WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Like two prize fighters resting between rounds, Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney paused for a moment on Wednesday to wish each other well in the November 6 election.
They spoke by phone after the president called to congratulate Romney for clinching the Republican nomination by winning the Texas primary on Tuesday. In winning the primary, the former Massachusetts governor surpassed the 1,144-delegate total he needs to claim the Republican nomination at the party’s convention in Tampa in late August.
It was a rare conversation between the Democratic incumbent and the Republican challenger, who do not know each other well and already are engaged in a battle to boost themselves and raise doubts about the other as the summer campaign season begins.
“At approximately 11:30 a.m. ET this morning, the president called Governor Romney to congratulate him on securing the Republican nomination,” said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “President Obama said that he looked forward to an important and healthy debate about America’s future, and wished Governor Romney and his family well throughout the upcoming campaign.”
Romney was in Las Vegas when he took the call, having attended a fundraiser the night before with the pugnacious Donald Trump, who has renewed his questions about whether Obama was born in the United States - and eligible to be president.
Romney has tried to distance himself from Trump’s comments - but not from Trump, a distinction that has led some Democrats to question whether Romney is tacitly endorsing such attacks on Obama.
The conversation between Obama and Romney “was brief and cordial. Governor Romney thanked the president for his congratulations and wished him and his family well,” a Romney campaign aide said.
And with that, the truce was over and each campaign resumed their daily bickering. An hour after the phone call was revealed, Romney blasted Obama over the flagging U.S. economy, a well-trodden path that the Republican sees as his route to the White House.
“Over the last three years, we have seen hopes and dreams diminished by false promises and weak leadership,” Romney said in a new web video released by his campaign. “Americans are tired of being tired.”
By late afternoon, the Obama campaign had released a memo from top strategist David Axelrod that sought to raise new doubts about how Romney would handle the U.S. economy if elected, focusing on his tenure as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
ROMNEY‘S RECORD IN MASSACHUSETTS
Obama’s campaign had previously focused on Romney’s work as a private equity executive at Bain Capital, a company that bought and restructured ailing companies, sometimes resulting in a loss of jobs.
The campaign’s goal is to undermine Romney’s main argument for why he should be president: that his business experience makes him a good choice to lead the United States out of economic turbulence.
The Obama camp’s attacks on Romney’s work at Bain have drawn mixed reactions from fellow Democrats and it is not clear whether they are resonating with voters. Romney has risen in most polls recently and the race generally is seen as even.
Now the Obama campaign is moving to scrutinize Romney’s economic record while serving in his only government role, leading his home state of Massachusetts.
“Under Mitt Romney, Massachusetts plummeted from 36th to 47th out of 50 (among states) in job creation, and manufacturing jobs declined at twice the national average. And for the first time in more than a decade, Massachusetts’ unemployment rate was above the national average. Job growth failed to keep up with population growth in Massachusetts, even as the reverse was true in the rest of the country,” Axelrod wrote.
Romney’s clinching of the Republican nomination was overshadowed by Trump’s diversion into the so-called “birther” movement, whose followers believe Obama may not meet the Constitution’s requirement that the president be a natural-born citizen.
Although the White House had seemed to finally close the door on this type of fixation a year ago by releasing a long version of Obama’s “certificate of live birth” from Hawaii, the birther movement apparently lives on, with Trump fanning the flames.
“There are many people who don’t believe that birth certificate is authentic,” Trump said in a combative interview on Tuesday with CNN.
In case anyone missed it, the real estate mogul and media showman used Twitter to send out a link to the interview on Wednesday.
Editing by David Lindsey and Christopher Wilson