Obama made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room, at least partly upstaging a joint campaign appearance in New Hampshire by Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. The rally by Romney and Ryan, their first appearance together after a week of vigorous campaigning separately, had been highly anticipated, drawing an enthusiastic crowd and wide media attention.
The president turned the day into a long-distance point-counterpoint debate with his opponent. He took questions from four reporters, dealing to an extent with complaints about his inaccessibility. What's more, the flap over Akin's remarks on rape and abortion gave Obama a chance to make a direct appeal to women, who both campaigns say make up a majority of undecided voters.
As for the tone of the campaign, Obama declared that it was important to draw attention to major differences with Romney, but he said that his criticism has never been "out of bounds." Still, he distanced himself from an ad by the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super political action committee, which is run by former Obama White House aides.
That ad pointedly notes the death of the wife of a steelworker whose company was taken over by a group of partners that included Bain Capital, the private-equity firm that Romney cofounded.
"I don't think that Gov. Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad," Obama said. But he said that he did not approve or produce the ad, and that it had only a brief airing on television.
Romney and Ryan, appearing together for the first time in a week, sustained their criticism Monday, leveling new claims of duplicity in Obama's TV ads before a friendly audience of about 3,000 people in Manchester, N.H. "It seems that the first victim of an Obama campaign is the truth," Romney said.
Asked by a woman about Obama campaign "lies" that claim the GOP ticket would raise taxes, Romney said, "All we've heard so far is one attack after another."
"I will not raise taxes on anyone," Romney said. "Mr. President, stop saying something that's not the truth."
In his news conference, Obama countered, saying his speeches and the ads run by his reelection campaign have focused accurately on substantive issues such as taxes and spending. By contrast, he said Romney has aired "patently false" claims that the president is "gutting" welfare's work requirement.
Obama also defended ads criticizing Romney's refusal to release more than two years of tax returns. He said those seeking the White House must know their life is an "open book." And he added that pressing Romney on such a subject is "pretty standard stuff" and not "overly personal."
Obama said he has "sharp differences" with Romney on major issues, and those are fair game for tough ads.
In New Hampshire, Romney and Ryan made a multipronged case against the administration. The GOP running mates promised a sunnier future of lower taxes, lower deficits, more jobs at home, and greater U.S. prestige abroad. But they offered few details on how they would achieve these goals, which have vexed Congresses and White Houses for years.