WASHINGTON — Throw the flag against: Mitt Romney.
Call: Illegal substitution.
What happened: With President Barack Obama in New Hampshire on Tuesday pitching his jobs package, Mitt Romney unleashed his first TV ad of the campaign, a blistering attack on Obama's economic policies.
Romney's campaign says the 60-second ad is aimed at contrasting "candidate Obama from 2008 with President Obama of today and highlights his failures in between."
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It opens with footage of a 2008 campaign speech by Obama interspersed with photos of shuttered businesses and homes under foreclosure. The words "He Failed" flash across the screen, along with "Greatest Jobs Crisis Since Great Depression" and "Record National Debt."
Obama is heard to say: "Thank you New Hampshire. How is everybody doing today? I am confident that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. Who's been in charge of the economy? We need a rescue plan for the middle class. We need to provide relief for homeowners. It's going take a new direction. If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."
It's the last sentence — with the word "lose, lose," repeated in an echo, that crosses the line.
Democrats immediately charged Romney with distorting Obama's words and deceiving voters. Obama in that 2008 speech was quoting an adviser to his Republican opponent John McCain, saying — in full — that "Sen. McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'"
Democrats said taking the words out of context makes it appear as though Obama was talking about himself — and that he's afraid to discuss the economy.
Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho acknowledged in a blog posting that the quote was derived from Obama, who "mocked his opponent's campaign for saying 'if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'"
"Now, the tables have turned," she wrote. "President Obama and his campaign are doing exactly what candidate Obama criticized. President Obama and his team don't want to talk about the economy and have tried to distract voters from President Obama's abysmal economic record."
It's misleading to use Obama's partial 2008 quote about McCain's adviser to trick viewers into thinking Obama was talking about himself. He wasn't.
Still, that might be inside the bounds of contemporary smash-mouth politics if the Romney campaign's rationale for it were true, but it's not: Although he's suggested that the U.S. economy has been battered by factors he inherited and outside his control, Obama has addressed the U.S. economic situation almost daily since proposing in September a $447 billion plan aimed at sparking job creation. He talked about the economy on his visit to New Hampshire again on Tuesday, acknowledging that "many Americans have spent months looking for work, and others are doing the best they can to get by."
Penalty: Set the Romney campaign's credibility back 15 yards.
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