Rick Perry and Mitt Romney escalated their fight to a new level Thursday, as the campaigns of both men accused their primary rival of being deceitful.
The Texas governor’s campaign released a dramatic one-minute web video that portrays Romney as a dishonest flip-flopper and career politician.
It highlights Romney’s response to Perry’s criticism that he once employed illegal aliens as landscapers through a contractor. “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals,” he said in Tuesday’s debate, recounting what he told the landscaping company.
It also accuses the former Massachusetts governor of disingenuously changing his position on health care and adamantly refusing to acknowledge as much.
“You can’t lead a nation by misleading the people,” a display on the screen says at the end of Perry’s ad, which was first reported on by POLITICO’s Morning Score.
The Romney campaign, meanwhile, rolled out a fleshed-out version Thursday morning of a web site they are calling careerpolitician.com, which paints Perry as the real career politician in the race and links him to President Barack Obama.
Items on the site — previewed in Morning Score before it went live — fault Perry for giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, accuse him of planning to dismantle Social Security and question his claims about job creation.
“Rick Perry has proven time and again that he will resort to dishonest tactics in order to prop up his flailing campaign,” said Romney communications director Gail Gitcho in a statement. “He’s taken a page from the Al Gore playbook on fabrications and distortions.”
“Whether deflecting attention from his own record through personal attacks, utter fabrications, or intentional distortions, it’s hard to know how much lower Perry will go,” she added.
The move toward questioning a fellow Republican’s motives reflects just how high the stakes are as the race enters a new phase. With no debate for nearly a month, candidates must hash out these battles using earned media and speeches in the early states. It also reflects the extent to which Romney and Perry see the other as their main obstacle to the party’s nomination.
Both the New York Times and Washington Post reported Thursday on the level of personal animosity between the two, a factor likely to make the race even nastier in the weeks ahead.
For Perry, the goal of the attacks is to make Romney unpalatable to conservatives who are already leery of him by creating an impression that he will do or say anything to get elected.
For Romney, making the Texas governor look insufficiently conservative as an alternative to him for the right is a key step for the Northeasterner to consolidate his support and harden his frontrunner status.
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