The back and forth illustrates how both sides recognize that the economy is an Obama vulnerability.
While the economy has begun to recover under his presidency, the turnabout has been slow and marked by high unemployment that remains above 8 percent. For Obama, his challenge is persuading voters to stick with him as he tries to help the economy rebound while withstanding criticism from Romney that the president's policies have hindered the recovery.
"The idea that people are walking around with less of a paycheck or higher gas prices because of something Bain Capital did 20 years ago is absurd," said Romney senior aide Stuart Stevens
But in the days since Obama put Bain back in focus, Romney has struggled to follow a consistent playbook for what's become a sustained attack on multiple fronts. The campaign at times dismisses the criticism as a distraction, other times as an attack on free markets, and still others as an attempt to divide the nation.
Asked about Bain's closure of a Kansas City steel plant that the company acquired in 1993 when Romney was Bain's CEO, Romney last week told a conservative radio host that it wasn't his problem: "Their problem, of course, is that the steel factory closed down two years after I left Bain Capital. I was no longer there. So that's hardly something which is on my watch," he said.
Kuhnhenn reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.
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