Sharpened Attacks Mark Shift to Bruising Phase of Campaign

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  July 18, 2012 at 9:03 AM EST

Mitt Romney; photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday in Irwin, Pa. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

With President Obama’s campaign posing questions about what might be in Mitt Romney’s tax returns, the GOP candidate’s campaign is firing back with a query of its own Wednesday: “Where did all the money go?”

That’s the subject of a new Romney television ad that accuses the president of showering stimulus funds on friends, donors, campaign supporters and special interest groups.

“Windmills from China, electric cars from Finland,” the narrator says as burning money flutters across the screen.

You can watch the 30-second spot here or below.

The tough ad is just the beginning of a sharper offensive from Team Romney, BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins reports. He quotes an unnamed Romney adviser suggesting the presumptive GOP nominee believes Mr. Obama “really hasn’t been vetted.”

From the piece:

In the next chapter of Boston’s pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a “liar” — very little will be off-limits, from the president’s youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

“I mean, this is a guy who admitted to cocaine use, had a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago, and was associated and worked with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate,” the adviser said. “The bottom line is there’ll be counterattacks.”

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, released a web video hammering Romney for his response to questions about when he officially left Bain Capital to run the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The video highlights a report last week in the Boston Globe that cited government documents showing Romney remained the chief executive until 2002, despite the candidate’s contention his managerial role stopped in February 1999.

Team Obama’s web spot — filmed in Wisconsin — features people on the street reading Romney’s explanation to CBS News that he had “no responsibility whatsoever” for Bain’s activities after that date.

That quote again:

I was the owner of a, of the general partnership but there were investors which included pension funds and various entities of all kinds that owned the, if you will, the investments of the firm. But I was the owner of an entity which was a management entity. That entity was one which I had ownership of until the time of the retirement program was put in place. But I had no responsibility whatsoever after February of ’99 for the management or ownership – management, rather, of Bain Capital.

“He said ‘entity’ a lot,” one woman in the Obama campaign video said, after noting the Republican’s explanation sounded “very suspicious.”

You can watch it here or below.

The two videos represent the latest salvos in what has become a bruising phase of the campaign, with Tuesday’s attacks focusing on Romney’s tax returns and the president’s views about how government has helped lay the groundwork for businesses to succeed.

TAXING CERTAINTY

On the tax return front, Romney again rejected the idea of releasing additional documents beyond what he has already agreed to produce.

“My tax returns that have already been released number into the hundreds of pages. And we will be releasing tax returns for the most current year as soon as those are prepared,” Romney told the National Review Online in an interview Tuesday.

“In the political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy. And I’m simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort, and lie about,” Romney added.

But the editors of the National Review were unswayed by Romney’s argument, and Tuesday they joined a growing chorus of conservative voices urging the former Massachusetts governor to release additional years of his tax returns.

Romney may feel impatience with requirements that the political culture imposes on a presidential candidate that he feels are pointless (and inconvenient). But he’s a politician running for the highest office in the land, and his current posture is probably unsustainable. In all likelihood, he won’t be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions. The only question is whether he releases more returns now, or later — after playing more defense on the issue and sustaining more hits. There will surely be a press feeding frenzy over new returns, but better to weather it in the middle of July.

In an interview with Politico on Tuesday, Texas GOP Rep. Ron Paul also called on Romney to put out more of his taxes. “In the scheme of things politically, you know, it looks like releasing tax returns is what the people want,” Paul said.

Another former rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, advised Romney and people running for elected office to be “as transparent as you can be with your tax returns and other aspects of your life so that people have the appropriate ability to judge your background.”

For his part, Romney went on the offensive in Irwin, Pa., Tuesday, attacking the president for comments he made last week about how businesses are built.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” the president said during a campaign stop in Virginia last week. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Romney seized on the remark, accusing the president of attacking success. “To say something like that is not just foolishness it’s insulting to every entrepreneur or every innovator in America, and it’s wrong,” Romney said.

“I don’t think anyone could have said what he said who actually started a business or been in a business,” he added. “And my own view is what the president said was startling and revealing. I find it extraordinary that a philosophy of that nature would be spoken by a president of the United States.”

The Romney campaign also used the gaffe to raise money, with campaign manager Matt Rhoades telling supporters in an email the comments are a “slap in the face to the American Dream.”

“Clearly, this president doesn’t understand how our economy works,” Rhoades wrote, asking for donations to “send a message to President Obama that there is one clear choice this November.”

NewsHour politics desk assistant Beth Garbitelli listened in on two conference calls Tuesday and noted that each camp was looking to portray the other candidate as tainted by their roots and out of touch with the average American.

Former New Hampshire GOP Gov. John Sununu got himself into some trouble after hammering President Obama by saying, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”

Asked to explain the charged remark, Sununu told reporters he thought he said that Mr. Obama needs to learn “the American formula for creating business.” Sununu also brushed off questions about Romney’s tax returns. “There was a movie called The NeverEnding Story,’ and I think this issue falls into that category,” Sununu said.

The Obama campaign’s Ben LaBolt hosted a call later starring two people who were laid off by companies that Bain had taken over and keeping up the “Romney outsourced jobs” push. He said he holds Romney accountable for the outsourcing that occurred at Bain-controlled companies. “If you’re the president, the buck stops with you not with someone else,” LaBolt said, paraphrasing the president. “[Romney's] goal wasn’t job creation, it was profit creation.”

SWINGY STATES

Gwen Ifill talked Tuesday night with WNYC’s Anna Sale, who has embarked on a four-state barnstorm with one goal: understanding swing voters.

Speaking from Des Moines, Sale explained that she chose Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio because they are likely to be competitive and they are where the campaigns are focusing a lot of their attention. (Some outlets don’t consider Wisconsin as competitive, the NewsHour is keeping an eye on it.)

“[W]e wanted to go to these states not in the shadow of these campaign rallies, but to talk to voters this summer as they’re going about their daily business, as they’re at shopping centers and fairs and at work, and see what they’re talking about outside the shadow of the campaign,” Sale said.

The reporter also found what she said was a surprising lack of enthusiasm for the contest in general and the president’s re-election bid in particular.

“[T]he voters who supported [Sen. John] McCain planning to vote for Mitt Romney, the voters who supported Obama four years ago planning to stick with him, but need some nudging to be excited,” she said.

Watch the full segment here or below.

Here is Sale’s look at Iowa

Make your predictions for how these states will vote on Nov. 6 in the NewsHour’s Vote 2012 Map Center. You can share your Electoral College map with your friends using Twitter and Facebook.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds one in four Republicans do not approve of how Romney is running his campaign. “Those numbers lagged behind how President Obama’s campaign is viewed among Democrats — 75 percent of whom regard his bid favorably,” the Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake write.

  • Romney also released a TV ad in Spanish. It features Craig Romney saying his dad will implement a “permanent solution” to the immigration system. Watch it here.

  • USA Today published the first list of bundlers to the Romney campaign. (It’s matched with President Obama’s publicly available list.)

  • BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski writes that during his 2002 run for governor of Massachusetts, Romney attacked his opponent, Shannon O’Brien, for not releasing her husband’s tax returns.

  • The Democratic National Committee has some fun with dressage in a new web video. You can watch that here.

  • A new survey by the University of New Hampshire and WMUR has the president leading Romney, 49 percent to 45 percent, in the Granite State, a narrowing of five points since April.

  • Sasha Issenberg devotes his Victory Lab column in Slate to Romney’s data team under the headline, “The Romney Campaign’s Data Strategy. They’re outsourcing it.”

  • Politico’s Manu Raju reports that McCain said Tuesday that his decision to go with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate over Romney had nothing to do with Romney’s tax returns. “Why didn’t I? Because we had a better candidate, the same way with all the others,” McCain said. The Arizona Republican later released a statement saying he chose Palin because “she was the best fit for my campaign.”

  • The Atlantic’s Molly Ball writes that Sununu’s gaffe was not far off from Romney’s regular message, which includes the charge that the president “doesn’t understand America.”

  • ABC News’ Jonathan Karl goes bowling with former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

  • Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff will lead a discussion about the 2012 campaign at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington next Tuesday.

  • Elizabeth Summers (@elizsummers), Alex Bruns (@abbruns) and Hari Sreenivasan (@hari) are on the road in Nevada for a presidential politics story. Follow them!

VEEPSTAKES

  • ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Shushannah Walshe report that former Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty seemed to be more focused Tuesday on everyday tasks such as walking his dog and doing some yard work with the veepstakes talk heating up.

  • Alex Leary writes for the Tampa Bay Times that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is unlikely to be Romney’s pick.

  • The New York Times’ Kate Zernike writes that New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s blunt style may be hurting his chances of being selected as Romney’s running mate.

  • And the New York Post floats rumors that Christie won’t be the VP pick, but rather, the keynote speaker at the convention.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Roll Call’s Jason Dick and Humberto Sanchez report that former Vice President Dick Cheney talked with Republicans on Capitol Hill Tuesday about fighting the automatic defense spending cuts, which were included in the sequester agreed to as part of last year’s deal to raise the debt ceiling.

  • Hotline goes live with its first 75 House race rankings.

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown’s wife, a journalist, had some fun with a conservative blogger who did not seem to know she is married to the Ohio Democrat.

  • A new poll from left-leaning Public Policy Polling has Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich leading former GOP Rep. Heather Wilson, 48 percent to 43 percent, in the race for the U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico this November.

  • Former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin shared a family photo with People Magazine and opened up about their new life as parents.

  • BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner reports that the Boy Scouts will continue a ban on openly gay members and leaders.

  • The going rate for a ticket to see the midnight Friday showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a New York City movie theater? $100 on Craigslist reports Kelli Grant at SmartMoney.

  • Christine O’Donnell’s ChristinePAC announced it is doing a week-long Film and Entertainment Festival during the Republican National Convention. She announced the event in an email soliciting donations and promoting the “first EVER Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street national debate.”

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama meets with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the Oval Office at 11 a.m. to discuss the drought, honors the NCAA women’s basketball champion Baylor Bears at 2:25 p.m. and attends a campaign event in Washington, D.C., at 5:40 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney campaigns in Ohio with a Toledo fundraiser at 11:30 a.m. and a Bowling Green town hall at 2:05 p.m.

  • First lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks at a campaign event in Birmingham, Ala., at 7 p.m.

  • Vice President Joe Biden 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.