May 17th, 2012
01:45 PM ET
6 years ago

Billionaire denounces potential Rev. Wright ad

(CNN) – Billionaire Joe Ricketts on Thursday rejected an ad proposal by high-profile Republicans billed as a provocative campaign against President Barack Obama that would run around the Democratic National Convention.

Earlier Thursday The New York Times reported Republican strategists were working with billionaire Ricketts to run commercials "linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr."

The president of the super PAC supported by Ricketts said he neither authored nor funded the proposal and that it was one of "several submitted" to the PAC by third-party vendors.

"It reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take," Brian Baker said in a statement. "Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a President this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility, but his efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally."

Strategic Perception, the ad company run by Fred Davis that was behind the Wright pitch, released a statement saying "The Ricketts family never approved it, and nothing has happened on it since the presentation."

Mitt Romney on Thursday renounced the potential ad strategy against President Barack Obama that would invoke Wright, in an interview and later at a press availability.

"I repudiate that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign," Romney told members of the press after a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Florida. "I hope that our campaigns can respectfully be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America."

Romney noted his campaign would soon be out with a positive television advertisement, saying it would contrast with recent attacks from Obama's team hitting Romney for his tenure as chief executive of Bain Capital.

"That will come up, I think, in a couple of days," Romney said of the ad. "It will be a positive ad about the things I would do if I were president. It's contrasting with the president's ad, which came out, again, as a character assassination ad. My own view is that, you know, we can talk about a lot of things, but the centerpiece of his campaign is quite clearly character assassination, and the centerpiece of my campaign is going to be my vision to get America working again and provide a better vision for our kids."

Asked what "character assassination" meant, Romney pointed to the Bain attacks, saying they were an attempt to "characterize me in a way that isn't accurate."

Romney's remarks followed his campaign's response, which included a call for election civility, after which Obama's campaign accused Romney of "reacting tepidly to the information."

Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said "Unlike the Obama campaign, Gov. Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy, and we encourage everyone else to do the same."

"It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so,'" Rhoades added.

Obama's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina said the reaction from Team Romney represented the Republican Party's shift to the right and toward "a hate-filled, divisive campaign."

"Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party," Messina said in a statement.

When asked about the Times report Thursday morning aboard his campaign plane, Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, said he had not yet read the papers.

Romney raised Rev. Wright earlier in the 2012 campaign cycle, when he questioned Obama's "philosophical leanings."

"I'm not sure which is worse, him listening to Rev. Wright or him saying that we must be a less Christian nation," Romney said on Sean Hannity's radio show in February.

When asked about the interview during the press conference Thursday, Romney said he didn't recall exactly what he said, but added "I stand by what I said, whatever it was."

Meanwhile, Democratic progressive organizations are organizing an "emergency conference call" to discuss the action in response to Ricketts, based on the Times report, according to a Democratic source.

When asked about the reports on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said it proves "guys like that so misunderstand the state of the nation.

"The public is so far beyond that," Biden said during a stop in Washington, Pennsylvania. "I mean look, there are certain things that are sorta so morally clear and straight and straight-lined about it. You almost don't even wanna comment."

Wright made headlines during the 2008 campaign for his controversial race-related comments, comments then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain did not capitalize on as part of his White House bid.

Obama was forced to distance himself from his former reverend.

Strategists told the Times, the plan would "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do."

On Thursday, Steve Schmidt, McCain's 2008 campaign manager, told CNN the campaign decided not to use Obama's connection to Wright because "It wasn't useful. It would have backfired. And more importantly, it's wrong."

A current spokesman for McCain said the senior senator stands by his 2008 decision to leave Wright out of the campaign.

"Senator McCain is very proud of the campaign he ran in 2008," McCain communications director Brian Rogers told CNN. "He stands by the decisions he made during that race and would make them again today if he had it to do over."

In response to the news Bill Burton of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supportive of the president, said there is an "ocean of Republican money coming right at President Obama - some of it dedicated to abject slime."

"Now is the time to fight back," he added in an email to supporters.

Ricketts, the founder and former CEO of TD Ameritrade whose family owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, has been particularly active in politics over the last few years. He, along with The Ending Spending Action Fund, the super PAC he supports, have backed candidates and causes dedicated to ending wasteful spending and special-interest earmarks. Recently, his PAC donated $250,000 to Deb Fischer's race for the GOP Senate nomination in Nebraska. Fischer captured the nomination in a come-from-behind victory.

- CNN's Jessica Yellin, Jim Acosta and Peter Hamby contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2012 • Jeremiah Wright • Mitt Romney • President Obama
soundoff (368 Responses)
  1. Woman In California

    "I'm not sure which is worse, him listening to Rev. Wright or him saying that we must be a less Christian nation," Romney said on Sean Hannity's radio show in February.

    Do you REALLY want to talk about religion Willard? IF so – let the American people IN on what your beliefs are in your Mormon cult and I guarantee you YOUR history will be FAR WORSE than anything Rev. Wright and YOU know it. Coward.

    May 17, 2012 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  2. Data Driven

    When you don't have a good argument, ad hominems and strawmen are all you have left. Romney–err, his surrogates–will be obliged to trot out nonsense like this, because the numbers don't lie: America has gotten better under Obama.

    May 17, 2012 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  3. NotFooledByDistractions

    The problem here is that folks like hannity and others on the right is that they are purposely distorting Rev. Wrights words and intentions. If you listen to that particular sermon in it's entirety, it's actually quite brilliant. But hannity knows his intellectually lazy, easily excited audience well and he plays on it.

    May 17, 2012 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  4. G

    What the hell does bringing up Rev Wright has to do with job creation? Nothing! The GOP is so freaking pathetic. Romney is running a campaign of divisiveness, fear, ignorance, and hate to win because he cannot win on his own merit.

    May 17, 2012 11:14 am at 11:14 am |

    Telling people the TRUTH about your record is not character assassination. Misrepresenting someone's words from the pulpit however is. I recall Rev. Wright's comments and I don't disagree with them. That being said, African Americans weren't Christians to begin with. We weren't Christians until we were brought to America. The brainwashing continues.

    May 17, 2012 11:15 am at 11:15 am |

    BTW, Rev. Wright served in the Marines. What the hell have you done Willard besides sell America out.

    May 17, 2012 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  7. Rachel

    This is going to be interesting especially the part where the Rev says he was bribed with $150,000 to shut up about Obama.

    May 17, 2012 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  8. Sniffit

    "Sure. As soon as the left stops bringing up stuff that Romney "acted stupidly" as a teenager in the mid 60's."

    OK. Instead, we'll focus on his hatred of gay people and anti-bullying efforts by drawing attention to his acts as governor of MA that destroyed the commission charged with educating the public about bullying against gay youth and conducting programs to help kids who have suffered that kind of bullying...which eventually forced the state legislature to create a new commission not under the control of the governor.

    But see, that, in and of itself, makes Mittens behavior so early in life relevant, particularly because it shows that it might be one of the only things on which Mittens has managed to remain consistent. Past behavior is prelude to future behavior. Do we want a POTUS who is insensitive to the rights and plight of the LGBT community? Maybe you do, but I don't...and people should have the information necessary to make that decision for themselves.

    May 17, 2012 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  9. Core republican Values

    Since republicans only care about the 1%, in order to win in November, they must find a way to lie, cheat and steal their way to fooling half of the 99% into voting for them.

    May 17, 2012 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  10. Waller

    Obama does not believe in anything other than centralized government power and massive spending. He is not christain or muslim. He is an agnostic which is why liberals love him. Its just like gay marriage in that it is what we all know he believes in but he has not had the guts to admit it yet about religion. He is a phony politician.

    May 17, 2012 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  11. ArtInChicago

    Romney and Romney PACs, go there at your peril.

    May 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  12. Obama 2012 - BEND Forward America, take another 4 long years of FAILURE

    Now that the country has seen what a far left loon Obama is, they need to understand why he is this far left. The Democrats and Obama have lied to the American people about Obama being center left or center right. Obama is a closet socialist but just won't tell the Americna people the truth. Just like he refused to come out of the gay marriage closet and lied to the American people for years about his position.

    May 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  13. ST

    If these people are clever, they should forget Rev. Wright issue. Just bring it on and you are going to regret why you have done so. Sen. McCain was not stupid to let it go.

    May 17, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  14. nolimits3333

    Romney hid money in a secret Swiss bank account, and now he won't release his tax returns.

    What is he hiding?

    May 17, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  15. FLIndependent

    It's truly hypocritical of the Romney campaign to call for civility when all I've seen living in a swing state are attack ads from them. There aren't any ads that have a positive message about what Romney would do for us (as he doesn't have any ideas), but the Obama campaign is running a few ads that do, indeed, highlight the strides our President has made. The Rev. Wright thing will be used again to rally the racists, but since this was hammered to death in 2008 I would say it will just do more to rally the Dems around Pres. Obama.

    May 17, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  16. Kenny K

    @John, PA

    Romney may have to answer many questions on Mormon practices.

    May 17, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  17. once upon a horse

    gonna dig up the old Rev. Wright stuff, huh? Why not just go the "birther" route too while you're at it Mitt. If President Obama attacked Mitt Romney for being a member of a church that did not even ALLOW Blacks to be members until the late 20th Century you could bet the RNC would be crying foul.

    May 17, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  18. v_mag

    Rob-money's nominal religion is Mormonism, but he worships power, money, and prestige. Nobody in this century could really believe the nonsense Mormonism teaches.

    May 17, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  19. sonny1973

    So Data what are your gas prices, home values, 401k earnings, and job security like in your neck of the woods cause that neck ain't in the USA.

    May 17, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  20. judy

    and the repos are not going to bring this up because they are running a good campaign? Give us all a break you flip flopper and just shut up. Your politics are so dirty we all saw that in the republican primary. Obama 2012

    May 17, 2012 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  21. Sniffit

    "Give Romney all the money not the bigger
    get rid of Obama he sucks as president"

    What, you think people don't know that "b" and "n" are next to each other on the keyboard?

    May 17, 2012 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  22. Laverne

    Republican senators had a nerve to say last month that Obama campaign was going to make a big deal out of Romney's religion! The republicans and their surrogates are the most hippocritical and desperate people in the US. They know they can't win, so they are already preparing to result to dirty politics as usual. This election will be nasty because the republicans won't have it any other way!

    May 17, 2012 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  23. Fred2121

    Unless you have pesonally heard the tapes you have nothing to say. Rev. Wright give insight into the president like no one has. NO ONE vetted the president in 08. These tapes give you some insight about our president and just how many lies and what a fraud he is.

    May 17, 2012 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  24. g2-aa3d1145cda478669d467d6a57f7f783

    Hey, I've got an idea: let's try to beat Obama with the same tactics that didn't work 4 years ago!

    May 17, 2012 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  25. B.

    When you have no meaningful plans to offer, it turns to "Swift-boat" techniques of hate and discontent which proved to be successful before.

    The big difference now is that most Americans understand what is going on and turn their back to it.
    This is what "Super-packs" buy for you and the ultimate result of lowering the standards even more, if that is possible..

    May 17, 2012 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
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