Race and Religion Are off the Table

There’s some hope that the expected long, nasty campaign between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may not be quite as ugly as pundits had thought.

That’s emerged after The New York Times reported that Republican operatives presented a proposal for a $10-million attack campaign against President Obama, focusing on his ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a fire-breathing African-American preacher who caused him lots of problems in 2008.

Back then, rival Sen. John McCain rejected advisers’ recommendations to use Rev. Wright as an issue. The material had race written all over it, and McCain wasn’t going there.

Undaunted, one hard-core strategist dusted off those plans and presented them to Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of Ameritrade and owner of the Chicago Cubs, who was reportedly ready to bankroll the SuperPAC’s campaign. Ricketts has denied he ever intended to finance those kinds of ads.

When asked about this on the campaign trail, Romney said:

I want to make it very clear I repudiate that effort…I think it’s the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future, and about issues and about a vision for America.

Good for him! On Sunday the Obama campaign’s senior adviser David Axelrod also drew the line. Candy Crowley asked him on CNN’s State of the Union, “Does the re-elect committee repudiate the idea that Mormonism should be on the table?” Axelrod replied:

Absolutely and we have [said] right along…that’s not fair game. And we wish that Governor Romney would stand up as strongly and as resolutely consistently to — to — to refute these kinds of things on his side.

Romney has never been a profile in courage in standing up to the Tea Party and the more extreme elements of the Republican base, but at least it looks as if both sides have an unofficial truce on attacks of this kind.

Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod on CNN's "State of the Union."

Still Axelrod made no bones about continuing the kinds of ads that Romney called “character assassination”—i.e., those criticizing the former governor for his tenure at Bain Capital.

President Obama’s team is running attack ads about some companies in which Bain was involved that eventually failed. Bain slashed benefits, shuttered plants, and did other allegedly dastardly things, but its investors made a fortune—a line of attack Newt Gingrich used to ride to victory in South Carolina, backed by Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

On CNN, Axelrod defended the ads:

The point of the ad is to look at his business record. The only credential that Governor Romney has offered the people of this country for running for the presidency is that he was a businessman. He never talks about the fact that he was governor of Massachusetts. Because when he was governor of Massachusetts, they went from 36th to 47th in job creation and it was a — a pretty much of a disastrous period.

I agree. Romney repeatedly talks up all the jobs Bain “created” at Staples and Sports Authority. But venture capital was a small piece of what he did. If he wants to own the successes, he also needs to own the stinkers. So, attacking his record at Bain is as germane as criticizing the president’s stimulus plan.

Still, race and religion appear to be off the table for both candidates, and that’s good news. This campaign may descend into the gutter, but it probably won’t go all the way to the sewer.

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