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Obama Camp Still on Defense Regarding Priorities USA Ad

Lawmakers and operatives made the rounds on the Sunday morning news shows to weigh in on the pro-Obama super PAC ad that connects presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to the death of a woman whose husband was laid off.

“That isn’t stated in the ad. It’s not a fair implication,” David Axelrod, a top campaign adviser for President Barack Obama, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” about a Priorities USA spot that features a Kansas City man who lost his job at a company that went bankrupt in 2001 after it was taken over by Bain Capital, a company founded by Romney.

“It’s disgraceful,” Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, countered on “Fox News Sunday.”

The advertisement, which never aired on television, shows Joe Soptic, a former employee at GST Steel, who tells the story of losing his job and then his wife to cancer because he no longer had health insurance through his employer. However, his wife’s employer continued to provide her with insurance, and she did not die of cancer until five years after Soptic lost his job, according to Politifact.

The Obama campaign tried to distance itself from the ad, saying that, by law, it does not and cannot coordinate with the super PAC, but officials were caught flat-footed earlier in the week. An Obama campaign spokeswoman claimed she had no idea about the ad’s details and yet Soptic had been featured in an official campaign call in May.

The Romney campaign has hit back with an ad of its own, called “America Deserves Better,” that opens with the line, “What does it say about a president’s character when his campaign tries to use the tragedy of a woman’s death for political gain?” And Romney has attacked the ads when asked about them.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, stressed on “Fox News Sunday” that the official Obama campaign is not responsible for the ad.

“That is not a Democratic ad; that is a Priorities USA super PAC ad,” she said. “I have no idea the political affiliation.”

Though not officially connected with the Obama camp, Priorities USA was started by former Obama aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney.

“The closest advisers to President Obama are the people responsible for that ad,” McCain said.

McCain, along with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who was short-listed to be Romney’s running mate, said Obama had a responsibility to denounce the ad.

Neither Axelrod nor Wasserman Schultz conceded that Obama should comment, however. While Axelrod rebuffed the claim that the spot directly connects the woman’s death to Romney, he defended the core idea that the former Bain Capital executive’s approach to business belies a character flaw he would take into office if elected.

“What is true is that Gov. Romney and his partners loaded that company with debt, walked away with millions of dollars and left the workers there bereft without the health care they were promised, without the pensions and other benefits they were promised,” Axelrod said.

“There is no question that the ad raises facts, such as when Romney was the CEO of Bain Capital … he laid off workers and made millions of dollars in profits,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The bottom line is … [he] profited from bankrupting companies.”

Wasserman Schultz also said there was a double standard to implying that there should be “indignation” over the Priorities USA ad when pro-Romney or Romney campaign-sponsored ads have made insidious insinuations about Obama.

“They have inferred that Barack Obama isn’t even American, have questioned whether his birth certificate is legitimate,” she said. “Where is the same indignation [and] Fox condemning those ads?”

Correction: Aug. 12, 2012

An earlier version of this story misstated the title of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.). She is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.