Staff and wire reports
SALISBURY — Enough already, local business owners say about the latest attacks in the presidential campaign.
Mitt Romney’s campaign has ramped up focus on a remark President Obama made about business owners on July 13, using his line “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” to paint Obama as contemptuous of hard-working entrepreneurs.
Obama’s team said the comment has been taken out of context. Obama used the phrase during a speech in Virginia when talking about the idea that government-assisted infrastructure including roads, research and schools help sustain American society, including private enterprise.
By “you didn’t build that,” Obama meant infrastructure, not the actual businesses themselves, his campaign said.
“It’s almost much ado about nothing,” said Dyke Messinger, president of PowerCurbers in Salisbury. “They’re both right.”
PowerCurbers could not exist without infrastructure provided by the government, Messinger said. Yet, the government had nothing to do with constructing the business itself, he said.
These latest attack ads will not define the country or even this presidential election, said Messinger, who pointed out that ultimately, funding for the nation’s infrastructure comes from taxpayers.
“Did the president misspeak? Yes,” Messinger said. “Did the Romney campaign overreact? Yes. OK. Next.”
Glenda Dyson said she tries not to watch TV as North Carolina is bombarded with attack ads as a battleground state, but she did see an excerpt from the president’s speech.
“He delivered a blow to small businesses,” she said. “Even if the comment was taken out of context, I was offended.”
Small business owners are struggling, and no government official has ever helped build, maintain or market Just the Thing, an educational toy store in downtown Salisbury, said Dyson, the owner.
Even as the Obama campaign tries to explain away the comment, Dyson said the damage is done.
However, she said she considers this latest round of back-and-forth accusations as just more “garbage out there that is probably not going to be a big deal” in the end.
Bob Lambrecht, owner of Critters Card and Gifts, said he considers the controversy typical campaign trash.
Lambrecht said he was not personally offended by Obama’s comment and knew what the president meant.
“Anything can be taken out of context,” he said. “Obama does the same thing. It’s just a big, giant political game.”
Salisbury developer Victor Wallace said both parties try to spin comments made by the other side and take advantage of gaffs.
“It’s a stretch to say your business owes its existence to government. That’s offensive,” Wallace said. “I don’t think he was intentionally trying to say that, but I think it was a Freudian slip.”
Obama could have gotten the same point across in a different way, Wallace said.
“Lots of entrepreneurs have benefited from infrastructure built by the government,” he said. “Who would argue with that?”
Beyond the nine words Obama uttered and what he meant by them, Wallace said the controversy points to the different ways Obama and Romney view the American economy and society.
Wallace said Obama’s view is that “government creates all the pathways that industry moves on, from schools to the Internet to utilities.”
“But I tend to look at it from the bottom up,” he said. “My thoughts have always come from, the power resonates from the people up.”
The controversy has taken a campaign toll on Obama, forcing him to defend himself and giving the Romney campaign a break from steady attacks.
The development has delighted Republicans, who were eager to shift the campaign focus from Romney’s tax returns, overseas assets and Bain Capital record.
Obama rolled out two new TV ads this week in which he employed for the first time what many Democrats consider a powerful tool: the president talking directly into the camera and countering GOP claims.
“Those ads taking my words about small business out of context — they’re flat-out wrong,” Obama says in the newest ad.
Democrats say the “direct-to-camera” format plays to the president’s strength, and they don’t think Romney can match it. But like any strategy deployed 15 weeks before Election Day, it might lose some of its impact over time.
In the immediate future, Democrats hope Obama’s response will help him move past the flap about business owners. But Romney aides kept up the pressure Wednesday, sponsoring 24 events on the topic while Romney was overseas.
Democratic strategists acknowledged Wednesday that Obama was being hurt, at least a little, by Romney’s repeated jabs at comments the president made in Virginia on July 13, which originally drew little notice.
Most GOP attacks ignored the broader context of the speech. Romney and his allies have used the quote in countless ads, videos, statements and conference calls,
Few reporters or Obama critics took note of the specific remark for a few days after the speech.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said July 13. He cited teachers and mentors who helped “create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.”
“When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together,” he said.
Late on July 16, the Romney campaign began a drumbeat of attacks quoting only the line, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
And Romney’s campaign shows no sign of letting up on the “you didn’t build that” attacks.
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