But, as the president sought to recover the upper hand after recent campaign setbacks, a rare rhetorical slip-up of his own Friday threatened to undermine his effort. In a White House news conference focused on the threat the worsening Eurozone crisis poses to the U.S. economy, Obama said Congress needed to act on his jobs plan to boost hiring in state and local governments. "The private sector is doing just fine," he argued.
Almost immediately, the Romney campaign released a statement challenging the assertion. Within an hour, the Republican nominee himself offered a blistering response.
"Is he really that out of touch? I think he's defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people," Romney told supporters in a park in Council Bluffs, Iowa. "Has there ever been an American president who is so far from reality?"
Obama's assertion was a response to Republican claims that he was shifting blame for a weak economy to Europe and Congress when his policies were to blame.
He pointed out that job growth after the most recent recession has been stronger than it was after one earlier in the decade, but "the hole we have to fill is much deeper and the global aftershocks are much greater."
"The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we've created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone," Obama said before characterizing the private sector.
His larger point — that layoffs by state and local governments continued to be a weak spot as the private sector added jobs — is backed up by the data. The most recent jobs report found that while the economy overall added 69,000 jobs, the private sector alone added 82,000.
But Romney had his own statistics: 23 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or have dropped out of the labor force; the economy growing at a meager 1.9% in the first quarter; median income dropping by 10% over the last four years; and record home foreclosures.
"For the president of the United States to stand up and say that the private sector is doing fine is going to go down in history as an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding by a president who is out of touch, and we're going to take back this country and get America working again," Romney said.
Republican Congressional leaders ridiculed the assertion that it is the public sector that needs government support.
"Mr. President, take it from me, the private sector is not doing fine," said House SpeakerJohn A. Boehner(R-Ohio), reminding listeners that he was a small business owner before coming to Congress 20 years ago.
The back and forth played out amid a heated political debate on the economy. A week earlier, Obama campaign advisers accused Republicans of cheerleading against the recovery.
But his top campaign advisers have seen the fallout that can follow comments that are out of sync with the reality Americans face. In September 2008, just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers at the height of the nation's economic distress, Republican presidential nominee John McCain said the fundamentals of the American economy were strong — a line that the Obama team made sure dogged McCain through election day.
And Democrats have also jumped at multiple Romney miscues — when he told economically stressed voters that he had been unemployed, asserted that he liked to fire people who had not performed adequately, and said that he was not concerned with the plight of the very poor protected by a safety net.
A danger for Obama is that his remark gives Republicans a chance to highlight an area of Romney's experience that Democrats have recently tried to turn into a negative — his record in private business.
"If you compare Gov. Romney's private sector experience and his ability and understanding of job creation in this country … to a president who hasn't seen the inside of a lemonade stand as far as his business experience is concerned, [it] is laughable," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said.
Hours after his comment, Obama tried to clarify it. He told reporters after his meeting with the Philippine president that he did not mean to suggest the private sector was "doing fine"— despite having used those words.
He said recent economic reports have illuminated positive signs.
"Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine," Obama told reporters.
"If you look at what I said," Friday morning and over the past year, he said, "we've actually seen some good momentum in the private sector."
And he tried again to turn attention to Romney and the Republicans: "What I'm interested in hearing from Congress and Mr. Romney is, what steps are they willing to take right now that are going to make an actual difference? So far all we've heard are additional tax cuts to the folks who are doing fine."