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Obama campaign blasts Mitt Romney for initial silence after supporter says president ‘should be tried for treason’

The Obama campaign slammed Mitt Romney Monday for not confronting a supporter who said during a town hall event in Cleveland that the president “should be tried for treason.”

“We have a president right now that is operating outside the structure of our Constitution,” a woman said during a question-and-answer session. “And I want to know — yeah, I do agree he should be tried for treason — but I want to know what you would be able to do to restore balance between the three branches of government and what you are going to be able to do to restore our Constitution in this country.”

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Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, ignored the treason comment and answered her question.

“Well, as I’m sure you do, I happen to believe the Constitution was not just brilliant but probably inspired,” he said. “I happen to believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence. I would respect the different branches of government if I am fortunate enough to become president.”

The Obama campaign characterized the woman’s remark as an out-of-bounds attack and said Romney, though he is Obama’s political adversary, should have stood up for the president.

“Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric and time after time, he has failed to do so,” campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. “If this is the ‘leadership’ he has shown on the campaign trail, what can the American people expect of him as commander-in-chief?”

New York Times writer Ashley Parker reported on Twitter that Romney replied, “No, of course not,” when asked during post-event handshakes whether he agrees that Obama should be tried for treason.

Asked on the ropeline if he agrees w his supporter who said Obama should be ?tried for treason,? Romney says: ?No, of course not.?

— Ashley Parker(@AshleyRParker) May 7, 2012

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Romney repeated his position shortly after the event during an interview on CNN but rejected the notion that he had a responsibility to take on the audience member.

“I don’t correct all of the questions that get asked of me.” Romney said.

Some political analysts quickly termed Romney’s belated umbrage another missed “Sister Souljah moment.” In March, Romney chose not to forcefully denounce conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh after Limbaugh called a female law student a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

Romney’s response was, “It’s not the language I would have used.”

The phrase “Sister Souljah moment” was coined in 1992, when Bill Clinton blasted the rapper for racist comments made in the wake of that year’s riots in Los Angeles.

John McCain had such a moment in 2008, when he stopped a woman who said she could not trust Obama because “he’s an Arab” during a town hall event similar to the one Romney hosted Monday. McCain shook his head, took the microphone from the woman, and said, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not.”

Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom tweeted a reminder that some Obama supporters reportedly called Romney a “traitor” during a campaign event over the weekend. Ben LaBolt, Obama’s campaign press secretary, responded by pointing out that the president at that event called Romney a “patriotic American” who has “raised a wonderful family” and “has much to be proud of.”

.@EricFehrn POTUS on Sat:Now, Governor Romney is a patriotic American.He?s raised a wonderful family, and he has much to be proud of.

— Ben LaBolt (@BenLaBolt) May 7, 2012

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.

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