Obama, Romney intensify negative campaign
By Steven R. Hurst | AP - WASHINGTON
11th August 2012 11:53 AM
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger
Mitt Romney have rolled out new attack ads that move the already fiercely
negative battle for the White House even deeper into a blistering cycle of
charge and countercharge.
Romney's latest salvo — an ad that claims Obama "used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith."
Obama is asking in a new television spot, "Did Romney pay 10 percent in taxes? Five percent? Zero? We don't know."
Attacks like those financed by the candidates' campaign operations are compounded by vast spending by so-called Super Political Action committees. Those powerful organizations, aligned with but disallowed by law from coordinating actions with the candidates, are allowed to raise and spend unlimited money in the campaign.
The conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that such organizations are covered by the Constitution's 1st Amendment free speech rights, overturning long-standing precedent that barred corporations and unions from such activity.
The committees backing Romney have dramatically outraised those supporting the president.
Polls show the struggling U.S. economy remains the chief concern of voters in the November presidential election, which is forecast to be settled by a margin of just a few percentage points.
Given that, Romney had been hammering Obama over the sluggish economic recovery from the Great Recession, declaring the president inept and out of his depth.
Obama had routinely countered that Romney was a heartless, hugely wealthy businessman who cares little for the floundering middle class.
Now Romney, apparently sensing laggard enthusiasm for his candidacy among the most deeply conservative segments of the Republican party, is broadening his attacks on Obama, painting him as a danger to Christian values.
The assault is an attempt to reopen a wound created over Obama's health care overhaul and its directives on a woman's reproductive health concerns.
Religious objections arose over the administration's ruling that most employers, including faith-affiliated hospitals and nonprofits — but not churches — will have to provide health insurance that includes birth control as a preventive service covered free of charge. Catholic bishops have been fiercely lobbying against the rule. Obama promised to change the requirement so that insurance companies and not faith-affiliated employers would pay for the coverage. But details have not been worked out.
Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement that the president believes "women should have access to free contraception as part of their health insurance and he has done so in a way that respects religious liberty."
The Romney ad does not name the specific policy on birth control or any others, but instead repeats the broad claim by Obama critics that the administration aims to restrict religious freedom overall.
The ad — and the issue — also gave Romney a way to talk about religion without discussing his own. The former Massachusetts governor, who is Mormon, has avoided direct mention of his church while campaigning. Many evangelical Christians who routinely vote Republican see Mormonism as a cult.
Instead, the spot links Romney with the late, beloved John Paul II. The pope was a hero not only to Catholics, but to people across faiths for his defense of Christian orthodoxy, stand against communism and personal struggle as a young man living under the Nazis.
Obama, meanwhile, is intensifying questions about Romney's tax history. It piles on to questions already being asked about why Romney has refused to release tax filings beyond a completed 2010 return and a partial one for last year.
The ad shows portions of a Romney interview with ABC News in which he was asked if he had ever paid a lower tax rate than 13.9 percent, as was the case in 2010. Romney said he wasn't sure but would check and respond. He has not. The narrator asks, "Did Romney pay 10 percent in taxes? Five percent? Zero?"
Romney's 2010 tax rate was lower than that paid by average Americans who earn a minuscule fraction of what the Republican candidate takes in each year. There was nothing illegal about Romney's filing which allowed him to use the complex U.S. tax law to lower the portion of his income that was taxable.
The ad will run in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio during the coming week, the same states where Romney is taking a bus tour beginning Saturday. They are among a handful of the 50 U.S. states that do not reliably vote for the presidential candidate of one party or the other and will be decisive in November. The U.S. president is not elected according to the popular vote nationwide but in state-by-state contests.
Romney amassed a quarter-billion-dollar fortune running the private equity firm he co-founded in the 1980s. He has promoted his business success as the chief reason Americans should choose him to replace Obama.
Romney has said that he has paid taxes every year, "a lot of taxes." But his refusal to release his tax returns leaves the issue open to speculation and innuendo.
Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said the Obama campaign was pushing "another dishonorable and dishonest attack."
Romney's new assault on Obama also indicates the Republican is smarting badly from an attack ad against him by an outside group backing the president. It is narrated by a worker who lost his job and health insurance when Romney closed the factory where the man worked. He suggests that his wife subsequently died of cancer because they lacked health insurance.
Fact checkers have found the man's wife had her own insurance and that her death occurred well after the firm was closed, not within months as the ad suggests.
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