Sununu calls Obama un-American, then backtracks

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE- OCTOBER 24: Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens as former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu endorses him for President outside the Statehouse October 24, 2011 in Concord, New Hampshire. Romney also filed the paperwork necessary to be on the New Hampshire primary ballot. Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens as former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu endorses him for President outside the Statehouse October 24, 2011 in Concord, New Hampshire.
Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Updated at 6:00 p.m. ET

(CBS News) One of GOP candidate Mitt Romney's top surrogates, John Sununu, said on Tuesday that he wished "this president would learn how to be an American," before stating he had misspoke during a conference call organized by the campaign designed to cast the president as a corrupt politician who is out of touch with small businesses.

Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to George H.W. Bush who is known for his brash speaking style, was forced to backtrack.

"What I thought I said, but I guess I didn't say, is that the president has to learn the American formula for creating business. The American formula for creating business is not to have government create business. The American formula for creating business, that I wish he would get comfortable with, is to create a climate in which entrepreneurs can thrive. If I didn't give all of that detail I apologize," he said.

Later Tuesday, Sununu apologized in an interview with CNN. "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have used those words. And I apologize for using those words," he said.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith was quick to respond to Sununu's original comment. "The Romney campaign has officially gone off the deep end. The question is what else they'll pull to avoid answering serious questions about Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and investments in foreign tax havens and offshore accounts. This meltdown and over-the-top rhetoric won't make things better- it only calls attention to how desperate they are to change the conversation."

Sununu also tried to paint Obama as a corrupt politician by casting his background as "that murky political world in Chicago where politician and felon has become synonymous." He said the president opened himself up to the charge when his camp suggested Romney misrepresented his position at Bain Capital to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The Obama campaign has once again demonstrated that they are clearly and unequivocally a bunch of liars," Sununu said of Obama campaign ads raising questions about why Romney has not released his tax returns.

The call featured four small business owners criticizing Obama for his remarks during a campaign stop in Roanoke, Va., last week when he told successful business owners, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Obama was discussing the role of government in business development.

The men and women on the call took umbrage at Obama's remarks, which Sununu also called "insulting." Renee Amoore, a black businesswoman from Pennsylvania, said of the president, "I've been black a long time and he won't get my vote."

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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