In the heat of July’s U.S. presidential campaign, President Barack Obama’s re-election team has delivered volley after volley in attack ads and put Mitt Romney on the defensive over his Bain Capital years and his tax returns.
Mitt Romney has taken to a series of sit-down TV interviews demanding an apology for the “dishonest” attacks on his business record, which prompted top Obama and Democratic Party officials to tell Mr. Romney to “stop whining.”
On Wednesday, the Romney campaign released its own hard-hitting attack ad called 'Where did all the money go?' - which accuses President Obama of using stimulus funds to pay back political allies. But for the most part the Romney campaign has been on the defensive.
Mr. Romney can take some comfort in the fundraising juggernaut his team has built. The Romney campaign is on pace to potentially out-do President Obama - the politician who re-wrote campaign fundraising four years ago by raising $745 million.
In June, Mr. Romney and his allies raised $106 million to President Obama’s $71 million. By autumn, closer to voting day, the Romney campaign will have built a massive war chest - more money to buy more TV ad time in key states to attack President Obama.
In a tight race, expect a summer of unrelenting attack ads from both campaigns. The ads may not always fall within lines of fairness and accuracy. But they will almost always be aggressive and negative as some of the recent lines of attack indicate. Here is your guide to those attack lines.
Barack Obama attack ads on Mitt Romney
The ‘tax returns’ line of attack
Mitt Romney ran in to trouble in January in the midst of the GOP leadership race when he gave an unclear answer to a debate question about whether he would follow in his father’s footsteps and release 12 years of tax returns – something his father did during his bid for the presidency in the 1960s.
“Maybe,” Mr. Romney answered. The South Carolina crowd booed. Under pressure, the Romney campaign promised to release returns for 2010 and 2011. The Romney camp has pointed out that Republican presidential candidate John McCain also released returns for two years during his campaign. Compare that to George W. Bush, who released 9 years of records during his first bid; candidate Obama released 6 years of records during the Democratic primaries.
Now, in the heat of a presidential campaign, the pressure is on Mr. Romney again – from Democrats and even some Republicans who see the issue as a distraction. The focus is on Mr. Romney’s financial picture in the years before 2010.
As Mr. Romney visited the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, an Obama campaign attack ad began airing – a “go-for-the-jugular” strategy, as described by one journalist – with the question: “What is Mitt Romney hiding?”
The ‘Bain Capital’ line of attack
Mr. Obama has said he will not apologize for the attacks on Mitt Romney’s tenure as head of Bain Capital because it is Mr. Romney’s “calling card” in his bid for the White House.
“He invested in companies that have been called pioneers of outsourcing,” Mr. Obama told a Virginia crowd last weekend. “I don’t want pioneers in outsourcing, I want some insourcing. I want to bring companies back.”
The outsourcing of business functions and jobs to foreign companies is a deeply emotive issue among voters anxious about the strength and direction of the American economy.
Mr. Romney has argued that the attacks on his Bain Capital years distort his record and that they are “Chicago-style politics at its worst.”
Analysis by an independent fact-checker and even the Washington Post – to which the phrase ‘pioneers of outsourcing’ has been attributed based on the original article – make the case that there is no clear link between Mr. Romney personally and the practice of outsourcing. The Obama attack ads are not accurate, they argue.
But the ads continue. The latest is arguably the sharpest attack yet – with Mr. Romney straining to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ beneath excerpts of Obama campaign claims about Mr. Romney’s role in outsourcing.
The ‘Massachusetts governor’ line of attack
“If Mitt Romney’s an economic heavyweight, we’re in trouble,” one-time Romney rival Rick Santorum told an interviewer during the heat of the GOP leadership campaign, referring to the oft-repeated detail that Massachusetts ranked 47th in jobs creation during his tenure.
The Obama campaign has also focused on Mr. Romney’s jobs creation record.
“When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs, a rate twice the national average,” says a narrator in Obama campaign attack ad.
The claim, however, has been described by an independent fact checker as only “half true.”
While the numbers are accurate, according to PolitiFact.com, the blame is not.
“[It’s] a stretch to lay at Romney’s feet the decline of manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts. His policies had a relatively small impact compared with the decades-long trend beyond the control of any politician.”
But that is not likely to stop the Obama campaign attacks.
Mitt Romney attack ads on Barack Obama
The ‘economy and jobs’ line of attack
Voting day is still almost four months away – and in between are four more Friday jobs reports, potentially delivering more disappointing numbers.
The White House spun the 80,000 jobs created in June as another consecutive month of jobs growth. “That’s a step in the right direction,” Mr. Obama told supporters earlier this month on the day the numbers were released. “But we can’t be satisfied.”
His rivals have described the jobs numbers as another month of tepid growth, unemployment above 8 per cent and failed jobs strategy.
Deep disappointment in the Obama administration’s handling of the U.S. economic recovery abounds.
The Romney campaign ad ‘Stories from the Obama economy’ shows that Mr. Romney’s strongest line of attack is jobs and economy and making the election a referendum on Mr. Obama’s track record.
The ‘Obamacare’ line of attack
Mr. Obama’s signature health-care law – which survived mostly in tact following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June – remains unpopular with most Americans and Mr. Romney has promised to repeal the law on day one of his presidency.
That may prove more difficult, as some have already observed, even in a scenario where Republicans win the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives.
Add to the law’s unpopularity a concern about government spending, ballooning deficits and national debts, attacking Obamacare is a no-brainer for the Romney camp – except for the small but important matter of Mr. Romney’s own health-care law passed during his Massachusetts governorship.
That health-care law has been described by Democrats as the template for Obamacare.
The ‘hope and change’ line of attack
Veteran CBS journalist Bob Schieffer was dismayed on Sunday to learn that the Romney campaign had run an ad attacking Mr. Obama during his Face the Nation program using footage of Mr. Schieffer himself.
“I’m running this not to give circulation to it, but just to state that obviously I have no connection with the Romney campaign,” he told viewers. “This was done without our permission. It comes as a total surprise to me and – and that is that. But that’s where we are in politics.”
Mr. Schieffer’s outrage aside – his question to Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, which was excerpted by the Romney campaign team for its attack ad – is a potent distillation of disillusionment in the Obama presidency: “What ever happened to hope and change?”