After accusing President Obama of keeping his real second-term agenda out of the public eye, Mitt Romney found himself on the receiving end of a similar line of attack from Democrats, who said the former Massachusetts governor is the one hiding his true political colors.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Robert E. Andrews of New Jersey said in a conference call arranged by the Democratic National Committee that Mr. Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, offered a glimpse of his secret political plans when he suggested at a closed-door fundraiser over the weekend that he'd shrink the Department of Education and eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"Now it's safe to predict that this was a hot mic moment that will linger for Governor Romney," Mr. Schumer said, alluding to the fact that the remarks were unexpectedly heard by reporters waiting outside the event. "Everyone knows that Mitt Romney has had his share of gaffes in this campaign. But in this case, it was not misspeaking. This was a raw moment of candor where he gave his unvarnished views."
The Romney camp quickly responded that the Obama administration and its surrogates "cannot bear to face" the president's record on high unemployment, tax increases and debt.
"No matter how hard President Obama tries to run from his record, Governor Romney is going to continue talking about his plans to get the country back on the right track," Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul said.
The questions of candor picked up speed last month after Mr. Obama 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. Republicans have since held up the exchange as proof that Mr. Obama could pursue a radical left-wing agenda if he captures another term in the White House.
Mr. Romney, for instance, warned the National Rifle Association in an address at its annual meeting on Friday that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms would be at risk if Mr. Obama is around for another four years. "In a second term, he would be unrestrained by the demands of re-election," he said. "As he told the Russian president last month when he thought no one else was listening, after his re-election he'll have a lot more, quote, 'flexibility' to do what he wants. I'm not exactly sure what he meant by that, but looking at his first three years, I have a very good idea."
Democrats, meanwhile, have argued that Mr. Romney can't be trusted, saying he's been all over the map on the issues and has exhibited a "penchant for secrecy" over the course of his career and during the campaign.
They've pointed to his refusal to release the names of his big money fundraisers and reluctance to hand over more than a couple years' worth of tax returns. And they've highlighted how his gubernatorial aides purchased their state-issued hard drives and erased emails from the server at the end of his single term, leaving behind no email record from his four-year term.
Democrats are hoping to capitalize on the comments the former Massachusetts governor made at a high-dollar fundraiser this weekend in Florida.
"I'm going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them," Mr. Romney said, according to reporters who heard the remarks while standing on the sidewalk outside the event. "Some eliminate, but I'm probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go. Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later."
In their "What is Romney Hiding" conference call on Monday, Democrats said the episode showed that Mr. Romney is only willing to share details of his policy plans with his most "well-heeled" supporters, while warning that he is willing to cut programs beneficial to the middle class to help cover the cost of a $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.
"Part of the mystery of the Romney campaign is beginning to be revealed and its not a pretty picture for the middle class," Mr. Andrews said. "It's no wonder it is something he has not wanted to talk about over the months, but he is going to have to talk about it now."
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