Let the Games Begin: Romney Tries to Rebound From Olympics Gaffe

BY Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz  July 27, 2012 at 9:49 AM EST

Mitt Romney in London; photo by Nat Jag/WireImage

Mitt Romney talks to the press Thursday at 10 Downing Street in London. Photo by Nat Jag/WireImage.

The Morning Line

We’re 101 days from Election Day, but everyone’s looking overseas.

The Olympics! Quite the biannual celebration of international camaraderie. But the two-week event, played in the shadows of Parliament and Big Ben this year, won’t escape American politics, since Mitt Romney is in the country for the first leg of his six-day campaign trip abroad.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is trying to quell the backlash from a gaffe-filled day of diplomacy. On Thursday, he had expressed doubt that the British were excited and that security and other issues wouldn’t plague the games. But on Friday, he told NBC’s “Today Show” that he was “absolutely convinced” London was prepared for the start of the Olympic Games.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had responded by noting the success of the U.K.-wide torch relay and the challenges of hosting the Games in a bustling city compared with the “middle of nowhere.”

After Democrats made it a big deal, Twitter erupted with the hashtag #romneyshambles, and even American track star Carl Lewis jumped on the topic. “Some Americans shouldn’t leave the country,” he told the British newspaper The Independent.

London Mayor Boris Johnson also dinged the GOP hopeful on Thursday, telling a crowd in Hyde Park: “There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready?”

As Phillip Rucker wrote for the Washington Post, “Thursday was supposed to be the easy day” for Romney. Jonathan Martin noted in Politico, what else could Romney expect from the British press?

The Democratic National Committee piled on with a web ad.

The NewsHour found some vintage footage of Romney discussing his own turn at Olympics leadership. Romney spoke at the 2002 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City, when he chaired the Games.

“You Olympians, however, know that you didn’t get here solely on your own power,” he said. “For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers encouraged your hopes. Coaches guided, communities built venues and organized competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them.”

Sound familiar? It’s a bit like the “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” line by President Obama in Roanoke, Va., earlier this month. The Romney campaign and national Republicans have fixated on those words, and the president has said they’re being taken out of context. In fact, the Obama campaign has noted that the purpose of that part of his speech was to point out the value of community, the same message that Romney delivered 10 years ago in one of his first major public appearances.

We also unearthed a 2002 Romney interview with Ray Suarez from the NewsHour archives, where the future Massachusetts governor speaks about the war on terror.

Watch it below.

Back to this year’s games. As Americans settle in to watch hurdles, swimming and gymnastics, they will be inundated with advertising from campaigns investing heavily in Olympic television buys.

The president went positive in his new spot out Friday, “I believe.”

“I believe that the way you grow the economy is from the middle out,” he says in the upbeat ad, which will run during the opening ceremonies. “I believe in fighting for the middle class ’cause if they’re prospering, all of us will prosper.”

Watch it here or below.

London’s opening ceremonies will be broadcast Friday evening on NBC. Both Romney and first lady Michelle Obama will be in attendance.

COMPETING MESSAGING

White House press secretary Jay Carney returned to the briefing room after a long patch of presidential travel with a focus on the Senate passage of a bill that would extend the George W. Bush-era tax rates for all but the wealthiest Americans, NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman writes.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday he was “more than happy” to allow the same vote in the Republican-run House, but it’s unlikely the middle-income only tax cut bill will reach the president’s desk.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., Carney underscored that Mr. Obama continues to hope Congress will reinstate the ban on the sale of assault weapons that lapsed eight years ago. Meanwhile, he said, government at all levels should work to enforce existing gun control laws that can keep weapons away from those who might abuse them. He noted that neither side of the political aisle is firmly behind any new federal gun control measure:

Given the stalemate in Congress, our focus is on the steps that we can take to make sure criminals and others who should not have those guns, make sure that they cannot obtain them.

In political messaging on the other side, Romney surrogates have been out in full force attacking Mr. Obama while their guy is abroad. NewsHour politics desk assistant Beth Garbitelli was on a Romney campaign call Thursday with Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, two vice presidential hopefuls.

McDonnell made sure to mention that Virginia’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average, but buffered it by saying “how much better” it would be with a president like Romney. The Romney team kept up the drumbeat online, with a new attack site, Built By Us.

When asked about the Olympic kerfuffle, Jindal told reporters, “We’re not worried about overseas headlines.”

DAILY DOWNLOAD

On Thursday’s NewsHour, Margaret Warner talked with Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of Daily-Download.com about the response to Romney’s Olympic blunder and the “Anglo-Saxon” comment from an unnamed Romney adviser we wrote about Thursday.

Kurtz said that while some called Romney’s remarks a “gold medal gaffe,” he’s not so sure, since it allows the Republican to showcase his own leadership of the Games.

They also discussed the dustup over Romney’s sudden surge in Twitter followers.

Watch here or below:

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • The Pew Research Center asks if the faiths of the presidential candidates affect voters. Eight of 10 voters who know Romney is Mormon said they are either comfortable with his faith (60 percent) or said that it doesn’t matter to them (21 percent), according to the survey conducted between June 28-July 9. White evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, atheists and agnostics were the most likely to say they were uncomfortable with Romney’s faith, according the survey of 2,973 adults, which included 2,373 registered voters. Nearly four years into his presidency, the view that Mr. Obama is Muslim persists, the survey also found. Of the registered voters surveyed, 17 percent said he is Muslim, 49 percent said he is Christian, and 31 percent said they did not know the president’s religion.

  • From Salt Lake City 2002: Mitt Happens. If you have a vintage 2002 Olympics pin, put it on and tweet us a photo @NewsHour.

  • How Mr. Obama raised $1.5 million in 59 minutes: A fascinating reveal of the president’s fundraising events by Bill Turque of the Washington Post.

  • As of Friday, both presidential campaigns will have 24 offices operating in battleground Virginia.

  • The Deseret News keeps up its Romney coverage with a piece on his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Obama Roe v Wade ad

  • The fight is on for female voters in Virginia. We spotted this ad, paid for by the Obama Victory Fund, on the Ashburn, Va., Patch.com site Thursday. It says, “MITT ROMNEY: WANTS TO OVERTURN ROE V. WADE. Romney: Too Extreme For Virginia.”

  • There is an interesting read into the new Gallup survey. The president has seen a bump in approval from manufacturing workers (see: Detroit recovery messaging) and a drop in approval among business owners (see: “You didn’t build that.”)

  • Gwen Ifill says she has never bungee jumped off a bridge. Find more of her insights on life and news in this week’s Washington Week live chat.

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks are back together again. Tune in to Friday’s NewsHour from 6-7 p.m. ET and watch them chat with Christina online in the Doubleheader after the show.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

Alex Bruns and Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Mitt Romney will take part in a photo opp with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny in London at 10:15 a.m. He will attend the Olympic opening ceremonies at 4 p.m.

  • First lady Michelle Obama greeted members of Team USA at the U.S. Olympic Training Facility at 4 a.m. and did a “Let’s Move!” event at the U.S. ambassador’s residence at 6:30 a.m. She will attend a reception for heads of state hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in the evening before attending the opening ceremonies.

  • President Obama signs the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act at 10:15 a.m. He has a series of Oval Office meetings in the morning. He attends a private fundraiser at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., at 1:10 p.m. and speaks at two private fundraisers in McLean, Va., at 5:25 and 7:35 p.m.

  • Vice President Biden attends an afternoon campaign event in Washington, D.C.

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.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.