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Mitt Romney's Core Scrutinized By David Axelrod, Who Asks, 'What Does He Believe?'

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AXELROD
David Axelrod raises question, What exactly does the Republican front-runner believe in. | AP

Top Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod told Politico's Mike Allen's on Monday morning that the Obama campaign will go after what Axelrod dubbed Mitt Romney's "penchant for secrecy."

Axelrod attacked Romney for refusing to release the names of his big money bundlers, offering only a few years' worth of tax returns rather than a decade's worth, and his Massachusetts gubenatorial staffers' taking computer hard drives with them after his single term ended in 2007.

The Obama campaign is also harping on Romney's comments in Florida on Sunday night at a closed-to-the-press fundraiser that a few reporters overheard through a fence abutting the private property housing the event. Romney was more specific about what exactly he would cut from the federal government to trim spending.

Said Axelrod: "Harkening back to my youth, which extends far beyond yours, there was a show called 'I've Got A Secret.' Increasingly, I think that would be the appropriate title for the Romney campaign. There are central issues, but this is a disturbing one and it goes to that question of like, ‘Who is this guy? What does he stand for? What does he believe? What do we know about him?'"

The Obama campaign followed through on Axelrod's promise around midday, releasing a long memo cataloguing the issues Axelrod mentioned. "Americans have always expected to be able to review a presidential candidate’s records and plans, the opportunity to lift up the hood and kick the tires," said Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign's press secretary. "It’s time for Governor Romney to come clean."

The Democratic National Committee scheduled a press conference for Monday afternoon with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) mentioning the same "penchant for secrecy" phrase.

Romney's top campaign adviser, Stuart Stevens, fired back at Axelrod in an email to The Huffington Post: "The Obama campaign has become like a 9 year old [sic] trying to decide what it will do when it grows up. If they want to dive into television history, it would be 'Theme For a Day.' Only most of their themes don't last an entire day," Stevens wrote.

"They can tweet and pout away until November but this race isn't what they want it to be about, it's what voters want it to be about," Stevens wrote. "They may have billions of dollars and a campaign staff larger than the Defense Department, but this is up to voters. And voters know that President Obama has not made their lives easier or better."

But Axelrod's questions, especially "What does he believe?" are about far more than Romney's tax returns. They go to one of the central thrusts of the Obama campaign's attack on Romney, which is to question his authenticity as a person.

Almost a year ago now, numerous Democrats were quoted in a Politico story talking about Romney's being "weird." David Plouffe, who ran Obama's campaign in 2008 and who now serves as a top adviser at the White House, said in October that Romney has "no core."

Always at the center of talk about Romney's "core" is the matter of his Mormon faith. That is the subject of another Politico story, by Lois Romano, published on Monday morning. Based on comments by two old-guard conservative activists -- Penny Young Nance of Concerned Women for America and Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center -- the article claimed that conservatives want Romney to "reveal his inner Mormon."

That's debatable. While a good number of evangelicals will remain genuinely conflicted about Romney's faith, many will see a discussion of Mormonism as a political attack and close ranks behind the presumptive GOP nominee.

There is no question that Romney is extremely reticent to talk about his faith, as Romano cataloged.

As New York magazine's Benjamin Wallace-Wells put it in October, in his great profile of Romney: "The best evidence of how important Romney’s religion is to him could be how far he has kept it from view."

"Romney’s career-long commitment to his own particular brand of impersonal decision-making might suggest something personal after all. One great mystery about Romney has been where his Mormonism comes in and what it explains. Maybe the clearest answer comes from taking at their word the businessmen with whom he came up, who say they never saw its influence. Romney’s religion constitutes a minority set of beliefs. Poorly understood and widely mocked, it can provoke suspicions about his motives. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that he has adopted a public persona that contains no detectable motives at all, one that is buried in objectivity, in data, in process."

Axelrod, however, is venturing toward no man's land by asking what Romney believes, given the readiness of the Romney campaign and evangelical leaders to pounce on such comments.

Last October several evangelical leaders signalled in interviews that they were ready to defend Romney against any attempts to go after the Republican's faith, which they predicted would heat up during the general election.

And Romney's campaign has made it one of its top goals to turn Obama's criticisms back on him. A web video in February showed someone who appearing like an Obama campaign official typing in an email, "Time to take the 'Kill Romney' strategy to the next level."

"The Obama attack machine is ready," the ad says in white letters on a black screen. "We need your help to fight back."

The web video was a fundraising effort for the One Term Fund, organized by Romney Victory. Per its website, Romney Victory isa joint fundraising committee composed of Romney for President, the Republican National Committee and official Republican Party outfits in Idaho, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Vermont.

On Monday morning, the Romney campaign continued its effort to humanize Romney through his wife, Ann. The campaign released a 3.5-minute video tribute to Ann wishing her a happy 63rd birthday from her six sons, with audio of home videos from the boys' childhood playing over a montage of photographs from her life.

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