COLUMBIA, S.C.—White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Tuesday criticized President Barack Obama for saying the U.S. had grown "a little bit lazy" in trying to attract business investment.
The Republican former Massachusetts governor spoke from the floor of a Columbia sign-making factory during a brief stop in this first-in-the-South primary state.
"First, sometimes I just don't think that President Obama understands America," Romney said. "Now, I say that because this week, or was it last week, he said that Americans are lazy. I don't think that describes Americans."
Obama's campaign spokesman said Romney's got it wrong and that the president was trying to encourage business leaders to create jobs.
Romney also rapped the president for saying the U.S. had lost its inventiveness and ambition, citing a speech where Obama talked about lost ingenuity.
Romney said Obama thinks the country isn't working hard enough.
"I don't think he gets what's happening in this country," Romney said.
Addressing a gathering of corporate chief executives at a regional economic summit in Hawaii over the weekend, Obama was asked to discuss impediments to U.S. investment from the perspective of China.
Obama said the U.S. still gets the largest share of foreign investment in the world.
"But we've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We've kind of taken for granted -- well, people will want to come here -- and we aren't out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America," Obama said.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement that "only Mitt Romney would criticize the president for encouraging CEOs to promote the United States abroad in order to create American jobs and attract investment at home."
LaBolt said Romney, when he worked in the private sector, "was more focused on outsourcing American jobs and creating profits for investors without any regard for the impact of his decisions on middle-class families."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest had said Obama was saying that the U.S. is "in a circumstance where we need to redouble our efforts to be engaged in this region."
Romney's campaign stood by its characterization of the president's remarks. Romney has been emphasizing the economy and jobs as he tries to give his campaign a lift.
"I'm convinced that America is not lazy -- is not soft; has not lost its ambition or its inventiveness," Romney said. But "they're being held down today by a government that is too big, that thinks it know more than it does and that needs to be replaced by a people who fundamentally believe in American principles and the American future."