ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Gregory Simmons report:
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stumbled into controversial territory Friday night at a forum for potential presidential candidates here, suggesting that Republicans “hang” President Obama with a so-called “Misery Index.”
Romney, an all-but-declared presidential contender, was answering a question at an Americans For Prosperity event about what he would do to curb rising gas prices when he suddenly found his way into -- and then quickly out of -- the verbal gaffe.
“We’re going to hang the Obama Misery Index around his neck,” Romney told a crowd of conservative activists, before saying: “We’re going to hang him with that, so to speak.”
Apparently realizing his choice of words, Romney paused, and added “metaphorically.”
“You have to be careful these days,” he said.
Romney's reference to the “Misery Index,” was, as he acknowledged, a throwback to a term that then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan used to describe public discontent about economic conditions during debates with incumbent President Jimmy Carter during the 1980 election.
"It is not what the governor meant and that was very clear in what he actually said," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told ABC News.
Here’s the full exchange:
“I just can’t help but notice that -- you remember during the Ronald Reagan- Jimmy Carter debates that Ronald Reagan came up with this great thing about the “Misery Index” and that he hung that around Jimmy Carter’s neck?” Romney said. “That had a lot to do with Jimmy Carter losing.”
“Well, we’re going to hang the Obama Misery Index around his neck. And I’ll tell you the fact that you’ve got people in this country really squeezed with gasoline getting so expensive, commodities getting so expensive, families are having a hard time making ends meet. We’re going to talk about that and housing foreclosures, bankruptcies and higher taxation.”
“We’re going to hang him with that so to speak, metaphorically, uh, with, uh -- you have to be careful these days -- with the Obama Misery Index.”