Romney Aide’s Health Care Remark Rankles Conservatives

BY Terence Burlij and katelyn polantz  August 9, 2012 at 9:22 AM EDT

Mitt Romney; photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The Massachusetts health reform law signed by Mitt Romney in 2006 was one of his signature achievements as governor, but it was also viewed as one of his biggest political liabilities during the GOP primary process, given the similarities between his measure and the national overhaul enacted by President Obama.

While Romney was able to overcome doubts from conservatives about his health care record to claim the Republican Party’s presidential nod, the issue re-appeared Wednesday after a top campaign spokeswoman cited Massachusetts’ law in defense against a television attack ad from pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action.

In the Priorities spot, referenced in this space on Monday, a former steelworker blames Romney and the private equity firm he co-founded, Bain Capital, for shutting down his plant. The worker, Joe Soptic, says the closure resulted in his family losing health insurance and consequently his wife’s death from cancer.

Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul was asked about the criticism during an appearance Wednesday on Fox News.

“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Gov. Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul responded. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.”

Some conservatives immediately seized on the comments to argue the Romney campaign had opened the door for the president’s team to make the case that the Massachusetts plan was the basis for the national law.

“Andrea Saul’s appearance on Fox was a potential gold mine for Obama supporters,” conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said Wednesday. “They can say, ‘Romneycare was the basis for our health care.’ “

Erick Erickson of RedState.com went ever further, contending the statement “may mark the day the Romney campaign died.”

The influential blogger added: “Conservatives have put aside their distrust of Romney on this issue in the name of beating Barack Obama. They thought he and his campaign team had gotten the message and the hints. Consider the scab picked, the wound opened and the distrust trickling out again.”

Such comments highlight the fact that some conservatives are still not completely sold on Romney’s candidacy and reflect the difficult path the GOP hopeful must navigate in uniting the party behind him while also convincing independents that he would be a president who addresses their concerns as well.

For its part, the Obama campaign found itself in a bit of hot water over the ad after top members of the team denied knowledge of Soptic’s story.

Senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs told MSNBC on Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of “the specifics,” and 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.”

Politico’s Reid Epstein details the disparity, given Soptic’s past role with the Obama campaign:

Cutter hosted an Obama campaign conference call in May in which Soptic told reporters the very story featured in the Priorities spot.

Both the campaign and the Priorities USA Action said there was no coordination about Soptic’s appearances. In the campaign’s ad, Soptic speaks only about the plant. In the Priorities spot, he tells the personal story he relayed during the Obama campaign conference call.

Team Romney actually kept up the conversation on health care Thursday with the release of a television ad accusing the president of using the new law “to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith.”

It closes with, “When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?”

Watch the spot here or below.

It’s far too early to know if dust-ups like this will influence the result on Nov. 6.

But the last 24 hours are yet another indicator that the nasty tone and tenor of the race are not relenting any time soon.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Judy Woodruff previews a voter-focused piece coming next week on the NewsHour.

  • The Washington City Paper finds that D.C. television stations are enjoying a post-Citizens United world.

  • The Washington Post takes a deep dive into the president’s involvement on the Solyndra loan.

  • The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters notes that the Romney campaign is exercising caution when it comes to selecting convention speakers.

  • Roll Call’s Humberto Sanchez explores the effects that the complicated Yucca Mountain issue is having on the presidential contest.

  • The Associated Press notes that the president and the Boy Scouts, for which he serves as honorary president, have agreed to disagree. From the story: “The White House on Wednesday said Obama opposes the youth organization’s recently reaffirmed policy of excluding gays as members and adult leaders. He has no plans to resign as honorary president, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said.”

  • So much for Wednesday’s prediction that Wikipedia will reveal Romney’s choice of running mate.

  • The labor organization Workers Voice is spending $50,000 on an online campaign targeting white, non-college graduate males in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. The ad has an Olympics theme but knocks Romney on his Bain Capital tenure. The group also will send it out as a mail piece in those battleground states, a source told the Morning Line. A similar effort goes after Ohio GOP Senate nominee Josh Mandel.

  • Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, owns a haunted hotel. An investigation by Yahoo News’ Chris Moody includes a moment of creepy silence and a call in the dark.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Tune-in to Thursday's NewsHour for Margaret Warner's conversation with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

  • The Austin American-Statesman takes note of the elevated national profile of Texas GOP Senate candidate Ted Cruz.

  • Kinky Friedman might get back on the horse and challenge Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry in 2014.

  • The New York Times' Susan Saulny looks at how young Republicans are breaking from past generations when it comes to social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added new Democrats to its Red-to-Blue program highlighting races where it sees the opportunity to flip a GOP-held seat.

  • Reuters reported that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson "filed a $60 million defamation lawsuit against a U.S. Jewish political organization, accusing the group of spreading false allegations that he approved prostitution at his Macau resorts."

  • Hari Sreenivasan gets tips from Mat Honan on how to avoid a total identity theft disaster.

  • The Washington Post's Marc Fisher looked at the efforts by Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen to woo ticket-splitting voters in Virginia's U.S. Senate race.

  • Outgoing Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dan Boren says on camera the five things he'd like to do before leaving Congress.

  • BuzzFeed crafted "The Animated GIF Guide To Hillary Clinton's Adorable Dance Moves."

  • Ray Suarez's NewsHour series on energy continued Wednesday. Part two is here.

Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama attends a campaign event in Pueblo, Colo., at 12:45 p.m. and another at Colorado College in Colorado Springs at 4:25 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney has no public events scheduled.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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