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Election Watch: Ad War Heats Up, Romney Goes Abroad

By / 7.27.2012

The last week has continued the earlier pattern of daily fireworks in the presidential contest (excepting a brief pause in hostilities immediately after the Aurora massacre), but little if any significant movement in the polls. As anyone near a battleground state television can attest, the Obama campaign (and the Priorities USA super PAC) has continued harsh personal attacks on Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch rich man with no emotional connection with the middle class or interest in its aspirations, who is furthermore determined to cut taxes for people like him. The Romney campaign (which is now beginning to get advertising reinforcement from the very deep pockets of conservative super PACs) has responded harshly with a battery of ads and campaign speeches focusing on a clip from an Obama speech in Roanoke wherein he supposedly disrespected the personal contributions to the economy of entrepreneurs (in fact he was paraphrasing a well-known litany by Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren about the reliance of private businesses on public services and investments). It’s not entirely clear whether this intense barrage is intended simply to reinforce the general and long-standing Republican critique of Obama as someone who does not understand how the economy works and believes government is the source of all good things, or is more narrowly targeted at undermining Obama’s relatively strong standing with upscale, college-educated voters.

Both campaigns have now supplemented (without displacing) these negative messages with new material in the last few days. Obama has run a widely praised talk-to-the-camera ad in which he calmly and pleasantly describes the upcoming election as a “big choice” between two different visions for the country, noting in passing that Romney’s vision reflects the policies “that got us into this mess in the first place,” a relatively deft reference to the continuity of GOP policies since Bush was in office. The ad is “comparative” without seeming “negative,” and although some pundits believe it reflects the Obama campaign’s fears that the negative campaigning is taking a toll on the president’s personal popularity, it may simply represent a transition to a planned focus on the GOP’s policy agenda, particularly the Ryan Budget and the lack of any “jobs plan.” The Romney campaign has seized on a new Obama video clip in which the president is talking about the success of the economy under the Clinton-era tax rates on the wealthy, suggesting (with some blatant dishonesty) that Obama is boasting of his own administration’s economic success.

But most of Team Romney’s efforts have gone into preparations for the candidate’s overseas trip, timed to coincide with the beginning of the Olympic Games in the U.K. (which was supposed to provide favorable reminiscences of Mitt’s successful “rescue” of the 2002 Winter Olympics, perhaps the only item on his resume that doesn’t have any unfavorable connotations) and culminate in a reunion in Israel with his old Boston Consulting Group colleague Bibi Netanyahu. On the eve of his trip, Romney delivered a harsh if not especially substantive “big foreign policy speech” to the VFW, emphasizing familiar themes of American “exceptionalism,” a tougher line with Iran, and closer relations with allies, especially Israel. The candidate did hit a couple of new strains by blaming the pending “sequestration” of defense funds on the president (it was actually a Republican congressional proposal to resolve the debt limit crisis), and criticizing national security leaks some have alleged are coming straight from the White House.

As of this writing, Romney’s overseas trip has gotten off to a poor start, with British officials (including Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson) reacting negatively to an interview in which Romney seemed to be questioning the adequacy of preparations for the London Games. While American public opinion may not be affected much by the controversy, it certainly spoiled the intended “triumphant return to the Olympics” theme the campaign had planned, and more dangerously, may complicate future efforts to make Romney’s Olympics service a major credential for the presidency.

Through all of this activity, presidential polls have remained largely unchanged; earlier signs of a slight pro-Romney trend were not confirmed, and one major poll (NBC/WSJ) actually showed Obama slightly increasing his small lead. A second poll of Latinos (a subset of the NBC/WSJ survey) confirmed the strong position of the incumbent reported last week in a Latino Decisions poll, and even indicated relatively robust Latino enthusiasm for Obama. As usual, all political observers are looking forward eagerly to the August 3 release of the official July “jobs report.” Projections of what it might show are very mixed, though jobless claims this week did drop. A fourth consecutive disappointing jobs report, particularly when combined with this morning’s tepid second quarter GDP numbers, could revive fears of a “double-dip recession,” while a strong July would give the president a major break in negative economic news.

Next Tuesday Texas will hold its primary runoff elections, featuring the Cruz-Dewhurst Senate battle, and Georgia will hold primaries (with at least two closely contested GOP congressional contests) and a statewide set of regional transportation sales tax referenda that has sharply divided Georgia Republicans.

Photo Credit: Austen Hufford