WASHINGTON -- Republicans pounced on comments by Vice President Joe Biden about the middle class being "buried" for the past four years as proof that President Barack Obama’s economic policies have failed.

During a Tuesday campaign event, Biden attacked Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for advocating economic policies that would benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

"This is deadly earnest, man. This is deadly earnest," Biden told the crowd at the Charlotte, N.C. event. "How they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years? How in the Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?"

He continued to criticize the Romney/Ryan plan: "Folks, we've seen this movie before: Massive tax cuts for the wealthy, eliminating restrictions on Wall Street, let the banks write their own rules. We know where it ends. It ends in the catastrophe of the middle class and the Great Recession of 2008. Folks, we cannot go back to that. The president and I have a different way forward."

Within a couple hours, the Romney campaign had seized on Biden’s comment that the middle class has been "buried" for years, with Romney tweeting that he "agreed" with the vice president. An hour or so after that, the campaign said Ryan would formally respond to the comment and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a top surrogate for Romney, would hold a conference call about it.

Their quick mobilization reflected a campaign trying to intercept the news cycle to change the predominant narrative of the race -- supported by swing-state polling -- that Obama will win in November, despite the fact that the economy remains sluggish.

CNN suddenly began broadcasting live from Ryan's appearance in Burlington, Iowa, despite the fact that it hadn't advertised Ryan's appearance beforehand. "Vice President Biden, just today, said that the middle class, over the last four years, has been buried. We agree," Ryan said. "That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next President of the United States."

Ryan then pivoted to an appeal to rural voters, pulling out his camouflage iPhone case to show how excited he was for hunting season.

"I’d love to come back here to help you with your harvest problems," said Ryan.

"Today is a very important day in American history," Sununu said during the conference call. "Vice President Biden finally got something right."

The Obama campaign brushed off the attack. "Another day, another desperate and out-of-context attack from the Romney campaign," said spokeswoman Liz Smith. "As the Vice President has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy -- and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies."

Nevertheless, Biden tweaked the line during a subsequent campaign event in Asheville, N.C., later in the day.

"The middle class was buried by the policies that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney supported,” he said, adding that their vision for America is akin to “Bush economic policies on steroids."

Whatever Biden said Tuesday will almost certainly be overshadowed by the presidential debate on Wednesday night. As for the effect on actual voters? Sununu said it wouldn't have one.

"No," he said, when asked point blank whether Biden’s comments would impact voters’ decisions. “But I think it sets the stage for the debate that will take place tomorrow."

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