WASHINGTON — Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney's campaign blasted President Barack Obama's "disgraceful" reelection tactics Tuesday, citing a report that the incumbent planned brutal, personal attacks.

Obama, whose upbeat "hope and change" slogan powered his historic 2008 victory, will portray Romney as "inauthentic, unprincipled" and "weird," according to the Politico publication that covers US politics.

"Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney" if the Republican frontrunner turns out to be the nominee, an anonymous Democratic official told Politico, which identified its source as "aligned with the White House."

The president faces an uphill battle to a second four-year term, with the November 2012 election sure to turn on his handling of the sour US economy, still grappling with stubbornly high unemployment of 9.1 percent.

In troubled times, incumbent US presidents often strive to portray their challenger as unfit for office, an effort to minimize the degree to which the election is a referendum on their record.

The report drew a swift, angry reply from Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, who charged Obama "will say and do desperate things to hold onto power because he knows he has failed."

"It is disgraceful that President Obama's campaign has launched his re-election with the stated goal to 'kill' his opponent with an onslaught of negative and personal attacks," Rhoades said in a statement.

"Neither despicable threats, nor President Obama's billion-dollar negative campaign, will put Americans back to work, save their homes or restore their hopes. On November 6, 2012, this will change."

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt played down the Politico report without denying it outright.

"Voters will have a choice in this election between two candidates, two records and two visions for the country, one that will become clear after the Republican field has settled and they have chosen a nominee," said LaBolt.

"Anyone purporting to hold a crystal ball for our strategy suggesting otherwise does not speak for the campaign. The crocodile tears from the Romney campaign, which has been nothing but negative, do not pass the credibility test."

Politico said the Obama campaign would target Romney's time as head of Bain Capital, amid Democratic charges that the wealthy venture capital firm made its money buying and dismantling companies, leading to layoffs.

The outlet also said the Obama campaign would look to paint Romney as "weird," though anonymous Democrats cited in the report denied the attacking having anything to do with his Mormon faith.

Romney has raised eyebrows in recent months by telling jobless Americans that he, too, is unemployed, and famously strapped his family dog in a carrier atop the family car during a 12-hour drive on a family vacation in 1983.

Despite the Romney campaign's complaints about Obama, the candidate has not been shy about attacking the president as someone who "doesn't share" US values like "of liberty, of freedom, of opportunity, of small government."

And in a speech formally launching his candidacy, Romney warned that "we are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy" -- a claim immediately branded as "ridiculous" by one independent fact-checking organization.

The verbal slugfest came with the Republican field still in flux, with many party members telling pollsters they are unsatisfied with their options and Texas Governor Rick Perry expected to throw his hat in the ring shortly.