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The Flub Watch Never Stops for Obama’s Team

Barack Obama
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Barack Obama

WASHINGTON — For Brad Woodhouse, the spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, it was when he came across a Twitter post about a CNN interview in which Mitt Romney seemed to shrug off concern for the very poor.

And Bill Burton’s moment came a week and a half ago while he was in his family room watching Mr. Romney take Newt Gingrich to task for talking about putting a colony on the moon. If someone made such a proposal to him, Mr. Romney said, “I’d say, ‘You’re fired.’ ”

Both moments were perceived by the Obama re-election campaign as another gift from Mr. Romney — now dubbed “the gift that keeps on giving” by some on the Obama team. “Just when you thought we had enough videotape about him firing people, he gives you one more,” Mr. Burton, who leads a political action committee backing the president, said before laughing.

In the rarefied world that is dedicated to getting Mr. Obama re-elected, the battle has never been viewed through the prism of how to beat Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Ron Paul. It has always been about Mitt Romney.

Now as Mr. Romney appears to be cementing his position as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination — he won the Nevada primary handily on Saturday — Mr. Obama’s aides and campaign staff have intensified their focus.

“When you guys were all out there writing your Herman Cain stories, we were not following you into that sideshow,” one Obama aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We are keeping our eyes on the prize.”

Recently, that prize has been giving the Obama camp plenty to work with as a series of missteps have played into the Obama re-election machine, with its arsenal of Twitter feeds, e-mail blasts and quick-to-the-punch Internet advertising. On the Web, which even rivals have long considered a strength of the Obama political apparatus, criticizing Mr. Romney has become arguably as big a focus as defining the president.

Of the six Twitter messages that Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager, posted over a two-day span last week, five needled Mr. Romney — for firing his debate coach and changing his stance on contraception policy, among other things. The sixth message trumpeted recent job growth. Mr. Burton’s mass e-mails to reporters and supporters have had a similar Romney-centric breakdown in recent weeks.

Of course, as much as Mr. Obama’s advisers might want to take pleasure in what they see as the mistakes by their likely opponent, they have a challenge ahead of them in the general election. Mr. Romney’s polling numbers are strong where it counts, in the battleground states. A Gallup poll taken in 12 swing states in late January showed the men in a dead heat.

That is not dampening the Obama camp’s delight in watching Mr. Romney endure the burden of contested primaries.

Mr. Woodhouse, a high-octane party spinmaster, was getting his children ready for school around 7 Wednesday morning when he spotted a new present from the Romney camp. “Romney on CNN: I’m not concerned about the very poor,” the Washington Post blogger Rachel Weiner reported over Twitter.

Mr. Woodhouse sprang to action. “It was a two-fer!” Mr. Woodhouse said. “First, it was just the most incredibly insensitive thing that someone in his position could say.” And second, Mr. Woodhouse said, “he gave us an opening to go after his record on the middle class,” since Mr. Romney’s comments were part of an effort to show that it is the middle class he is actually concerned about.

Mr. Woodhouse promptly reposted the Romney comments. on Twitter. Then he sent an e-mail to a list of reporters, “just in case everyone hadn’t seen it,” he said. Minutes later, Mr. Woodhouse was on a conference call with several campaign and White House officials, discussing the remarks.

(To be clear, Mr. Romney said he was not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net, one he said he would fix if needed. Rather, he said, “I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 percent to 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”)

The Obama partisans came up with their plan for the day. “It was clear by 9 a.m. that this thing had a life of its own,” Mr. Woodhouse said, as Mr. Romney tried to clarify his remarks while news anchors, bloggers and reporters gave his comments round-the-clock coverage. Mr. Woodhouse sat back and enjoyed the melee for a few hours.

“We took some time to let a thousand flowers bloom,” Mr. Woodhouse said. “And then we took out our ad.”

The Internet ad cobbled together by the Democratic National Committee hit the Web on Wednesday afternoon.

“In a shallow attempt to show concern for the middle class, Mitt Romney told CNN today he’s not concerned about the very poor,” the ad said. “But his policy proposals make clear that he also isn’t very concerned about the middle class — his tax plan provides a modest tax cut, about $167, for middle-class families but provides about $146,000 for families making more than $1 million.” It continued: “Mitt Romney: Not concerned about the poor, or the middle class.”

Of course, not all of the attacks using Mr. Romney’s words have come from the Obama side. Mr. Gingrich has helped, too.

Last month, Mr. Gingrich revived the story of a family road trip 25 years ago in which Mr. Romney strapped his dog, Seamus — in a dog carrier — atop the station wagon for the 12-hour drive from Boston to Ontario, Canada. As the Obama campaign undoubtedly will, Mr. Gingrich used Mr. Romney’s own words against him.

“This is a completely air-tight kennel, mounted on the top of our car,” the ad shows Mr. Romney saying in a Fox News clip. “He was in a kennel at home a great deal of time as well. It was where he was comfortable.”

Mr. Gingrich’s ad then showed white words flashing across a black screen: “Imagine what Obama would do with a candidate like that.”

Two weeks later, David Axelrod, a top campaign adviser to Mr. Obama, showed just what Mr. Obama would do. On Monday — the same day Obama backers began a Facebook page called “Pet Lovers for Obama” — Mr. Axelrod posted a West Wing photo of Mr. Obama and the first dog, Bo, cruising in “The Beast,” the armored limousine the president rides around in. “How loving owners transport their dogs,” Mr. Axelrod wrote.

Within minutes, the Twitter post by Mr. Axelrod, who has engaged in Twitter wars with Eric Fehrnstrom, Mr. Romney’s top strategist, was working its way onto news sites and television stations in accounts that dredged up, once again, the furrowed-brow story of Mr. Romney, Seamus the dog and that 12-hour trip to Canada.

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