DENVER — Only in the YouTube era could the most controversial campaign ad of the presidential race to date be one that has yet to actually hit the airwaves.
The Obama super PAC ad in which a laid-off worker loosely blames Mitt Romney for his wife’s death, which ignited a campaign firestorm when it first appeared, isn’t running in Colorado or any other state.
But it’s been making headlines for weeks — and now, with the election 11 weeks away, it continues to dog the president’s campaign.
On Monday, during an impromptu briefing with the White House Press Corps, President Barack Obama was forced to comment on the ad, in which Joe Soptic, a former Missouri steelworker who was laid off by Bain Capital when Romney was at the helm, describes how he lost his healthcare and, subsequently, how his wife died from cancer that had long gone undetected.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone,” Soptic says as the ad concludes. “And, furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”
The Romney campaign has been demanding that the Obama campaign denounce the ad and ask PrioritiesUSA Action, the super PAC that made it, to make sure it doesn’t air.
“I don’t think that Gov. Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad,” Obama said, when CBS News’ Nancy Cordes asked about it Monday. “But keep it in mind, this is an ad that I didn’t approve, I did not produce, and as far as I can tell has barely run. I think it ran once.”
The spot, paid for and produced by Priorities USA, aired in Cleveland last Tuesday, which the PAC attributed to an error by the station that mistakenly ran it.
Not only was Romney’s campaign outraged over the accusation leveled in the ad; it also has taken issue with what appears to be obvious coordination between Priorities and the Obama campaign itself, which also featured Soptic and his story in its own TV ad and a campaign conference call.
“We do hundreds of conference calls,” Obama’s campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told FOX31 earlier this month when the president was campaigning in Colorado, when asked why other campaign officials initially responded to the overlap with a flat denial that they even knew of Soptic or his story.
Stephanie Cutter, a top adviser to the Obama campaign, had initially said she didn’t know anything about Soptic even though she herself led the conference call with him back in May.
Campaign finance laws prohibit any coordination between campaigns and outside groups, which have become a huge factor in the political message wars since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for unlimited and anonymous contributions by individuals and corporations to PACS.
Bill Burton, the former Obama aide who started PrioritiesUSA to compete with conservative super PACs like American Crossroads, has yet to respond to a FOX31 inquiry about the ad and whether it will ever hit the airwaves in Colorado or other swing states.
Not surprisingly, Romney’s campaign isn’t blaming the super PAC but the president for his refusal Monday to denounce the ad.
“After spending weeks refusing to denounce his Super PAC’s scurrilous ad against Mitt Romney, President Obama once again failed to lead,” said Ciara Matthews, Romney’s Colorado spokeswoman.
“President Obama’s failure to stand up to dishonest rhetoric and attacks demonstrates yet again he’s diminished the office that he holds and his record is nothing more than business as usual in Washington.
“Governor Romney brings real world solutions and experience to this race and is the only candidate with a plan to turn the economy around and get America working again. It is for this reason that Obama is desperately trying to talk about anything other than his failed record – and he fails to be truthful even while doing that.”