FACT CHECK: GOP field flubs, big and small

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Except presidents don't sign amendments. Congress passes them and the states ratify them. The president could champion them, but the Constitution doesn't give him or her any formal role.

Since the campaign's start, each candidate has had a turn explaining errors as either the side effects of an exhausting schedule or simple foot-in-mouth syndrome. Under the intense media scrutiny, each misstep or error draws questions whether each candidate is up for the job.

Romney, too, stepped in it. The former Massachusetts governor said Obama engaged in "one of the biggest peacetime spending binges in American history." He overlooked the United States' role in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Yet not all errors are created equal, said Eric Dezenhall, an aide in the Reagan administration and now an image consultant who has worked with everyone from Hollywood stars to business moguls.

"The key factor in whether a gaffe catches on is whether or not it validates a pre-existing prejudice," he said.

"When Perry says that the voting age is 21, it validates the pre-existing suspicion that he's not in command of the basics," he said. "When Newt or Obama say something that is either misguided or incorrect, it doesn't resonate because everybody knows they are smart guys, so they get a break."

And it's not as if Obama hasn't had his doozies. For instance, Obama said during the 2008 campaign that he had visited 57 states. The United States only has 50.

"The flubs that stick are those that fit with a storyline about the candidate," said Doug Hattaway, a Democratic consultant who helped Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. "Gingrich isn't a flubber. He's known for being full of himself and making wacky statements, not flubbing the facts. So the misstatements are less likely to stick to him."

And voters might not care about factual details, Hattaway said.

"Best case of that is George W. Bush, who couldn't pass a civics quiz to save his life. Emotional intelligence is more important in politics than factual knowledge," Hattaway said.

Gingrich might be playing that to his own political advantage.

Before he seemed to reschedule the constitutional transition of power, he criticized Bachmann for stretching the facts about his record on abortion.

"Some people are just factually challenged and it's unfortunate," Gingrich told reporters. "In the eyes of a teacher, occasionally I'd have a student who couldn't figure out where things were, or what things were, or what the right date was. When that happens, you feel sorry that they're so factually challenged."

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