WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Mitt Romneyhas locked himself into “extreme positions” on economic and social issues and would surely impose them if elected, trying to discredit his Republican rival at the biggest political moment of his life.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Obama said Romney lacks serious ideas, refuses to “own up” to the responsibilities of what it takes to be president, and deals in factually dishonest arguments that could soon haunt him in face-to-face debates.
Obama also offered a glimpse of how he would govern in a second term of divided government, insisting rosily that the forces of the election would help break Washington’s stalemate. He said he would be willing to make a range of compromises with Republicans, confident there are some who would rather make deals than remain part of “one of the least productive Congresses in American history.”
With the remarks, Obama set up a contrast between Romney, whom he cast as an extremist pushing staunchly conservative policies, and himself, by saying he would work across party lines. It was a seeming play for the independent voters who decide close elections and tell pollsters they want to see the often-gridlocked politicians in Washington solve the nation’s problems.
“I can’t speak to Governor Romney’s motivations,” Obama said. “What I can say is that he has signed up for positions, extreme positions, that are very consistent with positions that a number of House Republicans have taken. And whether he actually believes in those or not, I have no doubt that he would carry forward some of the things that he’s talked about.”
Obama spoke to the AP on Thursday before heading off to a long weekend with his family at Camp David, the secluded presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains.
The president was at ease but doggedly on script, steering even personal-themed questions about Romney and running mate Paul Ryan into answers about starkly different visions for helping the middle class.
Romney, a successful former executive of a private equity firm and one-time Massachusetts governor, will introduce himself to a TV audience of millions next Thursday as he takes the convention stage to accept his party’s presidential nomination. He has offered himself as a business-minded alternative to Obama and has seized on voter concerns about joblessness and the direction of the nation.
Nearly ten weeks before Election Day, the race is remarkably stable and reflective of a sharply divided nation, with registered voters about evenly split on their choice and nearly a quarter of them unsure or still willing to change their mind. Across the interview, Obama’s messages often seemed directed at moderate and independent voters whose sway could make the difference.
And Obama alluded to the provocative issue of abortion, suddenly thrust to the fore this week when Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin said the female body has a way to “shut that whole thing down” when a woman is the victim of “legitimate rape.”
The Republican platform in Tampa calls for a ban on abortion with no specific exceptions for rape or other circumstances. Obama predicted that a President Romney would not “stand in the way” if Congress gave him a bill that stripped away women’s control over their reproductive health.
Romney is on record, however, as not opposing abortion in cases of rape and incest or if it will save the mother’s life.
Polling shows social issues such as abortion represent perhaps Obama’s best opportunity to draw support from Romney. Obama already holds a broad lead as the candidate more trusted to handle those social issues among Democrats and independents. The issue is one of Romney’s biggest vulnerabilities among moderate and liberal Republicans.
Obama also sought to chip away at Romney’s trustworthiness, taking fresh shots at Romney’s refusal to release years of tax returns for public inspection. He said that position was indicative of a candidate who has a “lack of willingness to take responsibility for what this job entails.”
Yet it is the economy that has driven this election and has dominated Obama’s message of a middle-class revival.