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Obama strategist dismisses Mitt Romney as ‘charlatan,’ ‘25% man’

One day after Mitt Romney narrowly won the Iowa Republican caucuses, President Obama’s chief campaign strategist unleashed a withering attack on the candidate, casting him as a soulless flip-flopper whose main interest is personal “advancement.’’

“Taking two positions on every issue, one on the left and one on the far right, doesn’t make you a centrist,’’ David Axelrod, who was also the architect of Obama’s 2008 victory, told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “It makes you a charlatan.”

Axelrod rejected any notion that Romney is now the presumptive Republican nominee, saying that Romney has failed to demonstrate broad support among GOP voters. He noted that three-quarters of Iowa caucus voters on Tuesday chose someone other than Romney.

“He’s still the 25% man,’’ Axelrod said, adding, “I don’t think Republicans in Iowa sent any signal that they’re ready to close the books on this nomination process.’’

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In a rare symmetry, Axelrod’s critique of Romney echoed that of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose fourth place finish followed sustained attacks from pro-Romney interest groups.

Political groups with ties to Romney “carpet-bombed Newt Gingrich,’’ Axelrod said, in what was “undoubtedly the most brutal negative campaign Iowa has seen in these presidential caucuses.’’

Axelrod cited polls Tuesday showing that caucusgoers who made up their minds late in the contest largely broke for Rick Santorum, who finished eight votes behind Romney. “So he [Romney] entered as a weak front-runner and leaves as a weak front-runner,’’ Axelrod said.

He added: “I don’t think Romney solved his problem. Had he won a resounding victory and improved on what he did four years ago [as a candidate in the 2008 Republican contest], I think he could have argued persuasively that he was bringing the party together and that he was in a position to close this out. I don’t think that happened last night.’’

For months, the Obama campaign team has targeted Romney, all but ignoring the other candidates in the large Republican field. Democratic strategists have said the strategy is based on a calculation that Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, would be the tough opponent in a general election contest.

But Axelrod questioned Romney’s electoral viability, given his record of changing positions amid shifting political circumstances. Romney at one point supported abortion rights, but later reversed that stance. As governor he pushed through a healthcare system similar to the one Obama enacted. Yet Romney has called for rolling back Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.

“The principle that he seems to consistently hold is one of personal ambition and to take positions that are necessary at the time,’’ Axelrod said. “That’s discouraging to conservatives, worrisome to moderates and a big problem for him throughout this process.’

peter.nicholas@latimes.com


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