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Top Obama, Romney aides may be headed for Sunday smackdown


The Sunday interview shows aren’t always real blockbusters, but with Mitt Romney continuing to look for traction leading into the Republican convention and a key representative for President Obama’s reelection on the hot seat over recent remarks, Sunday’s “Face the Nation” could get lively.

The CBS morning show’s promos promise Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter going up against Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom to talk about “the latest on the campaign.”

The “latest” that the Romney camp has been talking about is a pro-Obama ad that suggests Romney’s actions at Bain Capital left a woman without health insurance. The woman’s husband, steelworker Joe Soptic, says his layoff and loss of insurance left his wife unprotected when she was later diagnosed with end-stage cancer. She died, and it doesn’t take much of a leap to say the ad tries to hold Romney responsible.

Photos: Paul Ryan announced as Romney’s running mate

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Many holes have been poked in the spot, including the fact that Romney no longer headed Bain when Soptic was laid off and the fact that his wife had insurance from her own job. The minute-long spot -- which as of Friday had not actually aired anywhere as a paid commercial -- has led to a withering counter-attack from Romney’s team, led by Fehrnstrom. Contorting himself into new expressions of disdain, Fehrnstrom announced that not even a “world-champion limbo dancer could get any lower than the Obama campaign right now.”

Obama’s campaign, in response, told the Romney camp to spare the “faux outrage.” Spokeswoman Lis Smith said the Republican has routinely attacked the president’s patriotism and lied when he accused Obama of trying to water down a welfare-to-work law passed under President Clinton. Experts said the Obama administration’s changes only allowed states more flexibility in administering the welfare program -- a maneuver Republicans normally love.

But the attacks about the anti-Romney ad starring working-man Soptic could become more personal as two of the key players in the furor appear on “Face the Nation.” Cutter has gone on record as saying that Obama can’t do anything about the ad because it’s the work of an independent “super PAC,” Priorities USA Action. She told CNN: “I don’t know the facts about when Mr. Soptic’s wife got sick or the facts about his health insurance.”

That laissez-faire, we-can’t-control-the-super-PACs attitude (which both sides employ with regularity), became a bit more uncomfortable for Cutter when an earlier interview, which seemed to show she knew a lot about Soptic’s story, turned up. The website policymic.com posted audio of a May conference call with the press during which Soptic read a statement about his job loss and his wife’s death. He said Romney probably didn’t know or care. Cutter participated in the call.

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This doesn’t prove Cutter had anything to do with producing the provocative ad. It’s no surprise when a campaign and an “independent” PAC use the same raw materials (in this case: the story of a suffering working man) to make a provocative point against an opponent. Still, it’s embarrassing for Cutter to strike a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil stance, only to have evidence turn up that she actually saw and heard quite a bit. (Cutter and the Obama campaign did not respond to an email request for comment.)

Fehrnstrom has labeled as “outrageous” the super PAC ad that he said accuses Romney “of culpability in killing a woman.” “Face the Nation” (which airs at 8:30 a.m. PDT in Los Angeles) tends to the slightly more elevated tone. It will interesting to see whether Fehrnstrom takes off the gloves on the issue of the Soptic ad, when he gets in the ring with Cutter on Sunday.

james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: latimesrainey

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