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George Stephanopoulos Taunts Romney: 'You're Falling Behind'; 'Why Aren't You Doing Better?'

Former Democratic operative turned journalist George Stephanopoulos on Friday landed an exclusive interview with Mitt Romney and proceeded to taunt the Republican presidential candidate: "But you're falling further behind. Why aren't you doing better?" [MP3 audio here.]

Stephanopoulos's hyperbole aside, a new Rasmussen poll shows Romney ahead by three points. A CBS poll has the President ahead by three. Hardly panic time.

Unsurprisingly, the Good Morning America host neatly parroted the Democratic campaign's attacks over how Romney has responded to the situation in Libya. Teasing the segment, Stephanopoulos promised to hit Romney on "those controversial comments made right after the outbreak of violence."

The host simply repeated Obama's attacks, noting, "The President said Romney was displaying a shoot-first-and-aim-later attitude."

Not getting the answer he liked, Stephanopoulos reiterated, "And no direct response, then, when the President says you shoot first and aim later?"

No liberal critique was too small for Stephanopoulos. Citing an ABC News poll, he reminded, "You mentioned President Obama's likability.  We had a poll question this week asking, 'Who would you rather have dinner with?'  Right now President Obama is beating you by about 19 points on that."

The co-anchor helpfully wondered, "So try and convince people that they're wrong...What would dinner be like at the Romney home?" posted the transcript of the interview. In an unaired question, Stephanopoulos pestered Romney again about losing: "But even though you’re behind today, you’re confident you’re going to win on election day?"

A transcript of the September 14 segment can be found below:

7am tease

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: In the heat of the moment. We go one-on-one with Mitt Romney on those controversial comments made right after the outbreak of violence and his biggest challenge in the make or break debates.

MITT ROMNEY: The President tends to, how shall I say it, say things that aren't true.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's an ABC News exclusive.
6 min 30 seconds

STEPHANOPOULOS: And in my interview with Mitt Romney, we cover a lot of other ground, including how he's preparing for those crucial debates with President Obama, what he thinks of new polls that have him falling behind and whether he regrets those first comments he made after this week's violence in Egypt and Libya. Romney accused the Obama administration of showing, quote, "sympathy for the protesters." The President said Romney was displaying a shoot-first-and-aim-later attitude and that's where we began.

MITT ROMNEY: I thought the statement was inappropriate and pointed that out. But of course, now our attention is focused on the loss of life and the tragedy of having a remarkable ambassador and diplomatic members, have their lives taken.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said the statement showed a tendency to sympathize with those who waged the attacks. Where do they show sympathy for those who waged the attacks?  It was done before the attacks happened.

ROMNEY: Well, the statement as I indicated stayed on the website for some 14-15 hours.  The statement was reiterated after they had breached the sovereignty of the embassy.   

STEPHANOPOULOS: Coupled with a condemnation of the attacks though.

ROMNEY: And even– And even after the killing in Libya.  And by the way what I said was exactly the same conclusion the White House reached, which was that the statement was inappropriate. That's why they backed away from it as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And no direct response then, when the President says you shoot first and aim later?

ROMNEY: Well, this is politics.  I'm not going to worry about the campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But as the campaign heads for the home stretch, Romney now facing criticism not just from President Obama, but conservative allies, too, with some questioning why he's not doing better in this bad economy.

GEORGE WILL: If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics.

LAURA INGRAHAM: If you can't beat Barack Obama, with this record, then shut down the party.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A new batch of polls highlights those concerns. Romney now trailing in swing states like Florida, Ohio and Virginia  What do you say to the hand wringers?

ROMNEY: [laughs] Well you know, beating an incumbent is never easy.  The President exudes an air of likability and friendliness, which is endearing.  But at the same time, I think people recognize that he has not done the job they expected him to do and that he promised he would do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're falling further behind. Why aren't you doing better?    

ROMNEY: Well, I'm doing well.  I'm virtually tied in the polls, some days up, some days down a point or two.  We're doing well in swing states. The outcome is decided by the people in the middle.  And I believe that as they look at who they believe can get this economy strong again and create jobs again and rising wages and take home pay for middle-income families, they're going to say, I've got the best prospects for doing that. And I'll get their nod.   

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about Iran.  You've been quite critical of the President's policy.  Also Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel has suggested he wants more clear red lines from the United States. What is your red line with Iran?

ROMNEY: Well, my red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon. Iran as a nuclear nation is unacceptable to the United States of America.       

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama said exactly the same thing.  He said it's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.  So your red line is the same as his.

ROMNEY: Yeah, and I laid out what I would do to keep Iran from reaching that red line. I said that crippling sanctions needed to be put in place immediately. That combined with standing up with Iranian dissidents, the President was silent, when dissidents took to the streets in Tehran. The President was silent.  In addition, I think Ahmadinejad should have been indicted under the genocide conviction for incitation to genocide.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But your red line going forward is the same?

ROMNEY: Yes.  And recognize that when one says that it's unacceptable to the United States of America that that means what it says.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned President Obama's likability.  We had a poll question this week asking, “Who would you rather have dinner with?”  Right now President Obama is beating you by about 19 points on that.  So try and convince people that they're wrong.  Bring us inside.  What would dinner be like at the Romney home?

ROMNEY: [Laughs] It'd be chaotic, all right?  You'd have grandkids climbing all over you.  Probably some food would be thrown from one side of the table to the other by one of my grandkids.  It'd be a lot of fun. I can't tell people who would have more fun at whose table. But I think the American people are looking for someone who has the capacity to help them get good jobs and more take-home pay.  And I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about the debates.  What have you learned as you studied all of this as you studied President Obama? What are you looking for?

ROMNEY: Well I think he's going to say a lot of things that aren't accurate.  And you know, I'd be tempted to go back to that wonderful line by Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.”  But you can't use something that–

STEPHANOPOULOS: Bill Clinton used that about you the other day at the Democratic Convention.

BILL CLINTON: As another President once said, "There they go again."

ROMNEY: I didn't happen to see that. But I think the challenge that I'll have in the debate is that the President tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren't true. And in attacking his opponents.  I've looked at prior debates.  And in that kind of case, it's difficult to say, “Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren't quite accurate?  Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about?” And that's the challenge you always have?

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what do you do?

ROMNEY: Well, it's a challenge you always have.  And that's a judgment you make.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any rituals that you use to get ready?

ROMNEY: Well, Ann always gives me the advice as I get ready to go up on the stage and offers a few words of encouragement.  And I look to her when I'm in the debate.  I look and see her.  Typically, her eyes are down.  She's more nervous in the debates than I am.  She says, “I wish I could debate instead.”  She said, “I wouldn't be as nervous.”  But I look to her.  And when she's smiling and confident, that gives me the boost I need.           

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, thanks very much.

-- Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.