Controversial anti-Romney ad remains in spotlight Sunday
Political figures on both sides of the aisle sought distance on Sunday from a video produced by the main super PAC supporting President Barack Obama's reelection -- an ad which juxtaposes an uninsured woman's death with the closure of a steel mill owned by Romney's firm.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz went as far as to say "I have no idea of the political affiliation of folks who are associated with that super PAC," though she acknowledged the group's leanings in an online post after the show.
But the super PAC, Priorities USA Action, was co-founded by former White House and Obama campaign official Bill Burton, who told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that he stands by the video and denied it connects Romney and the woman's death.
The spot was announced by Priorities as a television advertisement last Tuesday, and although it has run on television in newscasts and political discussions, it has yet to air as a paid advertisement, according to CNN's advertizing consultant, Kantar Media Campaign Media Analysis Group. Super PACs are required to remain independent of political campaigns.
Former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic says in the video "When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their healthcare. And a short time after that, my wife became ill."
The video makes no mention that Romney has said he left Bain Capital in 1999, that GST Steel was closed in 2001 nor that Soptic's wife left her job (and insurance) after a rotator cuff injury in 2002 or 2003.
"I don't know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn't say anything because she knew that we couldn't afford the insurance," he said.
His wife was not admitted to a hospital until 2006, which he said was 22 days before her death. "I don't think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned," Soptic says in the video.
Asked if Obama "agree[s] with what was in that ad," Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod did not offer a direct answer.
"I don't think anybody - anybody believes that Mr. Soptic's wife, that Governor Romney can be blamed for the death of Mr. Soptic's wife, and, frankly, I don't think the ad says that, either," Axelrod said.
"What he can be blamed for is taking that steel company to bankruptcy, walking away with millions of dollars, and leaving workers without pensions, without the health coverage they were promised," Axelrod also said in the interview. "He has run on his business experience, and his business experience is things like the GST Steel story, where he took - where they loaded companies with debt, profited from it to the tune of millions of dollars, and then left workers and creditors holding the bag."
A high-profile Romney supporter and critic of this cycle's harsh campaign rhetoric, Sen. John McCain, on Sunday called the ad "disgraceful."
You run out of adjectives and adverbs," he continued on Fox News, "and is even more so, because the closest advisors to President Obama are the people responsible for that ad. We all know that these connections are there."
Wasserman Schultz's comment that she did not know Priorities' leanings came in a separate interview also on Fox News immediately following McCain's interview. "That is a super PAC that is not affiliated with our campaign or with the party. However--" she said, before the anchor interrupted to ask about the ad itself.
After her interview, she said in a tweet, "Clearly Priorities USA is a Democratic SuperPAC. Was trying to state the obvious: we have no control over their activities."
Asked about the ad, she said, "What I think of the ad is that there's no question that the ad raises facts such as that Mitt Romney when he was CEO of Bain Capital bankrupted companies, laid off workers, cut their benefits and made millions of dollars in profits. That ad points out that there are consequences to making decisions like that that impacted people's live in a significant way."
In their separate interviews, both she and Axelrod pointed out harsh advertisements from Romney's campaign and his allies.
"He says I approve this message, and then he attacks others for ads that we didn't approve and that we didn't produce? I think he's the one who needs to explain," Axelrod said.
McCain declined to say anything of the advertisements his campaign aired in 2008 against Obama.
"The president should denounce an ad that paints a good and decent man, Governor Mitt Romney, who he may disagree with into a person who was responsible for a man's wife's death," McCain said. "I mean, I don't know how you get worse than that. All of us grieve for anyone that loses a loved one. But then to portray Mitt Romney as somehow responsible for that?"
The Priorities spot, McCain said, "makes me sad more than angry."
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams sent a statement to reporters Sunday afternoon, saying, "The entire nation has condemned the shameful attack ad from President Obama's official Super PAC -- but you wouldn't know it listening to the President's own advisers. They've repeatedly refused to condemn the ad, and now won't even admit that Democrats run the organization. America deserves better than a president willing to say and do anything to stay in power."
In his CNN interview on Wednesday, Burton of Priorities said "The point of this ad is to tell the story of one guy, Joe Soptic, and the impact on his life that happened for years, and to this day, as a result of decisions that Mitt Romney made."
"What we're saying is that Joe Soptic was fired from his job, and as a result of that, he wasn't able to get - he wasn't able to hold onto health-care benefits that were promised to him. And as a result when his wife got sick, he didn't have health care," he said, adding "it will show on TV soon."
-- CNN White House Correspondent Brianna Keiler contributed to this report