White House stops short of crowning Romney the nominee

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, White House officials insisted Thursday that they are not ready to crown former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee.

The White House and officials with President Obama's reelection campaign have intensely targeted Romney in recent weeks as his nomination looks increasingly likely amid stumbles and scandals marring his opponents' campaigns.

While campaign and Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials have targeted Romney with conference calls, Web ads and press releases, officials have not felt compelled to go after Texas Gov. Rick Perry or Herman Cain with the same intensity or consistency.

"It is not for us to decide who will be the nominee of the other party," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday. "We will leave that to, as we should, the voters in the primaries and caucuses to come."

Carney's comments came the day after yet another Republican debate, which the press secretary said Obama did not watch. Carney declined at least two opportunities to twist the knife in Perry after his embarrassing freeze during the debate.

"Our views on this are pretty limited to an examination of the policy proposals that the candidates, both leading and otherwise, have put forward," Carney said. "What we have seen is a remarkable uniformity to the idea that the way to emerge from the crisis is to repeat the policies that got us into it."

In recent weeks, as Romney's ascension has been unimpeded by his Republican opponents, White House and campaign officials have repeatedly targeted the former Massachusetts governor for what they say is a record of flip-flops and inconsistency.

But senior administration officials noted Thursday morning that Romney is topping out below 30 percent support in most polls, leading them to believe "there's clearly a vacuum for somebody" to compete with Romney.

One official joked that at this point in Obama's race in 2007-2008 "we were in third place and down 30."

"You've got to let this stuff play out," one official said.