WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday defended the tone of his campaign in this summer's combative ad fight with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, contending he is pointing out real differences while Romney is making a welfare-work claim that is "patently false."
Obama, in a brief news conference called on short notice, also denounced the weekend comments by a Republican Senate candidate in Missouri and used them to draw clear distinctions between his views on abortion and those of Republicans. The comments by candidate Todd Akin gave Obama an opportunity to weigh in on a social issue that has been largely absent from the presidential campaign and to make a direct appeal to female voters.
In his visit to the White House briefing room, Obama at least partly upstaged a joint campaign appearance by Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, in New Hampshire, their first together after they spent the past week campaigning separately.
Romney accused Obama of distorting the GOP ticket's tax policies, continuing the presidential campaign's sharply personal tone.
"It seems that the first victim of an Obama campaign is the truth," Romney told about 3,000 people at an outdoor rally in Manchester, N.H.
Asked by a woman about Obama campaign "lies" that claim the GOP ticket would raise taxes, Romney said, "All we've heard so far is one attack after another." He said perhaps only one of the Democrats' many TV ads is "honest."
Obama, at the White House, said that while he has pointed out "sharp differences" with Romney on issues, nothing in his campaign ads about the GOP candidate has been "out of bounds."
He said his speeches have focused on substantive issues such as taxes and spending as have his ads. By contrast, he said Romney has aired "patently false" claims that the president is "gutting" welfare's work requirement.
Obama also defended ads criticizing Romney's refusal to release more than two years' worth of tax returns. He said those seeking the White House must know their life is an "open book." And he added that pressing Romney on such a subject is "pretty standard stuff" and not "overly personal"
He did distance himself from an ad by a pro-Obama super PAC that seemed to cast blame on Romney for the death of the wife of a steelworker whose company had been taken over by a group of partners that included Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Romney cofounded.
"I don't think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad," Obama said. But he added that he neither produced nor approved the ad and said that it had had only a brief airing on television.
On campaign 2012's newest controversy, Obama declared that comments by Missouri Rep. Akin on rape were "offensive." And he attempted to broaden the issue by criticizing efforts by congressional Republicans to limit abortions to cases of "forcible rape."
"Rape is rape," the president said.
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Akin said in an interview that aired Sunday that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in "a legitimate rape" and that conception is rare in such cases. He later said he misspoke.
Romney and several other Republicans denounced his comments, too, and at least two other states' Republican Senate candidates have called on Akin to drop out of the race. He apologized anew on Monday but said he would stay in the race.
Polls and the campaigns say women make up more than half of the remaining undecided votes in this year's campaigning.