President Obama defended the increasingly negative tone of his campaign Monday, saying he was merely drawing a contrast between his views and those of Republican Mitt Romney on issues ranging from abortion rights to tax fairness.
The Romney campaign has accused the president and his allies of running a campaign of distortion and distraction. But in a surprise appearance before reporters at the White House, Obama countered that none of his campaign's ads have been "out of bounds" despite their blistering attacks against Romney.
The president said that while he has focused on tax fairness and the role of government investments, it was Romney who was resorting to deceptive portrayals of the president's policies, most recently by claiming that Obama had abolished the work requirement for welfare recipients.
Even as he defended the tone of his campaign, the president pivoted to again assail Romney for not releasing his tax returns. And he launched a new offensive against Republicans over the issue of abortion after Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, claimed victims of "legitimate rape" seldom got pregnant -- and so rarely needed to have an abortion -- because the woman's body would automatically shut down the woman's reproductive system.
"The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape," Obama said.
Romney and congressional Republicans denounced Akin and started to squeeze him out of the Missouri Senate race. But Obama and Democrats continued to hammer away at Republicans as hostile to women.
"The idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people," Obama said. "What I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making decisions on behalf of women."
In addition to joining the latest fight over abortion, Obama on Monday reiterated his call for Romney to release more tax returns, calling it "pretty standard stuff" for a presidential candidate. Romney released only his 2010 return and an estimate of his 2011 taxes, but Obama said it wasn't enough.
"Any single year might not tell you the whole story," Obama said.
Democrats charge that Romney's refusal to release additional returns is evidence that he's hiding something from voters. They also claimed Romney may not have paid any taxes for a decade. Romney said last week that he has paid at least 13 percent in income taxes over the last 10 years.
The president adamantly defended the tone of his campaign, refusing to denounce an ad run by a super-PAC that linked Romney to a woman's cancer death.
"I don't think that Gov. Romney is responsible for the death of the woman portrayed in that ad," Obama said, adding that he wasn't responsible for ads run by outside groups -- even one led by former White House aides.
Republicans said that in refusing to condemn the super-PAC's ad, Obama fell short of the leadership standards required of the commander in chief.
"President Obama's failure to stand up to dishonest rhetoric and attacks demonstrates yet again he's diminished the office that he holds and his record is nothing more than business as usual in Washington," Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said.