WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney was in a fighting mood after being on the defensive for days, declaring that President Barack Obama had insulted the business community. A key Romney supporter questioned Obama's patriotism.
In a speech to supporters in Virginia last week, Obama said entrepreneurs did not build their businesses by themselves, but had help from government, citing, for example, federal research that helped create the Internet.
Romney declared Tuesday that Obama's comment was "startling and revealing" and said the president's suggestion that successful business leaders got government help was "just foolishness."
"Do we believe in an America that is great because of government, or do we believe in an America that's great because of free people allowed to pursue their dream?" Romney asked a cheering crowd of supporters gathered in the cement-floored warehouse of a local gas and oil services company.
He continued: "President Obama attacks success and therefore under Obama we have less success. And I will change that."
The former Massachusetts governor was intensifying attacks to counter blazing political assaults on his history as a businessman and his refusal to release more of his tax returns, as other presidential candidates traditionally have. Democrats and a growing number of Republicans have urged Romney to release several years of personal income tax returns.
Romney had hoped to keep his campaign focused on the U.S. economy, which has staged only a sluggish recovery from the 2008 financial meltdown and is still struggling with 8.2 percent unemployment. Polls show the economy is uppermost in the minds of voters who will go to the polls in November.
Meanwhile, Romney supporter and former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu had to explain himself Tuesday when he criticized Obama's economic policies and said the president needed to "learn how to be an American" on a conference call with reporters organized by Romney's campaign. Later in the call, he was asked to clarify his comments. "The president has to learn the American formula for creating business," Sununu said.
The comments evoked the claims of the so-called birther movement, which accuses Obama of not being a natural-born U.S. citizen, and therefore being ineligible to be president — claims that have been repeatedly debunked.
Romney is campaigning in Pennsylvania, one of the 10 or so states that likely will determine the outcome of the election. Florida is another, and the Obama campaign said Tuesday that the president would make a two-day campaign swing there Thursday and Friday.
As promised, Romney also told a Pittsburgh-area crowd that "he's ashamed" that Obama "hands out money to the businesses of campaign contributors." He claimed that the Obama administration gave federal largess in the form of grants and loans to alternative energy entrepreneurs who support the president.
As Romney exhorted supporters in Pennsylvania, Obama was looking to keep the issue of Romney's business record and finances at the forefront as he sought to raise campaign money in Texas. He is hoping to raise at least $4 million from gay, Latino and wealthy donors.
In Texas, Obama faces a state that has not voted Democratic in a presidential contest since 1976. But Texas ranks among the states with the largest concentrations of wealth, along with New York, California, Florida and Illinois.
At a campaign stop in San Antonio, Obama offered his familiar vision of a government that supports the middle class. He spoke of a nation in which hard work is rewarded for individuals and families, but also in which the government takes on endeavors that help everyone, from building roads to expanding educational opportunities.
As he put it: "We rise or fall as one nation."
"I believe in bottom-up economics. I believe in fighting on behalf of working families," Obama said. "Because when we do that, everybody does better. … That's what built this country."
The Obama camp was airing an ad taking issue with Romney's decision to release only two years of his personal tax returns. The ad questions whether Romney has avoided paying his share of taxes in certain years.
The Obama ad was running for one day only, a sign it was designed to drive media coverage.
Romney has said he will not release federal income reports beyond the two he has already made available, breaking with the custom of past candidates dating to his father, George Romney. He set the standard in 1968 by releasing tax returns for 12 years.
The Obama campaign has hammered at Romney's business record, especially discrepancies over when he departed as chief of the private equity firm Bain Capital that he co-founded in the 1980s. Romney says his business record is his chief qualification to be president, and it is the source of his vast fortune, estimated at a quarter of a billion dollars.
Obama continues to try to undermine public support in Romney's business credentials and trustworthiness. In an interview, Obama defended his targeting of Romney and Bain, saying the public should know if some companies taken over by Bain at any time sent jobs overseas.
"That is hardly a personal attack. That goes to the rationale for his candidacy," Obama said in an interview with a Cleveland television station that aired Tuesday morning.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and, Steve Peoples contributed to this report.