Washington — In one of the most creative attacks on a presidential candidate, at least in recent history, a couple of Connecticut political activists are trying to raise political cash from dog lovers who are howling mad at how Mitt Romney years ago treated his dog.
To hound the presumptive GOP nominee, Martin Dunleavy, a former New Haven alderman and member of the Democratic National Committee, and Larry Atherton, owner of an investment firm in Simsbury, have helped found a new Connecticut-based Super PAC called “Mitt is Mean — The Animal Lovers Against Romney Committee.”
“It was started by a lot of animal lovers who were (angry),” said Brad Bannon, spokesman for the Mitt is Mean PAC. “I mean, who would treat a dog like that?”
For the few who haven’t heard the story:
In 1983, Romney packed his family into a station wagon for a 12-hour vacation trip to Canada. There was no room in the vehicle for Irish setter Seamus, the family dog, so Romney put him in a crate, which he tied to the roof of the car. The frightened dog soiled himself, the waste rolling down the windows of the car. An unflappable Romney hosed the crate, Seamus and the car down at a gas station and continued the trip.
“His treatment of Seamus is a window into his soul,” Bannon said. “A guy who treats a dog like that can’t be trusted.”
Brannon aims to raise is $1 million to run ads he hopes go viral.
But so far, the group’s bark has been worse than its bite. Established last month, the Mitt is Mean PAC has raised only a few thousand dollars.
But, Bannon said, “There are pledges from major donors that will be collected in the next few weeks.”
The PAC also has a Website, www.mittismean.org, that makes the following pitch for donations: “Help keep us nipping at Mitt Romney’s heels until Election Day.”
The PAC’s founders are allied to the nonprofit group “Dogs Against Romney” that demonstrated at the Westminster Dog Show in Manhattan in February.
“The difference is we’re a political action committee and they’re a nonprofit and can’t campaign like we are against Mitt Romney,” Bannon said.
The Romney campaign did not return calls requesting comment.
But Romney has pushed back against criticism of his treatment of Seamus by pointing out that President Obama has said he ate dog meat as a child in Indonesia. Romney’s wife Ann has also defended her husband by saying Seamus liked to ride al fresco.
As a Super PAC, the Mitt is Mean PAC can raise an unlimited amount of money from individuals, businesses and unions. But it must keep its activities independent from any candidate campaign.
But it wasn’t difficult for the Obama campaign to also decide that Romney’s treatment of his pooch could be a political goldmine.
This week it has flooded the Internet with an ad featuring Bo, Obama’s Portuguese water dog, and established “Pet Lovers for Obama” pages on Facebook and other social media.
Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod has tweeted a photo of Obama holding Bo on his lap inside the presidential limo and the motto “I ride inside.”
The Washington Post said Bo may be the first “first dog” to be a central player in a presidential campaign.
Animal advocates, however, are staying out of this dog fight.
PETA said in a statement that it’s opposed to the transportation of a dog other than inside the car with the rest of the passengers.
But both PETA and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say their nonprofit status bars them from commenting on a political candidate.