Report: Conservative Super PAC Planning ‘Provocative’ Attack on Obama

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  May 17, 2012 at 9:12 AM EST

Joe Ricketts; photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

GOP strategists are working with billionaire Joe Ricketts, above, on a proposal to mount a “provocative” campaign against President Obama, the New York Times reports. Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Update, 2:25 p.m. A few hours after the New York Times story made a splash, organizers behind the effort are saying they won’t put a Wright attack on the air after all. Terence’s post explaining the shift is here.

Welcome to the brave new world of super PAC spending.

The New York Times reports that a Republican super PAC is planning a major attack on President Obama, rehashing a ghost from the 2008 campaign. A 54-page document leaked to the newspaper suggests that the president’s one-time, controversial pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is not only on the table, but the subject of a proposed ad campaign.

The document, being circulated by a group of high-profile donors and consultants, outlines ads to begin around the time of the Democratic National Convention this summer and notes the aim is to “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do.”

The Times also has a storyboard for a five-minute film criticizing the president’s background and policies.

More from the story, by Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg:

“The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” says the proposal, which was overseen by Fred Davis and commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade. Mr. Ricketts is increasingly putting his fortune to work in conservative politics.

The $10 million plan, one of several being studied by Mr. Ricketts, includes preparations for how to respond to the charges of race-baiting it envisions if it highlights Mr. Obama’s former ties to Mr. Wright, who espouses what is known as “black liberation theology.”

The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an “extremely literate conservative African-American” who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”

A copy of a detailed advertising plan was obtained by The New York Times through a person not connected to the proposal who was alarmed by its tone. It is titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.”

The proposal was presented last week in Chicago to associates and family members of Mr. Ricketts, who is also the patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs.

Brian Baker, president and general counsel of a super PAC called the Ending Spending Action Fund, said Mr. Ricketts had studied several advertising proposals in recent months and had not signed off on a specific approach to taking on Mr. Obama.

“Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election in both the presidential race and Congressional races,” Mr. Baker said in an interview Wednesday. “He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand.”

The document makes clear that the effort is only in the planning stages and awaiting full approval from Mr. Ricketts. People involved in the planning said the publicity now certain to surround it could send the strategists back to the drawing board.

The Times story already was reverberating Thursday, with the president’s top political adviser, David Axelrod, calling it “stunning” on Twitter. Axelrod wrote: “Will Mitt stand up, as John [McCain] did? Or allow the purveyors of slime to operate on his behalf.”

The news comes as Mitt Romney’s campaign announced that the presumptive GOP nominee and the Republican National Committee nearly matched the president in fundraising in April. They raised $40.1 million, just shy of the $43.6 million hauled in by the Democrats. The campaign and RNC have $61.4 million cash on hand.

“We are pleased with the strong support we have received from Americans across the country who are looking for new leadership in the White House,” said Romney campaign finance chairman Spencer Zwick. “Along with the hard work of the Republican National Committee, we will continue to raise the funds necessary to defeat President Obama in November.”

The campaign detailed that 95 percent of the donations received in April were $250 or less, and made up about a quarter of the overall haul for the month.

At the start of the campaign, the Obama operation was viewed as a fundraising juggernaut with the potential to raise upwards of $1 billion, but if Romney and the RNC are able to keep pace — and super PAC spending is factored in — it could be the Republicans who have the biggest money machine this cycle.

WISCONSIN RECALL

In perhaps the most closely watched pre-November race, Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker has opened up a six-point lead on his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, in the June recall election, according to a Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday.

The first-term governor received support from 50 percent of likely voters, compared with 44 percent for Barrett. Just 3 percent of voters say they are undecided.

Walker held a 48 percent to 47 percent advantage over Barrett in the last Marquette Law poll two weeks ago.

Republicans also appear to be more enthusiastic about the race, with 91 percent responding they were “absolutely certain” to vote next month. Eighty-three percent of both Democrats and independents said the same.

More Democrats, however, said they have been contacted by a campaign — 83 percent — than either Republicans (78 percent) or independents (76 percent).

“In a close election with so few undecided voters, enthusiasm, turnout and campaign contact with voters may make the difference,” said Marquette Law School poll director Charles Franklin.

The contest is a rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign that Walker won by 5 percent.

BOEHNER’S BUDGET SHOWDOWN

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has told President Obama that he wants to return to an issue that’s been stagnant since last fall, saying that he thinks now’s the time to decide what to do about the nation’s debt ceiling.

Among other demands, Rep. Boehner says that Congress should add no new dollars of revenue and instead rely on spending cuts if the debt ceiling must be raised to prevent a federal default. It’s obviously a move timed to the election season.

Judy Woodruff talked with Steven Dennis of Roll Call and Todd Zwillich of The Takeaway to get at the heart of the politics of the issue.

Republicans are measuring their risks and rewards in forcing this issue into the national discussion this week, Zwillich said. He noted that nothing actually needs to be done until late this year, saying:

This may even come after New Year’s, and maybe this won’t come down to a debt limit showdown.

Now, the speaker says we don’t have to wait until the last minute. We can talk about this now. We can be responsible. Yes, Republicans want to have the discussion now. That doesn’t mean that the president is going to take the speaker’s bait and have a debate all throughout the summer and into fall over how and when to raise the debt limit and tie it with spending cuts. I don’t think so.

If Boehner keeps his word, key programs such as Medicare will face cuts. “Austerity is pretty unpopular when you go to the people,” Dennis said. (Read his latest story on the debt politics here.)

Watch the segment here or below:

2012 LINE ITEMS

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Someone is burglarizing Congressional offices, the National Journal reports.

  • The NewsHour got an update on the John Edwards trial Wednesday night. Watch the segment here. Politico’s Reid Epstein writes about the five legal strategies Edwards can deploy.

  • Judy talked with former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., about his new book, “We Can All Do Better.” In the book, Bradley calls for responsible action from ordinary citizens to instigate political change. Watch that here.

  • Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz writes that Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has made his decision final: He will not run for Congress in Washington state. Kucinich lost his Ohio seat in the Democratic primary.

  • TED organizers invited a multimillionaire Seattle venture capitalist to give a speech on March 1 at their TED University conference. But his topic of “inequality” was ” too controversial to spread,” the National Journal reports.

  • Elizabeth Warren is out with a new ad in Massachusetts.

  • Many Maryland residents will see their income taxes go up right away, with the state legislature approving a retroactive increase as part of an agreement on the budget. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign the compromise. It’s an issues we’re tracking closely in our Divided by DC project, so stay tuned to the NewsHour for more.

  • Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times looks at the GOP backlash against South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint in the aftermath of the Nebraska Senate primary race.

  • The Miami Herald has details on some questionable tactics used within the Florida Republican Party. Former Gov. Charlie Crist is dishing about former state party chair Jim Greer’s attempt to pressure him before the 2010 Senate race.

  • According to a new Census Bureau report, most of the nation’s babies are members of a minority group.

  • Some Florida 8th graders have produced a video that they hope Mr. Obama will see.

  • Aaron Sorkin has signed on to write a movie about Steve Jobs.

Katelyn Polantz, Cassie M. Chew and Alex Bruns contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama has no public events scheduled.

  • Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a campaign event in Martins Ferry, Ohio, at 11:45 a.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds a campaign event in Jacksonville, Fla., at 2:30 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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

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