WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's first TV ad of the 2012 presidential campaign sparked immediate denunciations Monday night from President Obama's reelection campaign, which complained that the ad was "a deceitful and dishonest attack."
The 60-second Romney ad quoted Obama as saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."
It sounds like Obama is talking about his own chances in 2012. But it's actually a clip of Obama mocking his 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), for not wanting to talk about the economy in the final stretch of that election. McCain's response to the collapse of the financial sector in the fall of 2008 is widely cited as a contributing factor to his loss.
The full Obama quote, included in a Romney press release as part of an Oct. 16, 2008 speech at a Londonderry, N.H., campaign stop, was this: "Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'"
The fast-moving ad does situate Obama's comment in 2008 by beginning with the statement on screen: "On Oct. 16, 2008, Barack Obama visited New Hampshire."
Obama's reelection campaign spokesman Ben Labolt called the Romney ad "a deceitful and dishonest attack."
"While the President brought us back from the brink of another depression and is fighting everyday to restore economic security for the middle class, Mitt Romney opposes the President's plan to create 2 million jobs and instead proposes a return to the same economic policies that led to the recession," Labolt said in an email to The Huffington Post.
The Obama campaign's howls of protest were joined by the Democratic National Committee, which sent out two press releases condemning the attack within an hour, and by ThinkProgress, a liberal blog run by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The Romney campaign dismissed the criticism, saying it clearly addressed the issue of Obama's language in a press release and blog post accompanying the new ad, which is slated to run for a week starting Tuesday.
"Three years ago, candidate Barack Obama mocked his opponent's campaign for saying 'if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose,'" wrote Romney's communications director Gail Gitcho. "Now, President Obama's campaign is desperate not to talk about the economy. Their strategy is to wage a personal campaign -- or 'kill Romney.' It is a campaign of distraction."
When asked by The Huffington Post, Gitcho maintained the ad was not out of bounds.
"We are using candidate Obama's 2008 campaign tactic against him," Gitcho said in an e-mail.
Obama is headed to New Hampshire Tuesday to promote his jobs bill, which will likely only add fuel to the debate over the ad. That might be exactly what Romney wants. It puts him in a national fight against the president that will elevate him above the rest of the Republican primary field, and it will focus attention on Romney's critique that Obama has not delivered on promises to turn things around.
"He promised he would fix the economy," the ad says. "He failed."
The back and forth Monday night is a preview of what promises to be a bitter and intense fight between Obama and the Republican candidate over the next year.