For a fifth straight day, Romney slammed Obama with his "doing fine" comment, calling it evidence that the president has a "lack of understanding" of ordinary Americans' struggles.
(The Obama campaign, for its part, hit back with a video compilation of some of Romney's own verbal miscues, including his call to "let Detroit go bankrupt," a message that could have particular resonance in Ohio, an auto-parts manufacturing hub).
Carney took pains not to minimize how much Americans are still struggling, noting a Federal Reserve report on Tuesday describing how the Great Recession left the median family's net worth in 2010 roughly equal to its net worth in 1992 after adjusting for inflation.
"That's a fancy way of saying that the bottom fell out and the American people paid a huge price for the recession and the policies that led up to the recession," Carney said.
Asked whether Obama still believed the economy was heading in the right direction, Carney walked a rhetorical tightrope.
"The president believes that we have made progress. The president believes that we have made not nearly enough progress," he said. "There's been positive economic growth."
Obama inherited an economy in free-fall, losing more than 750,000 per month. The private sector has created about 4.3 million jobs over the past 27 months. "And that is obviously pointing in a better direction than the direction the economy was headed when the president took office," Carney said.
But poll after poll shows that the president faces an uphill fight to convince Americans to answer the classic political question "are you better off now than you were four years ago?" his way.
"I think people are still hurting. I think the economy has not recovered, and it's not where it needs to be," Carney said.