Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a potshot at California's bedraggled economy, comparing it to the crisis in Greece, as he warned voters that Barack Obama is leading the nation down a similar path of huge debt.
"Entrepreneurs and business people around the world and here at home think that at some point America is going to become like Greece or like Spain or Italy, or like California - just kidding about that one, in some ways,» he added, to laughter from his audience in Iowa.
The remark seemed likely to bruise egos in a state wrestling with the prospect of tax increases and painful budget cuts. But Mr Romney may have little to lose there - polls show Mr Obama with a comfortable lead in California, where Democrats control the governorship and the Statehouse.
A spokesman for California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, disputed Mr Romney's assessment. Gil Duran said the state's credit outlook has improved under Mr Brown and that borrowing costs, a major issue facing Italy and other financially struggling European nations, have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars.
"This is just a paper-thin Republican talking point that doesn't really stand up to scrutiny» Mr Duran said. «He should get some better speechwriters who actually know what they're talking about."