by Tangi Quemener
Hampton, Virginia, July 13, 2012 (AFP) - Republican Mitt Romney on Friday angrily blunted "false" attacks about his time at Bain Capital but did not cede to demands to release more tax returns that have dogged his White House bid.
Obama called on Romney to answer questions about his tenure at Bain after a Boston Globe report cited government records appearing to show Romney was in control of the firm for three years beyond 1999, when he says he stepped down.
The date could be important, as Bain Capital is alleged to have invested in firms that moved workers overseas after that year and Obama supporters are attempting to paint the Republican White House hopeful as a destroyer of jobs.
But after the Democratic incumbent himself said Romney owed the American people answers ahead of the November 6 vote, the former Massachusetts governor sounded off in five interviews to major US television networks.
"I was the owner of the entity that was filing this information, but I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after 1999. I left in February of 1999," Romney told CNN.
He blasted the Obama camp's claims as "false, misleading, wrong-headed."
"The president needs to take control of these people," Romney said on ABC News. "He ought to disavow it and rein in these people who are running out of control."
"He sure as heck ought to say that he's sorry for the kinds of attacks that are coming from his team," he added.
The protracted row over Bain and whether Romney or Obama is more responsible for sending US jobs offshore has emerged as a central issue in the campaign. Each camp is using highly personal attacks as they try to undermine voters' trust in the other side.
Obama said close scrutiny of Romney's overall record was merited because his opponent was using his business background and ability to become "Mr Fix-It on the economy," as "his main calling card."
"I do not think at all it disqualifies him," Obama told CBS, justifying his jabs at Romney's lucrative career as a venture capitalist.
"I think it is entirely appropriate to look at that record and see whether, in fact, his focus was creating jobs and he successfully did that. And when you look at the record, there are questions there that have to be asked."
Romney has played up his experience in the private sector, arguing it makes him qualified to put more Americans back to work.
The Republican, who has released only his 2010 tax returns and an estimate for 2011, said he had no plans to release more years worth of data, despite Democratic pressure to do so. But Romney said he would release the 2011 returns "as soon as the accountants have that ready."
Romney's wealth, estimated to be around $250 million, has repeatedly surfaced as an issue during the campaign as Obama tries to paint his rival as out of touch with ordinary Americans.
The Republican's campaign has in turn criticized Obama for automatic cuts in the military budget that are due to take effect in early 2013 after Congress failed to agree on how to reduce the deficit last fall.
Before the media barrage over Bain, Obama went on the offensive in Virginia, hoping the key swing state will vote in his favor as it did in 2008.
Four months before Americans head to the polls, Obama appealed to Congress to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- implemented by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush -- expire, while extending those breaks for people making less than $250,000 per year.
"Their economic idea, you can summarize it really easily," Obama said.
"They basically want to give $5 trillion in new tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, on top of the Bush tax cuts."
Obama charged that Republicans were convinced that if you "help folks at the top... somehow all those benefits are going to trickle down on you."
"Now I have to tell you, I think they're wrong," he added to cheers and applause from the 1,400-strong crowd in Virginia Beach.
Once very conservative -- Richmond was the southern capital during the American Civil War -- Virginia has become more receptive to ideas pushed by Democrats, especially in the suburbs of Washington in the state's north.
Obama won Virginia in 2008, a first for a Democratic White House candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
His tour through rural and urban Virginia follows visits to other key battlegrounds Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa. Obama is scheduled to ramp up his campaigning next week, traveling to Ohio, Texas and Florida over four days.