- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The general-election campaign unofficially kicked off Tuesday with Mitt Romney continuing to sharpen his criticism of President Obama, saying a second term for the incumbent would be dangerous because he is not being upfront about the policies he plans to pursue.

The Romney line of attack echoes that of Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, who has warned his group’s supporters that the president is trying to lull them into complacency and then would use a second term to “destroy the Second Amendment.”

Republican concerns about a second term were exacerbated by an exchange Mr. Obama had last month when he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev — in a conversation caught on an open microphone — that he will “have more flexibility” after the 2012 election to work on issues such as missile defense.

On Tuesday, Mr. Romney, now the likely Republican presidential nominee in the wake of challenger Rick Santorum’s decision to suspend his campaign, pounced on Mr. Obama’s unguarded moment.

“He is clearly trying to hide from us what he intends to do,” Mr. Romney said at a town-hall meeting in Delaware. “You don’t say that to the head of Russia without making it very clear to anyone listening that you have plans after your re-election that are different from those that you’re willing to tell the American people. So, he’s going to hide, and it’s my job to seek — and our job to seek. It is going to be a hide-and-seek campaign.”

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the criticism works because the Medvedev episode is symbolic of Mr. Obama’s modus operandi.

“This plays right into what people already know about him: He says one thing to get elected and does something else once he gets elected,” Mr. Norquist said. “He told him, ‘I’m going to tell you now that I will do something different than what I will tell the American people.’ What do you think is said when they step into a dark room?”

Keith Appell, a GOP strategist, said Mr. Romney stands to gain by making an issue of Mr. Obama’s “inconsistencies.”

“Perhaps the most damning are how Obama said he would cut the deficit in half in his first term and only raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year, but three years later, both the deficit and national debt have exploded, and Obamacare alone carries taxes and penalties that would hit working families where it hurts the most,” Mr. Appell said.

Democrats counter that Mr. Obama has fulfilled campaign promises to end the war in Iraq, halt the nation’s financial meltdown and get the economy running again.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and senior director at Quinn Gillespie & Associates, offered a short rebuttal: “He killed [Osama] bin Laden — enough said.”

Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist at Hilltop Public Solutions, said Mr. Romney’s rivals in the GOP contest knocked him as a flip-flopper for good reason.

Mitt Romney is the last person in America who ought to be lecturing on trustworthiness,” Mr. Elleithee said. “You give Mitt Romney four years, you have no idea what he’s going to do, because he keeps switching his positions every other day.”

The Obama campaign previewed its own line of attack on Mr. Romney on Tuesday after Mr. Santorum’s exit.

“It’s no surprise that Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads. But neither he nor his special-interest allies will be able to buy the presidency with their negative attacks,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. “The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him and the less they trust him.”

The Santorum exit prompted the remaining contenders, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, to reach out to the former Pennsylvania senator’s supporters.

Mr. Gingrich took to Twitter to ask for donations and urge Santorum backers to join him in a “last stand for conservatives.”

The Paul campaign said the congressman is “the last — and real — conservative alternative.”

But for Mr. Romney, the focus now is clearly on the general election. He even said he will begin weighing potential running mates.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week carried some good news and bad news for the ex-governor: Compared with Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney is seen as better equipped to handle the economy and tackle the federal budget deficit.

The survey, though, also showed Mr. Obama was the more likable of the two candidates and is seen as more consistent on his positions.

In the poll, Mr. Obama leads Mr. Romney 51 percent to 44 percent, thanks in part to a large lead among women.

Seeking to recapture some of those voters on Tuesday, Mr. Romney and his surrogates blamed Mr. Obama for “waging a war on women in the workplace,” saying that 858,000 women have lost jobs during the Obama presidency, which is “turning the clock back 20 years on American women.”

Brian Nick, a GOP strategist, said the new narrative could help move undecided voters in Mr. Romney’s direction by dirtying Mr. Obama’s image.

“If you are able to chip away at the president’s earnestness and credibility and trustworthiness, that could be a major kink in the armor,” Mr. Nick said. “Voters generally like him, and they sort of think he might be doing things for the right reason or whatever. But if you can show some examples that fly in the face of that, and that this guy is quite the partisan, it could go a long way.”

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