Mitt Romney insists that he stepped down from his private equity firm years earlier than federal records indicate, but President Barack Obama is more than a little skeptical and says his Republican rival has much to explain.
At stake is Romney's chief contention that as a former businessman, he has the experience to create jobs and spur a struggling economy.
The Obama campaign has countered that Romney ran a firm that pioneered the practice of sending American jobs out of the country and that his background is as an investor not a job-creator.
Obama campaign advisers said the president, during a second straight day in tightly contested Virginia, planned to remind voters on Saturday of the discrepancies between Securities and Exchange Commission filings and Romney's recollection of his role at Boston-based Bain Capital.
Obama was focusing on a state that he won in 2008, a first for a Democratic nominee since 1964, and on an issue that Romney says diverts attention from the struggling economy.
A new ad from Obama's campaign repeated the charges that Bain shipped American jobs to China and Mexico; that Romney has personal wealth in investments in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands; and that as Massachusetts governor, he sent state jobs to India.
"Mitt Romney's not the solution. He's the problem," the ads says as Romney is heard singing "America the Beautiful." The ad was set to run in closely fought Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia — battleground states that are expected to decide the outcome of the election.
It debuts as Democrats and some Republicans are calling for Romney to release tax returns going back several years. Romney has said he won't go beyond releasing his 2010 tax records and, before the November election, his 2011 taxes.
"You can never satisfy the opposition research team of the Obama organization," Romney told CBS television news on Friday.
In a round of TV interviews, the Republican candidate defended his account of his role at Bain, and said Obama owed him an apology for an aide's suggestion that the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, if false, could bring a felony charge.
"This is simply beneath the dignity of the presidency of the United States," Romney told ABC television. It wasn't just Obama, though, pressuring Romney.
"There is no whining in politics," chided John Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist. "Stop demanding an apology, release your tax returns."
Questions of credibility
Romney seemed unlikely to find any contrition from the Obama campaign, where a spokesperson said there would be no apology, as the president's aides dug in on an issue they see as a winner for them.
The precise role Romney played at Bain between 1999 and 2001 raises questions about his credibility and whether he was in charge when Bain was sending jobs overseas during that period.
SEC documents show that Romney was in charge of the Boston-based company from 1999 to 2001, the period in which Bain outsourced jobs and ran companies that fell into bankruptcy. Romney says he was at the head of the company as it transitioned to new ownership but did not manage it.
Obama said the questions raised in numerous media reports and highlighted by his own campaign aides were a legitimate part of the race for the White House.
"Ultimately, I think, Mr. Romney is going to have to answer those questions because if he aspires to being president, one of the things you learn is you're ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations," Obama said in an interview with the District of Columbia's WJLA-TV.
Romney called that "Chicago-style politics at its worst" and accused the president, who's from Chicago, and his campaign of trying to shift attention from the economy and unemployment situation.
In trying to put the matter behind him and return the campaign to his economic arguments, Romney declared he had "no role whatsoever in the management" of Bain after he left to take over the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in early 1999.
Romney acknowledged that he would have benefited financially from Bain's operations even after he left management of the firm to others. That could open him up to criticism that he gained from investment in companies that sent jobs overseas.
"All of the investors participate in the success or failure of various investments, just like you do as a shareholder of an enterprise," Romney told CBS.
Bain Capital said in a statement that Romney "remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999." — Sapa.