As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised to bring hope and change to Washington. Running for re-election, he says change can only come from outside.
"I've learned some lessons over the last four years and the most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside," Obama said Thursday during an appearance at a presidential forum event hosted by Univision. "You can only change it from the outside. That's how I got elected. And that's how the big accomplishments like health care got done."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wasted no time highlighting the president's admission during a campaign event in Sarasota, Fla., also on Thursday.
"The president threw in the white flag of surrender," Romney said. "He said he can't change Washington from the inside. We're going to give him that chance in November; he's going outside. I can change Washington. I will change Washington."
The idea of coming to Washington to change the status quo of governing is not new, and it's a promise most presidential challengers make. And it's certainly appealing to voters who over the years have gotten more and more frustrated with Washington politicians. According to Gallup, Congress is at a record-low approval rating with voters.
The Romney campaign has been reeling the past couple of days, thanks to recently publicized remarks the former Massachusetts governor made at a $50,000-a-plate fundraising event in which he dismissed 47 percent of voters as not likely to support him and accused them of being lazy and dependent on the government. But the president's flip-flop on his central campaign promise has provided an opening that may help Romney regain his footing.
"Now the country faces major challenges, you know that we face massive debt, trillion-dollar deficits. We face a Washington that's broken, that can't get the job done," Romney said. "[Obama] can't do it. His slogan was 'Yes, we can.' His slogan now is 'No, I can't.' This is time for a new president."
Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, responded to Romney's critique calling the attack desperate and accused Romney of taking Obama's words "wildly out of context."
"What the president said today is no different than what he has been saying for many years, that change comes from outside Washington, not inside," she said in a release. "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."
The latest campaign back-and-forth highlights how frantic the end of the contest is, with both Obama and Romney running close in the national polls and looking for something to break the logjam. It's likely that the most influential events remaining in the contest are the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates—the first of which is slated for October 3 in Denver, Colo., and you can be sure both sides will be looking to make use of the recent campaign trail gaffes.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.