Top Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod on Sunday said Mitt Romney's characterization of a lawsuit in Ohio challenging a state early voting law as anti-military was "shameful" and a "false and misleading" description.
"The way you stated it and the way frankly Gov. Romney stated it is completely false and misleading," Axelrod said in a heated exchange with Fox News's Chris Wallace, when he was asked why he thought the military shouldn't have a longer early-voting period than other citizens.
"What that lawsuit calls for is not to deprive the military of the right to vote on the final weekend of the campaign. Of course they should have that right. What the suit is about is whether the rest of Ohio should have the same right. And I think it's shameful that Gov. Romney would hide behind our servicemen and women to try and win a lawsuit to deprive other Ohioans of the right to vote."
Democrats say they want all voters to enjoy the extended early-voting period, and not just those in the military.
Romney attacked the lawsuit in a Facebook post on Saturday, calling it an "outrage."
"President Obama's lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state's early voting period is an outrage," he said.
"We should do everything we can to protect their fundamental right to vote. I stand with the fifteen military groups that are defending the rights of military voters, and if I'm entrusted to be the commander-in-chief, I'll work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them."
The optics of the issue could be a problem for the president’s campaign, though, with military groups joining the state to defend the law. Wallace pointed out that 15 non-partisan military groups had sided with Romney on the issue and in a sharp exchange as both men spoke over the other.
"They need to look at the lawsuit and they need to know that that lawsuit stands up for military service-people to vote early but it wants that right for everybody in Ohio," Axelrod said after tweaking Wallace for breaking his own rules on the "lightning round" of questions and talking at length on the issue. "I don't know what it says about the Republican Party that they want to keep shrinking participation in our elections. That's not a very confident party to me."
Axelrod repeatedly sought during the interview to steer the conversation back to a recent study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center that said Romney's plan would raise taxes on the middle class and slow economic growth, but deflected when Wallace asked him about a new study from another nonpartisan group, Ernst & Young, that showed Obama's proposed tax plan would also slow growth, saying that "we can have competing studies."
Axelrod also sidestepped questions on whether the Obama campaign had any evidence that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) accusations that Romney hadn't paid income taxes for years was true. Reid has not provided any evidence, but has refused to back down from the claim.
"I don't know who Harry was talking to. The point here though, Chris, is the Romney campaign and Gov. Romney can resolve this in 10 seconds — they can release the tax returns," Axelrod said. "They gave 23 years of tax returns [to the] John McCain campaign, they've given one year of tax returns to the American people. It was Gov. Romney's father who pioneered the release of tax returns when he ran for president because he said one year can be misleading. Why don't they just put this to rest? Why is he hiding?"