Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney drew swift criticism Friday for remarks referencing a conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Michigan, Romney made what aides later described as an off-the-cuff joke referencing the fact that he was born in Michigan before later becoming Governor of Massachusetts.
"I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born," Romney said. "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where we were born and raised."
While Romney's remarks drew laughs and cheers from his audience, it was widely seen as a reference to the debunked "birther" conspiracy theory from some on the right that believe that Obama was not born in Hawaii and is thus not eligible to be President of the United States, claiming the birth certificate that Obama has repeatedly produced is a fake.
The remark drew swift criticism from the Obama campaign's national press secretary Ben LaBolt.
"Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them," LaBolt said in a written statement. "Governor Romney's decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America."
Romney aides and advisers sought Friday to downplay the remarks, with one adviser Kevin Madden saying it was merely a reference to the state.
"The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States," Madden said. "He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised."
But a number of Democrats regarded that explanation as unsatisfactory, noting that Romney has refused to distance himself from Donald Trump, who flirted with making a run for the Republican nomination based largely on his own questioning of Obama's heritage.
In response to questions about Trump's birther comments in May, Romney told reporters he didn't agree with the sentiments of all of his backers, even the ones like Trump who have raised significant amounts of money for his campaign.
"You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in," Romney said at the time. "But I need to get to 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."
Obama's campaign Twitter account (@BarackObama) further responded to Romney's remarks with a link to a video of rock star and Obama supporter Bruce Springsteen's song, "Born in the U.S.A." along with an invitation to supporters to buy campaign "Made in the USA" coffee mugs, which feature a picture of Obama on one side and a copy of his birth certificate on the other.
by RTT Staff Writer
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