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Campaign 2012

Tone turns hostile early for GOP rivals

Romney, Perry break ‘11th commandment’

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / October 3, 2011

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WASHINGTON - The GOP presidential hopefuls all pay homage to Ronald Reagan, but his so-called 11th commandment of politics - Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican - is being regularly and energetically violated by the two Republican front-runners.

On a near-daily basis, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are using Twitter accounts, press releases, and even, in one case, the other candidate’s audiobook, to charge each other with a variety of wrongs - from devious motives to telling untruths.

As a way to paint the Texas governor as someone who is loose with the facts, Romney aides sent someone dressed up as Pinocchio - with a sign that read, “Even the Lies are bigger in Texas’’ - to Perry’s town hall meeting Friday night in New Hampshire. They also passed out a spoof book called “Rick Perry’s Plan to get America Working Again,’’ that had 114 pages, most of which were blank.

Perry was equally critical of Romney in an interview with Carl Cameron of Fox News on Friday night: “He has been on a lot of sides of the same issue. So, Mitt needs to get a position and stick with it. He is flipping more than that great movie star Flipper.’’

The mutually hostile tenor has emerged at an unusually early point in the nominating contest, and it illustrates the high stakes involved. But it also shows that Romney - who for months hardly ever mentioned his primary opponents - is trying to quickly stem Perry’s rise. Just six weeks ago, Romney and his advisers said they did not feel threatened by having Perry in the race and would not change their strategy. Now, rarely a day goes by that his campaign does not try to put Perry on the defensive.

“I can’t get over the pace and the ferocity of what’s going on,’’ said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant who managed Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996. “The attacks are flying now that usually start at Thanksgiving, and at a very rapid rate. Day in, day out, it’s pretty tough stuff.’’

The former Massachusetts governor’s press releases alternately call Perry a liar (“Perry’s Pinocchio Problem’’), a flip-flopper (“Rick’s Reversal on Afghanistan’’), and an out-of-touch Republican (“Perry’s liberal illegal immigration policies’’). Each came with an image montage showing Perry’s face evolving through his years in public office, from 1984 to 2011, with big red letters at the bottom: “CAREER POLITICIAN.’’

“It’s like we’re in the 72-hour period,’’ said one Romney aide, referring to the intensity of the final three days of a campaign.

Late last week, the Romney campaign released an online video ad, “Thank You, Governor Perry,’’ that has ominous music playing as President Vicente Fox of Mexico praises Perry for signing a law giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Texas.

Perry, in a debate in Orlando, said that Romney and others don’t “have a heart’’ because they oppose his position on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Romney’s rejoinder the next day was that not only does he have a heart, but he has a brain, too.

Perry has criticized Romney for having policies nearly identical to Democrats and for passing a health care plan in Massachusetts that “paved the way for Obamacare.’’

“I knew when I got into this race I would have my hands full fighting President Obama’s big-government agenda,’’ Perry said Friday in a speech at an Atlanta-based conservative think tank. “I just didn’t think it would be in the Republican primary.’’

Perry’s camp has called Romney names, too, including “Pro-stimulus Romney’’ and “Middle-class Mitt.’’ He’s also tried to point out that Romney, too, has been critical of Social Security - while also subtly referencing Romney’s at-times awkward moments on the campaign trail - by sending out press releases called “Mitt Romney’s Social Insecurity.’’

Perry’s online ads are highly critical of Romney for making changes in his book, “No Apology,’’ eliminating potentially controversial health care passages between the releases of the hardback and paperback versions. The ad includes Romney’s voice reading a passage in the audio version of the book and then displays highlighted portions that were removed.

In several cases, independent fact-checkers have accused Perry’s attacks of being misleading because they remove some key caveats from Romney’s statements - which has led the Romney campaign to open a new line of attack that Perry “has a problem with the truth.’’

The animosity is causing some Republicans to worry that the contest will become too divisive.

“I don’t think it’s a good moment for our party,’’ Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana told Politico, referring to the sniping over Social Security.

Michael Reagan, conservative commentator and son of the late president, said Romney and Perry had “taken the 11th commandment and thrown it under the bus.’’

“Romney and Perry need to knock it off,’’ he wrote in a column. “We want to know what their visions are for America’s future. Their public spats are simply giving Barack Obama juicy material for his TV ads in the general election in 2012.’’

With all the vitriol flowing between the Romney and Perry camps, some other campaigns hope to benefit.

“You know, I’m tempted to say that, when all is said and done, the two guys standing in the middle here, Romney and Perry, aren’t going to be around,’’ Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah, said at a recent debate. “Because they’re going to bludgeon each other to death.’’

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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