Mitt Romney is prepared to select his vice presidential running mate as soon as this week, weighing whether to accelerate his timetable as he pushes to deflect attacks on his business record and wealth.
The presumed Republican nominee is ready to choose the No. 2 on his ticket “anytime,” longtime adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said yesterday, adding that no decision had been made.
As speculation intensified over the choice, Romney stepped up efforts to refocus the campaign on President Barack Obama, accusing him of ignoring the plight of middle-income Americans while rewarding campaign donors with federal dollars that led to the outsourcing of U.S. jobs.
“This is a time when it’s good to be a friend of the Obama campaign, because you might be able to get some money for your business,” Romney said in Jackson, Mississippi, at an evening event that raised $1.7 million for his campaign. “But it’s not so good to be middle class in America.”
As Romney twice during the day branded Obama the “outsourcer in chief,” the president returned the charge, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of advocating policies that would create more jobs overseas than in the U.S.
Campaigning in a part of southwestern Ohio traditionally dominated by Republicans, Obama hit Romney on taxes and his background as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC.
“We don’t need a president who wants to ship more jobs overseas,” Obama told about 1,200 supporters at a campaign forum yesterday at the Cincinnati Music Hall.
Obama is spending four days this week campaigning and raising money as he faces what national polls show is a close race. Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, has been a bellwether in modern presidential politics, voting for the winner in every election since 1964. Also, no Republican has won the presidency without winning the state.
Obama focused on differences between him and Romney on tax policy, including how corporations are taxed on earnings outside the U.S. Citing an analysis released yesterday by economist Kimberly Clausing in the publication Tax Notes, Obama said Romney’s call for a so-called territorial system of taxes for multinational corporations would create 800,000 jobs.
“There’s only one problem,” Obama said. “The jobs wouldn’t be in America. They’d be in other countries.”
Romney is to appear at a rally outside Pittsburgh today and is scheduled to campaign at a town hall event tomorrow in Bowling Green, Ohio, as he seeks to refocus the race from the Bain-related attacks to economic hardships voters have experienced during Obama’s term.
Fehrnstrom discussed the vice presidential decision as Romney held a fundraiser luncheon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, telling reporters that “no decision’s been made.” Asked whether an announcement could come as soon as this week, he said it could.
“It could happen anytime between now and the convention, but it will only happen after a decision has been made, and no decision has been made,” Fehrnstrom added in a follow-up e-mail.
An announcement this week -- more than five weeks before the Republican National Convention starts Aug. 27 in Tampa, Florida -- would defy the recent tradition in which presumptive nominees have announced their vice presidential picks just days before the party gatherings.
The New York Times reported yesterday in a story about former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s running-mate prospects that unnamed friends believe Romney had reached a decision. The story also named Senator Rob Portman of Ohio as a top contender.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, another prospective running mate, attended yesterday’s fundraiser in Baton Rouge and met briefly with Romney before the event.
Obama and his surrogates have spent the last several days questioning Romney’s veracity after Securities and Exchange Commission records surfaced that listed the Republican as the chief executive officer of Bain in 2002, placing him at the company three years after he said he had quit and during a period when the firm made some deals involving companies that fired workers or outsourced jobs overseas.
Obama campaign aides say the tactic is working, sowing doubts about Romney’s central argument for his candidacy -- his business experience. Strategists in both parties say the debate over outsourcing could sway voters in politically competitive states, particularly manufacturing-heavy battlegrounds including Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“People have started to question Mitt Romney’s business credentials, which he’s been leading with as the reason, the number one qualification for his presidency,” Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign, told reporters traveling today with the president.
Romney, in his bid to turn the issue against Obama, told contributors at the Baton Rouge gathering that the president “is taking your tax dollars and putting it in businesses owned by contributors to his campaign, and that is smelly at best -- it stinks.”
He cited some $500 million in federal loan guarantees that went to the electric sports car maker Fisker Automotive, a company financed in part by a venture capital firm in which former Vice President Al Gore is a partner. Fisker contracted with a manufacturer in Finland to produce its first vehicle.
“The president not only took our money and put it with his friends; he also took our money and outsourced the jobs,” Romney told about 40 donors lunching on shrimp salad and beef tenderloin at an event at the City Club of Baton Rouge that raised $2 million.
Romney, who has reported his net worth at as much as $250 million, is resisting calls from Democrats -- echoed in recent days by some Republicans anxious to end a potentially damaging storyline for him -- that he reveal more about his income taxes. Romney has released his 2010 tax return and said he will provide his 2011 return when it’s ready.
“We think it’s sufficient,” Fehrnstrom said yesterday.
Romney, who often says he won’t apologize for his success, told contributors at his Mississippi event that he wants to help the less affluent.
“I know that people in this room are probably doing relatively well, relative to folks across this country, but not everyone in America is doing so well right now,” Romney told more than 300 donors at the River Hills Club in Jackson. “The waiters and waitresses that come in and out of this room and offer us refreshments -- they’re not having a good year. The people of the middle class of America are really struggling.”
He said it was unfair to brand Republicans “the party of the rich.”
“It’s an awful moniker, because that’s just not true,” Romney said. “We’re the party of people who want to get rich, and we’re also the party of people who want to care to help people from getting poor. We want to help the poor.”
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