The billionaire conservative who reportedly was considering a proposal to fund ads reconnecting President Obama with his controversial former pastor distanced himself from the proposal Thursday and said through an aide it would not move forward.
The proposal was reportedly commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of the TD Ameritrade brokerage firm, and targeted for a run in September. The $10 million campaign, according to The New York Times, would have highlighted Rev. Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments which first surfaced during the 2008 presidential campaign.
"The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way," said a copy of the proposal, obtained by the Times.
The mere specter of Wright, though, touched off a rapid-fire trade of accusations from the campaigns of both Obama and Mitt Romney -- with each accusing the other of character assassination before the proposal was effectively canned.
Romney said after the Ricketts' announcement that he "repudiates" such an ad and called it the "wrong course for a PAC or campaign."
"I hope campaigns can be about the future and issues," he said at a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Fla. "I've been disappointed in the president's campaign to date that has focused on character assassination."
Romney said his campaign would post a new ad in a few days that is "positive" and that highlights the centerpiece of his campaign -- getting Americans back to work.
Romney's campaign spent the earlier part of the day trying to keep its distance from the supposed ad, but suggested it's no worse than what the Obama team is already doing. The Obama campaign in turn accused Republicans of going to "appalling lengths" to "tear down" the president.
But neither side, it seemed, was all too interested in rehashing the debate over Wright, whose race-related comments became a problem for Obama during his 2008 run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Brian Baker, president of the Ending Spending Action Fund, released a statement on behalf of Ricketts. The statement said Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, is a registered independent, a fiscal conservative and an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, "but he is neither the author nor the funder of the so-called 'Ricketts Plan' to defeat Mr. Obama."
The proposal "reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted," Baker added.
Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said early Thursday: "President Obama's team said they would 'kill Romney,' and, just last week, David Axelrod referred to individuals opposing the president as 'contract killers.' It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination."
The Obama campaign in turn accused Republicans of character assassination and said Romney failed to emphatically denounce the proposal and meet the standards of 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.
"This morning's story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and super PACs apparently are willing to go to tear down the president and elect Mitt Romney," said campaign manager Jim Messina. "The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. ... Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party."