The Republican presidential candidates have been plagued by a series of gaffes and embarrassing incidents in recent months, and now it's President Obama's turn.
Obama, thinking he was speaking out of range of reporters at a nuclear security conference in Seoul, Korea, told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Monday that he needed some "space" on the issue of building a missile defense system in Europe. But it turned out that Obama's remarks were picked up on an open microphone and broadcast around the world.
"This is my last election," Obama said. "After my election I have more flexibility."
Republicans immediately seized on the remarks to argue that Obama is hiding his real agenda for a second term.
"It's amazing what we find out about this president's policies when he thinks no one is listening," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski, "and it begs the question: What else doesn't Obama want us to know about before he's re-elected?"
GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said Obama was suggesting that he would "cave to Russia on missile defense." Romney also wondered what else Obama was hiding in regards to his plans for a a second term, such as higher taxes and increased debt. "President Obama needs to level with the American public about his real agenda," Romney noted in a statement to reporters.
In an attempt to tamp down the fuss, Obama tried to explain himself both Monday and again Tuesday. He argued that he was simply saying that the political environment in the United States during the current election year "is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations" with Congress and others about missile defense and related issues.
Obama added that his goal of negotiating with Russia on missile defense and his desire to reduce nuclear stockpiles are well known. "This is not a matter of hiding the ball," he said.
But Republican strategists point out that Obama's supposedly off-microphone comments--coupled with questions about what he is hiding--are made to order for TV ads in the fall campaign.
Obama's remarks follow a series of gaffes by GOP candidates that have made news. They include Romney's spokesman comparing him to an Etch-A Sketch, a toy that allows the user to erase past drawings at will.