JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Mitt Romney convened a rare press conference Thursday to explicitly distance himself from a controversial, racially-charged ad campaign reportedly planned by a Republican super PAC.
His campaign subsumed by a political firestorm first sparked by a New York Times report on a proposed campaign attacking President Obama for his ties to the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Romney appeared on camera to disavow the strategy.
"I want to make it very clear that I repudiate that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign," Romney told reporters after his rainy event here today. "I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America."
The press conference -- a rarity for those following the Romney campaign -- reflected the urgency with which Romney and his advisers felt compelled to distance the candidate from the controversial proposal. Romney had initially passed on commenting this morning, saying he hadn't seen the story, before taping a radio interview this morning condemning the proposal.
The plan, which was presented by Strategic Perception and GOP ad man Fred Davis to Joe Ricketts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, earned heavy backlash from the Obama campaign and many Republicans on Thursday. By mid-afternoon, Ricketts had disavowed the plan, and Strategic Perception had taken sole responsibility for the proposal, on which they said no action was taken.
Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning this afternoon in Pennsylvania, condemned the proposed ad campaign, saying its proponents "act like it's 1942."
"I think these guys like that so misunderstand the state of the nation," he told reporters at an unscheduled stop at a Washington, PA BBQ restaurant. "They act like it's 1942. I mean, I think the public is so far beyond that."
Biden said that he'd heard reports that the proposed ad had been rejected by Ricketts.
"I mean look there are certain things that are sorta so morally clear and straight and straight-lined about it," he said. "You almost don't even wanna comment."
But for as much as Romney's press conference served ostensibly defensive purposes, the presumptive Republican nominee used the moment to go on the attack, as well.
Romney said was "disappointed" in what he claimed was the president's campaign of "character assassination," complaining that that ads recently released by the Obama campaign attacking Romney's work at the helm of Bain Capital were inaccurate and unfair.
"There's this fiction that some have that somehow you can be successful by stripping assets at enterprise and walking away with lots of money and killing the enterprise. There may be some people that know how to do that. I sure don't," Romney said. "Our approach was always to try and make the enterprise more successful. And the purpose of the president's ads are not to describe success and failure but to somehow suggest that I'm not a good person or not a good guy."
But the controversy of the day largely overshadowed Romney's bread-and-butter campaign speech about the economy. And for the political class, the Wright controversy also sidelined a more favorable story about the Romney campaign's fundraising success last month.
In Jacksonville, Romney argued the election ought to turn on who has the best plan for "jobs and kids," a catchphrase he was first heard using at a fundraiser in Palm Beach last month, and where he will return later this evening for another fundraiser.
The sunshine state has been good to Romney's campaign financially. Pool reports from his fundraisers show he raised more than $2 million apiece at stops yesterday near Tampa Bay and Miami. Romney declined to say whether Florida was a "must win" for his campaign, but closed his press conference by saying it was a state he was "counting on to be successful in."
Carrie Dann reported from Washington, Pa.