FAIRFAX, Va. -- At a misty rally designed to gin up enthusiasm among women voters, President Barack Obama's strongest riff was a mockery of Mitt Romney's effort to showcase a more moderate front, coining the tactical shift as a case of "Romnesia."
From his remarks midday Friday on the campus of George Mason University:
We have got to name this condition he is going through. I think it is called Romnesia. I think that's what it is called. Now I'm not a medical doctor. But I do want to go over some of the symptoms with you because I want to make sure nobody else catches it.
If you say you're for equal pay for equal work but you keep refusing to say whether or not you will sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work, you might have Romnesia.
If you say women should have access to contraceptive care, but you support legislation that would let employers deny contraceptive care, you might have a case of Romnesia.
If you say you will protect a women's right to choose but you stand up in a primary debate and say you'd be delighted to sign a law outlawing that right to choose in all cases, then you have definitely got Romnesia.
Obama went through a number of other so-called cases, including tax cuts and the coal industry. The neologism got hearty laughs and applause, especially as the president informed the crowd that the condition was covered under his health care law.
"If you come down with a case of Romnesia and you can't seem to remember the policies that are still on your website, or the promises you have made over the six years you've been running for president, here is the good news: Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions," Obama bellowed. "We can fix you up. We've got a cure. We can make you well."
The length of time it took to mock Romney on these grounds is, in part, a reflection of how caught off guard the Obama campaign was by the governor's shift. The first attack line, following the first presidential debate, was to call Romney a great actor hiding a conservative underside, while the second centered around painting Romney as inherently unserious (cut Big Bird?).
The Romnesia line (the campaign confirmed the spelling) hits Romney as a political opportunist. It contrasts slightly with the months-long effort to paint him as the "severe conservative" he claimed he was in that it implies Romney is devoid of principle. But it doesn't completely contradict it (you can argue that Romney would revert to his conservative self under the political pressure of congressional Republicans if elected).
The event drew 9,000 people, according to campaign officials. The main effort was to further drive a wedge between Romney and women voters. And Obama did his best to do that outside of the Romnesia riff as well, charging the Republican nominee with being a relic of the 1950s.
"Governor Romney wants to take us to policies more suited to the 1950s," he said earlier in the speech. "Even his own running mate said he's kind of a throwback to the 50s. That's one thing we agree on. But he may not have noticed, we are in the 21st century."
UPDATE: 1:10 p.m. -- The Romney campaign responds, with a statement from delegate Barbara Comstock.
“Women haven’t forgotten how we’ve suffered over the last four years in the Obama economy with higher taxes, higher unemployment, and record levels of poverty," the statement reads. "President Obama has failed to put forward a second-term agenda – and when you don’t have a plan to run on, you stoop to scare tactics. What is really frightening is that we know a second term for President Obama will bring devastating defense cuts that will cost Virginia over 130,000 jobs, more burdensome regulations, and the biggest tax increase in history on our small businesses and families. Mitt Romney’s plan for a stronger middle class will create 12 million new jobs and provide greater opportunity for women across our nation, including Virginia. Mitt Romney is the candidate in this race who will bring us the real recovery we need."
UPDATE: 4:24 p.m. -- Vice President Joe Biden tossed out the Romnesia reference at a campaign event later Friday. Visibly amused, he told a crowd in Fort Pierce, Fla., that Obama has a term for Romney's inability to remember his positions on issues.
"He calls it Romnesia. Well, I'll tell you what, I hope you don't get Romnesia. It's a bad disease. And it's contagious," Biden said, turning his attention to vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. "Because all of a sudden, the budget hawk, the guy who introduced a whole budget plan that actually passed the House of Representatives, all of a sudden doesn't remember it ... He doesn't remember what it actually does. He says it doesn't cut, it just slows growth."