University of Virginia political guru Dr. Larry J. Sabato tells Newsmax that President Barack Obama’s re-election machine has launched an anti-Mitt Romney campaign that won’t stop attacking the former Massachusetts governor until Election Day 2012.
“They are unloading on him early, and will never stop until Election Day,” Sabato tells Newsmax. “Now, if they can damage Romney early and get a weaker general election opponent like [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich, they'll be delighted.”
His remarks came as the Romney campaign fired back Wednesday at allegations they had distorted Obama’s words for a campaign ad running in New Hampshire.
Romney's campaign said it will not pull a television ad criticized for being dishonest in its use of an out-of-context quote by Obama.
Gail Gitcho, communications director for the Romney, said the campaign stands by the ad, which shows Obama speaking during the 2008 presidential race.
In the clip, Obama said, "If we keep talking about the economy, we are going to lose." The ad appears to be an admission that his stewardship of the economy is failing.
But Obama was actually quoting an adviser to then-Republican rival Sen. John McCain at the time.
The weak economic recovery from the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the stubborn 9 percent unemployment rate are so far the key issues heading into the 2012 race for the White House.
"We were upfront about the content of the ad - we sent out e-mails, cited the quote in our press release, talked to reporters about it, etc," Gitcho said in an e-mail. "We were very upfront. We included that portion intentionally."
The White House on Tuesday condemned the ad, accusing the Romney campaign of dishonesty.
While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has risen in recent national polls, Romney is among the front-runners to win the party's nomination to take on Obama.
Gitcho said the Republican's campaign is "not backing down just because Democrats don't like an ad from our campaign."
Republican strategist Kevin Madden, an adviser to the Romney campaign, noted that the ad had an approval disclaimer from Romney indicating the candidate approved of the language and quote used in the ad.
Madden said the ad is proof Romney will go hard after Obama in the race for the White House in 2012.
"It's very important that Republican voters know the Romney campaign is going to take the fight to Obama and never give them even an inch," Madden said.
Several political analysts have speculated that with unemployment at historically high levels, President Barack Obama’s only realistic path back to the presidency is a bare-knuckled campaign disparaging his Republican opponent. Such a strategy would be designed to shift public attention off the dismal economy, and raise fears the GOP alternative could be too risky.
"The Obama campaign is trying to set in place the premise that the Romney campaign's first ad is fundamentally deceptive and as a result one ought to be wary of all subsequent ads," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
"If that argument sticks, it's a very significant blow to the Romney campaign."
Obama’s political strategists, Sabato says, see Romney as the most difficult Republican to defeat in a general election. One reason Team Obama would prefer to face Gingrich, he adds: His extensive political baggage and what Sabato calls his “likeability deficit.”
“In that sense, Newt is just like [former Democratic presidential candidates] Al Gore and John Kerry,” says Sabato. “Swing voters never much liked them even if they agreed with them, and they don't take to Newt especially well either.”
Sabato tells Newsmax that it is difficult to predict the political impact of the congressional supercommittee’s failure to reach a deal on the deficit.
“While this is a giant failure,” he says, “it's a failure shared by both parties. Predictably, each side now has a good argument to use while blaming the other party.”
Sabato, the director of the university’s Center for Politics, says President Obama clearly has been unable to fulfill his promises of post-partisan governance. “No doubt he'd blame the Republicans--but that just proves the overall point,” he says.
“We live in a highly political, hyper-partisan era that has been around since Reagan in one form or another. There is no reason to think it will dissolve anytime soon.
“The gulf between the parties on a wide range of issues has widened considerably in the last two decades. This is reflected not just in Congress but in the electorate,” he adds.
Sabato notes that Gore, Kerry, and Gingrich all have something in common: A manner of speaking that sometimes comes off as didactic, if not condescending. He said that could account for their weak standing with swing voters.
“It may be the lecturing, hectoring professor in all three politicians,” he quips. “And as a professor, I'm allowed to say that!”
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