Negative Campaign Rhetoric Reaches New Level of Ugly

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  August 15, 2012 at 9:23 AM EDT

President Obama; photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday in Waterloo, Iowa. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The negative tone of the presidential campaign escalated Tuesday with Mitt Romney calling the president “angry and desperate” and Mr. Obama’s campaign accusing the Republican challenger of making comments that “seemed unhinged.”

Romney seized on comments made by Vice President Joe Biden in Virginia, where, talking about the Republican candidate’s plan to loosen Wall Street regulations, he said, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”

At a campaign rally Tuesday evening in Chillicothe, Ohio, Romney fired back, charging that the President Obama’s team had leveled “wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency.”

“Another outrageous charge just came a few hours ago in Virginia,” Romney said. “And the White House sinks a little bit lower. This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like. President Obama knows better, promised better and America deserves better.”

Romney added, “Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.”

The remarks from the former Massachusetts governor mark a shift by the GOP hopeful to respond more forcefully to Democratic attacks. Romney’s favorability ratings have declined in recent weeks as the president’s team and its allies have pounded away at his private sector experience and refusal to release additional tax returns.

“Gov. Romney’s comments tonight seemed unhinged and particularly strange coming at a time when he’s pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement in response to Romney’s remarks.

The vice president later clarified his comments at a campaign event in Wytheville, Va., but he did not back off his criticism of Republican policies.

“I’m told that when I made that comment earlier today in Danville, Va., the Romney campaign put out a tweet. You know, tweets these days? Put out a tweet, went on the airwaves saying, ‘Biden, he’s outrageous in saying that.’ I think I said instead of ‘unshackled,’ ‘unchained.’ ‘Outrageous to say that.’ That’s what we had. I’m using their own words,” Biden said, adding, “I got a message for them. If you want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies and the effects of their policies on middle class America. That’s what’s outrageous.”

Somewhat lost amid the hullabaloo over Biden’s comments was Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s first solo interview as a member of the GOP ticket.

Speaking with Brit Hume of Fox News, Ryan went after the president for cutting Medicare to help pay for the health care overhaul.

“We’re the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare. We’re the ones who are not raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare,” Ryan said. “I am on the Romney ticket. And what Mitt Romney is proposing is to repeal all of Obamacare. And in the house repeatedly I have voted with that position, I support that position, I’m pleased to support the position of getting rid of every piece of Obamacare, including the cuts to Medicare, which are used to pay for Obamacare.”

Ryan also deflected questions about the budget proposal he authored, trying instead to shift the focus to the blueprint Romney has put forward. But when asked by Hume when the Romney plan would balance the federal budget, Ryan could not offer a specific date.

“I don’t know exactly when it balances. I don’t want to get wonky on you, but we haven’t run the numbers on that specific plan,” Ryan said.

While Ryan tries to create some space from his own budget, the Obama campaign released a web video Wednesday that accuses the GOP team of “using bogus attacks to hide their plan to end Medicare.”

You can watch the 90-second video here or below.

With all four candidates stumping in battleground states on Tuesday, the NewsHour put together an in-depth report on what they were up to and how each man is framing the race.

Watch Judy Woodruff’s report here or below:

PRIMARY RESULTS

Wisconsinites went back to the polls Tuesday for yet another election this year.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson defeated three other contenders to win the Republican nomination for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat. Thompson won 34 percent of the vote, with businessman Eric Hovde taking second at 31 percent, former Rep. Mark Neumann third at 23 percent and assembly speaker Jeff Fitzgerald a distant fourth at 12 percent.

The former Health and Human Services Secretary during President George W. Bush’s administration will face Rep. Tammy Baldwin in November’s general election, which could decide the balance of fate in the Senate when the 113th Congress convenes in January. Thompson will be hoping to ride the Republican wave in the state that has seen Gov. Scott Walker turn back a June recall effort and Rep. Ryan named as a vice presidential candidate.

A Marquette University poll released earlier this month gave Thompson a 48 percent to 43 percent advantage over Baldwin in a potential matchup.

The smackdown is on in Connecticut, too. Republican voters chose professional wrestling matriarch Linda McMahon to fight for Joe Lieberman’s vacant Senate seat.

The political hotbed of Florida also became fertile ground for shakeups Tuesday night, after one Republican incumbent was shocked in the primary race by his challenger and another asserted himself for a U.S. Senate seat.

Veterinarian Ted Yoho slimly defeated 12-term U.S. Rep Cliff Stearns in the state’s newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, after a primary season in which Stearns focused on attacking White House ties with Solyndra rather than participating in debates at home. The National Journal reports that he’s the fifth House member to lose a primary this cycle to a non-incumbent opponent.

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV cruised to victory in the Republican primary for Democrat Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat. Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times writes that this November matchup could be the state’s sleeper race because of the attacks the candidates have been willing to wage, the seat’s importance and a general unenthusiasm among voters for both candidates.

Also in Florida, Longtime Rep. John Mica defeated freshman Rep. Sandy Adams in that member-vs.-member primary. The two Republicans were drawn into the same district as a result of redistricting.

Buzzfeed added to the talk of the Sunshine State by pointing out that in another of the state’s primaries, Democrats will send the first gay legislator to the statehouse.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Team Obama released an ad Tuesday focused on student loans. The campaign says it will air in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

  • The president worked a joke about Seamus the dog into his energy policy speech in Iowa on Tuesday.

  • Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch reports that the AFL-CIO’s super PAC is going after the Republican ticket and GOP Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.

  • The left-leaning Public Policy Polling released a survey Tuesday that showed the president leading Romney by three points in Ohio among likely voters.

  • Ryan doesn’t face the same scrutiny as his Republican vice presidential nomination predecessor when it comes to family matters, writes Amanda Terkel of the Huffington Post.

  • Who are those 26 millionaires who’ve funded almost half of two major super PACs? Rootstrikers’ handy infographic shows us they include Sheldon Adelson, Morgan Freeman, the CEO of New Balance and a gardener.

  • Speaker of millionaire gardener Amy Goldman, NPR’s “Morning Edition” profiled her on Tuesday as part of a series on super PAC super donors.

  • Here’s the New Yorker “Shouts and Murmurs” riff in which President Obama continues his onslaught of grassroots donation request emails.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., announced his resignation from Congress ahead of his planned retirement at the end of his term. It means there will be no special election to fill his seat.

  • After a fair bit of controversy and an inability to finalize the issue in the spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed early Wednesday morning an expansion of gambling, including adding a casino in Prince George’s County and the ability for veterans’ halls to have slot-like machines.

  • Dave Gustafson of the Public Insight Network examines Southern Ohio and its importance this fall.

  • Check out the cool widget from our partners at ShoutAbout allowing you to dive deeper with your campaign finance questions.

  • A wrestler was fired for tweeting his support for McMahon in Connecticut’s contest.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Vice President Biden delivers remarks at a campaign event at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., at 12 p.m.

  • President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama deliver remarks at campaign events in Dubuque, Iowa, at 1:25 p.m. and Davenport, Iowa, at 6:35 p.m.

  • Paul Ryan attends a campaign event in Oxford, Ohio, at 6 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney has no public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.