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Romney backtracks on argument that Obama made economy worse

Over the last few weeks, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has argued that President Obama's policies have made the economy worse.

Here was Romney in New Hampshire on Monday:

The people of New Hampshire have waited long enough. They want to see good jobs. They want to see rising incomes. They want to see an economy that's growing again, and the president's failed. He did not cause this recession, but he made it worse. 

And he said something similar at the New Hampshire debate earlier this month:

He didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer.

But at his press conference today in Allentown, PA -- where he was highlighting a company that had closed, after President Obama touted it benefitting from the stimulus -- Romney backtracked on the he-made-it-worse line.

When NBC producer Sue Kroll asked the former Massachusetts governor why he believes that Obama's policies have made the economy worse -- when the economy is now growing (and not shrinking like it was in 2009), when the Dow is climbing (and no longer in a free-fall like it was in '09), and when the unemployment rate is down a full percentage point from where it was in Oct. '09 -- Romney gave this answer:

I didn't say that things are worse.

Romney went on to say:

What I said was that economy hasn't turned around, that you've got 20 million Americans out of work, or seriously unemployed; housing values still going down. You have a crisis of foreclosures in this country. The economy, by the way, if you think the economy is great and going well, be my guest. But the president of the United States, when he put in place his stimulus plan and borrowed $787 billion, said he would hold unemployment below 8% -- and 8% seemed like an awfully high number. It hasn't been below 8% since.  That's failure. We're over 9% unemployment. That's failure. He set the bogie himself at 8% ,which strikes me as a very high number and we're still above that three years later.

*** UPDATE *** About 24 hours after this story was published, the Romney campaign sent First Read this response: “Mitt Romney was responding to the reporter’s comment about the stock market," said spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "If the Democrats are waiting for Mitt Romney to ease up on his criticism of President Obama’s economic record, it’s simply not going to happen. It is an undeniable fact that Barack Obama has failed to create jobs and fix the economy. He is on track to be the only president to leave office with a net job loss. President Obama and the Democrats will spend the next 17 months trying to distract voters from their horrible record on the economy – and it’s not going to work.”

However NBC producer Sue Kroll asked Romney MORE than just about the stock market. Here's what Kroll asked the presidential candidate: "Gov. Romney, you continue to say that the economy is worse. But unemployment is lower than it was in 2009; the stock market was tumbling and is now above 12,000; and it is growing slowly -- we just had 12%, excuse me, 2% gain this quarter. So how do you continue to say that things are worse if they really aren't worse?"