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Romney birth certificate remark sets off firestorm

Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally with vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Friday, Aug. 24, 2012 in Commerce, Mich. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Updated at 5:22 p.m. ET

(CBS News) COMMERCE, Mich. -- Despite his previous reticence to go anywhere near controversy over President Obama's birthplace, Mitt Romney dove in headfirst on Friday with a joke that touched off the latest round of partisan fireworks between the two campaigns.

Speaking to a crowd of several thousand people at an orchard farm and cider mill in his home state of Michigan, Romney raised the subject while reminiscing about growing up here with his wife, Ann.

"I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born. Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital," Romney said. "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."

In an attempt to tamp down speculation that the presumptive Republican nominee was himself raising doubts about the president's birthplace, Romney aide Kevin Madden sent an email to reporters saying the candidate was "only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised."

"The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States," Madden wrote.

(Watch: Romney: No one questions my birth certificate.)

In an interview later with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, Romney said his remark was an off-the-cuff joke -- not a "swipe" at the president.

"No no, not a swipe," Romney said. "I've said throughout the campaign and before, there's no question about where he was born. He was born in the U.S. This was fun about us, and coming home. And humor, you know -- we've got to have a little humor in a campaign."

Nevertheless, the remarks drew a quick response from Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, who emailed reporters the minute Romney finished speaking.

"Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them," wrote LaBolt. "It's one thing to give the stage in Tampa to Donald Trump, [Arizona] Sheriff [Joe] Arpaio, and [Kansas Secretary of State] Kris Kobach. But Governor Romney's decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America."

Obama's official Twitter account responded with a tweet: "Song of the day: 'Born in the U.S.A.,'" with a link to the 1984 Bruce Springsteen anthem.

The outrage from Democrats, in turn, led Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer to point an accusatory finger at Democrats and accuse them of hypocrisy.

"I found it somewhat laughable that these guys who have taken gutter politics to a new low, if you can do that, are suddenly feigning outrage about this kind of comment," Spicer said on MSNBC.

Romney's quip dominated headlines from the event, which was supposed to be focused on "President Obama's failures on the economy and the Romney-Ryan Plan for a Stronger Middle Class," according to a campaign aide who previewed the event for reporters.

With the beginning of the week dominated by controversy over comments about rape by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, the campaign's economic message has been largely overshadowed in the runup to the Republican National Convention.

Trump's embrace of Romney -- and, until Friday, Romney's decision to stay far away from the birth certificate issue -- has forced his campaign into awkward situations in the past. The business mogul and reality TV star revived charges that the president was born in Kenya last May, just as he was set to appear at a fundraiser with Romney in Las Vegas.

Madden at the time told MSNBC that Romney disagreed with Trump about the birth certificate.

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