CONCORD, N.H. -- President Barack Obama's reelection campaign sought to spin the results of the Iowa caucuses Wednesday, arguing in a conference call with reporters that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's razor-thin margin of victory spelled trouble for the candidate.
"He is still the 25 percent man," Obama's longtime communications strategist David Axelrod proclaimed, referencing the eight votes that separated Romney from former Sen. Rick Santorum, who came in second Tuesday night. "Until he proves that he is not, I don't think we can close the books on this nominating process."
As for expectations for Romney in the next nominating contest -- the New Hampshire primary -- Axelrod couldn't have set them higher. "It's a home game for him," he said. "If you don't win your home games with some margin, that just further exacerbates your problem."
At various points during the roughly 45-minute call, Obama's top strategists criticized other candidates in the race. Campaign manager Jim Messina, for example, called out Santorum for being insensitive to the unemployed. Messina also went to some effort to assure reporters that the president was running a campaign that would be fundamentally unaffected by the identity of the eventual nominee.
"We built a campaign for whoever comes out of this primary," he said.
But clearly, the Obama team only sees one candidate as a viable challenger. And until the nominating process is formally over, the goal appears to be to cause Romney as much misery as possible. At one point during the call, Axelrod claimed someone tangentially related to the Romney campaign had told him, "Everybody knows Mitt's full of it. He doesn’t believe what he's saying." Axelrod's sourcing was so specious that it's hard to imagine he wasn't smiling mischievously as he said it.
"Taking two positions on every issue, one on the left and one on the far right, doesn't make you a centrist," he said at another point. "It makes you a charlatan. It makes you unreliable."