Total Pageviews

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Obama Campaign Tries to Distance Itself From Widely Criticized \'Super PAC\' Ad


President Obama's top advisers have spent the last 36 hours trying to put distance between their candidate and a “super PAC” ad that lays the blame for the death of a cancer victim at Mitt Romney's feet.

But in doing so, Mr. Obama's staff has been accused of lying by Republicans.

The ad, by Priorities USA Action, features a man named Joe Soptic, who worked at a steel mill owned by Bain Capital, Mr. Romney's private equity firm. In the ad, Mr. Soptic tells the story of his wife's dying of cancer after the plant was shut down by Bain.

“That's when they found the cancer. By then, it was Stage Four. There was nothing they could do for her. She passed away in 22 days,” Mr. Soptic says in the ad. “I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone. Furthermore, I don't think Mitt Romney is concerned.”

The ad has been widely criticized for going too far in sug gesting that Mr. Romney is responsible for the death of Mr. Soptic's wife. Federal law does not allow presidential campaigns to coordinate with groups like Priorities USA Action.

Pressed about the ad by reporters, Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama, said she didn't “know the facts about when Mr. Soptic's wife got sick or the facts about his health insurance.”

Jen Psaki, a top spokeswoman for Mr. Obama, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday that “we don't have any knowledge of the story of the family.” She was apparently referring to knowledge among campaign staff members of Mr. Soptic's story involving his wife's illness.

But in May, Ms. Cutter led a conference call in which Mr. Soptic was given a platform to tell his story. During the call, Mr. Soptic described the difficulties his family faced after the plant closed, including his wife's cancer. (Ms. Psaki had not rejoined the Obama campaign at the time of the c onference call.)

“When the cancer took her away, all I got was an enormous bill,” Mr. Soptic said on the call. “It wouldn't have happened if I had my old job at the steel mill.”

Mr. Soptic also appeared in an ad produced by Mr. Obama's campaign, though he did not tell the story of his wife's death in that ad.

Aides to Mr. Obama did not say they were unaware of Mr. Soptic's existence, a position which would have been impossible to maintain. But they said they did not know details about his wife's illness, her dealings with insurance and her death.

“No one is denying that he was in one of our campaign ads, he was on a conference call telling his story which many, many people in this country have gone through as there have been layoffs and they have had their benefits reduced,” Ms. Psaki said on Thursday. “What is clear here again is that we are focusing so much on an ad that has not run yet that is done by an outside group.”

Ms. Ps aki and Ms. Cutter have both repeatedly stressed that the campaign did not produce the ad by the super PAC.

But that response has not been enough to satisfy Mr. Romney's supporters, who said Mr. Obama's advisers should be held to account. The Republican National Committee released a video on Thursday asking, “if they're lying about this, what else are they lying about?”

And Mr. Romney's campaign has been aggressive, too.

“President Obama and his campaign are willing to say and do anything to hide the president's disappointing record,” said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Mr. Romney's campaign. “The president and his campaign are intentionally misleading voters about their clear connection to this false and despicable attack because they do not want to talk about his failed economic policies.”

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.