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Outside groups drag Obama, Romney campaigns into mud

The Romney campaign continued its effort today to paint President Obama as someone who cannot to be trusted, who will "say or do anything" to be elected.

The latest salvo came in a TV ad, attempting to tie Obama to a separate controversial outside group’s ad.

The Romney ad, which questions Obama’s “character,” hinges on the claim that "his campaign tries to use the tragedy of a woman's death for political gain."  

The ad in question, which has not actually aired anywhere, features a man named Joe Soptic, who blames Romney for the loss of his job and his health care, and leaves the impression that those factors contributed to his wife’s death from cancer.

"What does it say about a president’s character when his campaign tries to use the tragedy of a woman's death for political gain?" an announcer charges in an ad released today by the Romney campaign that it says will be running on air. It declined to say in which states, but it rarely shares ad-buy information.

"What does it say about a president's character when he had his campaign raise money for the ad, then stood by, as his top aides were caught lying about it," the ad continues. "Doesn't America deserve better than a president who will say or do anything to stay in power?" Then the standard kicker: "I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve this message."

First, it should be pointed out that the ad in question has been widely discredited, called out of bounds, crossing a line, misleading, and more. 

Second, the ad the Romney campaign references is run by Priorities USA, an outside group -- not the Obama campaign.

Yes, the lines between the campaign and this outside group are blurry. Soptic has previously appeared in an Obama campaign ad.

Further, Obama campaign officials denied having any knowledge of the story of Soptic’s wife -- despite the fact that Soptic had told the story on an Obama campaign conference call. In addition, Priorities USA is run by a former Obama White House official and 2008 campaign spokesman.

As we pointed out this morning in First Thoughts, the Obama campaign would probably demand an apology from Romney for a similar ad.

In fact, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney decried an outside group that was considering running an ad campaign that would have invoked Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor.

"I think there are moments when you have to stand up and say that that's not the right way to go," Carney said back in May. 

For the record, Romney did. “I want to make it very clear, I repudiate that effort,” Romney said at the time. “I think it’s the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign.”

All that's true. But this ad doesn't call for Obama to denounce the Priorities ad; it attempts to tie him to it. To this point, there has been no evidence Obama or the Obama campaign directed Priorities to run the ad.

The Romney ad also claims Obama "had his campaign raise money for the ad." 

That's a stretch. Yes, Obama has encouraged donors to give money to Priorities, but there's no evidence he asked them specifically to raise money for this ad.

The ad then says, "...his top aides were caught lying about it." That assumes the premise that aides were raising money specifically for the ad. But there’s no evidence of that, either. 

If there was a "caught lying," it wasn't about raising money, it was about a campaign official not knowing Soptic's story. There is evidence that the campaign did have knowledge of the story, because of the campaign conference call he participated in.

The ad also then makes the jump that the president will "say or do anything," when, in this case, part of the problem -- perception-wise for Obama -- is that he hasn't said or done anything at all.

He hasn't denounced the ad, and there's no evidence that he told anyone to run this or that he thinks running it is a good idea or in bounds – though Republicans would say since he hasn’t denounced it, it’s a silent endorsement. And there will likely continue to be pressure on him and his team to denounce it.

As far as coordination, since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, both campaigns are walking in the mud.

While there are ample connections between the Obama White House, campaign, and Priorities USA, there are at least as many between Romney, Restore Our Future, and Crossroads, including top strategists who worked for Romney in the past as well as others who were invited to his Utah retreat for a political briefing.

It's also ironic that the Romney campaign is crying foul on coordination, considering the connections, but also because when this ad hit this reporter's inbox -- at 12:49 pm ET -- it was just 12 minutes after a video slamming Obama on the same subject produced by American Crossroads (below). The Crossroads ad even uses Richard Nixon-era White House counsel John Dean telling Nixon, "There's a cancer within-- close to the presidency that's growing. It's growing daily."