The Ticket

Obama spokesman declines to repudiate cancer ad

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined Friday to repudiate an independent ad that ties Mitt Romney to the cancer death of a laid-off steelworker's wife, as the controversy over that misleading commercial dragged into another day.

"We do not control third-party ads," Carney told reporters at his daily briefing. He had been asked whether President Barack Obama would repudiate the Priorities USA Action spot, now perhaps the most talked-about commercial of the 2012 cycle even though it hasn't actually aired—and owes its notoriety to media coverage.

Obama officials have expressed increasing frustration that the furor over the ad has all but drowned out complaints by the Democrat's campaign about Romney's misleading claim that the president has gutted the requirement that welfare recipients actively seek work to qualify for benefits. That charge isn't true, according to numerous fact-checking and media organizations, which have noted that the Obama administration's proposal requires states to increase by 20 percent the number of people moving from the welfare rolls to work. And unlike the outlandish cancer claim, it's coming directly from the Romney campaign and the candidate himself.

"There is a substantial difference between a blatantly false ad produced by and paid for by a campaign—in this case, the Romney campaign—and ads produced by third-party groups," Carney said.

The Romney campaign has seized on missteps by Obama campaign aides who at first claimed not to know the details of former steelworker Joe Soptic—only to have to reverse course when it emerged that Soptic's tale played a key role in a campaign conference call with reporters. That led Romney aides to accuse their Democratic counterparts of lying about the campaign's connections to the story.

And Team Obama has other headaches: First, top Obama adviser David Plouffe raised money for Priorities USA. Second, Carney himself has repeatedly urged Romney in the past to repudiate third-party attacks on the president.

He did that again on Friday, asking whether anyone was pressing "the Republican candidate or some other Republican leader to denounce the other third-party Republican super PAC ad that questions whether or not the president is an American citizen."

Senior Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom argued Friday that Obama had "squandered" public goodwill stemming from promises to be the kind of post-partisan politician who could change the tone in Washington.

"I don't think a world champion limbo dancer could get any lower than the Obama campaign right now," Fehrnstrom said.

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