JACKSONVILLE (AP) — Race briefly became an issue in the race to challenge Barack Obama after a supporter of Republican challenger Mitt Romney was reported to be considering an ad campaign resurrecting comments by the president’s former pastor.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons became a problem for Obama during his 2008 campaign to become America’s first black president.

Wright, who preached at the Chicago church the president once attended, became such a distraction that Obama ended up delivering a major speech on race relations to quell the controversy. He also severed his ties to Wright.

The New York Times reported May 17 that Joe Ricketts, the founder of Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade and owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, was considering a $10 million TV ad campaign highlighting Wright’s sermons.

But, later in the day, an aide to Ricketts said the proposal to bring Wright into the presidential campaign went too far.

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.

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 May 17 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.”

Before Romney commented, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called the plan to resurrect Wright’s 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. 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’ proposal said. 

Davis’ firm said in a statement May 17 that the document, which called for “hitting Barack right between the eyes,” was only a proposal and did not win Ricketts’ approval.

Jeremiah Wright