stf, file, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney's remark that he's not worried about the very poor, the latest gaffe in a campaign rich with blunders, joins a long list of wait-let-me-explain episodes in presidential election history.
It's been a banner year for campaign misfires: Rick Perry had his "oops" moment when he forgot one of the three government departments he wanted to eliminate. Herman Cain only made things worse after he fumbled a question about Libya by explaining he had "all this stuff twirling around in my head." Michele Bachmann launched her campaign with a cringe-worthy misfire, declaring that both she and actor John Wayne had lived in Waterloo, Iowa, when it was actually serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. who'd lived there.
Will any of those sour notes still be ringing in the ears beyond November's ballots and confetti?
There's stiff competition in the pantheon of campaign misfires: Think of Howard Dean's primal scream in Iowa during the 2004 primary. Vice President Al Gore's overwrought sighs when debating George W. Bush in 2000. Vice President Dan Quayle's botched spelling of potato in 1992. And, way back at the dawn of televised presidential debates, Richard Nixon's profuse sweating on stage with cool-as-a-cucumber rival John Kennedy in 1960.
Some others with proven staying power:
THE OTHER ROMNEY. Mitt Romney knows only too well how devastating a single gaffe can be. Forty-five years ago, his father, George Romney, ended his presidential campaign after negative fallout from his answer to a question about why he he'd once supported the Vietnam War. In a 1967 TV interview, Romney referred back to his 1965 visit to the country and stated, "When I came back from Viet Nam, I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." He said he'd since done a lot more study of the matter and no longer believed the war was necessary.
Romney's poll numbers sank amid a swirl of ridicule and questions about whether he was naive. "Can't you just see him coming back from a conference with (Soviet official Alexei) Kosygin yelling that he had been brainwashed by a Russian?" Democratic Party Chairman John Bailey asked. Romney's wife, Lenore, allowed that her husband's words were "extremely unfortunate" and insisted that he was too strong a man to be brainwashed. But the damage had been done.
DEBATE DOMINATION. President Gerald Ford didn't dominate when he falsely declared in a 1976 debate that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," including Poland. Time magazine called it "the blooper heard round the world." Democrat Jimmy Carter, Ford's rival, said the president had "disgraced our country." Ford only made things worse by refusing for days to retract the statement and offering clarifications that didn't really clarify things.
At one bizarre campaign appearance, the president spoke to reporters on a press bus via walkie-talkie and referred to himself in the third person, saying: "President Ford does not believe that the Polish people over the long run — whether they are in Poland or whether they are Polish-Americans here — will ever condone domination by a foreign force." The incident is recounted in Alan Schroeder's book about presidential debates, "Forty Years of High-Risk TV." Ford eventually apologized and said he recognized that the Soviets did dominate Poland and had military divisions stationed there.
CARTER CONSULTS. In the 1980 campaign, it was Carter who fumbled a Cold War question during a presidential debate when he cited his 13-year-old daughter, Amy, on the subject of nuclear war. "I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was," Carter said. "She said she thought nuclear weaponry — and the control of nuclear arms. This is a formidable force." The debate audience snickered. Carter's rival, Republican Ronald Reagan, served up a perfect rejoinder at a campaign rally, telling the crowd: "I remember when Patty and Ron were little kids, we used to talk about nuclear power," Schroeder recounted. Carter allowed in his memoir that "It was obvious that I had not expressed myself well."
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