WASHINGTON — Republican challenger Mitt Romney tried Tuesday to drive a wedge between President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who has taken an increasingly prominent role in Obama’s re-election effort with three months left until the election.
A new Romney campaign ad tries to cast Obama as a big-government liberal, accusing him of dismantling the groundbreaking welfare reforms Clinton put in place.
The Democrats recently announced that Clinton would have a prime speaking role at the party’s national convention in September, which will serve as a formal push into the final weeks of campaigning for the November election.
With the race tight and Romney and the Republicans leading in fundraising for a third straight month, the Democrats are seeking to take advantage of Clinton’s popularity and strong economic record while in office.
But the new Romney ad criticizes Obama for removing work requirements from federal welfare regulations, a key element of Clinton’s 1996 welfare reforms. The ad contends that Obama simply wants to hand out welfare checks, while Romney would restore the work requirement.
“His policies will take America backward — back to the discredited liberalism of a bygone era where bigger government programs and bigger government checks were the answer to every problem, and accountability was not on the agenda,” Lanhee Chen, Romney’s policy director, said of Obama.
Obama campaign spokesman Lis Smith said Romney was “not telling the truth” in his attacks.
“By falsely attacking a policy that both he and his Republican allies have supported for years, Romney is once again flip-flopping on a position he took in Massachusetts and demonstrating that he lacks the core strength and principles the nation needs in a president,” Smith said.
The White House said Obama’s decision last month to change welfare requirements gives states the flexibility they have been asking for to make the program more efficient. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was among several Republican governors who signed a letter in 2005 asking for more “waiver authority.”
This year’s election hinges on which candidate voters decide is best to deal with the struggling U.S. economy and high unemployment. Polls show Obama and Romney in a virtual tie.
Clinton is also helping the Democratic-leaning independent group Priorities USA Action boost its sluggish fundraising. The former president will host an event in New York next week to help it raise money.
Priorities USA Action released a new television advertisement Monday targeting Romney’s business record at Bain Capital, the private equity fund he ran. The ad features a former employee at GST Steel who lost his job and health insurance when Bain closed the steel plant in 2001. The man says he doesn’t think Romney “understands what he’s done to people’s lives.”
The ad is the fifth in a series by the group targeting Romney’s business record, the centerpiece of his campaign. The spot is running in five battleground states — Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and Pennsylvania — with a history of not voting reliably for one political party and are likely to decide the race this year. The president is not selected by the nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests.
Both Romney and Obama were focused Tuesday on raising money. Obama was attending a pair of private fundraisers near the White House, while Romney was raising money in Illinois.