IRWIN, Pa. — The argument between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama over who is better suited to help American workers get back on their feet got personal again on Tuesday, with Romney saying he was "ashamed" of Obama for giving government loans to well-connected donors.
The dispute is over which candidate's view of government might lift the economy: Romney's belief in lower taxes and fewer regulations, or Obama's vision of a vital role for government.
But the policy debate has descended into an angry tit-for-tat, with accusations of twists and distortions, ever since Obama began accusing Romney of shipping American jobs overseas while in the private sector.
Romney, after a long weekend off the campaign trail, came roaring back Tuesday by accusing the president of "crony capitalism." He cited Fisker Automotive, which received up to $529 million in federal loan guarantees in 2009 to develop hybrid electric cars, some of which were made in Finland, although the Obama administration says the federal money did not go overseas. Among the company's investors is a venture-capital firm whose partners include John Doerr, a major donor to the president.
"I'm ashamed to say we're seeing our president hand out money to the businesses of campaign contributors," Romney said in Irwin, Pa.
But the impact of Romney's attack was somewhat blunted by distractions from top Republicans. First, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas called on Romney to release more of his tax returns, an appeal echoed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and National Review, a prominent conservative publication.
More troublesome, John H. Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor and a stalwart surrogate for Romney, had to retract a comment after saying on Tuesday, "I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
Sununu, speaking during a press call, recognized the gaffe and rephrased his remark during the call: "What I thought I said, but what I didn't say, is the president has to learn the American formula for creating business."
The off-message moments blew a bit of fog over what the Romney campaign had intended to be a coordinated series of sharp attacks on Obama over free enterprise. Romney returned to the trail in Pennsylvania with his campaign struggling to regain its footing after several days of attacks from the Obama camp about his tenure at Bain Capital and demands that he release more tax returns.
While Romney was in Pennsylvania, Obama was in Texas to headline four campaign fundraisers. Obama accused Romney of wanting to return to policies that had led to the economic troubles confronting Obama's presidency.