NEW: Mitt Romney names a former top aide to lead his vice-president nominee search
NEW: Romney trails Obama by 9 points in latest CNN/ORC International poll
NEW: Romney attends a Boston Red Sox game on Patriots' Day in Massachusetts
Romney is the presumptive GOP nominee, though more primaries remain
Mitt Romney’s campaign confirmed Monday that a trusted aide of the former Massachusetts governor will lead the search for his running mate in November, as the presumptive Republican nominee trails President Barack Obama by 9 points in the latest CNN/ORC International nationwide poll.
Beth Myers, who served as chief of staff when Romney was governor of Massachusetts and managed his 2008 presidential campaign, will head the search effort, according to Romney’s campaign, which confirmed comments by Romney in an interview with ABC News to be broadcast Monday night.
“This weekend was the first time we seriously really talked about it and there are some wonderful people out there,” Romney said in a preview of the interview released by ABC News.
Obama’s 52%-43% lead in the first CNN poll since Rick Santorum suspended his Republican bid for the White House highlighted a perception among respondents that the president is more likeable and more in touch with the problems facing women and middle class Americans, according to the poll.
Romney was celebrating Patriots’ Day in his hometown of Boston and watched the Red Sox lose to Tampa Bay, 1-0, at Fenway Park. Romney was joined by son Tagg and a grandson to watch along with supporters who won a promotion called “Patriots’ Day with Mitt.”
In Massachusetts, Patriots’ Day commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, which launched the Revolutionary War. It also is the date of the Boston Marathon.
Earlier Monday, a campaign official responded to reports that Romney had floated the possibility of eliminating or restructuring certain government agencies, saying he was tossing out ideas, not unveiling policy.
At a fundraiser in Palm Beach, Florida, the night before, Romney said, as part of ideas aimed at reforming Washington, he would combine some government agencies and eliminate others, according to accounts from reporters who overheard Romney’s remarks, including one from the Wall Street Journal, while standing outside the venue where he was making his pitch.
Romney suggested he might eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which his father, George, once headed, and either consolidate or reduce the size of the Education Department.
Now the candidate is getting a tiny bit more specific about his plans.
According to the Journal, Romney “said he would eliminate or limit for high-earners the mortgage interest deduction for second homes, and likely would do the same for the state income tax deduction and state property tax deduction.”
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded to the comments, saying her candidate is tackling bold issues while President Barack Obama is “interested only in offering excuses and blaming others for his failures.”
Meanwhile, the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action unleashed an online and TV commercial directly targeting Romney’s “anti-middle class” tax policy, timed to Tax Day, April 17. The ad is the first part of a multimillion-dollar campaign attacking Romney focusing on the battleground states of Florida, Iowa, Ohio and Virginia.
With no primaries in the Republican presidential race until next week, Romney will focus on fundraising with events in North Carolina and Pennsylvania in coming days, while Ann Romney is scheduled to hold a birthday-themed fundraiser in New York on Tuesday. Mrs. Romney turned 63 on Monday.
In addition, her husband will address the Tri-State Tea Party Caucus in Philadelphia on Monday night, when the joint interview on ABC will be broadcast.
Obama, meanwhile, is scheduled to campaign in Michigan this week, while first lady Michelle Obama will be in the District of Columbia, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Vice President Joe Biden will host events in the District of Columbia, Arizona and California.
While Romney is positioned as the likely Republican presidential candidate in November, he still needs several hundred delegates to clinch the nomination over remaining rivals Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
The next primaries are April 24 in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
On Sunday, both parties continued jockeying to position themselves as more deserving of the female vote, a battle that took on new life last week after a Democratic strategist questioned Ann Romney’s standing to give her husband advice on economic issues affecting women.
The criticism from Hilary Rosen, also a CNN contributor, rekindled the national conversation on whether Republicans or Democrats are better equipped to improve economic conditions for women.
Polls show a majority of female voters favor Obama over Romney, and Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney never worked outside the home and therefore was unqualified to provide her husband with advice on women’s economic issues gave Republicans a line of attack against Democrats.
On morning talk shows, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended the Obama administration’s record on job creation and accused Romney of leveling “ridiculous” accusations against the president’s policies. He specifically pointed to Romney’s claim that 92.3% of jobs lost since Obama took office were held by women.
“It’s a ridiculous and deeply misleading look at the economy,” Geithner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Remember, the recession and the crisis started at the beginning of 2008 before the president took office. It caused a huge amount of damage to men, to women, to families. And the damage lasted for a time, and you’re still seeing the scars of that.”
The 92.3% figure was batted back and forth to jab Obama in the latest skirmish. Although the number is correct, many observers say it is misleading because it fails to reflect the depth of the recession that began before Obama took office, with many more men than women losing their jobs in that period.
Geithner stressed the downturn “hurt everybody” and unsurprisingly rallied behind the president’s proposals, including the “Buffett Rule,” which he said is part of a comprehensive plan that will continue to improve the country’s economic outlook.
In a CNN/ORC poll released Monday, seven in 10 respondents said they favor the bill named for billionaire financier Warren Buffett that would require people earning $1 million a year or more to pay at least 30% in taxes. It is intended to prevent the wealthy from paying a lower actual tax rate than middle class workers.
On Monday Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Senate blocked the Buffett Rule bill, garnering enough support to reject a proposal to debate it. Supporters of the millionaire tax say they will keep pushing the idea in the months ahead.
Romney backers, including Republicans Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, argued that the former Massachusetts governor is armed with proposals that will not only court female voters, but also turn the economy around.
McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, predicted Romney would win the female vote, despite the gender gap in current polling.
“I do believe that Ann Romney was right when she said the women she talks to and the women I talk to, traveling around my state, are interested in jobs and the economy,” McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “There’s no doubt that a lot of women have been hurt very badly in this recession. And jobs and the economy is their No. 1 priority.”
In the CNN/ORC poll released Monday, women voters back Obama over Romney by 16 points, 55% to 39%. A recent poll from ABC News/Washington Post showed Obama leading Romney among women, 57% to 38%.
Rodgers, who was one of the women dispatched by the Romney campaign to capitalize on Rosen’s comment last week, told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley that Romney’s policies will “help women succeed in this country and all people in this country succeed.”
“President Obama’s policies are the ones that are failing Americans, failing women,” she added on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Most Americans overwhelmingly support women working outside the household, according to a new CNN/ORC survey, with nine in 10 saying the number of women in the workplace is a good thing, a significant change from attitudes on that topic in the 1980s and 1990s.
The back-and-forth over female support is the latest Twitter- and cable-fed controversy to demonstrate that the general election between Romney and Obama is already under way.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus would not yet characterize Romney as the “presumptive nominee” out of respect for Gingrich and Paul, who are far behind in the delegate count but remain in the race.
However, Priebus said Romney’s significant advantages on all fronts make it highly likely he will face Obama for the presidency.
CNN’s Paul Steinhauser, Rachel Streitfeld and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.