Stepping up his criticism of Mitt Romney's caught-on-tape moment, President Barack Obama said Thursday that his Republican rival's comments about voters suggest he doesn't know Americans very well.
"When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is maybe you haven't gotten around a lot," Obama said at a candidate forum on Spanish-language network Univision.
The president was speaking a day after the Republican appeared at the same forum and said he was committed to all Americans.
Romney continued to try to clarify his remarks Thursday before an audience of about 250 in Sarasota, Fla., where donors paid between $2,500 and $50,000 to meet the Republican nominee.
"I care about every person in America," Romney said. "I know what it takes to help those people and I will."
Obama and Romney were crisscrossing Florida on Thursday, with their travel plans nearly overlapping in Miami. Romney departed the city for fundraisers and a rally in Sarasota only a few hours before Air Force One landed at the same airport.
Obama was to attend a fundraiser in Tampa later Thursday where Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder was scheduled to perform. About 85 people were expected at the event, with tickets starting at $20,000 a person.
The Univision forum gave them a chance to chase support from Latinos who vote in large numbers in many of the swing states that will decide the election. Democrats have traditionally had an advantage with Hispanics, but Obama faced tough questions on his unfulfilled pledge to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
Obama said the lack of immigration reform legislation was his biggest failure as president and "not for a lack of trying or desire." He said he couldn't find a single Republican to help work on the legislation. "I'm happy to take responsibility for being naive here," the president said when pressed to admit he broke his promise.
Univision anchor Jorge Ramos interjected, "You promised us, and a promise is a promise. And with all due respect, you didn't keep that promise."
Obama responded that the president is not "all powerful" and needs cooperation. He argued that he would be a better president for Hispanics than Romney. And when later asked about the video of Romney secretly recorded at a May fundraiser, he made his harshest criticism yet of the Republican's statement that nearly half of Americans who pay no federal income tax are dependent upon government and believe they are victims.
"Their problem is not that they're not working hard enough or they don't want to work or they're being taxed too little or they just want to loaf around and gather government checks," Obama said. "We've gone through a challenging time. People want a hand up and not a handout."
He was drowned out in applause when he added that millionaires, too, are among the people who abuse the system by not paying taxes.
Romney told the Sarasota donors that he's looking forward to focusing the debate back on the economy during next month's debates.
"He's a very eloquent speaker," Romney said of Obama, "and so I'm sure in the debates, as last time in his debates with Senator McCain, he'll be very eloquent in describing his vision. But he can't win by his words, because his record speaks so loudly in our ears. What he has done in the last four years is establish an economy that's bumping along the bottom."
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina also tried to raise expectations for the rival's performance in a memo arguing that Romney has emerged from weeks of intense debate preparations "quick, polished and ready with a punchy attack against the president."
"He's obviously banking on flawless performances in October to achieve the turnaround his campaign has projected," Messina wrote. But Messina said Americans won't score the debates on style points alone, and argued that Romney is lacking on specifics and alternatives to the president's policies on issues like immigration.
The Univision forum was scheduled because no minority journalists were selected to moderate the three presidential debates. In 2008, Obama carried Hispanics by 67 percent to Sen. John McCain's 31 percent, according to exit polls. Recent polls suggest that Obama enjoys a similar lead against Romney.
During his secretly recorded remarks to donors, Romney said he was worried about the Hispanic trend. "We're having a much harder time with Hispanic voters, and if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African-American voting bloc has in the past, why, we're in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation," Romney said. He joked that he'd have an easier time getting elected if he were Latino.
Romney was pulling resources from one heavily Hispanic state. New Mexico Republican Party spokeswoman Jamie Dickerson said Thursday that the campaign's Hispanic outreach director and communications director were among those being moved as part of a shift in campaign resources.