Washington: The White House said on Thursday that President Barack Obama was barely paying attention to the Republican race to unseat him in 2012, as a possible foe Mitt Romney threw his hat into the ring.
But it did mount a detailed defence of Obama`s economic record, as Romney warned that the Democrat carried into office in 2008 amid souring hopes for change, he had "failed America" and made the recession longer and worse.
Asked whether Obama was beginning to eye the accelerating 2012 race, as aides built his own campaign machinery, White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested it was not yet time for election talk.
"When we`re travelling and (we) spend a lot of time talking with him about different subjects, he is not focused on that," Carney said.
With Obama`s 2012 prospects under new scrutiny following a set of disheartening economic data this week, Carney said the President was squarely focused on cutting high unemployment and the economy.
"There is no issue that matters more to this President than the economic health of this country and the job security and job creation in this country," Carney said.
"When this President took office, we were in the deepest recession since the Great Depression.”
"The President inherited the largest deficit in the history of the country from an administration that had, when it came into power eight years previous, inherited budget surpluses from a Democratic President," Carney said.
Carney said Obama had taken dramatic action and unpopular decisions to revive the economy, including initiating a bailout for the US auto industry, though acknowledged more work needed to be done.
Though the White House may profess that Obama is not focusing on 2012, he has done a number of political fundraisers in recent weeks, usually in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee.
Obama re-election headquarters are up and running in Chicago, and the president on Thursday sent an e-mail to supporters soliciting campaign funds.
Earlier, launching his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, after a failed 2008 bid, former Massachusetts governor Romney, slammed Obama`s economic management.
"Turning around a crisis takes experienced leadership and bold action," Romney said.
"For millions of Americans, the economy is in crisis today, and unless we change course, it will be in crisis for all of us tomorrow.
"We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy."