- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2011

The first Republican presidential primary may be more than two months away, but some Democrats are convinced that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will be the eventual GOP nominee — and they already are rolling out their general election attack strategy.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning, White House senior adviser David Plouffe said Mr. Romney “has no core,” an assault on the Republican front-runner’s track record of changing positions on issues. Many conservatives also remain skeptical of Mr. Romney, who is seen as especially vulnerable to charges of flip-flopping but remains at or near the top in most polls.

Businessman Herman Cain is now Mr. Romney’s biggest threat and has overtaken him in Iowa, polls show.

On Sunday, however, Mr. Plouffe all but ignored questions about Mr. Cain and instead directed his fire at Mr. Romney, a sign that the Obama administration thinks other Republican candidates ultimately will falter.

The Democratic strategy looks likely to mirror those of Mr. Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican presidential contenders: Question Mr. Romney’s conviction.

Mr. Romney “was supportive of doing things like a cap-and-trade agreement. Now he doesn’t think climate change is real,” Mr. Plouffe said. “He was an extremely pro-choice governor; now be believes that life begins at conception. He’s moved all over the place. You get the sense with Mitt Romney that if he thought it was good to say the sky was green and the grass was blue to win an election, he’d say it.”

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said the Obama administration’s attacks were signs of desperation and predicted they would fail.

“President Obama can’t run on his abysmal economic record, and he is desperate to distract from the historic loss of middle-class jobs that has occurred on his watch. Americans won’t be fooled by false and negative attacks — they know that President Obama has failed, and they are eager to replace him with a leader like Mitt Romney who can turn around our struggling economy,” Mr. Williams said.

Nevertheless, the “flip-flopper” attacks hit on a long-standing perception about Mr. Romney and one that cost him in the 2008 Republican primaries. It has acquired new traction in recent weeks as the Romney campaign has had to explain a variety of statements that seem to contradict his past positions.

He told an audience last week that he doesn’t know what is causing climate change, though he previously said that humans were contributing to a warming of the Earth. His campaign later said that Mr. Romney does think human activity is a factor, but isn’t sure how great a role it plays.

Mr. Romney also had to clarify his stance on a proposed law in Ohio that would limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees. He initially said he didn’t know enough to comment, but later said he backs the legislation “110 percent.”

Those apparent contradictions have deepened the reservations of many conservatives and tea party activists and have left some Republicans searching for a credible alternative. Mr. Cain is the favorite among the anti-Romney crowd, but other candidates who have been in that position have foundered.

After entering the race in August, Mr. Perry quickly soared to the top of the Republican field by riding his reputation as a job creator. Since then, however, his support has sunk to single digits in many polls. The fall has been partly attributed to Mr. Perry’s poor performances in the GOP debates, where his attempted attacks on Mr. Romney often fell flat and left some in the party wondering whether he could handle the rigors of a presidential campaign.

Mr. Perry brushed off that criticism on Sunday, telling voters that despite his underwhelming debate efforts, he could easily hold his own in a back-and-forth with President Obama next fall.

“I’m not worried a bit that I’ll be able to stand on the stage with Barack Obama and draw a very bright line, a real contrast,” he said on “Fox News Sunday,” though he acknowledged that he is “not the best debater in the world.”

Although he has agreed to participate in future GOP debates, Mr. Perry said he will place more emphasis on retail politics, meeting with voters in Iowa and other critical states.

Before Mr. Perry’s surge, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, was Mr. Romney’s top rival. She, too, has dropped in the polls but remains optimistic that she can resurrect her campaign during the Iowa caucuses in January.
“I’m doing exactly what I need to do in Iowa. We’re not worried about the day-to-day snapshots” of primary polls, Mrs. Bachmann said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Despite the challenges by Mr. Perry, Mrs. Bachmann, Mr. Cain and others, Mr. Romney is considered by pundits to be the clear Republican favorite. Even his critics recognize that his campaign has been effective at damage control, and Mr. Romney continues to turn in strong debate performances.

“He’s pretty smooth in answering” charges of flip-flopping, said rival candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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