WASHINGTON — Denounced by his Republican rival for divisiveness, President Barack Obama on Monday defended the tone of his campaign in a combative election year and insisted it's actually Mitt Romney's ads that are "patently false." But Obama did distance himself from a particularly provocative negative ad by a political group that supports him.

Obama also joined the cascade of criticism from both parties for comments on rape and abortion by a Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, using that new controversy to draw sharp distinctions between his views on women's health issues and those of Republicans.

Obama made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room, at least partly upstaging a joint campaign appearance by Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, in New Hampshire. The rally by Romney and Ryan, their first appearance together after a week of vigorous campaigning separately, had been highly anticipated, drawing an enthusiastic crowd and wide media attention.

The president turned the day into a long-distance point-counterpoint debate with his opponent. He took questions from four reporters, the most he has taken from the national press corps in two months, dealing to an extent with complaints about his inaccessibility. What's more, the flap over rape-and-abortion remarks by Republican Rep. Todd Akin gave the president a chance to make a direct appeal to women, who both campaigns say make up a majority of undecided voters.

At issue was Akin's answer in an interview that aired Sunday that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in "a legitimate rape" and that conception is rare in such cases. He later said he misspoke and apologized, but he said he would not get out of the race despite such urging from several prominent fellow Republicans.

As for the tone of the campaign, Obama declared that it was important to draw attention to major differences with Romney, but he said his criticism has never been "out of bounds."

Still, he distanced himself from an ad by the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super political action committee, which is run by former Obama White House aides.

That ad pointedly notes the death of the wife of a steelworker whose company had been taken over by a group of partners that included Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Romney cofounded.

"I don't think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad," Obama said. But he added that he did not approve or produce the ad and said it had had only a brief airing on television.

Romney and Ryan, appearing together for the first time in a week, sustained their criticism Monday, leveling new claims of duplicity in Obama's TV ads before about 3,000 friendly people in Manchester.

"It seems that the first victim of an Obama campaign is the truth," Romney said.

Asked by a woman about Obama campaign "lies" that claim the GOP ticket would raise taxes, Romney said, "All we've heard so far is one attack after another."

"I will not raise taxes on anyone," Romney said. "Mr. President, stop saying something that's not the truth."

In his news conference, Obama countered, saying his speeches and the ads run by his re-election campaign have focused accurately on substantive issues such as taxes and spending. By contrast, he said Romney has aired "patently false" claims that the president is "gutting" welfare's work requirement.

Obama also defended ads criticizing Romney's refusal to release more than two years' worth of tax returns. He said those seeking the White House must know their life is an "open book." And he added that pressing Romney on such a subject is "pretty standard stuff" and not "overly personal."

Obama said he has "sharp differences" with Romney on major issues and that those are fair game for tough ads.

Even so, he added, "Nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon," as some Republicans have suggested of Obama. However, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter earlier this summer said that questions about when Romney left his post as head of Bain raised issues of potential illegal activity.

"Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony," Cutter said at the time, "or he is misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments."

In Missouri, Republican Rep. Akin's comments on rape came in the midst of his campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Obama condemned Akin's remarks as "offensive" and took issue with past attempts by lawmakers in Congress to limit taxpayer funding of abortions to cases of "forcible rape," incest and danger to the life of the mother.

"Rape is rape," the president said.

Romney also weighed in, calling Akin's comments on rape "insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong." A number of other Republicans decried the remarks as well and at least two Republican senators called on Akin to drop out of the race. "If it was me," GOP Chairman Reince Priebus told CNN, "I would step aside and let someone else run for that office."

Akin on Monday apologized anew but said he would stay in.

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 health care decisions on behalf of women." He acknowledged the criticism of Akin from Romney and fellow Republicans, but said:

"I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions -- or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape -- I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party."

A House bill last year would have placed abortion restrictions on some federal tax breaks for medical care. Federal laws have long banned the use of taxpayer money for abortions except in cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother. Last year's proposal initially referred to an exception for "forcible" rape. That wording was eventually dropped from the bill the House passed.

In New Hampshire, Romney and Ryan made a multi-pronged case against the administration, saying Obama's policies on taxes, Medicare and foreign policy have let down the American people.

The GOP running mates promised a sunnier future of lower taxes, lower deficits, more jobs at home, and greater U.S. prestige abroad. But they offered few details on how they would achieve these goals, which have vexed Congresses and White Houses for years.

Romney's pledge not to raise anyone's taxes while also reducing federal deficits is one of several promises he has made that many independent analysts have questioned. He said tax cuts lead to greater economic growth, which in turn brings greater overall tax revenues to run the government.

The burden on U.S. taxpayers, as a proportion of the overall economy, is lower than it has been in several decades, but the nation's debt is at a record high.

After his joint appearance with Romney in New Hampshire, Ryan drove to Boston to meet the legion of staffers who worked on his rollout and now arrange all aspects of his life between now and Election Day. He also called the entire staff at Romney headquarters together for a pep talk, aides said.

___

Associated Press writers Philip Elliott and Julie Pace in New Hampshire contributed to this report.

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  • Marco Rubio

    "Throughout his life, Mitt Romney has made great decisions, and choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate is a truly inspired choice. I got to know Paul during my Senate campaign when he endorsed me early on when I was still considered a long shot. Paul Ryan is a courageous reformer who understands our nation's challenges, has proposed bold policy solutions to solve them, and has shown the courage to stand up to President Obama and other Washington politicians trying to tear him down. "The Romney-Ryan ticket is going to win in November because it offers the American people visionary leadership to recapture the free enterprise spirit that has empowered countless Americans to build businesses from scratch and live the American dream. I'm excited about the visionary change a Romney-Ryan team will bring to Washington, and I look forward to campaigning

  • Rob Portman

    <blockquote> "Mitt Romney has made a great choice in Paul Ryan. He is an accomplished public servant and a leading voice on the most pressing issues facing our country. Paul is one of my best friends in Congress and someone I have worked closely with as a former colleague on the House Ways & Means Committee. "Jane and I wish Paul and Janna and their kids the very best. As the Chairman of the Romney campaign in Ohio, I look forward to working with Paul to ensure that the Romney-Ryan ticket carries Ohio and is victorious in November. Most importantly, as a member of the Senate, I look forward to working closely with a Romney-Ryan Administration to restore fiscal sanity and enact pro-growth policies to create jobs."</blockquote>

  • Obama for American Campaign Manager Jim Messina

    <blockquote>"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes."</blockquote>

  • Michelle Malkin

  • Michael Moore

  • Brad Woodhouse

  • Rachel Maddow MSNBC

  • mike murphy

  • Michael Steele

  • Larry Sabato

  • davidfrum

  • Charles M. Blow

  • Robert Reich

  • Nilay Patel

  • Mark Harris

  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee

    The Progressive Change Campaign Committee issued the following statement: <blockquote>"Paul Ryan is a right-wing extremist who wants to end Medicare. This is a major unforced error by Mitt Romney. It gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits. If Democrats win in a landslide, this was the game changer." -- Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a 1 million member grassroots organization</blockquote>

  • Laura Ingraham

  • John Kasich

  • Ari Fleischer

  • Susan B. Anthony List

    The national pro-life organization released the following statement: <blockquote>"By selecting Congressman Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, Governor Romney demonstrates his commitment to protecting American women and unborn children," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List. "A longtime pro-life advocate and a strong fiscal conservative, Congressman Ryan has insisted that there can be no 'truce' when it comes to advancing the rights of the unborn and achieving fiscal responsibility. He has a pristine pro-life voting record and will be an asset to Governor Romney's campaign. "Pro-life voters are a key demographic and help secure victory in critical elections," continued Dannenfelser. "The addition of a second strong pro-life leader to the ticket energizes the pro-life base - we are thrilled with this pick."</blockquote>

  • GOProud

    <blockquote>"The selection of Paul Ryan is a bold and inspired pick," said Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director of GOProud. "Paul Ryan has been the architect of policies that would benefit all Americans, especially gay Americans." "Paul Ryan is one of the few political leaders anywhere in the country willing to tell the American people the truth about the unprecedented budget crisis we are facing, and - more importantly - willing to put forward bold plans to put this country back on the road to fiscal solvency," continued LaSalvia.</blockquote>

  • Log Cabin Republicans

    <blockquote>"Congressman Paul Ryan is a strong choice for vice president, and his addition to the GOP ticket will help Republican candidates up and down the ballot," said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director. "As chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the Republican "path to prosperity" that provided the blueprint for serious spending cuts in this Congress, nobody is more qualified to articulate a conservative economic vision to restore the American economy and stimulate job creation. </blockquote>

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

  • Jason Chaffetz

  • Center For American Progress President Neera Tanden

    <blockquote>"Just like Sen. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin and George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle, Mitt Romney has been cowed by the right wing into choosing an extreme vice presidential nominee who will alienate moderate voters. It's now clearer than ever that as president, Mitt Romney would end Medicare as we know it, and will raise taxes on middle class families by more than $2,000in order to slash taxes on the wealthiest Americans. While there is a lot that can be said about Paul Ryan's extreme views, more important is what this choice says about Mitt Romney: that he is unwilling or unable to stand up to the far-right of his party and select a vice-presidential candidate that is both able to be president on day one and capable of governing by reaching across the aisle."</blockquote>

  • SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

    <blockquote>"If there were ever any doubt that Mitt Romney is not on the side of working people, today's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate makes it crystal clear. With this choice, Romney has shown the American people that he believes Rep. Ryan's extremist, irresponsible and anti-worker agenda is what's right for our country. "Rep. Ryan has made a name for himself by fighting in the halls of Congress for tax giveaways for the wealthy and big corporations while proposing to gut vital services like Medicare and education, and eliminating any sense of retirement security for working families. His no-holds barred record of attacking seniors, children, and working men and women is frightening for the 99 percent of Americans who are not rich -- but for Mitt Romney it was a calling card to choose him as a running mate."

  • NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan

    <blockquote>"Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Ryan as his running mate reminds us of why elections matter when it comes to our ability to make personal and private medical decisions," Keenan continued. "The outcome of the 2012 presidential election very well could determine whether abortion remains legal and accessible for the next generation of American women. Romney has pledged that taking away women's rights will be a priority for him and his choice of Ryan amplifies that promise to the extreme anti-choice backers of this ticket. My organization's priority is to make sure President Obama remains in the White House."</blockquote>

  • Kelly Ayotte

  • Herman Cain

  • Rick Perry

  • Tommy Thompson

  • Pete Hoekstra

  • Steve King

  • Eric Cantor

  • Dana Rohrabacher

  • Kenny Marchant

  • Gregg Harper

  • Rick Santorum

  • Rep. Kathy Hochul

    <blockquote>"Americans deserve new ideas for how we can reduce the debt and protect our seniors and the middle class. Just one year ago, Western New York voters rejected the Ryan-Collins policies that would end Medicare as we know it and hurt middle class families while giving more tax cuts to the rich. Our country needs to move forward, not re-hash failed ideas. Given Chris Collins' ongoing support for tax cuts for the rich that add nearly $1 trillion to the deficit and his willingness to send his business to China to line his pockets, it is clear my opponent is going to continue to pursue policies and priorities that have already been rejected."</blockquote>

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski

  • Claire McCaskill

  • Jim DeMint

  • Chris Van Hollen

  • Rep. Mary Bono Mack

  • Sam Brownback

  • John Shimkus

  • Rep. Trent Franks

  • Frank Pallone

  • Michele Bachmann

  • Rob Zerban

    <blockquote>"Now that Paul Ryan's personal ambition has clearly trumped his interest in the First District, I have no doubt he'll find himself out of a job come November. Once Wisconsinites and voters across our country learn the truth about Ryan's radical plot to end Medicare as we know it, de-fund women's health care, and preserve tax breaks for millionaires, they'll vote against him not just once, but twice. In the coming weeks, our campaign will work with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to continue getting the word out on Ryan's indefensible record, and building momentum to ensure victory on Election Day."</blockquote>

  • Scott Walker

    <blockquote>"Governor Mitt Romney made a bold and reform-minded selection in Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. This election has to be about who is going to look out for the next generation. America needs a comeback team to turn around the economy and to turn around the fiscal status of our country. Romney and Ryan have the ideas and the experience needed to take on these core issues. This is a great day for Wisconsin and an even greater day for America."</blockquote>