COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa - Mitt Romney mocked President Barack Obama for his comments earlier Friday about the private sector, using a stop in Iowa to cast the incumbent as out of touch with economic reality.
"He said the private sector is doing fine," the presumptive Republican nominee told several hundred gathered outside at a park in Council Bluffs, Iowa. "Is he really that out of touch? I think he's defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people. Has there ever been an American president who is so far from reality?"
In remarks to White House reporters, Obama stressed the positive about how private companies are faring in the U.S. economy.
"The truth of the matter is that, as I said we've created 4.3 million jobs over the last two -- 27 months; over 800,000 just this year alone," Obama told reporters. "The private sector is doing fine."
Obama's re-election prospects suffered a blow June 1 after the government reported that hiring slowed last month, reinforcing Romney's main line of attack against him.
Jobs grew by 69,000 in May, the fewest in a year and less than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of private economists. The unemployment rate increased to 8.2 percent, the first rise since last June.
Romney Friday hammered at Obama's assessment of the economic environment.
"For the president of the United States to stand up and say the private sector is doing fine, is going to go down in history," he said. "It's an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding by a president who is out of touch."
Romney also questioned Obama's called for additional federal spending to boost job growth.
"He wants another stimulus. He wants to hire more government workers," Romney said. "Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?" he said, referring to Republican Gov. Scott Walker's June 5 victory in a recall election spurred by his push to restrict bargaining rights for public-employee unions. "The American people did."
The president's campaign, in response, accused Romney of trying to "talk down" the U.S. economy.
"Iowans got today what they've come to expect from Mitt Romney: angry, dishonest rhetoric about President Obama and zero new solutions to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class," Obama re-election spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. "While Mitt Romney would like to ignore that we were shedding more than 750,000 jobs a month when the president took office, the reality is that the economy has added 4.3 million private sector jobs over the last 27 months."
Romney was last in Iowa less than a month ago, on May 16, and its place on his schedule signal his interest in trying to take the state from Obama's column in the 2012 election.
Obama won Iowa in 2008 over his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona, 54 percent to 44 percent. As president, he's frequently visited the state, including on May 24 when he dropped reminders about the time he'd spent campaigning there before his win in Iowa's 2008 Democratic caucuses set him on the path to his party's nomination.
An NBC News-Marist poll released May 31 showed Obama and Romney tied in Iowa, each with support from 44 percent of registered voters, figures that include those who are undecided yet leaning toward one of the candidates. Eliminating the leaners, 10 percent of voters in the state are undecided, the poll showed.
Pottawattamie County, where Romney appeared Friday, was won by McCain four years ago with 50.4 percent of the vote.
Republicans have touted figures showing they now outnumber Democrats in Iowa. The latest registration data from the Iowa Secretary of State's office shows 607,936 registered Republicans and 595,423 Democrats. As in many states, independents will decide the outcome in Iowa and represent a larger group than registered Republicans or Democrats: 663,969.
The campaign for Iowa's electoral votes will play out in a state with a better economic environment than the national picture. The state's jobless rate in April was 5.1 percent, below the current national average of 8.2 percent and down from 6.3 percent in November 2010.