Team Romney launched another attack on Barack Obama’s executive-order changes to the 1996 bipartisan welfare reform, quoting a leading Virginia newspaper that called the changes “nuts”:

National Journal calls this an escalation:

Mitt Romney’s campaign on Monday escalated its attack on President Obama’s welfare policy, releasing a new TV ad that cites a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial that alleges the president is trying to end work requirements for welfare and calls that decision “nuts.”

“One of the most respected newspapers in America called it ‘nuts,’ saying, ‘If you want to get more people to work, you don’t loosen the requirements – you tighten them,” a voiceover says.

The ad alleges that Obama “quietly” ended work requirements for welfare, effectively “gutting” former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 bipartisan welfare reform bill. The ad is referring to a memo from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius informing states that the administration was willing to waive federal work requirements if the state welfare programs could come up with their own plans to improve employment outcomes.

The inclusion of the influential Virginia newspaper is hardly an accident, either.  It’s going to be a tough state for both campaigns, and a must-win for both as well.  References to media support probably play better with the Republican base, which usually doesn’t expect it, and independents who probably put more stock in it, than to Democrats.  In this case, that’s probably enough.

The Hill reports that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan plan to expand on the welfare attack today:

Still, the Romney campaign is looking to press the president on the issue, believing it could resonate with working class voters. According to the Romney campaign, the presumptive nominee and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are expected to hammer the welfare issue at a town hall in New Hampshire on Monday.

The Obama administration and campaign tried to defend itself from the attack:

The Obama Administration has argued that the waivers are intended to give states greater flexibility in the implementation of the program, and noted that the memo specifically advises that only plans that will put more welfare recipients to work would be considered….

The Obama campaign released an ad of their own earlier this month defending against the attacks.

“See this? Mitt Romney claiming the president would end welfare’s work requirements? The New York Times calls it ‘blatantly false.’ The Washington Postsays, ‘The Obama administration is not removing the bill’s work requirements at all,'” the narrator says.

There are three problems with this defense.  First, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.  Second, having the RTD come up with the same analysis as the Romney campaign at least provides Romney some third-party support for his argument.  Third, Team Obama have been making personal attacks against Romney for months; the official campaign suggested that Romney had committed felonies that he was hiding with his tax returns, and the super-PAC run by Obama’s former White House aide all but claimed that Romney killed the spouse of a laid-off worker of a company owned by Bain.  Voters aren’t likely to be terribly sympathetic to whining over arguable misrepresentation of an executive order.  At least that’s a legitimate area of Obama’s public-policy record, unlike Obama’s attacks on Romney over Seamus the Roof-Riding Dog.