WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama’s campaign has spent nearly $100 million on television commercials in selected battleground states so far, unleashing a sustained early barrage designed to create lasting, negative impressions of Republican Mitt Romney before he and his allies ramp up for the fall.
In a reflection of campaign strategy, more than one-fifth of the president’s ad spending has been in Ohio, a state that looms as a must-win for Romney more so than for Obama. Florida ranks second and Virginia third, according to organizations that track media spending and other sources.
About three-quarters of the president’s advertising has been critical of Romney as Obama struggles to turn the election into a choice between him and his rival, rather than a referendum on his own handling of the weak economy. Obama’s television ad spending dwarfs the Romney campaign’s so far by a ratio of 4-1 or more. It is at rough parity with the Republican challenger and several outside GOP-led organizations combined. They appear positioned to outspend the president and his allies this fall, perhaps heavily.
The latest attack ad, which began airing Friday, accuses the Republican of favoring a 25 percent tax cut for millionaires, tax breaks for oil companies and corporations that move jobs overseas and a tax increase for working families. By contrast, it says, the president wants “the wealthy to pay a little more so the middle class pays less.”
Democrats and even some Republicans agree the effort to cast Romney as an unfit steward for the economy shows sign of making some headway. Yet GOP strategists hasten to add that the former Massachusetts governor has ample time to counter, particularly with recent signs of a struggling economy and the fall campaign yet to begin.
“Despite all of the negative advertising from the Obama campaign, polling numbers are exactly where they were before they started this onslaught,” the Romney campaign said in a memo distributed this week, referring to a rolling average of polls.
Yet Romney released a scathing ad on Thursday designed to respond to some of Obama’s charges, the sort of rebuttal that often can signal concern that an attack is hitting home. In 2008, “candidate Obama lied about Hillary Clinton,” the ad said, adding there was no truth to the charges that Romney was associated with companies that outsourced jobs.
Some surveys suggest shifts in the electoral landscape. A recent poll by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that Romney has lost ground in the past month on the question of which candidate was better able to improve the economy.
“They wanted to define Romney before he could define himself, and by every indication they’re doing a very effective job of that” said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who was campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
Romney seeks apology
Also Friday, Romney insisted that he had “no role whatsoever in the management” of a private equity firm after early 1999, and demanded that Obama apologize for campaign aides who persist in alleging otherwise.
“This is simply beneath the dignity of the presidency of the United States,” Romney said in an interview on ABC, one of several he granted to network and cable stations in hopes of extinguishing the controversy.
Under pressure from Democrats and even some Republicans to release tax returns going back several years, Romney indicated he wouldn’t do so. “You can never satisfy the opposition research team of the Obama organization,” he told CBS.
Romney said after he left Bain Capital he retained ownership “until we were able to negotiate a departure” from the company he had founded. “I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999,” he said, adding that officials at the company and independent fact-checkers had said the same thing.
He also said, “I was an owner, and being a shareholder doesn’t mean you’re running the business.” He said he couldn’t recall attending any Bain management meetings after he moved to Salt Lake City to oversee the Olympic Games.
The precise role Romney played at the firm between 1999 and 2001 is important not only because critics have raised questions about his truthfulness, but also because Bain was sending jobs overseas during that period.
Some Securities and Exchange Commission documents have surfaced suggesting Romney played an active role in the Boston-based company through 2002.