Democratic campaign officials on Wednesday happily tried to pour sand into the GOP’s nomination machinery by deriding Gov. Mitt Romney’s electability and his commitment to conservative policies, by commiserating with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and with former Sen. Rick Santorum, and by complimenting Gov. Rick Perry.
“People don’t know where Gov. Romney stands today and where he will stand tomorrow, and that’s troubling people in the Republican Party,” said David Axelrod, who has worked as chief political strategist for President Barack Obama since 2008.
Romney is heading into the New Hampshire primary without solidifying his lead, so “he’s got to win by 30 point or so to continue his momentum,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager.
The press conference was held the morning after Romney edged out former Sen. Rick Santorum for first place in the Iowa caucuses. This win, although narrow, will help Romney maintain his poll-tested lead in New Hampshire before heading to important primaries in South Carolina and Florida. (RELATED: Romney edges out Santorum by 8 votes)
Democrats were pleased with the results because they want a long and tangled race. A long struggle may drain Republican activists’ enthusiasm for their candidate and will also muddy up the public’s image of the eventual GOP nominee.
If Romney had “won a resounding victory [in Iowa], and improved on how he had done four years ago … I think he could have argued persuasively that he was bringing that party together,” Axelrod said. Now, he added, “it is very possible that this race could go on for a while.”
Messina also used the Iowa results to taunt the GOP for its lack of infrastructure in various states, while Axelrod said the Iowa caucus showed that the Republican base is no more enthusiastic than are Obama’s supporters. Romney “spent $4.5 million, including his super PAC, and got six votes less than he got four years ago,” he said.
GOP officials, however, said their Iowa turnout of almost 123,000 caucus-goers is a party record.
Throughout the press event, Axelrod charged that Romney’s Iowa campaign was successful because of the super PAC.
One such group, Restore our Future, was established by three of Romney’s former aides. It spent almost $3 million on advertising, much of which slammed fourth-place finisher, Newt Gingrich.
“Romney called in the air force in the form of his super PAC to carpet bomb [Gingrich in what was] undoubtedly the most brutal and negative campaign Iowa has seen,” Axelrod said, adding that he expected the group to begin attacking Santorum during the New Hampshire primary.
Axelrod also boosted Gov. Perry, who placed fifth in the Iowa caucus. Romney’s opposition to the DREAM Act — a partial amnesty for young illegal immigrants — has “positioned him out of the mainstream of the electorate,” Axelrod said. However, he added, “I actually think Gov. Perry was right, when he said this is smart investment for us as a country.” (RELATED: Democrats work to scare up Hispanic vote)
2010 polls showed Romney’s position is centrist because the DREAM Act measure was opposed by 42 to 55 percent of respondents.
Neither Axelrod nor Messina complimented libertarian Republican Ron Paul, liberal Republican Jon Huntsman — who had spent all his effort to win the New Hampshire primary — or Rep. Michele Bachman, who announced her withdrawal from the race on Wednesday. (RELATED: Michele Bachmann ends presidential campaign after Iowa loss)