I need you to speak the truth — talk to your friends and colleagues. —Mitt Romney
NEW YORK — Mitt Romney on Thursday accused President Barack Obama and his allies of launching personal attacks and perpetuating lies about him in TV ads. The Republican also rolled out a new commercial of his own that questioned Obama's values and accused the president of waging war on religious freedom.
Obama's campaign disputed that charge.
"I am seeing some of the ads out there. I don't know whatever happened to a campaign of hope and change," Romney said, alluding to Obama's previous campaign slogan, during an interview on Bill Bennett's radio program, "Morning in America." ''I thought he was a new kind of politician. But instead, his campaign and the people working with him have focused almost exclusively on personal attacks ... It's really disappointing."
In the interview, Romney argued that Obama "keeps on just running" ads that various fact-checking organizations have called inaccurate. "They just blast ahead," he said, instead of pulling the ads off the air. But the candidate ignored the fact that he has kept his own ads assailing Obama on the air after these groups have found their claims to be false.
Romney talked generally about ads in the interview but didn't directly refer to a commercial by a Democratic outside group that has dominated the campaign in the last two days.
His campaign has called "despicable" an ad by Priorities USA Action that features a man whose wife died of cancer after he lost his health insurance when he was laid off from a company that was bought by the private equity firm Romney once ran. "I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned," the man, Joe Soptic, says in the ad.
Obama's campaign has refused to ask the group to pull the spot. Speaking at a rally in Pueblo, Colo., Obama bemoaned the influence of super PACs supporting Romney. He told voters they would see "more negative ads, more money spent than you have ever seen in your life." He made no mention of similar groups supporting his campaign.
Bill Burton, a former White House aide and a co-founder of Priorities USA Action, said the ad does not suggest that Romney was responsible for Soptic's wife's death.
"We're not saying Mitt Romney is culpable," Burton told CNN.
The back and forth over the commercial underscored the degree to which the White House campaign has become intensely negative and personal as polls show the race close three months before the Nov. 6 election. Negative commercials from both the candidates and their backers are flooding the roughly nine states that are the most competitive in the hunt to win the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory.
As controversy raged over the outside group's commercial, Romney's team rolled out one of its own Thursday that asks: "Who shares your values?"
It continues: "President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith."
The ad did not appear to be running in any television markets Thursday, according to a Democrat who tracks ad buys. The Romney campaign says it's expected to begin airing Friday, but refused to say where or for how long.
The spot revives a months-old debate over new health rules mandating insurance coverage for birth control without co-pays. Religious institutions have said the rules would force them to violate their faith. Obama says exemptions for churches and compromise language on charities fully protects religious freedom.
"When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?" the ad asks and says the answer is Romney. The ad is on the Web. Romney's campaign said the spot would also be broadcast on television, but didn't specify in which markets.
Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith responded to the ad, saying: "President Obama believes that, in 2012, women should have access to free contraception as part of their health insurance, and he has done so in a way that respects religious liberty."
The issue flared anew after roiling the campaign months ago when the new health care rules were announced, and it reflected efforts by Romney and Obama to go after women voters. Polls show they heavily favor Obama.
Seeking to keep that edge, Obama reintroduced the contraception issue into the campaign in Colorado when he was introduced Wednesday by Sandra Fluke, whose congressional testimony earlier this year became a flashpoint in the debate over contraception and women's health. Fluke gained notoriety after conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a slut because of her support for the Obama health care law's requirement that insurance companies cover contraception.
On Wednesday, Fluke criticized Romney for not rebuking Limbaugh more strongly.
"If Mr. Romney can't stand up to extreme voices in his own party, then he will never stand up for us," she said to a predominantly female audience in Denver.
Obama was spending a second day in the state Thursday, visiting Pueblo and Colorado Springs. He carried Colorado in 2008, but he and Romney are engaged in a tight contest for the state's nine electoral votes.
Obama highlighted his support for tax credits for wind energy manufacturers in Colorado and other states. The credit, which helps offset the cost of electricity production during a wind farm's first 10 years, is set to expire Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it. Obama supports extending the credit; Romney does not.
"At a moment when homegrown energy, renewable energy, is creating new jobs in states like Colorado and Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers," Obama told a crowd at the Colorado State Fairgrounds.
Without the tax credits, as many as 37,000 American jobs, including hundreds in Colorado, are at risk, Obama said, using figures from a study financed by the wind industry.
Meanwhile, in a new fundraising email to supporters, Obama notes that he and Democrats "got beat by the other side" again in the race for campaign cash and declares flatly that "I will be outspent in this election."
Obama adds, "That's OK. But only if we're able to keep the spending gap close enough so that our investments in a truly grass-roots campaign pay off."
Across the country, Romney held a fundraiser Thursday on Park Avenue in New York City.
"I need you to speak the truth — talk to your friends and colleagues," he implored donors at a breakfast that raised more than $1.5 million for his campaign. Woody Johnson, a top fundraiser, told the crowd the campaign is "halfway" to its ultimate fundraising goals for the election.
Romney was spending the rest of the day in Boston, preparing for Saturday's start of a four-state bus trip and an announcement, expected soon, on his running mate.
Pace reported from Pueblo, Colo.