WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's top campaign advisers said Tuesday they are uncertain about which Republican challenger will emerge next year but are predicting a long GOP primary contest that they say will produce a weaker opponent in 2012.
Democrats have targeted former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the most likely Republican challenger to Obama in recent weeks but now say former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's rise in the polls has made the GOP contest very unpredictable.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said in a briefing for reporters that he was unsure "what kind of candidate will be in the general election." He said anticipated a lengthy primary contest that would eventually hurt the party's nominee.
Of the Republican candidates, Axelrod said: "They're being tugged to the right every day. I think they're mortgaging themselves for the general by tacking as far as they are." He said that would make it more difficult for the nominee "to scramble back" to the center for the general election in November.
Axelrod criticized Gingrich, who has been leading in the polls in recent weeks. He brought up "a bit of homespun wisdom I got from an alderman" that compared Gingrich to a monkey, according to Talking Points Memo.
"He said, 'just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt,'" Axelrod said. "So, you know, the Speaker is very high on the pole right now and we'll see how people like the view."
Axelrod also blasted Gingrich for the debt he owed to high-end jewelry store Tiffany & Co., saying the media "left him for dead at the checkout counter at Tiffany's and now he's back like a lion in winter."
Romney and Gingrich remain locked in a close contest in early Republican voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with less than a month before voters begin assessing the GOP field.
The campaign officials said the president's speech last week in Kansas offered a glimpse of what his message will be next year: His argument that the middle class has faced numerous challenges during the past decade and that the country's economic policies must give everyone a "fair shot and a fair share."
The officials also claimed an organizational advantage over the GOP. They said they have more staffers on the ground in Iowa than the Republicans and have had about 1 million conversations with supporters and about 90,000 in-person meetings with volunteers since Obama launched his re-election campaign in April.