After two politically treacherous days, Mitt Romney is trying to right-side his campaign by focusing on something President Barack Obama said 14 years ago.
The Republican presidential candidate has been battered by relentless news coverage dissecting his assertion, caught on video, that "47 percent" of Americans feel entitled to government assistance. Now his aides believe they've stumbled upon a way to change the subject.
In a 1998 audio clip that surfaced online Tuesday afternoon, Obama is heard speaking at a conference at Loyola University, where he suggested that society needed to come up with a plan to "structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
Romney pounced on those comments, which Obama made when he was an Illinois state senator, at an Atlanta fundraiser on Wednesday. Obama's speech, Romney said, indicated support for a European-style system that would never work in the United States.
"I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we'll all be better off. It's known as redistribution," Romney told the crowd. "It's never been a characteristic of America."
"This idea of redistribution follows from the idea that if you have a business, you didn't build it - someone else did that," Romney said, harkening back to Obama's "you didn't build that" line from a speech he made in July to point out that small businesses have relied on some government support.
Romney also brought up the 1998 speech in a Fox News interview Tuesday and in a USA Today op-ed published Wednesday, all part of a new strategy to raise doubts about Obama's economic theories, draw attention away from Romney's criticism of Americans who don't pay income tax, and perhaps also add the word "redistribution" to the list of well-worn, right-wing attack lines, including "Are you better off?" and "Drill baby, drill."
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the newest GOP assault the sign of a "desperate" campaign that is having a "very bad week."
"The charge based on this 14-year-old video sounds very familiar to one that was tried and failed in 2008," Carney said Wednesday. In 1998, "then-Senator Obama was making an argument for a more efficient, more effective government, specifically citing city government agencies that he did not think were working effectively. He believed then and believes now that there are steps we can take to promote opportunity and ensure that all Americans have a fair shot if they work hard."
The shift in campaign tactics comes just days after aides said Romney would begin offering details of his five-point economic plan, as voters become more attentive to the campaign and after polling data suggested they're eager to learn more about Romney's policy positions.
But in a memo to reporters Wednesday, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said the campaign would now focus instead on the rivals' "starkly different visions" for the country.
"Mitt Romney's vision for America is an opportunity society, where free people and free enterprise thrive and success is admired and emulated, not attacked," Rhoades said in the memo. "President Obama's vision for America is a government-centered society, where government grows bigger and more active, occupying more of our everyday lives."
On the campaign trail Wednesday, Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., even slipped a new attack line into his standard stump speech.
"He's going to try and distract and divide this country to win by default," Ryan said during an event in Danville, Va. "You know, President Obama said that he believes in redistribution. Mitt Romney and I are not running to redistribute the wealth. Mitt Romney and I are running to help Americans create wealth."
On Capitol Hill, Romney supporters aimed at Obama.