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Romney mixes up Osama, Obama during S.C. speech

In an apparent slip of the tongue on the campaign trail yesterday, Mitt Romney mixed up the names of Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The former Massachusetts governor was criticizing Democrats on foreign policy when he said, according to the Associated Press, "Actually, just look at what Osam - Barack Obama - said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq. That is the battlefield. . . . It's almost as if the Democratic contenders for president are living in fantasyland. Their idea for jihad is to retreat, and their idea for the economy is to also retreat. And in my view, both efforts are wrong-headed."

Romney, who was speaking at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Greenwood, S.C., was referring to an audiotape broadcast Monday on Al Jazeera, purportedly of bin Laden, calling for insurgents in Iraq to unite.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden later explained: "Governor Romney simply misspoke. He was referring to the recently released audiotape of Osama bin Laden and misspoke when referencing his name. It was just a brief mix-up."

The Obama campaign shot back in a way that seemed to consider the possibility that Romney might have invoked Obama's name on purpose.

"Apparently, Mitt Romney can switch names just as casually as he switches positions, but what's wrong-headed is continuing a misguided war in Iraq that has left America less safe," spokesman Bill Burton stated in a release. "It's time to end the divisiveness and fear-mongering that is at the heart of Governor Romney's campaign."

Obama has to contend with having one of the most unusual names of any American presidential candidate. A few people, including Fox News Channel's president, Roger Ailes, have used the similarity between the sounds "Obama" and "Osama" to mock the Illinois senator.

And a few others have done so by mistake.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said something similar while answering questions at the National Press Club in January 2005, just after Obama took office. He was asked why Obama's campaign was so much more successful than Senator John F. Kerry's presidential bid.

"Why don't we just ask Osama bin - Osama Obama - Obama what - since he won by such a big amount," Kennedy said. "Seriously, Senator Obama is really unique and special."

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

(Clarification: A story in yesterday's Nation pages about Mitt Romney mixing up Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden said that Fox News Channel president Roger Ailes had previously used the similarity between the names Osama and Obama to mock the senator. Fox News says Ailes was making a joke aimed at President Bush, not Obama, when Ailes said in a speech to broadcast executives in March: "And it is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don't know if it's true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, 'Why can't we catch this guy?' ")

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