JACKSONVILLE, Florida - A billionaire who considered a plan to resurrect incendiary comments by President Barack Obama's former pastor shelved the idea Thursday after Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney denounced the tactic that would have drawn the issue of race into the presidential campaign.
An aide to Joe Ricketts, the founder of Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade and owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, said the proposal to bring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright into the presidential campaign went too far.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Ricketts' Ending Spending Action Fund, a conservative group that favors Romney's candidacy, was considering a $10 million TV ad campaign highlighting Wright's sermons.
The blueprint, titled "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: the Ricketts Plan to End His Spending For Good," was devised by a group of Republican strategists, one of whom confirmed its contents for The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private working sessions.
Wright's sermons -- including one in which he said black people should condemn the United States -- became a problem for Obama during his 2008 campaign to become America's first black president. The Wright connection fed a Republican narrative that Obama was not "one of us," and Democrats called such statements coded language that appealed to racial prejudices.
Romney, the Republican nominee-in-waiting who prevailed over more radically conservative challengers during a bruising primary race, has stayed away from such rhetoric. He and other prominent Republicans insisted Thursday that the election this year will be about the economy, which Romney considers his strong point. He urged Ricketts' independent group to abandon the Wright strategy.
"I want to make it very clear: I repudiate that effort," Romney told reporters after a campaign rally in Jacksonville. "I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America."
Another top Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, declined to be drawn into the debate.
"This election is going to be about the economy," he said when reporters asked him to react to the proposed ad campaign. "I don't know what these other people do or why they do it."
Brian Baker, president of Ricketts' group, said the billionaire was not the author of the 54-page plan. Baker blamed consultants.
"Not only was this plan merely a proposal -- one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors -- but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take," Baker said in a written statement.
Wright, who preached at the Chicago church Obama once attended, became such a distraction for Obama that he ended up delivering a major speech on race relations to quell the controversy. He also severed his ties to Wright.
In a 2003 sermon, Wright said black people should condemn the United States.
"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing `God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," Wright said at the time. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."
Before Romney commented, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina call the plan to resurrect those comments a "campaign of character assassination" and criticized Romney for "reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party."
Messina noted that Republican Sen. John McCain, Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential race, had rejected using Wright and Wright's sermons against Obama.
Messina commented before Romney denounced the plan in an interview with Townhall.com. He did not comment after Romney urged Ricketts' group to abandon the effort.
McCain made it clear four years ago that he wanted to challenge Obama on his record, and forbade adviser Fred Davis from incorporating Wright into their advertising plans.
But Davis, a colorful Hollywood consultant, sought another chance to use the strategy against Obama.
"Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama's opinions of America and the world were formed," Davis' proposal said. "And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president's formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees."
Davis' firm said in a statement Thursday that the document -- which called for "hitting Barack right between the eyes" -- was only a proposal and did not win Ricketts' approval.
Also Thursday, the Romney campaign announced that he and the Republican Party raised a combined $40.1 million in April, nearly as much as the $43.6 million that Obama and the Democratic