NEW HAMPSHIRE — The super PAC supporting Mitt Romney blanketed Iowa with millions of dollars in negative campaign ads aimed at Newt Gingrich that became so ubiquitous it was possible to catch them several times in a single television broadcast. The ads flew around online, and they were the subject of many, many news stories.
But don’t ask Romney about ‘em: said he’s never seen the ads — right before he said he’s seen one and described its content.
At the fifteenth presidential debate of the cycle in New Hampshire Sunday morning, Gingrich and Romney got into it over the super PAC ads that all but ended Gingrich’s brief moment in the sun as the GOP frontrunner.
The pair went back and forth over the ads, with Gingrich calling on Romney to condemn them. Romney, as he’s been doing, claimed he can’t do anything about the ads. And then he said he had never seen a single one.
From the transcript:
Governor, I wish you would calmly and directly state it is your former staff running the PAC. It is your millionaire friends giving to the PAC. And you know some of the ads are — aren’t true. Just say that. It’s straightforward.
ROMNEY: Well, of course it’s former staff of mine. And, of course they’re people who support me. They wouldn’t be putting money into a PAC that supports me if they weren’t people who support me.
And with regards to their ads, I haven’t seen them. And, as you know, under the law, I can’t direct their ads.
Right after that he said he had seen one, and then pretty succinctly described its contents:
ROMNEY: Hold on a second. I — I can’t direct their ads. If there’s anything in them that’s wrong, I hope they take it out. I hope everything that’s wrong…
ROMNEY: — is taken out.
But let me tell you this. The — the ad I saw said that — that you’d been forced out of the speakership. That was correct.
ROMNEY: It said that — that you had sat down with Nancy Pelosi and — and argued for — for a climate change bill. That was correct. It said that you called the — the Ron Paul’s — Ron Paul — Paul Ryan’s plan to bu — to provide Medicare reform…
(LAUGHTER) ROMNEY: — a — a — a right-wing social engineering plan. It said that — that as part of an investigation, an ethics investigation, that you had to reimburse some $300,000. Those things were all true.
If there was something related to abortion that it said that was wrong, I hope they pulled it out. Anything wrong, I’m opposed to.
Here’s the video:
The Romney campaign struggled to defend the mini-flip flop on whether or not he’s seen the spots. On MSNBC after the debate, Romney backer John Sununu tried to explain that Romney has read about the ads, rather than seen them.
Here’s the transcript of that:
EUGENE ROBINSON: Gov. Sununu, why did the [Romney] say he hadn’t seen the ad if he had?
SUNUNU: Well, he has gene. The clips describing what’s in the ads. You don’t think he reads news clips? Don’t be silly.
Romney campaign spokesperson Eric Ferhnstrom said in the spin room after the debate that Romney has, indeed, seen one ad. Just like Romney said — after he said he hadn’t seen any.
“He hasn’t seen all of the Super PAC ads, but there was one ad in particular he had seen that he described on the debate stage,” Ferhnstrom told reporters
Evan McMorris-Santoro contributed from DC.