MARION, Ohio — In the waning days of the election, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is playing up his bipartisan prowess, wooing voters with the notion that he will be the post-partisan leader that President Obama promised but failed to be.
But spinning that campaign rhetoric into a legislative reality will be easier said than done — namely, because anything that Mr. Romney wants to accomplish will have to go through Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the biggest Democratic power broker on Capitol Hill, if Mr. Reid's party retains control of the Senate in next week’s elections.
The Nevada Democrat, a fellow Mormon and former pugilist, has spent months trying to knock out Mr. Romney’s campaign. He has called the former Massachusetts governor a “plastic man” and claimed, without evidence, that Mr. Romney went 10 years without paying income taxes despite having a net worth upwards of $250 million.
Mr. Reid has said that the Republican presidential nominee “is not the face of Mormonism” and has “sullied the religion.”
Perhaps more telling about what’s to come from the potential legislative marriage if Mr. Romney wins the Nov. 6 election, Mr. Reid said that the U.S. Senate would not confirm Mr. Romney as a “dogcatcher.”
But Mr. Romney has played up the notion at campaign stops in Iowa, Florida and Ohio in recent days that he can forge a working relationship with Mr. Reid — although he and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, have vowed to chop down some of Mr. Reid’s signature accomplishments, including the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations and Mr. Obama’s health care law.
“We’re going to meet with Democrat and Republican leaders in Washington regularly,” Mr. Romney said at a recent campaign stop in Ames, Iowa.
Jim Manley, Mr. Reid’s longtime aide, said he finds Mr. Romney’s pledges of bipartisanship amusing and that they probably will come crashing down, thanks to the conservative wing of Mr. Romney's party, which has little or no appetite for compromise.
“Have to chuckle when I hear stuff like that,” Mr. Manley said of Mr. Romney’s attempts to cast himself as a post-partisan figure and his assertion on the stump that “when a barn needs to be built, people in the whole community come together.”
“It will never happen,” Mr. Manley said. “Right-wing conservatives still have a strong hold in the House and Senate. Despite his recent mad dash to the center, if it didn’t involve tax cuts for the wealthy, right-wing conservatives would question the cost of rebuilding the barn and call it socialism.”
Mr. Manley said conservative Republicans nearly torpedoed the deal to raise the national debt ceiling — thus preventing the U.S. from defaulting on its debt — despite the deal having been hashed out last summer between House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Mr. Reid.
“There was a group in the House that was prepared to see the country default. They couldn’t care less about negotiating in good faith,” Mr. Manley said, adding that it would be Mr. Romney’s responsibility to reach out to Mr. Reid.
“After the 2008 election, Reid famously said of his fellow Democrat Barack Obama that he works with the president and not for the president,” Mr. Manley said. “So, Romney would have to make the first move.”
That prospect of a Romney-Reid world edged closer Sunday after the Ohio News Organization Poll released a survey that showed Mr. Romney has pulled even with Mr. Obama at 49 percent apiece just a month after Mr. Obama held a 51 percent to 46 percent edge in the same Buckeye State poll.
“It is clear that those voters want to see the economy fixed and the country put back on track. So, when you marshal the public behind the right ideas, you can get things done in Washington. Obama never did that. He ignored the public’s concerns about his wrongheaded policies,” Mr. Madden said.
Asked about the potential Reid-Romney showdown, top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said he did not “want to discuss specific personalities” before turning back to a familiar talking point that Mr. Romney proved in Massachusetts, where the legislature was 85 percent Democrat, that he can work across party lines.
“To the extent that he got anything done, it was done in cooperation with Democrats that controlled the legislature,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said.
Mr. Romney pounded home the message at a gym in Celina, telling the 2,000 people in attendance that as governor he worked with Democrats to reduce spending, cut taxes and balance the state budget, as required by law.
“We did that together, Republicans and Democrats. We have got to do that in Washington. It is going to happen,” Mr. Romney said.
At three Ohio campaign stops Sunday, Mr. Romney also boasted that part of the reason he tapped Mr. Ryan as his sidekick is because the Wisconsin Republican worked with Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, on a bipartisan plan to strengthen Medicare.
The plan, though, was actually a white paper and Democrats pushed back, saying that Mr. Wyden voted against a version of the plan when Mr. Ryan put it in his budget blueprint. Also, Democrats point out that Mr. Romney still does not mention the marquee bipartisan accomplishment of his gubernatorial stint — the universal health care program he signed into law — and spent 417 days outside the state trying to raise his profile for a presidential bid instead of working with Democrats to do the job he was elected to do.
“The American people can’t trust a word Mitt Romney says, especially when he claims he’d work across the aisle as president,” said Danny Kanner, an Obama campaign spokesman. “As governor, he refused to work with Democrats in the legislature. And throughout this campaign, he’s refused to stand up to the most extreme voices in his own party.”
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