Updated at 12:52 p.m. ET; Original Post at 10:47 a.m. ET
Reports of a plan to air attack ads against President Obama by rehashing ties to his former pastor, the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, quickly drew the condemnation today of presumed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Joe Ricketts, the money-man reported to be considering the plan.
Romney today disavowed the conservative group that the New York Times said had planned to possibly bankroll the ads.
"I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they've described," Romney told the conservative website Townhall.com. "I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes and growing prosperity, particularly for those in the middle class of America."
The Times reported today that a $10 million plan developed by "a group of high-profile Republican strategists" and Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, will seek to link "Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign."
"The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an 'extremely literate conservative African-American' who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a 'metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln,'" the Times reported.
But a statement released on behalf of Ricketts argued that the Wright plan was only one being considered by the PAC. Brian Baker, president of the Ending Spending Action Fund, said Ricketts is an independent who is focused on fiscal policy to help defeat President Obama.
"Not only was this plan merely a proposal - one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors - but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take," according to the statement released by Baker.
"Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a president this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility, but his efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally."
Romney said if anyone is guilty of launching personal attacks, it is the Obama campaign, which he accused of "character assassination" against him.
"I think what we've seen so far from the Obama campaign is a campaign of character assassination," he added. "I hope that isn't the course of this campaign. So in regards to that PAC, I repudiate what they're thinking about. … It's interesting that we're talking about some Republican PAC that wants to go after the president [on Wright]; I hope people also are looking at what he's doing, and saying, 'Why is he running an attack campaign? Why isn't he talking about his record?'"
Prior to the candidate's own remarks about the report, first reported by the New York Times, Romney had told the media aboard a charter flight that he had yet to read the papers and couldn't comment.
Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, also issued a statement distancing the campaign from the unaffiliated GOP group and arguing that Romney would run his campaign based on issues, unlike, according to Rhoades, the Obama campaign.
"Gov. Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy, and we encourage everyone else to do the same," Rhoades said in an e-mail statement. "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. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so."
Prior to Romney's interview with Townhall, the Obama for America campaign accused Romney of "falling short" in his campaign's response.
"This morning's story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and SuperPacs apparently are willing to go to tear down the President and elect Mitt Romney," it said in a statement today. "The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics. 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."
This post has been updated to include Romney's comment and Rickett's statement.