Romney says Obama campaign all about hatred
The president said his Republican foe would hammer the elderly with cuts in state health benefits.
Mitt Romney complained that Barack Obama's re-election bid was steeped in "hatred".
Romney, hoping to turn the Democrat out of the White House after a single term, said that Obama and backers were stoking divides based on income, age and ethnicity, to whip up a sense of "enmity and jealousy and anger."
"The president's campaign is all about division and attack and hatred," Mitt Romney told CBS News. "My campaign is about getting America back to work and creating greater unity in this country."
"The president seems to be running just to hang onto power -- I think he'll do anything in his power to try to get reelected," he said.
Obama aides responded to the outburst, apparently a bid to dent the president's high character ratings, by affecting bemusement, and pointing out that Romney won the Republican nod partly through a negative ad onslaught.
"Hope it's not hateful to say that Mitt's budget math doesn't add up," said Obama senior advisor David Axelrod on Twitter.
The president, wrapping up a three-day bus tour of Iowa, the state that served as his launchpad in 2008, declined to wage a tit-for-tat battle, as he tapped the political firepower of his popular wife Michelle.
"Your president knows that it means when a family struggles. This is not a hypothetical situation for him. He knows what it means to want something better for your kids and your grandkids," Michelle Obama said.
"That's why I love him. That's why I married him."
Obama opened a new assault on Romney on health care for the elderly, playing up the divide between his rival and his Republican running mate Paul Ryan who backs a voucher plan for patients to buy private health insurance.
"I think they know their plan's not very popular. You can tell that because they are being pretty dishonest about my plan," Obama told a 3,000 strong crowd, which included many seniors, in front of a red brick brewery here.
Romney had earlier accused Obama of pulling $700 million from Medicare to pay for his landmark health reform, which Republicans oppose, but the president said his rival was throwing "everything at the wall to see if it sticks."
"I have strengthened Medicare. I have made reforms that have saved millions of seniors with Medicare hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs," Obama said, adding that his reforms would not touch a "dime" of benefits.
"Mr Romney and his running mate have a very different plan. They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program," he said, warning that such vouchers would not keep up with fast-rising health care costs.
The row over Medicare, a popular federal government program, could be pivotal in electoral battlegrounds with substantial populations of retirees, including Florida, the largest US swing state.
The exchanges came a day after the most charged jousting in the campaign so far, with Romney telling Obama to take his "hate" back home to Chicago, after Vice President Joe Biden warned Republicans would put Americans "in chains."
"I think comments of this nature sink the White House just a little lower," Romney said, calling the remark an "unfounded charge."
"The comments of the vice president as I heard them ... were one more example of a divisive effort to keep from talking about the real issues."
The Obama campaign responded to Romney's outburst by implicitly questioning whether the Republican's temperament was suited for the Oval Office.
"Governor Romney's comments ... seemed unhinged and particularly strange coming at a time when he's pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Tuesday.
Most political experts believe the race to the November 6 election remains close, with Obama perhaps slightly in the lead and well positioned in the dozen or so battleground states that will decide whether he gets a second term.
Obama argues that Romney, a multi-millionaire former venture capitalist, would further enrich his wealthy friends with tax cuts -- and put the burden on a middle class struggling to cope in a slow economic recovery.
Romney paints Obama as out of ideas and an enemy of job-creating small businesses bent on a big government takeover of many aspects of American life, and questions whether he really understands his home country.