Amid swirling criticism from Republicans over President Obama's characterization of the private sector as doing "fine," Democrats are seizing on Mitt Romney's suggestion that the country does not need more teachers and first responders.
Speaking after Obama's news conference on Friday, Romney assailed the president's call for more aid to state and local governments to boost hiring.
"His answer for economic vitality…was, of course, pushing aside the private sector, which he said is doing fine. Instead, he wants to add more to government," Romney said at an event in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
"He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
The Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee blasted out the comments in a series of email statements, web videos and tweets, saying that Romney was advocating the elimination of jobs for firefighters, cops and teachers.
"Not only has Mitt Romney opposed the President's plan to create one million jobs, he is actually calling for further job loss in the sector that needs the most urgent boost," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
R.T. Ryback, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said "Romney's assertion that the American people don't benefit from firemen, policemen and teachers is so detached from reality I did a double take - I had to check twice to be sure he had actually said it."
In a web video released Saturday, the Obama campaign juxtaposed recent newspaper headlines that highlight layoffs of state public sector workers with Obama's call for federal aid to stem the losses. "President Obama has a plan to help," the video says.
Over the past year, the public sector has shed 161,000 jobs - the vast majority of which were at the state and local level - according to the Labor Department. The private sector added nearly 2 million jobs during the same period.
Romney argued Friday that federal aid to states for public sector hiring is not a prescription for sustainable job creation and that expanding the ranks of government inhibits growth.
"Job creators and small businesses are not 'doing fine.' The middle class is not 'doing fine,'" said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg, noting that the nation's unemployment rate stands at 8.2 percent. "There is no denying that President Obama has been fundamentally hostile to job creators and his policies have prevented our economy from rebounding."
Henneberg did not clarify as to whether Romney believes the ranks of teachers and first responders, or federal aid for the same, specifically needs to be reduced, as Democrats allege he does.
The attacks by both sides Friday - Republicans on Obama's private sector remark, Democrats on Romney's public sector comment - underscored just how much political rhetoric and the perception of insensitivity to average Americans can be exploited by the opposing sides in a rapidly escalating general election campaign.