By Eric Johnson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A campaign adviser to Barack Obama defended the Democratic's president's record as a pragmatic leader and champion of the middle class on Sunday and derided Republican White House hopefuls as long on rhetoric and short on ideas.
David Axelrod, senior advisor to Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, said on CNN's "State of the Union" program that he "heard a lot of pat partisan platitudes" during the first Republican debate last week in New Hampshire.
Axelrod said savvy U.S. voters will sniff out inconsistencies in the campaign messages of Republican Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, who are among the candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
"If you are Governor Romney and you say, 'I am going to turn this economy around. I've got the answers,' ... people have a right to say, 'Why is it that your state was 47th in the country in job creation when you were governor?'" Axelrod said.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who sought the Republican nomination unsuccessfully in 2008, leads many polls among his party's rivals. He has pushed his business experience as a way to attack Obama's handling of the U.S. economy.
"If you are Governor Pawlenty and you say, 'We've got to clean up this fiscal mess,' people have a right to ask, 'Then why did you leave your state with $6.2 billion dollar deficit?'" Axelrod said.
Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, has highlighted his work balancing his state's budget. Pawlenty blamed Obama for stifling economic growth with "big government and heavy-handed regulations" when he unveiled an economic plan this month that called for deep cuts in taxes and government spending.
Axelrod said Obama's former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who is poised to seek the Republican nomination to challenge his former boss, had been supportive of Obama's record in 2009 on a "whole range of issues," including healthcare reform, which Republicans are eager to repeal.
Republican presidential hopefuls have sharply criticized Obama's stewardship of the U.S. economy, failure to foster job growth and his handling of military operations in Libya.
Axelrod said one thing to watch in the campaign is whether Republican candidates yield to the forces he said are driving the Republican Party "further to the right."
"What independent voters want is for us to work together -- both parties -- to solve the problems facing the country. They don't want harsh partisanship. They don't want unremitting ideology. And the president is a pragmatic leader who is willing to work with whomever is willing to work with him to try and solve the problems of this country," Axelrod said.
Axelrod cited Obama's "fundamental identification with middle-class people and people who are struggling to become middle class, and to push for the kind of opportunities that have characterized our country in the past and we want to characterize our country in the future."