(CNN) - While President Barack Obama walked back his remarks last week and said it was "absolutely clear" that the economy, in fact, was "not doing fine," his campaign's senior adviser on Sunday had a hard time making the same concession.
Asked repeatedly about the president's initial comments, in which Obama said Friday the private sector was "doing fine" compared to the public sector, David Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the private sector certainly needs more jobs but did not go as far as mirroring the president's clarification on the state of the economy.
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Pressed by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on whether the administration really believes the private sector is fine, Axelrod continued to point to the need for more public sector jobs.
"We need to accelerate job creation in the private sector. One of the ways that we can do that is putting teachers and fire fighters and police back to work because those are good middle class jobs," Axelrod said.
Ryan Williams, spokesman for the Romney campaign, pounced on the interview, saying Axelrod was dancing around the question.
“When even your own chief strategist can’t defend your comments, it indicates that your assessment of the economy might be wrong,” Williams said in a statement.
Axelrod, in turn, faulted Republicans for attacking the president's comments, saying they were "more eager to have a debate over an out-of-context clause" than the "substance of what (Obama) says."
In full context, Obama said during a Friday press conference that 4.3 million jobs had been added in the private sector in the last 27 months.
"The private sector's doing fine," Obama said. "Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in."
After a firestorm ignited over his remarks, the president spoke again later in the day in an attempt to clarify his comments.
“That's why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this part month, this past year talking about how we can make this economy stronger," Obama said in the Oval Office. "The economy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work. The housing market is still weak, there are too many homes underwater."
Responding to the president's remarks Friday, Republican challenger Mitt Romney accused Obama of being out of touch and drew fire of his own when he suggested government should cut back on public jobs.
"(Obama) wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers," Romney said at a press conference in Utah. "Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
Axelrod reiterated a swipe his team took on Friday, faulting Romney for being what he called "too light on the notion that we should help state and local governments keep teachers, fire fighter on the job."
"What planet is he living on where he thinks that we can take these kind of hits in our education system and progress as a country?" Axelrod said Sunday.
- CNN's Shawna Shepherd, Kevin Liptak and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.
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