'You didn't build that' remarks won't change Obama's strategy on the stump

The Obama campaign has no plans to change the president's style on the stump in the wake of his "you didn't build that" remark, which Republicans have seized upon in recent days to argue the president is out of touch on the economy.

Obama made the impromptu remark during a Virginia campaign address earlier this month when he was speaking without a teleprompter, referring occasionally to a binder of notes on his podium. The Hill reported last week that Obama would rely on the teleprompter less so that he could be more spontaneous and interact with his supporters at campaign appearances instead of reading from two glass panes.

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The “you didn’t build that” comment has become a rallying cry of sorts for the Romney campaign, and has been enough of a worry for Obama that his campaign released an ad in which the president directly addresses the controversy. The Democratic National Committee also circulated a memo responding to the GOP arguments, a sign the party is taking the issue seriously.

While the actions suggest Team Obama thinks the remarks have legs, the campaign insists the controversy won’t change the president’s strategy or messaging approach as the campaign heads into the final 100 days.

“The attempts by the Romney campaign to make this into their rallying cry haven’t changed anything,” said a senior campaign official, adding that Obama “has done events without a teleprompter since then.”

The aide said even when Obama has prepared remarks in front of him on a podium, he “doesn’t always use them."


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“It’s a guide and a mark,” the aide said. “Many of the president’s best moments are unscripted or without a teleprompter, like when he’s having a good interaction with a crowd, or on a campaign stop or when he’s doing an interview."

The aide added, “There are moments when it makes sense” to go off-the-cuff “and there are moments when he’ll use a teleprompter. We’ll make that decision on a case-by-case basis.”

Republicans say the seemingly unscripted “you didn’t build that” moment, which came during a campaign stop at a firehouse in Roanoke, Va., exposed what they say are Obama’s dismissive feelings for the role of business and the private sector.

The central issue in the 2012 race is the economy, and Republicans think "you didn't build that," coming on top of Obama's remark after a poor jobs report that the private sector was "doing fine," will help Romney convince voters the president does not understand how to fix the economy.

“Everybody understands that he can deliver a speech better than anybody but sometimes we see these insights into who Barack Obama really is,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary at the Republican National Committee. “And that’s why it resonated with people. This was an unscripted moment that showed what he really believes.”

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said letting Obama go unplugged “comes with great risks” for the president’s team.

“Whether or not the Obama campaign says it was taken out of context, it was a dramatic mistake that has taken him off message and has cost his campaign millions of dollars,” Bonjean said.

Earlier this week, 10 days after the president made the small-business remarks, Obama was left having to explain the comments in a 30-second ad called “Always.”

“Those ads taking my words about the small business out of context — they’re flat-out wrong,” Obama says in the spot, looking directly into the camera. “Of course Americans build their own businesses. Every day, hardworking people sacrifice to meet a payroll, create jobs and make our economy run.

"And what I said was that we need to stand behind them, as America always has, by investing in education and training, roads and bridges, research and technology,” Obama concludes at the end of the ad.

Obama also railed against the GOP attacks on the campaign trail for "knowingly twisting my words to suggest I don't value small business."

“In politics, we all tolerate a certain amount of spin,” he said. “I understand those are the games that get played in political campaigns. Although, when folks, like, omit entire sentences of what you said, they start kind of splicing and dicing, you may have gone a little over the edge there.”

There are times when going off the cuff appears to work in the president’s favor.

On Wednesday, for example, in a speech to the National Urban League, Obama drew applause and cheers when he veered off script to urge young Americans to study — and then specifically pointed out he was speaking extemporaneously.

"You're competing against young people in Beijing and Bangalore," Obama said. "You know, they're not hangin' out. They're not gettin' over. They're not playin' video games. They're not watching 'Real Housewives.'

"That wasn't in my prepared remarks," Obama offered up quickly, to applause. "But I'm just saying."

Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary in the Clinton White House, said candidates are always prone to speak off the cuff.

“When you’re out on the campaign trail, trying to motivate and persuade, some of this has to come from heart and off the cuff,” he said. “And we’ll see who does it better.”