IRWIN, Pa. (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney intensified his criticism of President Barack Obama on Tuesday, accusing the Democrat of insulting business leaders after a key Romney supporter questioned Obama's patriotism.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is trying shift attention away from his business record and his tax returns with a fresh assault as Obama, anxious about losing his fundraising edge, turned to Republican-tilted Texas to raise millions of dollars from gay, Latino and big-dollar donors.
Speaking in western Pennsylvania, Romney framed the presidential contest as a battle for America's soul.
"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."
Campaigning 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."
Romney stepped up his criticism of Obama in Pennsylvania, which has been a tough presidential battleground for the Republican Party. He accused Obama of engaging in cronyism, citing federal grants and loan guarantees to alternative energy companies run by Obama backers and donors.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu, a Romney supporter, questioned Obama's patriotism while criticizing Obama's policies toward business. "The men and women all over America who have worked hard to build these businesses, their businesses, from the ground up is how our economy became the envy of the world. It is the American way, and I wish this president would learn how to be an American," Sununu told reporters during a conference call arranged by Romney's campaign.
Asked to clarify his comments, Sununu later said: "The president has to learn the American formula for creating business."
In Texas, Obama was expected to sustain his offensive against Romney, claiming the Republican's tax policies would benefit the rich and cost jobs. His re-election campaign continued to draw attention to Romney's time at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded in 1984. But Obama's central goal in Texas was to draw in money; he was holding two fundraisers in San Antonio and two in Austin, with an estimated haul of at least $4 million.
In the Pittsburgh area, Romney seized on a comment Obama made last week in which he suggested that government played a role in the success of private enterprise.
"Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges," Obama said in Virginia on Friday. "If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
Romney said the comment was "both startling and revealing."
"I find it extraordinary that a philosophy of that nature would be spoken by a president of the United States," he said. "To say something like that is not just foolishness, it's insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator."
The events came a day after a top Romney aide floated the possibility that Romney might name his vice presidential candidate by week's end. But the timing was uncertain. The adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, initially said the selection could be announced in the coming days although Romney had yet to settle on a candidate. Fehrnstrom later downplayed his remark, and suggested the decision could come any time between now and the Republican National Convention in August.
In choosing Texas to raise money, Obama ventured to 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. Republicans typically raise more in Texas than Democrats. So far this election, Obama has raised $4.5 million from the state and the Democratic National Committee has raised $1.7 million, compared with $7.1 million for Romney and $5.3 million for the Republican Party.
Obama held one event in San Antonio aimed in part at Latinos, featuring actress Eva Longoria. Another event in Austin is co-sponsored by the Democratic National Committee's LGBT Council. He also is holding two smaller events with high-dollar donors.
The Obama camp also was airing an ad Tuesday in the Pittsburgh media market taking issue with Romney's refusal to release only two years of personal tax returns. The ad questions whether Romney has avoided paying his share of taxes in certain years.
Romney has released his 2010 tax return, which showed he paid an effective tax rate of about 15 percent, and has said he will release his 2011 return later this year. But no more. The ad was only running for one day, a sign it was meant to drive media coverage rather than draw the attention of television viewers.
In its counteroffensive, the Romney camp contended that Obama's Energy Department has steered loans and grants to several companies connected to the president's political supporters.
"I'm ashamed to say that we're seeing our president hand out money to the businesses of campaign contributors," Romney said in Irwin, Pa.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Energy Department's decisions "were made without regard to political connections." She said some grants have gone to projects with "just as robust connections to Republican campaigns and donors."
In an interview broadcast Tuesday, Obama defended his targeting of Romney and Bain Capital, saying the public should know if some companies the firm took over sent jobs overseas.
"That is hardly a personal attack. That goes to the rationale for his candidacy," Obama said in the interview with WEWS-TV in Cleveland that was taped Monday.
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Obama's questions about Romney's finances are valid and that "the American people are getting a lens into" how the former Massachusetts governor would conduct national affairs in the White House.
"I think the American people want to know, is this a potential president who has been investing his money in offshore accounts," she said Tuesday on NBC's "Today."
Peoples reported from Irwin, Pa. Associated Press writers Jack Gillum in Washington and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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- President Barack Obama