WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, seeking to sharpen contrasts with Mitt Romney, said on Wednesday his presumptive opponent in the November election won’t be able to disavow conservative views he embraced in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Obama, in a Rolling Stone magazine interview released the day after Romney swept five primaries and claimed victory in the Republican contest, sought to feed perceptions of the former Massachusetts governor as a politician who flip-flops on issues to suit the moment.
“I don’t think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, ‘Everything I’ve said for the last six months, I didn’t mean,’ ” Obama said. “I‘m assuming that he meant it. When you’re running for president, people are paying attention to what you’re saying.”
The Democratic president’s comments jibed with a re-election campaign strategy of casting him as champion of the middle class who will face the standard-bearer of a Republican party that turned sharply to the right and is beholden to the rich.
Romney, a relative moderate in his party who toughened his rhetoric as the bitter Republican race dragged on, went as far as describing himself as “severely conservative” when he addressed a conservative Republican group in Washington in February.
But his speech on Tuesday night focused almost exclusively on attacking Obama for his handling of the economy and contained little of the conservative rhetoric that marked the Republican primary season fight.
While Republicans want to make the election a referendum on a fragile economic recovery and stubbornly high unemployment under Obama, the president and his Democrats want to make the focus more about income inequality in his face-off against Romney, the wealthy former head of a private equities firm.
“The general election will be as sharp a contrast between the two parties as we’ve seen in a generation,” Obama told Rolling Stone, a magazine with a large readership among younger voters he wants to re-energize for his campaign.
“You have a Republican Party, and a presumptive Republican nominee, that believes in drastically rolling back environmental regulations, that believes in drastically rolling back collective-bargaining rights, that believes in an approach to deficit reduction in which taxes are cut further for the wealthiest Americans,” he said.
The interview, conducted on April 9 when Romney was already seen as the all-but-certain Republican nominee, was released as Obama was finishing a three-state tour to push for low rates on federal student loans, an issue that resonates well with younger voters.
Obama never mentioned Romney by name in his public speeches in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa but alluded to him several times.
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom created an uproar recently when he said the start of the general-election campaign would be an Etch a Sketch moment, interpreted as meaning that Romney would try to wipe clean the slate from the primary campaign and present himself as a moderate to the broader electorate.
Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Cynthia Osterman