President says Romney camp running against ‘fictional' Obama

President Obama accused Republicans of distorting his record, claiming that Mitt Romney was running against a “fictional Barack Obama.”

Republicans “have spent a lot of time creating a fictional Barack Obama who is supposedly taking the work out of welfare reform, or doesn't think small businesses built their own businesses,” said the president in an interview with USA Today published late Monday.

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Obama’s comments come after his top surrogates took to the airwaves this weekend to accuse Republicans of intentionally misrepresenting the president’s record. 

Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe on Sunday said the Romney campaign was “built on a tripod of lies,” and deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter charged that Republicans think “lying is a virtue.”

Obama said attacks on welfare reform and claims that he did not understand capitalism had become “the centerpieces of their campaigns.”

"Gov. Romney spent a lot of time talking about himself and he spent a lot of time talking about me. He didn't spend a lot of time talking about the American people and how their lives will get better,” said the president about last week’s GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. 

“I guess their premise is that the American people will be convinced, if we just get rid of Obama, then somehow that will be enough,” he said.

The Romney campaign, however, says the Obama team is attempting to distract voters from the president's own economic record. 

"President Obama's problem is that the truth about his abysmal record hurts,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams in a statement Sunday. “Americans aren't better off today than they were four years ago.”

Republicans say that question, of whether voters are better off now than they were in 2008, will be their key theme this week as they seek to counter the message from the Democratic convention.

In his interview, Obama said voters understood the country was digging out of a “very deep hole” on the economy.

Obama advisers on Monday emphatically argued that voters were better off than they were four years ago, after recent comments from top surrogate Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) suggesting otherwise.

Republicans, though, point to the high unemployment rate and the growth in the nation’s debt and say Obama failed to right the economy during his first term.

In a campaign speech yesterday, Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), said Obama’s policies had been worse than former President Jimmy Carter’s.

Obama said he would address the challenges still faced by the economy in his Thursday speech to the Democratic National Convention. 

He said his speech would be “less an introduction to the American people” and more focused on what he would do in a second term.

The president said he wanted to lead “a conversation” with voters about how he would “continue on a path that will lead us to a strong, secure middle class, robust economic growth and a sense that our government is working on behalf of ordinary people.”

Obama also rebuffed charges that his attacks on Romney have contributed to an increasingly acrimonious campaign. 

“I would say that it's a little ironic for a candidate who won the primaries telling his opponents not to whine, who just had a convention that was primarily devoted to going after me in ways that every media outlet has said bend the truth, and whose entire campaign has been built around assertions that don't jibe with the facts — that he would want to spend most of his time talking about how tough we have been on him,” Obama said.

The president says he has worked to improve the tone in Washington, but said there was still work to do.

"I have done my best over the past four years to try to bridge that divide so that how the American people view these problems in common-sense, practical ways is more reflected in what goes on in Washington," said Obama. "I haven't always been successful, obviously. But that's going to be my goal."

Obama is traveling through swing states on his way to Charlotte, where he is slated to speak on Thursday. 

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