In a barrage that marks a new phase of the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney has used his first paid media ad to assail Barack Obama, welcoming the President to New Hampshire today with a withering TV ad and open letter that blast Obama for his “failure” to reignite the sputtering U.S. economy.
Romney’s first TV ad of the 2012 campaign culls footage from an Obama campaign stop in New Hampshire in the fall of 2008, when, weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, the Democratic nominee expressed confidence that under his leadership, the U.S. could avoid succumbing to the economic crisis that has since engulfed it. “He failed,” the ad declares. The footage is grainy and the audio tinny, as if to spotlight how antiquated such optimism now seems.
By contrast, the ad presents Romney in vibrant color, promising a “smaller, simpler, smarter approach to government” — trimming programs, improving efficiency, cutting spending and repealing the President’s health-care law, which was closely modeled on Romney’s own. “It’s killing jobs, and it’s keeping our kids from having the bright prospects they deserve,” Romney declares.
The spot is vintage messaging for Romney, who has sought throughout his campaign to juxtapose Obama’s supposed economic failures with his own managerial background. In the span of 60 seconds, it paints a stark contrast with the President while attempting to showcase his conservative credentials and neutralize the former Massachusetts governor’s lingering vulnerability over the health-care reform plan he passed as governor.
But in making the case against Obama, Romney’s campaign has come under fire for twisting a remark out of context. “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,” the ad captures Obama saying in the waning weeks of the 2008 campaign. In truth, Obama was quoting an adviser to John McCain. His spokesman, Ben LaBolt, told the Huffington Post the Romney ad was “a deceitful and dishonest attack.”
Romney’s team argues the snippet succinctly encapsulates the parallels between Obama’s strategy and McCain’s. “Three years ago, candidate Barack Obama mocked his opponent’s campaign for saying ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,’” Gail Gitcho, Romney’s communications director, wrote in a blog post on the campaign’s website. “Now, President Obama’s campaign is desperate not to talk about the economy. Their strategy is to wage a personal campaign – or ‘kill Romney.’ It is a campaign of distraction.”
The former Massachusetts governor, who maintains a big lead in this firewall state in a new Suffolk University poll released Tuesday, also released a blistering missive that assails Obama’s economic policies in a preview of the attacks Romney intends to hurl at the President if they square off in the general election.
“I will be blunt. Your policies have failed,” he writes. “It is bad enough that they have fallen short even by the standards your own administration set for itself. But things are much worse than that. Far from bringing the crisis to an end, your policies have actively hindered economic recovery.” It goes on to rehash a familiar batch of charges conservatives have leveled at the President: that the stimulus didn’t tamp down unemployment as promised, that legislation like the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill has created a climate of business uncertainty and that Obama’s Administration has “catered to favored special interests.”
The letter, too, distorts a comment that multiple Republican presidential candidates have seized on to suggest Obama is hostile to American values. “It is not America’s laziness that is the problem, as you recently suggested,” Romney writes. The full context of the President’s remark shows he was imploring businesses to work harder to lure foreign investment, not accusing the American people of generalized sloth.
The twin assaults will be bookended by a barrage of attacks on Obama by local Romney surrogates, including New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, who endorsed Romney on Sunday. It appears to the mark the turning point of the primary fight. . To this point, caution has been a hallmark of the Romney’s campaign, taking a low profile in the media and declining to dip into his campaign war chest for paid media. On Monday night, as he readied an ad buy of more than $100,000, Romney sat for an interview with Sean Hannity, and he’ll do the rounds again Tuesday in advance of tonight’s Republican debate. “Game on,” Gitcho wrote as the subject line in an email previewing the spot to the campaign’s distribution list Monday night.
Obama, who will blast Republicans for blocking a payroll tax-cut during his appearance Tuesday in Manchester, surely has a couple plays of his own scripted. It will be interesting to see if he returns fire at Romney today.