The battle over Big Bird intensified in the White House race on Tuesday, as the towering yellow Muppet beloved by children got pinned down in the nasty crossfire between Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney and US President Barack Obama.
Obama unveiled a new ad jabbing Romney over his vow to cut the subsidy for US public television, home of Big Bird’s stomping ground Sesame Street, if he is elected on Nov. 6.
“Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street,” the ad said, jokingly describing Big Bird as the “evil genius” towering over finance felons like Bernie Madoff.
“Mitt Romney. Taking on our enemies, no matter where they nest,” the announcer of the TV ad, says, pressing home Obama’s contention that Romney, a former venture capitalist, would let Wall Street run wild.
Romney responded by feigning puzzlement about why Obama would dwell on such a triviality four weeks before election day.
“These are tough times, with real serious issues. So you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird,” Romney said at a rally in Iowa.
Romney said in a debate in Denver last week: “I like PBS. I like Big Bird,” but nevertheless pledged to cut the subsidy for the station as part of spending reductions he plans if he is elected president next month.
Obama did not pick up the comment during his lethargic debate performance, but has since made Big Bird, who helped many Americans learn to read as children, a feature of his stump speech.
His spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday: “There is only one candidate in this race who is going to fight for Big Bird and Elmo and he is riding on this plane.”
Psaki also made what the Obama campaign sees as a serious point about Romney’s failure to provide concrete examples in the debate about what he would do to trim the US budget deficit.
“When Mitt Romney was given the opportunity to lay out how he would address the deficit ... his first offering was to cut the funding for Big Bird,” she said.
Sesame Workshop, maker of Sesame Street, said it was a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and asked that the ad be taken down.