Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney battled to get back on his economic message on Friday after being sidetracked by a debate over gay rights and a reported bullying incident from 1965.
Romney's drive to keep the focus on President Barack Obama's handling of the fragile U.S. economy took a back seat this week when Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage, a move that energized his liberal base and gave the Democratic incumbent a splash of news coverage.
Obama's decision on gay marriage, after resisting the step for two years, contributed to a big surge in fund-raising for his campaign. Obama hauled in $15 million at a single, star-studded event in Los Angeles where he played basketball on Friday with stars George Clooney and Tobey Maguire.
Far from Hollywood, Romney visited North Carolina, a state that will be central in determining whether he can defeat Obama in the November 6 election.
Romney skirted the same-sex issue in a visit to Charlotte and stuck to the economy, saying Obama represents "old-school liberals" who want to continue to borrow money from countries like China in order to spend it recklessly in Washington.
"This recovery's been the slowest, most tepid since Hoover," said Romney in a reference to Depression-era President Herbert Hoover from the 1930s.
Romney wants to avoid making same-sex marriage a major focus of the campaign because Obama is much more vulnerable on the economy. Polls show a growing number of Americans favor gay marriage, but the slow economic recovery is by far their major concern.
"There will come a day when Romney will need to debate Obama on stage, but we don't need to have that debate now," a Romney adviser said. "We want that debate to be about economy and jobs. And number two, we believe the net results of this will be to our benefit."
A new Gallup survey said 60 percent of Americans reported that Obama's support for same-sex marriage will make no difference to their vote. Twenty-six percent said it would make them less likely to vote for him.