CHICAGO -- He's baaack.
Mitt Romney, seeking to capitalize on a damaging mistake Friday by President Barack Obama -- the president's careless comment that "the private sector is doing fine" -- responded with a gaffe of his own.
"He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?" Romney said at a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa. "The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
Perhaps it was being back in Iowa, where Romney spent so much time in the primary. But his politically tone-deaf comment called to mind Romney's stupefying tendency during his showdown with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to greet stumbles by Santorum with missteps of his own.
In particular, Romney and Santorum traded a remarkable string of errors in February leading up to the Michigan primary, which Romney eventually won.
On Friday, Romney's comments were a life preserver for the Obama campaign and the Democrats, who were very quiet on email for much of the day after Obama made his comment at a morning White House press conference.
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign, the Republican National Committee and Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), piled onto the president in the hours following Obama's gaffe, sending out press release after press release mocking and criticizing his comment.
But once Democrats latched on to Romney's comment about firefighters, police officers and teachers, the tide shifted. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee sprang to life, sending out their own torrent of press releases. They were joined by the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association.
Obama's comment was undoubtedly the more lasting and damaging of the two, but Romney's unforced error at a critical time means Republicans will continue to be concerned about his ability to perform the way he needs to to win this fall.
UPDATE: 10:27 p.m. -- A Romney campaign aide emailed the context of Romney's quote, arguing that voters agree with the point that increasing government employment and raising taxes to pay for it is not the path to economic growth.
The full quote sent by the Romney campaign is below, with the portion left out by the Obama campaign in bold:
"And his answer for economic vitality, by the way, was, of course, pushing aside the private sector, which he said is doing fine. Instead, he wants to add more to government. He wants another stimulus. He wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”