Progressive groups are calling out Ann Romney this week, venturing once again into territory where establishment Democrats refuse to tread. Progressives say the Romney campaign — which has made Ann Romney the core of its outreach efforts to women and other groups — has made the would-be first lady part of the conversation.
Democrats have been burned every time they’ve even approached talking about Ann Romney, insisting spouses are off-limits and wary that any criticism of a popular, charming woman will backfire. Progressives say that leaves a lot of ammunition sitting on the table. Outside observers agree with Democrats that going after Ann Romney is not worth the risk.
On Sunday’s “Meet The Press,” Ann Romney told host David Gregory something true: She and her husband have never had to worry about money.
“Mitt and I do recognize that we have not had a financial struggle in our lives,” she said. “But I want people to believe in their hearts that we know what it is like to struggle. And our struggles have not been financial, but they’ve been with health and with difficulties in different things in life.”
Progressive groups say the quote suggests Romney was being less than truthful when she spoke before the Republican National Convention, and described a hardscrabble life as a newlywed with Mitt.
“We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish,” she said in Tampa. “Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold down ironing board in the kitchen.”
Progressives seized on what they saw as a clear revision. The admission on “Meet the Press “is a far cry from the Republican convention claim that she and Mitt Romney ‘ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish’ to get by,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee told its supporters in an email launching a new online ad campaign aimed at Ann Romney. “Most important, it has the potential to show voters that as Mitt Romney proposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare and student loans, he is out of touch with the challenges working families face.”
The progressive group MoveOn aggregated an anti-Ann Romney graphic last week targeting her role as an advocate for women.
Labor was happy to proceed with attacks on the dressage horse co-owned by the Romneys during the Olympics even after Democrats ruled Rafalca off-limits. Democrats had a reason to make that call: Rafalca became representative of Ann Romney’s battle with multiple sclerosis, which is one of the most compelling parts of her personal story and not the kind of thing any campaign wants to demonize. When Romney said she was personally offended by the jokes about her dressage horse — she trained other horses as part of her therapy to recover from treatment for the disease — Democrats quickly backed off.
The Democratic Party did not respond on the record to PCCC’s new ad campaign, but it’s safe to say Democrats will not be following in progressive groups’ footsteps any time soon. Longtime Democratic strategist Celinda Lake said that’s the right call.
“At this point I think voters want to hear about Romney/Ryan and not others,” she told TPM in an email Monday. Lake did say, however, that focusing on Ann Romney’s “Meet the Press” appearance would be “good for internet fundraising.”
Both presidential candidates have spouses who are more well-liked than they are. And both campaigns leverage that goodwill for their side while bristling at any perceived attack on a spouse. Even progressive groups tread lightly, and insist that their attacks are “respectful.” But the PCCC vows to continue focusing on Ann Romney even if Democrats won’t.
“Ann Romney is part of this campaign. When she reveals how out of touch Mitt Romney is with the economic issues facing working Americans, progressives will not hesitate to respectfully point that out,” Stephanie Taylor, PCCC co-founder, told TPM. “Especially as Mitt Romney proposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Pell grants, the fact that he’s never struggled financially is hugely relevant — and an important moment of honesty from Ann Romney.”