-- Some of Mitt Romney's best moments on the 2012 campaign trail have come during town hall meetings when the candidate, long criticized as too uptight on the stump, strays off script to take questions from voters.
But the freewheeling nature of voter forums can have its drawbacks. Romney has faced hostile questions on everything from his wealth to his religion. And on Monday, he experienced another awkward moment, when a supporter stood and declared that President Barack Obama should be "tried for treason."
The comment came during a town hall meeting in Cleveland. Taking the microphone, a woman told Romney that Obama had been "operating outside the structure of our Constitution." Pausing after her question, she remarked to another member of the audience, "I agree, he should be tried for treason."
Turning back to Romney, she asked what he would do to "restore balance" between the three branches of government and "restore our Constitution." She did not specify why she believed Obama should be "tried for treason"—a comment that received a huge applause from the audience. And when it was his turn to respond, Romney ignored her suggestion about "treason" and instead spoke about how he would "respect the different branches of government."
Afterwards, as he shook hands along the rope line, the New York Times' Ashley Parker asked Romney if he agreed with the woman's comment regarding a "treason" sentence for Obama. "No, of course not," the candidate said.
But by then, Romney's Democratic opponents had already pounced, accusing him of not standing up to "extreme voices" in his party, as Obama's campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt put it.
The "treason" comment came just minutes after Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost, a Romney surrogate on hand to introduce the candidate, offered several scathing attacks on Obama, including his handling of the Osama bin Laden raid.
Yost, who read from notes, said giving Obama credit for the bin Laden raid is like "giving Ronald McDonald credit for the Big Mac." He then trashed the president and first lady Michelle Obama for what he deemed as lavish vacations on the taxpayer dime. Noting that the first family has taken "17 vacations" over the last three years, including jaunts to Martha's Vineyard, Hawaii, Spain and New York, Yost said Obama should not be likening himself to the "middle class."
"Anyone get three vacations in 2009 at the depths of the recession?" Yost asked, reading from notes. "Mr. President, that's not middle class, and you stop lecturing us about our lives."
Asked if Romney agrees with Yost's criticisms, a Romney spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. But Romney has repeatedly said publicly he believes Obama deserves props for his role in the bin Laden raid.
Still, Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, trashed the presumptive Republican nominee.
"Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric and time after time, he has failed to do so," Smith said in a statement. "If this is the 'leadership' he has shown on the campaign trail, what can the American people expect of him as commander-in-chief?"
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