(Photo: REUTERS/Dave Kaup)
Under pressure from the media, the Obama campaign this week admitted using in campaign ads a controversial Missouri steel worker who claims Mitt Romney is responsible for his wife's death, after first denying any knowledge of the worker's story.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki acknowledged Thursday that the campaign was no longer pleading ignorance about Joe Soptic and admitted that he was used in an Obama-sponsored campaign ad as well as a non-sponsored Obama Super PAC ad that comes close to calling Romney a murderer.
Obama campaign staffers initially denied knowledge of Soptic's story – despite the fact that he was in an Obama campaign ad.
Adviser Robert Gibbs said he didn't know "specifics," while deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said on CNN: "I don't know the facts about when Mr. Soptic's wife got sick or the facts about his health insurance."
And yesterday on Air Force One, Psaki said, "We don't have any knowledge of the story of the family."
The story, described by some commentators as outrageous, has also prompted criticism of Mitt Romney by conservatives. They argue that Romney should be more forceful in his objections.
For example, on Sean Hannity's Fox News program, conservative columnist Ann Coulter called for Romney press spokesperson Andrea Saul's removal after she mishandled the campaign's response to the ad. Instead of repudiating the ad, Saul said the if the woman had lived in Massachusetts, she would have been covered by the state's health care plan passed while Romney was governor.
"Anyone who donates to Mitt Romney, and I mean the big donors, should immediately call and say they will not give another dime until he (Romney) fires Andrea Saul," said Coulter.
Eric Erickson of Redstate.com tweeted, "OMG this might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election."
The frustration of Romney supporters primarily lies on two fronts.
First, they believe the ad crosses an ethical boundary of being grossly untrue. Second, and verified by the response of conservatives such as Coulter and Erickson, the Republicans are growing frustrated that the Romney camp, and Romney himself, is not being aggressive enough in defending the facts of his record.
Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting the Obama campaign, produced the ad in question. Federal campaign laws prohibit the coordination of efforts between a campaign and the Super PAC supporting a specific candidate.
Bill Burton, Priorities USA founder, defended the ad on CNN Wednesday night saying they did not imply Romney was responsible for the woman's death (Ms. Soptic died of cancer five years after Romney left Bain Capital), yet most everyone, including many liberals, believe the ad implies such.
"The point of this ad is that – you know, it's to tell the story of one guy, Joe Soptic, and the impact on his life that happened for years, and to this day, as a result of decisions that Mitt Romney made," Burton told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, one of the many fact-checkers who have examined the ad, said the ad is completely false and gave it a rating of four pinocchios – they highest degree of falsehood.