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In conference call, Obama officials critique Romney

By Haley Glatthorn, Daily News Editor
and Brandon Shaw, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 4, 2012

Despite former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's late surge to finish second in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign specifically attacked former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the caucuses by eight votes, in a conference call with senior campaign officials yesterday.

During the call, Obama’s national press secretary Ben LaBolt, campaign manager Jim Messina and chief strategist David Axelrod discussed Romney's slim victory, particularly focusing on Romney’s policy inconsistencies and Obama’s continuing campaign efforts.

Axelrod addressed Obama’s campaign strategy moving forward, frequently criticizing former Romney’s varying stances on major political issues. Ultimately, he said Romney’s wavering positions would hurt him if he enters the general election as the Republican nominee.

“(He has) a huge credibility issue, which has created a great deal of anxiety among Americans, among even his supporters last night,” Axelrod said. “This is the fundamental point. Taking two positions on every issue doesn’t make you a centrist, it makes you a charlatan — it makes you unreliable.”

During the call, Axelrod drew attention to the state of Michigan — where Romney’s father served as governor in the 1960s — by mentioning Romney’s controversial decision to withdraw his support for government aid in the bailout of the Detroit auto industry in 2008.

“Mitt Romney has a lot of explaining to do in Michigan,” Axelrod said. “He let Detroit go bankrupt. The President took a different view, which was that we shouldn’t cavalierly dismiss the auto industry. Romney is going to try and seize on the fact that he’s from Michigan, but the question is whether he’s for Michigan.”

Axelrod added that he believes Romney is misguided in his belief that productivity can be equated with financial stability in his economic policy stances.

“(Romney) talks about a meritocracy, but what he means is that if you have all the advantages, you should have all the advantages and everyone else should be left to fend for themselves,” Axelrod said.

Messina echoed Axelrod’s sentiments and said Obama's campaigning leading up to the caucuses was reminiscent of the “ground-up” movement built by Obama's campaign in 2007 and 2008. He added that the Obama campaign is attempting to recreate its past success by mimicking previous tactics.

“(The campaign) has continued to reach out to voters through cafés and coffee shops, just like the caucuses in 2008, building from the ground up, despite our running uncontested,” Messina said.

Obama ran unopposed in this year's Democratic caucuses and secured a victory with 98 percent of the vote, according to the Iowa Democratic Party.

Thus far, Obama’s campaign has held 1,435 training and planning sessions, house parties and phone banks, according to Messina.

Sixty two field team leaders were sent to Michigan, and 71 were sent to Colorado, both of which are battleground states in 2012, Messina said.

Despite the Obama campaign's attention to Romney’s platforms, University Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings said in an interview before the caucuses that policy may not be the most important issue to voters.

“(The caucuses) appear to have generated into kind of a popularity contest based on perceived personality traits,” Hutchings said. “The voters don’t appear to be primarily focusing on the policy implications of their choices.”

Axelrod said Romney entered and emerged from Tuesday’s contest as a “kind of weak front runner,” due to his unstable lead.

Amanda Caldwell, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said in an interview before the caucuses that all of the candidates appear to be lacking strong support, which she said was evident during events leading up to the caucuses.

“They don’t have a candidate who a lot of people are getting behind, who’s getting a lot of movement,” Caldwell said.

Though Axelrod only discussed his thoughts on Romney, he said the president’s campaign is prepared to face any nominee, regardless of whether or not Romney proves victorious.

Looking forward, Brian Koziara, external vice-chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said Romney could strengthen his campaign in New Hampshire if he emphasizes his economic experience.

“I think it all comes down to the candidate’s background and experience,” Koziara said. “Romney is seen as more adept when it comes to the economy. He’s able to handle economic issues a lot more easily and he has more widespread appeal to most independents.”

-Daily Staff Reporter Andrew Schulman contributed to this report.