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Romney 'birther' line the latest in campaign distractions

26 august 2012, 15:56
0
A social policy debate has dogged Mitt Romney's campaign message, but he caused his own distraction Friday when he dredged up the conspiracy over President Barack Obama's birth certificate, AFP reports.

Romney had aimed to roll into the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida next week touting his business credentials, pushing party unity and convincing voters he was more capable of turning the economy around than the current president.

He's also set to carry with him new national poll data from CNN/ORC International that shows him just behind Obama 49-47 percent among likely voters, a statistical tie as it is within the margin of error.

But he was sideswiped by a debate on rape and abortion this week after conservative Representative Todd Akin said a woman's body could prevent pregnancy in the case of "legitimate rape."

Romney led Republican calls for Akin to bow out of his Senate race, but the Missouri congressman's refusal has left party leaders fighting perceptions of weakness and internal division over issues like abortion.

On Thursday, the Republican White House hopeful returned to his economic plan by unveiling an energy platform aiming to boost US oil and gas production, but his latest birth certificate quip again muddled the message.

Speaking in Michigan about his and his wife's roots in the state, Romney told a campaign crowd: "no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."

Many in the crowd of about 10,000 cheered and applauded, but it was an awkward link to a long-standing conspiracy fueled by right-wing conservatives who question whether Obama was born in the United States.

Afterward, Romney told CBS News that the remark was "not a swipe" at Obama, but "a little humor in a campaign" as he and Ann Romney entertained a hometown crowd.

"I've said throughout the campaign and before: there is no question about where he was born. He was born in the US," Romney said.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus dismissed the off-the-cuff remarks as a "nothing issue."

But the conspiracy has refused to die, despite Obama releasing his "long-form" birth certificate last year showing he was born August 4, 1961 at a Honolulu hospital.

The Obama camp insisted that Romney's remark showed the former Massachusetts governor was embracing "the most strident voices in his party."

"Governor Romney's decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.

In the run-up to Tampa, Romney has sought to hammer Obama's economic record, which the multimillionaire private equity investor has stressed is the pivotal factor in November's election.

But the week has seen several hiccups, including on Thursday night at a Minnesota fundraiser.

Romney told donors he would "champion small business," but then said: "big business is doing fine in many places."

The comment recalled Obama's June remark that "the private sector is doing fine," a line mercilessly mocked by Romney as a sign the president was out of touch.

But Romney, who as head of private equity firm Bain Capital amassed a fortune estimated at $250 million, also inadvertently highlighted his own secretive offshore investments in havens like the Cayman Islands.

"They get the loans they need, they can deal with all the regulation," he said at the fundraiser.

"They know how to find ways to get through the tax code, save money by putting various things in the places where there are low tax havens around the world for their businesses. But small business is getting crushed."

Romney's tax rate has been a bone of contention. Romney says he has paid an annual tax rate of at least 13 percent for each of the last 10 years, a rate lower than that paid by millions of middle-class Americans.

Campaign staff nevertheless sought to rally and unify Republicans ahead of Tampa, and announced that an official tribute video to Ron Paul, one of Romney's defeated 2012 Republican rivals whose faction remains at odds with Romney on some policy issues, would be shown at the convention Tuesday night.

Ann Romney, who for months has charmed campaign audiences with her personable style and stories about her husband, had been due to speak Monday, but she was squeezed into Tuesday night, Republican officials said, after US networks balked at broadcasting live on the convention's opening night.

Romney accepts the nomination on Thursday.

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