- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dogs on roofs, dogs on the menu, wars on women, bureaucrats behaving badly — with the drama largely drained from the Republican nominating race and not much on the schedule until August, the campaign’s silly season has begun in earnest.

Like the Olympics, it comes around every four years — a stretch of the campaign calendar before the general election cranks into high gear, where substance tends to be overshadowed by headline-grabbing salvos, petty potshots, and overall political wackiness.

“The substance is still there, but the intensity of the primary is now over,” GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said. “The media, along with political junkies on both sides of the aisle, are looking for more drama to watch and discuss.”

Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of Southern Florida, summed up this leg of the campaign in a handful of words: “frivolous, detached from reality, intentional obfuscation.”

Since Rick Santorum dropped his presidential bid two weeks ago, the Republican and Democratic operatives have been exchanging snarky comments about who treats dogs better, the president or Mr. Romney.

Newt Gingrich’s biggest news item of the past couple of weeks? The Republican candidate was bit by a penguin.

Then there’s the so-called “war on women.”

Responding to Democrats’ claim that his party’s opposition to government-subsidized contraception coverage shows they are bent on “turning back the clock of women,” Mr. Romney resorted to what best could be described as the “I know you are but what am I” defense.

“The real war on women has been waged by the Obama administration’s failure on the economy,” Mr. Romney told a crowd in Delaware, holding up data that showed that women held nine out of 10 jobs lost during the Obama administration.

The political drama escalated after Hillary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, suggested that Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, shouldn’t be held up as an expert on the economy because she has never held down a real job in her life.

Mrs. Romney retaliated via Twitter, fueling a plethora of stories about women in the workplace and stay-at-home moms. “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys,” Mrs. Romney said in her online counterpunch. “Believe me, it was hard work.”

The next day, she opened her husband’s remarks to the thousands gathered for the annual National Rifle Association soiree in St. Louis by giving a “shoutout to all moms that are working.”

The Obama administration quickly retreated from Ms. Rosen’s remarks, while his allies worked to open up another front in this guilt-by-association battle, this time attempting to tie Mr. Romney to Ted Nugent, the gun-loving rocker who endorsed the former Massachusetts governor and told the NRA crowd that he would be either “dead or in jail” if Mr. Obama is re-elected.

“We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November,” Mr. Nugent said, sparking an uproar from Democrats.

The political dogfight then turned to, well, dogs.

After months of being lampooned by late-night comedians and mocked by Democrats for the tale of the Romney family’s 1983 cross-country trip with the family dog, Seamus, in a pet crate strapped to the top of the station wagon, Mrs. Romney fought back.

“The dog loved it,” Mrs. Romney’s assured Diane Sawyer of ABC News. “He would see that crate, and he would go crazy because he was going with us on vacation. It was, to me, a kinder thing to bring him along than to leave him in the kennel for two weeks.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have been firing off one-liners over an often overlooked section of Mr. Obama’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father” in which he talks about eating dog meat as a child.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the party’s 2008 nominee, posted a photo of his son Jimmy’s bulldog on Twitter with the quip: “Good pic of my son Jimmy’s bulldog, Apollo — I’m sorry Mr. President, he’s not on the menu!”

And months after Obama campaign manager David Axelrod tweeted out “How loving owners transport their dogs,” along with a photo of Mr. Obama with his dog Bo in the presidential limo, Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Romney aide, delivered a solid comeback, again via twitter.

“In hindsight, a chilling photo,” he said.

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