WASHINGTON — Republican Mitt Romney dug in Wednesday on his charge that President Barack Obama's campaign is driven by "division and attack and hatred," criticism aimed at cutting into Obama's likeability and personal appeal with voters.
In some of his harshest words yet against the president, Romney said Obama was "running just to hang onto power, and I think he would do anything in his power" to remain in office. Romney's comments escalated an already acrimonious campaign fueled by negative and sometimes false advertisements, as well as personal insults from the candidates and their surrogates.
Obama's campaign said Romney's fresh assertions seemed "unhinged."
Romney replied: "I think unhinged would have to characterize what we've seen from the president's campaign."
"These personal attacks, I think, are just demeaning to the office of the White House," he added.
The latest rhetorical scuffle erupted Tuesday after Vice President Joe Biden told a largely black audience in Danville, Va., that Republicans would seek to "unchain Wall Street" and "put y'all back in chains" by loosening Wall Street regulations.
Biden later said he had meant to use the term "unshackled." But he did not apologize, and he mocked the Romney campaign for showing outrage.
In his interview Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," Romney said: "I can't speak for anybody else, but I can say that I think the comments of the vice president were one more example of a divisive effort to keep from talking about the issues."
Romney's onslaught comes as polls show Obama with a narrow lead over his Republican rival less than three months before the Nov. 6 election. On Saturday, Romney named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a pick aimed at energizing his party's conservative base.
Now Romney, straying from his campaign's efforts to stay singularly focused on jobs and the economy, is targeting Obama's greatest strength — his likeability.
Every major poll in the past two months has found Obama's favorability rating in positive territory, while Romney's languishes at about even or worse and has deteriorated in some recent surveys.
Some of Romney's efforts to chip away at Obama's likeability have focused on negative ads run by the president's campaign and a super political action committee supporting him. Priorities USA Action ran a commercial suggesting Romney was personally responsible for the death from cancer of the wife of a man who worked at a steel plant that was bought and subsequently shut down by Romney's venture capital firm, Bain Capital.