Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in his second White House bid, was reminded of just how easily outside forces can distract a campaign's message.
The former Massachusetts governor had intended to keep his focus on the U.S. economy and joblessness during an appearance Monday at a metals stamping plant near Cleveland. He instead drew criticism, and his message was blurred by an Ohio Republican leader who compared President Obama to fast-food clown Ronald McDonald and a supporter who said the president should be tried for treason.
On stage, Romney declined to challenge either statement, though he later told reporters that he disagreed with the treason remark.
The audience member suggested, as an aside to a question about adherence to the Constitution, that she thought Obama should be tried for treason.
Romney confined his answer to the question's main thrust, saying, "I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired."
Asked after if he agreed with the comment about treason, he said, "No, of course not."
Romney's response stood in contrast to how Sen. John McCain of Arizona, as the Republican nominee in 2008, responded when a supporter called Obama "an Arab."
"No, ma'am," McCain said. "He's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about."
Romney's decision not to publicly criticize some of the comments drew a rebuke from Obama's campaign.
"We saw Mitt Romney's version of leadership: standing by silently as [a] supporter alleged that the president should be tried for treason," said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman.
Romney's appearance came hours before he received the endorsement of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, his one-time rival for the Republican nomination who withdrew from the race April 10.
Santorum urged his supporters to back Romney's campaign in a late-night email that ignored that Santorum once calling Romney the "worst Republican in the country."
Romney visited Santorum for more than an hour Friday at the Pittsburgh office of Santorum's longtime strategist. The session covered many of Santorum's concerns about Romney's campaign, especially the sincerity of his vow to repeal Democrats' national health care law, which was modeled on one Romney signed into law as Massachusetts governor.
Meanwhile, Tuesday in Lansing, Mich., Romney branded Obama as an "old-school liberal" who is trying to resurrect failed policies.