Book: Opposition Research Drove Biggest News Stories of 2012 Campaign

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Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman kisses eight-week-old Grace Lesperance during a campaign event at Mary's Bakery and Cafe in Henniker, New Hampshire, Jan. 9, 2012.

Some of the 2012 campaign’s biggest news stories resulted from well-placed campaign leaks to reporters, according to the authors of a new book, Double Down: Game Change 2012.

The authors, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, blame the campaign of Jon Huntsman for planting a story about past allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain with POLITICO, news that quickly ended the former pizza magnate’s time in the limelight. The Obama campaign, though a mysterious source, discovered a third-party plan to attack Obama for his ties to Rev. Jeremiah Wright plan, and leaked it to the New York Times through a third-party.

Even earlier, a letter from Huntsman to Obama calling him a “remarkable leader” was put out by his own staff in an attempt to soften the blow from the conservative base.

According to the book, Huntsman’s team was itself tipped off by a donor to Cain’s past problems with women. They leaked it hoping to upset the dynamic of the race, so that their candidate would emerge as the latest in a series of flavor-of-the-month alternatives to frontrunner Mitt Romney. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering was at odds with the nice-guy image Huntsman publically conveyed.

Separately, the Huntsman family’s leaks were responsible for another 2012 campaign story, the authors write. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s source to his claim to the Huffington Post last year that Romney had not paid taxes for a period of ten years was billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr, Heilemann and Halperin report.

Lending more clarity to one of the enduring mysteries of the last campaign, Heilemann and Halperin write that a “mystery brunette” was responsible for the leak of the “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.” The proposal prepared by former McCain ad-maker Fred Davis and presented to billionaire Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, would have resurrected Wright as an issue in the campaign. “The metrosexual black Abe Lincoln has emerged as a hyper–partisan, hyper-liberal, elitist politician,” the plan stated.

Two hours after Davis presented the proposal to Ricketts, the plan was in the hands of a woman who walked it into the office of Chicago Democratic consultant Pete Giangreco, who swiftly passed it along to the Obama campaign. The book states that Messina, Plouffe, and Axelrod decided to leak the proposal to kill it before it could become a factor in the race. They “used a third-party cutout” to get the document to the Times they write. Obama wasn’t told about the plan, they report.

The book also reveals that while the Obama campaign and Democratic outside groups were vociferously pushing negative stories about Bain Capital in the press, the Romney campaign was hamstrung by the private equity group’s refusal to cooperate in the defense of their former leader. Bain, trying to avoid taking sides in the campaign, declined to provide documents that Romney’s top aide Bob White requested to counter Democratic attacks.

The press coverage of Romney’s disastrous foreign trip was also driven by the Obama campaign 5,000 miles away in Chicago, the authors write. Romney’s interview with NBC raising doubts about London’s preparedness to host the Olympic games wasn’t included in the aired interview but made the transcript. An Obama staffer—a former Labour Party operative—pushed the quotes around to the British press, stoking a fire that would embarrass Romney on the world stage and at home.