.
Democrats suffered a heavy defeat last week in a gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin, Romney raised more money than Obama did in May and Obama’s commerce secretary, John Bryson, took medical leave on Monday after getting into two car crashes over the weekend in California.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed that concern over the economy has depressed his approval rating and almost erased the president’s lead over Romney.
But reminding supporters at a later event in Baltimore that Romney, one of the richest men to ever seek the White House, had argued against using taxpayer money to rescue the U.S. auto industry, Obama said “better days are ahead of us.”
“It’s been tough but the American people are tougher. So while some people were saying let’s go ahead and let Detroit go bankrupt, we said let’s make our bet on the American worker and American business,” he said.
He also said that spending rose more slowly on his watch than under any president for the last 60 years, repeating an assertion that has been criticized by budget specialists and flatly denied by Republicans.
“President Obama saying he’s been fiscally responsible is like saying that declining job growth and record-level unemployment shows we’re ‘doing fine,’” said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.
Obama attended three fundraising events in the Baltimore area and then traveled to Philadelphia, where he did three more.
Republicans want to make the November election a referendum on Obama’s economic stewardship, but the president showed no sign of straying from his re-election argument that he would do a better job of restoring the fortunes of ordinary Americans.
“We’re going to need another term to make sure that we consolidate these gains and we lock in the kind of progress that we need to ensure that America’s middle class is growing again,” he said.
Writing by Alister Bull; editing by Will Dunham and Mohammad Zargham