DANVILLE, Va. (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden sparked a campaign commotion Tuesday, telling an audience in southern Virginia that included hundreds of black voters that Republican Mitt Romney wanted to put them “back in chains” by deregulating Wall Street. He later mocked Republican criticism over the remark while conceding he meant to use different words.
Campaigning in Danville, Biden said the Republican ticket wanted to “unchain Wall Street” by getting rid of regulations Obama signed into law two years ago. He added: “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
Romney later criticized Biden, saying the remarks were part of pattern of “reckless” comments by Obama’s campaign and his surrogates “that disgrace the office of the presidency.”
In Chillicothe, Ohio, as he ended his bus tour Tuesday night, Romney called Biden’s comment “another outrageous charge” and added: “The White House sinks a little bit lower. This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like.”
Biden, speaking in Wytheville, Va., said he had meant to use the term “unshackled.” But he did not apologize and mocked the Romney campaign for showing outrage.
“If you want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies, and the effects of their policies on middle-class Americans,” he said.
Obama’s campaign stood by Biden, saying the comments were a variation on remarks he makes often about the need to “unshackle” the middle class. The campaign said the metaphor was meant to counter Republican calls to unshackle the private sector from Obama-backed regulations.
But the remark still proved to be a distraction, prompting Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter to issue a statement calling the Romney campaign’s outrage “hypocritical.”
“Let’s return to that ‘substantive’ debate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan promised 72 hours ago, but quickly abandoned,” she said in a statement.
The flurry over Biden’s remarks underscored what the Obama team knows is a constant risk with the vice president — that his penchant for speaking off the cuff can sometimes result in inartful or off-color comments.
In a less-noticed gaffe Tuesday, Biden told the crowd he was confident their support would help the Obama-Biden ticket carry North Carolina. He was speaking in Virginia at the time.
Still, Obama’s campaign sees Biden as one of its most valuable assets. The Scranton, Pa., native has a more natural appeal to working-class voters in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. He also has willingly embraced the traditional vice presidential attack-dog role, often launching the campaign’s most vigorous criticisms of Romney, and now Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan.
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