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'Birther' claims force GOP leaders to take a stand

Associated Press | 4/27/2011, 12:20 a.m.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have been the most direct in rejecting the birthers’ claims. “I believe the president was born in the United States,” Romney told CNBC.

Santorum has no doubt that Obama was born in Hawaii, and he “believes this debate distracts us from the real issues,” said his spokeswoman Virginia Davis.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour accepts the president’s word about his birthplace, his staff said.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told an Iowa audience, “I’m not one to question the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate.” He added a little jab: “When you look at his policies, I do question what planet he’s from.”

When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos showed a copy of Obama’s birth certificate to Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who was ambivalent at first, she said: “Well, then, that should settle it. ... I take the president at his word.”

Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin gave mixed signals in a recent Fox News appearance. She praised Trump for “paying for researchers” to dig into claims of Obama’s foreign birth. But she added, “I think that he was born in Hawaii because there was a birth announcement put in the newspaper.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has dismissed claims that Obama is foreign-born, calling them a distraction. But on a February radio show, Huckabee referred to Obama’s “having grown up in Kenya,” the birthplace of the president’s father.

Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. A spokesman said Huckabee’s statement was simply a mistake.

Aides to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said voters have not asked him about the birthplace question and he has not discussed it.

The issue has spread to several states where Republican-controlled legislatures have introduced or passed bills requiring presidential candidates and sometimes others to prove their citizenship. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, recently vetoed such a bill, calling it “a bridge too far.”

Democrats think the birthplace issue might fire up liberals, especially minorities, who in many cases have been dispirited by Obama’s frequent compromises with conservatives to pass legislation. Blacks who embraced Obama’s barrier-breaking election now see some Republicans claiming he has no constitutional right to be president.

The New York Times-CBS poll was worded in a way that might have subtly encouraged respondents to say Obama is foreign born. “Some people say Barack Obama was NOT born in the United States,” the poll’s callers said, but they did not offer counterarguments.

Moreover, some pollsters think respondents will seize a chance to call Obama a Muslim or non-citizen to convey something else: a dislike for him or his policies.

“Some people who strongly oppose a person or proposition will take virtually any opportunity to express that antipathy,” writes Gary Langer, who polls for ABC News.

Garin, the Democratic pollster, doesn’t buy it in this case. The birthers’ claims are so prevalent, especially on conservative TV and radio shows, he said, that poll respondents are likely to say what they truly believe about a much-discussed topic.

“There are high-profile people, including Donald Trump and many others in the conservative media, who advocate and validate this point of view each and every day,” Garin said. The big question about the birthplace issue, he said, “is the extent to which it drives a wedge within the Republican Party” and turns off independents in November 2012.

Associated Press