May 17th, 2012
01:45 PM ET
11 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. dallastexas75205

    I think they should have a war spending section on the board behind Mittens.

    May 17, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  2. MaryM

    FYI BREN, the price of gas at this time in 2008 WAS 3.80 gal just about what it is now. More lies from the right

    May 17, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  3. Chris M

    This actually makes me wish it was John McCain running again. I might not agree with most of what he said, but damnit, he stood by it with conviction and morallity. Both him and Ron Paul are in the same boat to me. Hate their polices, love the men.

    May 17, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  4. mike

    LOL! The extremist right wing's strategy is to employ the same talking points that failed them in 2008? Seriously?

    May 17, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  5. MaryM

    @ nairb247
    Truth hurts, DONT IT

    May 17, 2012 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  6. JCMars

    The New York Times – "Whatever the DNC tells us to print."
    CNN – next time try an unbias news source like Pravda, the Socialist Workers Daily or TMZ.
    Another Obama Campaign plant piece.

    May 17, 2012 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  7. let me think about this

    "Yep, after further thought, I have decided I don't want my faith brought up in this debate. It is hard enough to defend my ever changing political stances, and having to change my ever changing religion would be just that more difficult. I mean, should women have the right to choose... and are blacks really human?" Mitt mutters while climbing into his bus.

    May 17, 2012 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  8. BillKirkland

    What naive folks there are with responsible positions in life .. like a great job with CNN but "falls" for this simplistic rev wright head fake. I never beleived Romney and his billionaire friend would dare do what was being alleged by the NYT. The guy in question owns the cubs, is requesting city and state funding, and owns tdameritrade. His businesses would have been destroyed had he gone down that path. So what was this all about – make Romney into the "principled" guy and also insulate him from any attacks on his mormonism. Brillant or merely simplistic. The overpaid journalists at CNN fell for it. Me, a simple person without a network job can see through this one. You people are not reporters, just, readers.

    May 17, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  9. mm

    The GOP and Mitt Romney are disgusting.

    May 17, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  10. Hank10303

    @MaryM – no so fast – you are wrong - May 15, 2008— While many people were shocked at $3 a gallon, they were not prepared for what was about to happen as prices shot up to nearly $4 a gallon. Public hysteria sets in as consumers begin using Gas Buddy to find the lowest gas prices in town.

    May 17, 2012 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  11. HomeSweetHome

    It is funny to read all these messages telling the President what he is when it comes to his religion.

    The funny part is most of these people that are posting are suppose to be Christians.

    But then again, on just about every street corner in America you will find a Church that are full every Sunday. But look how these "Christians" treat other human beings that do not look or act like them 6 days a week.

    You people really need to take a long look in the mirror and read the messages about loving your fellow man. It did not state your fellow man has to look or act like you. Nor does it state your follow man had to be male, female or whatever.

    May 17, 2012 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  12. Iib

    WHat ever REverend Wright preached during the 20 years President Obama attended his church could never be any worse than the cold hearted racist religion of the mormons with their racism and their disrespect of women. I have never heard or seen the president speak any racist comments as I have Mitt and his GOP Tea Party minions. Let's start with McConnell and all the GOPs in washington who have sacrificed the American people for their selfish actions.

    May 17, 2012 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  13. Jimbob

    Rove is a bottom feeder. I'm surprised he's still around.

    May 17, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Character assasination-I wonder what Rich Santorum and Newt Gingrich would call the slime campaign Mittens ran against them?

    May 17, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  15. ProfEmeritus

    No one compelled the future President to seek out Rev. J. Wright. All one needs to do is play videos of Rev. Wright clamining AIDS was a white plot against Blacks and then show the President smiling. I am not embarrassed by what my pastor says.

    May 17, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  16. lies from the right but mostly hate

    Does any one of the major news networks actually research any news stories anymore or do they just want headlines and sound bites?

    May 17, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  17. Emperor Vadik, CA

    If the horse wont wide the first time...

    ...then it won't ride the second time either...

    ...what is the definition of insanity again???

    May 17, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  18. Jrl

    Wasted opportunity to show Obamas radicalism

    May 17, 2012 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
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