By Ginger Gibson and Juana Summersfor POLITICO.com
COMMERCE, Mich. While campaigning here in his home state, Mitt Romney joked about his birth certificate, an apparent jab at President Barack Obama that drew immediate rebuke.
"Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born. Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital," he said. "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."The crowd that Romney pegged as between 5,000 and 10,000 erupted in cheers.
Romney barely finished speaking before Obama's campaign shot back.
"Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them," said Ben LaBolt, Obama's press secretary, in a statement. "It's one thing to give the stage in Tampa to Donald Trump, Sheriff Arpaio, and Kris Kobach. But Governor Romney's decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America."
Romney's camp was quick to dismiss the idea that he was latching onto the birther movement, which claims that the president wasn't born in the United States.
A Romney spokesman said afterward that Romney was "just illustrating that he was born and raised here in Michigan" and that the GOP nominee has been "on the record a number of times" on the birther issue.
"The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States," spokesman Kevin Madden said. "He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised."
Ryan spokesman Michael Steel said the congressman, like Romney, believes Obama was born in the United States.
"He's been very clear throughout this entire process, as I believe the governor has."
Romney has previously struggled to keep some distance between himself and the birther movement, which remains alive despite the April 2011 release of Obama's long-form birth certificate. Romney has accepted the endorsement of Donald Trump a vocal proponent of the push that Obama wasn't born in the United States who will be in Tampa at the Republican convention this coming week.
But as it's remained a rallying cry of the fringe of his party, Romney hasn't been able to fully escape it.
Michigan Republican Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra who earlier this year suggested that there should be a federal office to vet the birth certificates of presidential candidates was also on site here.The rally, which reunited Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan on the campaign trail, was expected to be a run-of-the-mill stump speech, with the added bonus that it was in the state where Romney and his wife were born.
Both the candidate and Ann Romney spoke glowingly about Michigan at the beginning of the speech.
"I love coming to a place where I put up my hand and everybody knows what that means!" Ann Romney said as she started to get choked up. "Mitt and I grew up here, we fell in love here, and this is a special place for us, and we want to have a big W next to Michigan in November."
Ann then explained that the size of the crowd was what was making her get teary.
"It's amazing that people in Michigan have not forgotten the promise of America and the promise, the promise of Mitt's father and my father who made their livings here, and who came here both of our fathers came here and made their livelihoods here," she said.
It was when she handed the microphone back to her husband that he continued his talk about Michigan and made the seemingly unscripted joke about Obama's birth certificate.
Romney had been introduced by Ryan, who also touted his ties to the state, pointing out that his Wisconsin House district includes the banks of Lake Michigan.
"It's great to be back home in Big Ten country," Ryan said. "I represent part of the western shoreline of Lake Michigan. You've got the sand and we've got the rocks, but we all came from the same place."
Romney made a plea that winning Michigan a state considered a longshot for his campaign but one it has concentrated on regardless.
"I need you to go out and find at least one person who voted for Barack Obama and get them to change their mind and come vote for us," Romney said. "I want Michigan to vote for Romney and Ryan and if Michigan does that he and I will be the next president and vice president of the United States and America will stay strong and prosperous and free and the hope of the earth."
For the most part, Ryan and Romney stuck to their usual economic message.
"We will lead. We will honor you," Ryan said. "Michiganders, our fellow citizens, I respected you by giving you a choice of two futures. We will not duck the tough issues, we will lead. we will not blame others."
Authors: Ginger Gibson (firstname.lastname@example.org | @GingerGibson), Juana Summers (email@example.com | @jmsummers). POLITICO and ABC News 4 have partnered for the 2012 presidential campaign cycle.