With an eye on middle-class voters,
Mitt Romney waded into an obscure social issue today, accusing
President Barack Obama of gutting the welfare system’s work
requirements at the expense of taxpayers.
Speaking at a manufacturing plant in the Chicago suburbs,
the Republican presidential candidate sought to cast Obama as a
big-government supporter eager to give benefits to the poor
while failing to help economically struggling working families.
“We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture
of good, hard work,” Romney told several hundred voters at Acme
Industries in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
By zeroing in on welfare, a topic rarely mentioned by the
campaign, Romney’s campaign is seeking to appeal to white,
middle-class voters anxious about the country’s economy, an aide
said. Winning that group could be pivotal for both campaigns in
such swing states as Ohio and Virginia.
The fresh focus on welfare comes as Romney intensifies his
economic rhetoric, predicting a “financial catastrophe” if
Obama is re-elected.
“I’m convinced if we re-elected President Obama we will
see four more years of high unemployment, virtually no wage
growth in real terms and a fiscal catastrophe at the doorstep,”
Romney told three-dozen donors gathered for a fundraising event
in downtown Chicago.
Romney pegged his welfare attack, highlighted in a new 30-
second advertisement released by the campaign this morning, to a
largely unnoticed July 12 memo by the Obama administration that
Republicans say dismantles work requirements established under
President Bill Clinton’s landmark 1996 federal welfare overhaul.
The White House quickly pushed back, saying the decision
permitting the federal government to waive work requirements for
states has strengthened, not weakened, the welfare system’s
ability to move people from government assistance to employment.
“From a policy standpoint, this advertisement is
categorically false and blatantly dishonest,” White House press
secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
To be granted a waiver, states must submit proposals that
increase the number of people moving from welfare to work by 20
percent. So far, no waivers have been granted.
White House officials said that a number of governors had
requested waivers, including Republicans Brian Sandoval of
Nevada and Gary R. Herbert of Utah. Both governors, who are
Romney backers, said they wanted greater flexibility in carrying
out their welfare programs — not weaker work requirements.
Obama campaign aides cited a letter Romney signed in 2005
with other Republican governors requesting similar flexibility
for states when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“Romney is falsely criticizing a policy he once
supported,” James Kvaal, domestic policy adviser to the
president’s re-election effort, said during a conference call
Jonathan Burks, a Romney campaign economic policy aide,
denied that as governor Romney had supported flexibility from
the work requirement. He said Romney joined with other
Republican governors in the 2005 letter to congressional leaders
supporting a measure reauthorizing the welfare program that
would have increased the work requirement.
Still, the letter signed by Romney does argue in favor of
“state flexibility” provided by the legislation, including
“increased waiver authority.”
“Perhaps his argument is with his past self,” Carney said
The Romney campaign also wants to contrast Obama’s record
with the legacy of the Clinton administration, in an effort to
drive a wedge between the White House and the popular former
Clinton has emerged as an increasingly high-profile
surrogate for the Obama campaign, which recently gave the former
president a high-profile speaking spot at the Democratic
National Convention starting Sept. 4 in Charlotte, North
“President Obama apparently believes that Bill Clinton was
way too conservative, and that the Obama administration is and
should be far, far to the left of the Clinton administration,”
said Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz of Texas, a political
newcomer who scored a primary upset victory July 31 with the
support of anti-tax Tea Party activists.
Democrats, too, worked to woo middle-class voters,
releasing a new ad casting Romney as indifferent to their
The spot is part of a $20 million campaign by the pro-Obama
super-PAC Priorities USA Action attacking Romney’s business
record at Bain Capital LCC, the Boston-based private-equity firm
he founded and ran. It features a worker describing the death of
his wife after his family lost health insurance and he lost his
job when the Bain-owned plant he worked for shut down.
“I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to
anyone,” says the worker, Joe Soptic. “And furthermore, I do
not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”
Both campaigns also devoted much of the day to raising
money. Obama addressed donors in the Washington area, while
Romney held fundraising events in Des Moines and raised $2
million at two events in Chicago. Tomorrow, Romney heads to New
York City for a two-day fundraising swing.
Romney will intensify his focus on battleground states
later this week, when he departs on a four-state bus tour that
will take his campaign to Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and
Tomorrow, Obama plans to start a two-day swing through
Colorado. The president will be introduced at an event in Denver
by Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who
became famous after talk-show host Rush Limbaugh called her a
“slut” for backing a part of Obama’s health care law requiring
insurance companies to cover contraception.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Lisa Lerer in Washington at
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jeanne Cummings at