NEW YORK — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney sought to distance himself Thursday from a GOP-leaning independent group's plan for a $10 million TV ad campaign renewing attention to President Barack Obama's ties to his controversial former pastor. Obama's campaign accused Romney of failing to show "moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party."
The Ending Spending Action Fund, a conservative super PAC bankrolled by billionaire Joe Ricketts, has laid out a proposal to publicize the racially incendiary sermons delivered by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at a Chicago church Obama once attended. The sermons received considerable attention during Obama's 2008 campaign for the Democratic nomination and pushed him to deliver a major speech on race relations.
The plan, titled "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: the Ricketts Plan to End His Spending For Good," was devised by a group of Republican strategists, one of whom confirmed the details for The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private working sessions.
Romney, the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee, declined comment on the super PAC's plans Thursday as he boarded a plane in Miami. But his campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, sought to put some distance between his candidate and the independent effort.
"Gov. Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy and we encourage everyone else to do the same," Rhoades said, referring to Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod's description of some Obama opponents as "contract killers.'
"It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so," Rhoades said.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Romney's effort fell short, noting that Republican Sen. John McCain, Obama's opponent in 2008, forcefully had rejected using Wright and Wright's sermons as an issue against Obama.
"The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself," Messina said, adding that the proposal was a sign of how far the Republican Party had drifted in four years.
"Once again, Gov. Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party," Messina said.
Ricketts is the founder of Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade Securities and owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. He has been active in conservative politics for years, most recently in Republican Deb Fischer's upset win this week in the Republican Senate primary in Nebraska.
News of the campaign was first reported by The New York Times.