WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama made Mitt Romney's day by declaring that "the private sector is doing fine" and opening himself to the accusation that he -- not the rich Republican -- is the one who is out of touch.
Obama quickly clarified his remark Friday, but Republicans had their teeth in it and weren't letting go.
"Is he really that out of touch?" Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, asked as Obama's initial comments ricocheted through the presidential campaign.
Seeking to head off damage, Obama said it is "absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine."
Despite some "good momentum" in the private sector, Obama said, public sector growth lags, making it imperative that Congress act on his proposals to help state and local governments rehire teachers and first responders.
Obama's original six-word sentence, even if taken out of context, amounts to an unforced political error.
The economy is the single biggest issue on voters' minds and a weak spot for him given the nation's stubbornly high 8.2 percent unemployment rate.
Nearly every day, Obama finds himself having to defend his stewardship of an economy that has struggled to recover from the 2008 downturn and pleading with voters to stick with him because, he says, Romney would pursue policies that led to the recession.
The former Massachusetts governor said that Obama does not understand how to jump-start the economy and that his agenda has thwarted recovery instead of putting millions of unemployed workers back on the job.
Obama's comments at a White House news conference were reminiscent of Republican nominee John McCain's assertion in mid-September 2008 that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong," just as the U.S. economy was melting down.
Candidate Obama seized on those remarks then.