Speaker John Boehner today declined to repudiate an outside group for considering running campaign ads against President Barack Obama that tie him to his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Such an approach was largely shunned by Republicans during the 2008 campaign.
The Ohio Republican, echoing similar statements he made when asked whether gay marriage should be a campaign issue, said that the economy should be the main topic this election year.
“I don’t know what these other people do or why they do it, all I know is the American people vote with their wallets,” Boehner said, when asked whether he would decry the use of Wright in a campaign ad by a super PAC headed up by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts.
“Listen, this election is going to be about the economy,” Boehner said. “The campaign is going to be about economics. It’s going to be about jobs.”
The questions lobbed at Boehner come after the New York Times reported on a storyboard for an ad being considered by the group that would tie Obama to racially incendiary statements made by Wright. During the 2008 campaign, Obama’s connection to Wright’s church and his sermons was sifted through, and Obama eventually distanced himself from his one-time pastor. Obama then gave a widely hailed speech on race in Philadephia, and his connections to Wright made little impact on the campaign.
The ad plan, hatched by Ricketts and GOP consultant Fred Davis, described efforts to green light a line of attack Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) shunned when he ran against Obama in 2008: That Obama’s world view was shaped by Wright.
McCain said he stands by his campaign decision to refrain from linking Obama to Wright.
“I am proud of our campaign, I believe we did the right thing and I would do it over again today,” McCain said today.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also distanced his campaign from the plan.
“I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described,” Romney said in an interview on conservative-leaning website Townhall.com. “I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes and growing prosperity —particularly for those in the middle class of America.”
With Romney’s repudiation of the plan McCain said, “It seems to me that the issue is closed.”
Asked if he was offended by the super PAC’s characterization of him as a “crusty old politician,” McCain said, “I don’t know whether to be offended. It is what it is. My life has moved on ... I enjoy being in the Senate and there is no reason for me to hold any grudges.
“It’s a way for political operatives to continue to raise money,” McCain added.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked her reaction to the story as well, and took a jab at Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
“What was interesting to me is that this was all going to be funded by the owner of the Chicago Cubs,” Pelosi said. “Well, I hope they’re as successful with this campaign as the Cubs are on the baseball field.”
Ricketts’ spokesman also released a statement today distancing the Cubs owner from the proposed ad campaign: “Joe Ricketts is a registered Independent, a fiscal conservative and an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, but he is neither the author nor the funder of the so-called ‘Ricketts Plan’ to defeat Mr. Obama that the New York Times wrote about this morning. Not only was this plan merely a proposal — one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors — but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects.”
The Cubs are currently seeking upwards of $150 million in aid to refurbish the “friendly confines” of storied Wrigley Field. Such an ad, if it has the imprimatur of anyone from the Ricketts family, might not sit well with Chicago Democratic power brokers such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin.
Durbin, though, discounted the effect of such an ad on the Cubs’ chances of securing what he said would be “very expensive” public help to refurbish Wrigley. “I don’t think this ad campaign is going to be a major factor,” he said today.
While most of the Ricketts family is aligned with conservative causes or public officials, Joe Rickett’s daughter Laura is openly gay and a prominent Obama supporter.
Obama, by the way, is a White Sox fan.
Meredith Shiner and Jason Dick contributed to this story
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.