Democrats keep Romney in crosshairs

Newt Gingrich might be leading the GOP presidential pack in the polls, but Democrats aren’t budging one inch from their unidirectional focus on Mitt Romney.

Democrats began an all-out bombardment against the former Massachusetts governor on Monday, targeting him with television ads in five states plus Washington, D.C., hitting him as a flip-flopper in a new website and holding events to undermine him in 10 key swing states.

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“If people are scared of uncertainty, they should be terrified of Mitt Romney,” Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said during a conference call with reporters.

Romney is all too happy to be the focus of President Obama’s ire, as it implies he is the inevitable nominee. He unleashed a torrent of high-profile surrogates, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and former Iowa GOP Chairman Brian Kennedy, to defend his record.

All of Romney’s attack dogs made it clear who they think is trembling in Romney’s shadow.

“It’s obvious that Barack Obama doesn’t want to face Mitt Romney,” said Pawlenty, who endorsed Romney after dropping out of the race in August. “They know he would defeat Barack Obama — and he should, on the merits.”

Eyeing Romney as both the most likely Republican nominee and the toughest candidate for Obama to defeat in a general election, Democrats haven’t wavered from their singular focus on the former governor, even as other contenders have surpassed Romney in the polls. They’ve uttered barely a word about Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) or businessman Herman Cain.

So far, the strategy has proven shrewd, as those contenders have fallen back as quickly as they ascended, leaving Romney once again as the man to beat.

But with barely one month before the first caucuses and primaries, the stakes have been raised for that endgame gambit, accentuated by the rise of Gingrich, the former House Speaker, who is a handful of points ahead of Romney in major polls conducted over the past two weeks.

“In no way is this primary over yet. We know that there’s a lot of game left to be played, and we certainly aren’t taking it for granted,” said Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho.

She added that Obama and his allies were hoping to pre-emptively knock Romney down so they would have an easier reelection fight in 2012.

“The last thing the Democrats and the White House want to do here is run against Mitt Romney, and that’s why you’ve seen such activity on their behalf,” Gitcho said.

In hypothetical general-election polls pitting the candidates against Obama, Romney consistently performs best among the GOP hopefuls. The perception that Romney is much more moderate than he has let on during the campaign has both helped his standing among independents and fed conservative angst that he’s not a true believer.

DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse told reporters on Monday that Romney had prompted the Democratic attacks himself by lying about Obama, calling it the DNC’s “fiduciary responsibility” to correct the record when Romney’s campaign distorts the truth. Democrats threw a fit last week when Romney released a campaign ad quoting Obama saying that talking about the economy would be politically perilous, but edited it to hide the fact that Obama was actually quoting Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

But asked by The Hill whether that meant the other candidates’ attacks against Obama had been truthful and needed no rebuttal, Woodhouse demurred.

“They’ve all distorted the president’s record,” he said, though he added that none have done it as egregiously as Romney, and none are acting like they have already locked up the party’s nomination. “We’re not going to sit here and let him just take potshots at the president without letting people know who he really is, and what his motives are.”

With the DNC and Obama’s reelection campaign adhering to the anti-Romney message with an almost militant discipline, knocking down the lower-tier candidates has fallen to those with nothing to lose. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank (D) used part of a news conference called to announce his retirement Monday to paint ridicule on the GOP with a wide brush.

“If Newt Gingrich is the nominee, then wow,” Frank said, adding of the GOP field: “It consists half of people who think like Michele Bachmann, and half of people who worry about losing a primary to people like Michele Bachmann.”