“I know that you and your running mate keep saying that. I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s not the case,” Romney said onstage in Denver. “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans. And . . . I will not, under any circumstances, raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families.”
Hours later, Romney released a new TV ad arguing that Obama, not Romney, is the bigger threat to middle-class pocketbooks — the second this week. Neither spot offers new information about how Romney would pay for his tax plan, which is heavy on promises but light on details. Instead, the ads seek to shift the conversation to more comfortable territory for Republicans: Which candidate is more likely to raise taxes?
Vice President Biden appeared to play into Romney’s hands on that front Thursday, acknowledging that he and Obama want to let taxes rise by $1 trillion for the nation’s wealthiest households over the next decade.
“Yes, we do,” Biden said at an event in Iowa. ‘‘On top of the trillions of dollars in spending that we have already cut, we’re going to ask the wealthy to pay more. My heart breaks. Come on, man. . . . That’s not a tax raise. That’s called fairness where I come from.”
The pushback from Romney comes as Republicans are widely concerned that he is doing a poor job of defending his tax plan, the centerpiece of his agenda for sparking economic growth and creating jobs. Public opinion polls have shown that Obama has held a consistent advantage on the question of which candidate voters trust more to handle taxes. A Washington Post poll last month in the critical swing state of Ohio found Obama ahead on the tax question by 17 percentage points.
Asked about the polls on Thursday, Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie said, “The Obama campaign has spent a ton of money trying to convince voters that Governor Romney would raise taxes on the middle class.”
Gillespie said Romney is fighting back now — fully two months after Obama first launched his attack — to take advantage of the national exposure of the debate.
“We want to weigh in heavily with ads on the subject after 60 million people had a chance to hear him set the record straight,” Gillespie said.
Romney’s sharp performance cheered conservatives, who worried that Obama’s edge on the tax issue could do lasting damage to the cause of tax revision, which has been gaining momentum in both parties.
“He made the point that this is a pro-growth tax cut,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “I would have preferred this to be the conversation for the last six months. But I’ll take that it’s the issue for the last month of the campaign.”