In a presidential campaign that has increasingly turned to mudslinging on both sides to score points with voters, the Romney campaign is pushing Obama’s team to repudiate a negative commercial that links Mitt Romney to the cancer death of the wife of a steelworker who said he lost his health insurance in a Bain Capital purging.
The ad was done by a third-party Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, so it wasn’t created by the Obama campaign—a position that White House spokesman Jay Carney was leaning on heavily yesterday.
“We do not control third-party ads,” Carney told reporters at yesterday’s daily briefing.
The ad has been hammered by Republicans—even though it never actually aired. The steelworker lost his job—and his wife died—after Romney had already left Bain, meaning any links between the woman’s death and Romney decision-making is quite dubious.
Carney was frustrated that the media questioning focused on the cancer ad and not the commercial produced by the Romney campaign that misleads viewers into thinking Obama had changed the welfare-to-work requirements.
The ad opens with then-President Bill Clinton signing the welfare reform act in 1996, which put time limits on government assistance and was intended to steer people toward employment and independence from public assistance.
“But on July 12,” the ad says, “President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check, and ‘welfare to work’ goes back to being plain old welfare.”
What the ad really refers to is a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that states would be allowed to try different ways of meeting the work requirements of the federal law, which requires states to show they are moving people off welfare and into the workforce.
“There is a substantial difference between a blatantly false ad produced by and paid for by a campaign—in this case, the Romney campaign—and ads produced by third-party groups,” Carney said.
But although the Obama campaign wants to distance itself from the cancer ad, Obama officials actually used the steelworker’s story in a conference call with reporters. And top Obama advisor David Plouffe raised money for Priorities USA.
Senior Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the president had “squandered” public goodwill after promising to be a politician who would change the nastiness of Washington.
“I don’t think a world champion limbo dancer could get any lower than the Obama campaign right now,” Fehrnstrom said.