The crowd of roughly 1,000 responded knowingly with loud cheers, and several supporters said in interviews following the rally that they interpreted Romney’s comment as a dig at Obama. Although Obama has released his birth certificate showing he was born in Hawaii, some conservative activists still question his citizenship.
Romney’s campaign aides quickly rejected that interpretation, insisting that Romney was not referring to so-called birther theories and noting that he has been on the record saying he considers Obama’s citizenship a settled matter.
“The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States,” Romney adviser Kevin Madden said. “He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised.”
Regardless, Romney’s comment injected the toxic issue of birtherism into an already bitter presidential race at an unhelpful time for the presumptive Republican nominee. The Commerce rally marked the start for Romney of two days of campaigning with his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), leading into the Republican National Convention, which opens in Tampa on Monday.
The Obama campaign seized on the remark to argue that Romney was embracing “strident” conservatives, including real estate mogul Donald Trump and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, two of the most hard-line opponents to illegal immigration.
“Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them,” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement. He added, “Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.”
The Romney-Ryan rally, staged around two red barns on a sprawling farm on the outskirts of Detroit, got off on a sharp tone, with both candidates delivering biting and at times personal attacks on Obama.
Ryan, who introduced Romney, brought up Obama’s comment about guns and religion in a 2008 fundraiser. “Remember about four years ago when he was talking to a bunch of donors in San Francisco, and that he said that people from states like ours, we like to cling to our guns and our religion?” Ryan said. “I just have one thing to say: This Catholic deer hunter is guilty as charged and proud of it.”
Ann Romney spoke just moments before her husband made the birth certificate comment, talking about how good it feels for the couple to be back in Michigan.
“Mitt and I grew up here, we fell in love here, and this is a special place for us, and we want to have a big ‘W’ next to Michigan in November,” she said. “I have to say, when I got on the stage, I didn’t appreciate how many people were here until I stood up here, and I got quite choked up because it’s amazing.”
After she turned the microphone over to her husband, Mitt Romney also was nostalgic.
“I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” he said. “Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”
Romney actually did release his birth certificate in May.
During the spring of 2011, when Trump was stirring up conservatives by questioning the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate, Romney dismissed the theories.
“I think the citizenship test has been passed,” Romney told CNBC in April 2011. “I believe the president was born in the United States. And there are real reasons to get this guy out of office. . . . The man needs to be taken out of office, but his citizenship isn’t the reason why.”
Still, several voters interviewed after Romney and Ryan ended their rally Friday in Commerce said they interpreted Romney’s comment as a swipe at Obama.
“How did I read it? Well, there’s a lot of controversy about where Obama was born,” said Annie Lehmann, 59. “But that’s a secondary issue at this point. He’s got to fix the economy.”
Susan Cardel, 51, said she thought Romney’s comment was “hysterical.”
“That is still a big issue, isn’t it?” Cardel said. “I think it is, that Obama wasn’t born in America. I think Romney was just making a statement. He wasn’t trying to be mean or anything.”
Jim Gorcya, 72, said he read Romney’s comment as a suggestion that Obama’s birth certificate is not real.
“Obama doesn’t have one,” Gorcya said. “He wasn’t born here, and he can’t find his. Romney’s got a birth certificate. Obama can’t find his. If Obama was a real citizen, he would show it.” (Obama released a long form of his birth certificate in April 2011.)
But not all of Romney’s supporters here interpreted the remark that way.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” said Nancy Perkins, a 57-year-old retired teacher from Waterford, Mich.
She said she did not find Romney’s comment funny and said she had no doubts that Obama was born in the United States and is legally eligible to serve as president.
“I’m sure that this was all researched before he was allowed to become president,” Perkins said.
Later Friday afternoon, the Obama campaign appeared to make light of Romney’s remarks in a message sent from its Twitter account.
“Song of the day: Born in the U.S.A.,” the campaign tweeted, along with a link to a YouTube video of Bruce Springsteen performing the song.
Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, speaking on his radio show shortly after Romney made the remark, said that he thought the presumptive GOP nominee was “test-driving something.”
“I think this line is a test-drive,” Limbaugh said.
Original link on Washington Post