For a presidential contest that was supposed to revolve around jobs, surrogates for the Romney and Obama campaigns spent today talking about everything but the economy.
In a series of interviews, officials for both tickets accused the other side of running small-potatoes campaigns even as they jabbed one another for stump gaffes and media strategy.
"This is an election about big things, and this, this administration is focused on very small things," Kevin Madden, senior adviser to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, told ABC's "This Week." "It's focused on dividing the country."
"Congressman Ryan was down in Florida yesterday talking about Medicare, which is a very important issue. ... At the same time this week, Vice President [Joseph] Biden was in Virginia talking about people being put back in chains. ... President Obama is talking to disc jockeys in New Mexico about what his favorite chili is," Madden said, referring to President Barack Obama's interview with a New Mexico radio station Friday.
Biden's comment earlier this week to a predominantly black audience that Romney would unshackle Wall Street and put them back in chains has become a favorite talking point among Republicans, forcing Democrats into an all too familiar spot of defending the gaffe-prone vice president.
Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for Obama, defended Biden in interviews with ABC and CNN this morning.
"If we want to talk about poor choices of words, let's talk about Mitt Romney," she told CNN. "He's been traveling around the country talking about how Obama is un-American, how he's making America a less Christian nation. Those are poor choices of words."
In the seven days since Romney announced House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) as his running mate, the future of Medicare has taken center stage.
Democrats have been relentless in their charges that Ryan's plan to move the senior health care program to a voucher system laid out in his most recent budget proposal would spell disaster for older Americans and middle-class families. Meanwhile, Republicans hammered the administration for efforts to bring down the cost of Medicare prescribed by the health care law, the president's signature achievement.
"If all of what you described is so amazingly egregious, why does Paul Ryan never seek to roll back those cuts to Medicare," Robert Gibbs, senior campaign adviser to Obama, said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." "Would AARP have endorsed what [the administration] did if it hurt seniors?"
Ultimately, even as Ryan finished a round of Medicare-focused appearances in Florida, Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser to Romney, said losing on the Medicare issue was "not a concern" for the Romney/Ryan ticket.
"This is the first election cycle I can remember in a long time where Democrats are on the defensive on Medicare," he said in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."
But Rudy Giuliani, speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," acknowledged that it's too early to know whether the Romney campaign's shift away from the economy to debating Medicare was a good idea.
"We're going to find that out when the election's over," he said. "It's either going to be a one of the great political decisions or it'll be a mistake. But it's a gutsy one."
One thing the campaigns agree on is that adding Ryan to the ticket has dramatically changed the tone of the campaign and clearly defined the choice voters face in November.
"Ryan has had a very beneficial effect on the debate," said Ed Gillespie, another senior adviser to Romney. "Paul Ryan has given us a real jolt in terms of the number of volunteers signing up and the donations coming in online."