WASHINGTON — Fresh signs of a national housing rebound and growing support in public opinion polls boosted President Barack Obama's bid for a new term in the White House on Wednesday as Republican rival Mitt Romney struggled to quell his video controversy.

The challenger's attempts to get his campaign back on track ran into new difficulty in the form of criticism from rank-and-file Republicans concerned about their own election prospects in the fall.

"I have a very different view of the world," said appointed Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, taking issue with Romney's dismissive comments about the 47 percent of all Americans who pay no income taxes. Separately, Senate GOP leaders avoided answering questions about their presidential candidate at a news conference in the Capitol.

After days of virtually nonstop political damage control on issues foreign and domestic, Romney assured an audience at a Miami forum that "my campaign is about the 100 percent in America."

Earlier in the day, at an Atlanta fundraiser, Romney said: "The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class. I do. He (Obama) does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can. He can't."

The former Massachusetts governor spoke about 48 hours after a video emerged that showed him telling donors last May that as a candidate for the White House, "my job is not to worry about" the millions of Americans who don't earn enough to pay income taxes.

Obama spent the day in the White House, a rarity in a race with less than seven weeks yet to run. He invited democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar to the Oval Office, a chat between two Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Romney raised campaign cash in Georgia in advance of his appearance on a forum hosted by the Spanish-language TV network Univision in battleground Florida, his first before a public audience since the emergence of the videotape. The opening portion of the forum focused on his videotaped comments before moving on to his reluctance to clarify his immigration policy and to his support for Arizona's controversial immigration law.

Fellow Republicans have been pressuring Romney to campaign more extensively. The campaign was planning a more aggressive schedule of traditional campaign events in battleground states, including critical Ohio, as early as this weekend, a campaign adviser said. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans had not yet been announced formally.

In a campaign dominated all year by the sluggish economy, the government said construction of single-family homes jumped to the highest rate in more than two years. Separately, the National Association of Realtors reported that home sales rose last month to the highest level since May 2010.

Real estate has been among the slowest sectors of the economy to recover from the national downturn of 2008. The administration has struggled to reverse a decline in home values that left millions who managed to avoid foreclosure owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

There was downbeat news, as well, in an economy struggling to create jobs. State officials in Michigan reported the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in August rose by four-tenths of a percent to 9.4 percent, well above the national average of 8.1 percent. Romney grew up in Michigan, but he has yet to contest it seriously in his quest for the White House.

A new AP-GfK poll â(EURO)" taken before the Romney video was revealed â(EURO)" put Obama's overall approval rating among voting-age adults at 56 percent. That was above 50 percent for the first time since May, and at its highest level since the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden more than a year ago.

Among likely voters, however, the race was a statistical tie, with Obama at 47 percent and Romney at 46 percent.

The two were also tied statistically when it came to handling the economy and the federal deficit, while the president was preferred on issues of protecting the country, handling health care and understanding the problems of "people like you." On a question of personal credibility, 50 percent of likely voters said Obama more often says what he really believes, while 42 percent said that applied to Romney.

At the same time, 61 percent of likely voters described the economy as poor, and only 22 percent described it as good more than 3 1/2 years after Obama took office, another indication of the challenges he faces as he bids for a new term in a time of long-term unemployment over 8 percent nationally.

Other new surveys suggested growing support for Obama in the wake of back-to-back national political conventions and Romney's struggle last week to explain an erroneous statement issued at a time of demonstrations â(EURO)" one of them deadly â(EURO)" at U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken Sept. 12-16 put the president's lead among likely voters at 50-44 percent nationwide.

State surveys by Quinnipiac University, The New York Times and CBS News showed Obama at over 50 percent support among likely voters in Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, and Wisconsin, with 10. Obama carried Wisconsin handily four years ago, but Romney recently signaled he was hoping to make it competitive.

The two men were in a statistical tie in Colorado, which has 9 electoral votes, in surveys conducted between Sept. 11 and 17.

A Washington Post poll also showed Obama with a lead in Virginia.

All the surveys were taken before the flap erupted over Romney's "47 percent" remarks.

Taken together, they showed a highly competitive race as Obama and Romney pursue the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, although with the president in a stronger position than before the two political conventions and with the economy still the dominant issue.

"This is our election to lose," maintained Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "There's a reason no president has ever been elected with economic numbers like this. If Obama wins, he'll be rewriting political history."

For now, Romney is working to reframe the video controversy into a philosophical difference between himself and Obama â(EURO)" to his own advantage.

"Instead of creating a web of dependency, I will pursue policies that grow our economy and lift Americans out of poverty," he wrote in an article in USA Today that omitted any reference to the furor.

At his fundraiser in Atlanta, however, he referred for a second day in a row to a video of Obama, made in 1998. An Illinois state senator at the time, Obama said he believed in income redistribution, "at least to a certain level to make sure everybody's got a shot."

Romney added that the country "does not work by a government saying, become dependent on government, become dependent upon redistribution. That will kill the American entrepreneurship that's lifted our economy over the years."

Responding for the president, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Romney's efforts to push the 14-year-old video were the work of a candidate having "a very bad day or a very bad week."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took up the cause in highly personal terms.

"So who are those Americans Mitt Romney disdains as `victims' and `those people?'" the Nevada Democrat said in a speech on the Senate floor. "They're not avoiding their tax bills, using Cayman Island tax shelters or Swiss bank accounts like Mitt Romney."

Romney's campaign released two television ads accusing the Obama administration of conducting a "war on coal." Aides said they were triggered by an announcement on Tuesday by Alpha Natural Resources that it will close mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and eliminate 1,200 jobs.

___

Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Atlanta and Kasie Hunt, Matthew Daly, Julie Pace, Kevin Freking, Donna Cassata and Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Scott Brown

    "That's not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs," Scott said in an email to <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/250157-sen-scott-brown-denounces-romney-comments" target="_hplink">The Hill</a>.

  • Paul Ryan

    "He was obviously inarticulate in making this point," Ryan <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/paul-ryan-mitt-romney-video_n_1895403.html" target="_hplink">said</a> during an interview with a Nevada television station.

  • Rush Limbaugh

    "This could be the opportunity for Romney, and for that campaign, to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism, start explaining liberty to people and what it means," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/rush-limbaugh-mitt-romney_n_1893882.html" target="_hplink">Limbaugh said</a> Tuesday. "And explain that they don't need to be in that 47 percent. There's no reason for them, for everybody to be -- essentially having given up on their future in this country. There's no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism."

  • Allen West

    "Mitt Romney probably could have better explained himself. I think he was a little clumsy in doing this," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/house/249975-rep-allen-west-romney-a-little-clumsy-with-47-percent-comment" target="_hplink">West said</a> on Fox News.

  • David Brooks

    "Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I'd put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/brooks-thurston-howell-romney.html?ref=davidbrooks" target="_hplink">Brooks wrote</a>. "He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?"

  • Bill Kristol

    "It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant," <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/note-romney-s-arrogant-and-stupid-remarks_652548.html" target="_hplink">Kristol wrote</a>.

  • Dana Loesch

  • Donald Trump

    "He has to not apologize, because we've seen enough apologizing already, and he cannot apologize," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/campaign/249993-trump-romney-cannot-apologize-for-inartful-comments-at-fundraiser" target="_hplink">Trump said</a> on NBC News. "What he said is probably what he means." Trump also said that Romney's words were "inartfully stated."

  • Erick Erickson

    "The Romney campaign should double down on what he said. They should own it. The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney. Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53% and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were," <a href="http://www.redstate.com/2012/09/17/treat-the-press-as-enemy-collaborators/" target="_hplink">Erickson wrote</a> in a blog post on RedState.com.

  • Chris Christie

    "[Romney] believes that every American has got to have skin in the game...he doesn't want what the president wants," <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/09/christie-romney-wants-to-empower-people-135893.html" target="_hplink">Christie said</a> on Fox News, adding that Romney wants to "empower individuals...and that's what he's really talking about."

  • Laura Ingraham

    "The idea that you're declaring, 'Well, the race is over. Mitt Romney doesn't care about people,'" <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/laura-ingraham-fired-up-over-romneys-47-tape-its-ridiculous-this-is-getting-airtime/" target="_hplink">Ingraham said </a>on Fox News. "Meanwhile, you have a president whose policies have undermined the 47 percent. ... I'm very pumped up about this. I think it's ridiculous that people are seizing on it and that we're even giving all that much airtime to it, frankly."

  • Linda McMahon

    "I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track," <a href="http://www.lindaforsenate2012.com/news/press-releases/2012/09/18/linda-mcmahon-response-to-mitt-romneys-remarks/" target="_hplink">McMahon said</a> in a statement.

  • Jonah Goldberg

    "To read many of the reactions on Twitter, you'd think Mother Jones had just found video of Mitt Romney strangling a hooker with her own pantyhose," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/322394/quick-thoughts-freeloaderdammerung-jonah-goldberg" target="_hplink">Goldberg wrote</a>. "Indeed, many people understand what Romney is getting at here, even if he's saying it badly."