Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, offered a deal in an open letter to his counterpart, saying that if Mr. Romney released his tax returns from 2007 to 2011, Democrats would promise not to demand any more.
“If the governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more — neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign,” Mr. Messina wrote to Matt Rhoades, Mr. Romney’s campaign manager.
Mr. Messina said the offer should satisfy Mr. Romney’s oft-stated concerns that his adversaries will always continue to ask for more and more. But Mr. Messina pointedly did not promise that Democrats would hold their fire on the contents of the tax returns.
He said a release of five years would “help answer outstanding questions raised by the one return he has released to date, such as the range in the effective rates paid, the foreign accounts maintained, the foreign investments made, and the types of tax shelters used.”
Mr. Rhoades was quick with a response Friday morning, but did not say whether Mr. Romney would commit to a release of any additional tax returns.
“It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending,” Mr. Rhoades wrote in a response released to reporters. “If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days.
The offer came a day after Mr. Romney once again confronted the vexing issue of his taxes, which Democrats have used to portray him as out of touch with middle-class values.
Mr. Romney made the remarks at a hastily arranged news conference at an airport in South Carolina, calling the interest in his personal tax returns “small-minded” in light of the nation’s problems. Nonetheless, he said that he had examined the last 10 years of his personal tax returns after Democrats suggested that he might not have paid anything at all in some years.
“Every year, I’ve paid at least 13 percent,” he said, referring to his effective federal income tax rate, which is a higher effective rate than most people pay.
Mr. Romney’s decision Thursday to address the tax question appeared to be an off-the-cuff attempt to put the nettlesome issue behind him once and for all. But at least initially, it had the opposite effect. Democrats seized on his comments to revive the issue and to once again demand proof of his claims by releasing multiple years of his tax returns.
The re-emergence of the tax issue consumed another day of the campaign and added to the sense of a shift in direction for a candidate who had once steadfastly refused to talk about anything other than job losses during Mr. Obama’s tenure, the unemployment rate and the nation’s growing debt.
Now, after Mr. Romney’s decision to name Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential choice, the campaign is instead waging an aggressive battle on Medicare, welfare and Mr. Obama’s character. That change in focus can be seen in the campaign’s ads and in Mr. Romney’s speeches. And it stands in contrast to the approaches of some Republican Congressional candidates, who said Thursday that they intended to wage their own campaigns strictly on economic issues.
“We are staying on our message,” said Chris Collins, the Republican candidate in New York’s 27th District, near Buffalo. Mr. Collins said that Republicans should welcome the Medicare debate, but that in his own campaign, “every time anything comes up, I bring it back to the economy, the economy, Obamacare.” NYT