WASHINGTON – An Obama campaign official today accused presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his Republican Party of “rooting” for bad economic news to improve their chances of winning back the White House.
The charge, made near the end of a nearly hourlong off-the-record briefing given to White House and campaign reporters, stemmed from what the official said were efforts by congressional Republicans to block President Obama’s economic recovery ideas – even ones the GOP has supported in the past – and Romney’s either explicit or implicit support for this.
The official singled out bills to prevent a doubling of student loan rates or to fund transportation projects.
“They’re putting all their chips on worsening economic news,” said the official, one of four who demanded anonymity before conducting the briefing.
The official added: “They’re rooting for it. I think the congressional leadership is working for it. That’s their entire bet. It’s not about Mitt Romney. It’s not about people rallying to his message or his cause. It’s about, ‘Maybe things will get bad enough that they’ll throw the president out and stick Mitt in.’ I mean, that’s essentially their theory. I don’t think they’re going to be rewarded for that.”
Over 50 reporters attended the briefing. They initially persuaded the campaign officials to make their comments reportable, even if anonymously. But the officials refused a request near the end of the briefing to attach individual names to the comments.
They promised the Obama headquarters in Chicago would release an on-the-record statement.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul ventured a guess at the speakers, listing the names of campaign manager Jim Messina and senior strategist David Axelrod in a statement.
“It’s ridiculous for Jim Messina and David Axelrod to hide behind their anonymity to make these unfounded accusations,” said Saul. “The truth is, Governor Romney has said repeatedly that we all want this economy to succeed but the only thing stopping it from doing so is President Obama’s failed policies.”
She included quotes in which Romney said, “I do hope things are getting better,” or a variation of that theme.
Earlier in the briefing, the first official said interest in Romney had spiked after he secured the GOP nomination in April, but the race remains essentially unchanged—and tight.
“This is an incredibly close election,” said a second official. “We’re preparing for it. And it’s part of why we believe we have an advantage on the ground.”
The first official also said that Obama and the Democratic Party expect to be outspent by the combination of the Romney campaign, the Republican Party, and super PACs supporting GOP causes.
A third aide branded the spending “one of the most significant challenges we face.”
The fourth adviser said the campaign views Congress and the administration at a “stalemate” over such major questions as tax hikes that the election will be needed to determine the direction for the country.
“We’re at a stalemate, and the American people will decide in November if they want to break that stalemate, and they will have a choice,” said the fourth official.
The officials said they have been attacking Romney’s record at Bain Capital and as governor of Massachusetts not for punitive reasons, but because he has argued that his business and gubernatorial experiences have uniquely equipped him to lead the nation’s economic recovery.
Obama ads have focused on plant closings and layoffs despite millions in Bain profits, and lagging job creation while Romney led Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
“We’re not going to allow him to run around this country … and masquerade as someone who has the secret sauce to get the economy moving again,” said the first official.
That official welcomed back reporters who had accompanied Romney on a bus trip over the weekend to the battleground states of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan.
Or, as the official quipped, the “tour of states-that-are-doing-better-but-not-because-of-Obama tour.”Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.