The candidate's attempt at a humorous story becomes fodder for opponents who say he's out of touch with ordinary Americans.
An attempt at humor and friendly voter outreach backfired for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney on Wednesday when he was roundly criticized by leading Democrats for joking that his father, George Romney, as an American Motors executive decades ago, once shut down a factory in Michigan and moved it to Wisconsin.
Talking by conference call with thousands of Wisconsin voters on Wednesday, Romney recounted the factory-moving incident and said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Now later, he decided to run for governor of Michigan, and so you can imagine that having closed the factory and moved all the production to Wisconsin was a very sensitive issue to him for his campaign."
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Romney went on to describe a subsequent campaign parade in which the school band marching with his father knew how to play Wisconsin's fight song, but not Michigan's.
"Every time they would start playing 'On Wisconsin, on Wisconsin,' my Dad's political people would jump up and down and try to get them to stop, because they didn't want people in Michigan to be reminded that my dad had moved production to Wisconsin," said Romney, laughing, according to the newspaper.
Lis Smith, a spokesman for President Obama's reelection campaign, said in an email, "Adding to his list of completely out-of-touch moments, today Mitt Romney recounted to Wisconsin voters on a tele-town hall a 'humorous' story about his father closing a factory in Michigan."
The Democratic National Committee also circulated the story and said in a statement: "File this one under the ever-growing 'Romney wealth gaffes' category."
Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for Romney, fired back with a statement from the campaign: "More than 2,000 Chrysler and GM dealerships have closed and 11 car manufacturing plants have been shuttered under President Obama, yet he still considers himself one of our four greatest presidents. Under President Obama, more Americans have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and fallen into poverty than at any time since the Great Depression. It's clear the Democrats will go to any lengths to avoid talking about Obama's colossal failures, including ginning up fake outrage about a campaign story from 40 years ago involving Mitt Romney's father."