JACKSON, Wyoming — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney got a boost Thursday at a campaign fundraiser sponsored by former Vice President Dick Cheney, a figure who divided the country but is lionized by many conservatives Americans.
Cheney told Republican donors that Romney is the "only man" who can make the right foreign policy decisions for the country. Cheney was helping raise more than $4 million at events in Wyoming for Romney.
Romney said Cheney is a "great American leader." The presidential candidate didn't mention former President George W. Bush in a nearly 20-minute speech.
The event at a mountain valley resort was, for Romney, a friendly end to a particularly acerbic day on the presidential campaign trail, with both sides trading accusations of lying.
President Barack Obama seized on discrepancies in documents filed by Romney's former private equity firm to accuse the Republican of lying about his business background. Romney, in turn, rolled out a hard-hitting television ad that accused the president of launching "misleading, unfair and untrue" attacks about the Republican's role in outsourcing U.S. jobs.
The presidential race is shaping up to be one of the tightest in history. Polls show Romney and Obama virtually tied 3 ½ months before the November election.
Romney had avoided appearing in public with Cheney or with Bush — both are seen as divisive figures by many of the independent voters he needs to win over if he's going to defeat Obama.
But Cheney, a veteran of five Republican presidential administrations, is a huge draw for Republican donors, and Romney is eager to win over more of the party's base. Cheney was also hosting a private dinner forRomney at his Wyoming home.
Romney doesn't have a close relationship with the former vice president. While the Republican candidate speaks regularly with former President George H.W. Bush, he seldom refers by name to the most recent Bush to occupy the White House. On occasion he goes out of his way not to say Bush's name out loud and simply calls him "the predecessor" to Obama.
Cheney has generally shied away from politicking and he remains controversial, in part because of his hawkish foreign policy stances, including his support for interrogation techniques like waterboarding.
Still, Romney has embraced Cheney in the past. Last year, he told an Arizona town hall that Cheney's "wisdom and judgment" would provide a model for choosing his own vice president.
The presidential campaign became bitterly personal Thursday as both candidates sought to sully the other's integrity in hopes of gaining ground in the closely contested race. But the strategy carries risks: It could alienate voters — especially critical independents — who are turned off by negative campaigning and want to see the candidates focus on the economy and job growth.
At issue is when Romney left Bain Capital, and whether he was at the helm when the private equity firm sent jobs overseas.
Documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission place Romney in charge of Bain from 1999 to 2001, a period in which the company outsourced jobs and ran companies that fell into bankruptcy.
Romney has tried to distance himself from this period in Bain's history, saying on financial disclosure forms he had no active role in Bain as of February 1999. Obama has labeled Romney a job killer in hopes of undercutting the Republican's claim that his private business experience gives him the ability to turn around the struggling economy.
But at least three times since then, Bain listed Romney as the company's "controlling person," as well as its "sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president." And one of those documents — as late as February 2001 — lists Romney's "principal occupation" as Bain's managing director.
The Obama campaign called the SEC documents detailing Romney's role post-1999 a "big Bain lie." And Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said the presumptive GOP nominee may have even engaged in illegal activity.
"Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony," Cutter said, "or he is misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments."
Countering, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said Cutter's comments marked "a new low" in the campaign and called on the president to apologize for "the out-of-control behavior of his staff, which demeans the office he holds."
After weeks of Bain attacks by Obama, Romney rolled out his new ad alleging dishonesty — a signal that the Democratic criticism may be hurting him.
The ad, titled "No Evidence", accuses Obama of launching false attacks that depict Romney. The ad, which will run in several highly contested states, asks voters: "When a president doesn't tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?"
Even as it sought the upper hand with the ad, Romney's campaign found itself scrambling to explain the apparent discrepancies between the former Massachusetts governor's past statements about his Bain tenure and the SEC documents.
Campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul insisted Romney left Bain in February 1999 and "had no input on investments or management of companies after that point."
The campaign also issued a statement from Bain saying that "due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney'sdeparture, he remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999. Accordingly, Mr. Romneywas reported in various capacities on SEC filings during this period."