Total Pageviews

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Aurora Victim Pushes Gun Issue With New Ad


Stephen Barton was supposed to spend the fall teaching English in Russia on a Fulbright fellowship. But shortly after midnight on July 20, a gunman in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., derailed those plans.

Still recovering from the wounds he sustained when the gunman opened fire that night, killing 12 and injuring dozens more, Mr. Barton has decided to devote his energies this fall to something entirely different: Trying to get the presidential candidates to address the touchy issue of guns and gun violence.

In a television advertisement to begin airing on Monday, Mr. Barton, seated in an empty movie theater, tells viewers that despite the injuries from 25 shotgun pellets that embedded themselve s in his face and neck, he was lucky.

“In the next four years, 48,000 Americans won't be so lucky, because they'll be murdered with guns in the next president's term, enough to fill over 200 theaters,” Mr. Barton, 22, says in the advertisement. “So when you watch the presidential debates, ask yourself, ‘Who has a plan to stop gun violence?'”

The advertisement will appear in Colorado and on cable stations in Washington and other cities across the country, said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 725 mayors that is sponsoring the ad as part of its “Demand a Plan” campaign.

After the shooting spree in Aurora, both presidential candidates offered their condolences to the victims and their families. President Obama traveled to Aurora to visit the injured. Mitt Romney said, “Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy.”

But any discussion of how to prevent gun violence has been noticeably absent in presidential campaigns that have focused on the economy and foreign policy issues.

Both candidates have backed gun control measures in the past, Mr. Obama as a legislator and Mr. Romney as governor of Massachusetts, where he raised the fee for gun licenses and signed a ban on assault weapons.

But at a time when national surveys show waning support among Americans for tougher gun laws and when politicians who broach the issue face swift attack by the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have instead stressed their support for Second Amendment rights.

Mr. Barton, who graduated from Syracuse University in May and had stopped in Aurora for a few days while on a cross-country bicycle trip, said that before the shooting, he had followed the presidential campaign from a distance.

But what happened that night at the theater made it much more personal.

“I couldn't sit back and be just frustrated at the direction of the discourse or the lack of discourse,” he said. “I guess I just felt some responsibility.”

He deferred his Fulbright fellowship and, through contacts in Washington, signed up with the mayors' coalition, where he will spend the year working on gun control issues.

“We have this giant shooting and it's really sad that we can't even have a discussion about it,” he said. “Really, more than anything, we just want to candidates to start talking about it in a way that's beyond just condolences.”

And if the advertisement fails to convince the candidates, he added, “At least it might convince regular American citizens to think about it.”

Now Entering the Month of Surprise



October has arrived, and with it, the specter of an “October Surprise” that might alter the political trajectory of the presidential campaign at the last minute.

In 1972, Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state under President Nixon, announced that “peace is at hand” in the Vietnam War just days before the election. In 1992, Caspar Weinberger, the defense secretary during the Reagan administration when George H. W. Bush was vice president, was implicated in the Iran-contra arms scandal four days before Mr. Bush lost the election to Bill Clinton. In 2004, Osama bin Laden released a video statement on Oct. 29.

Will such a surprise happen again? In 1980, the nation held its collective breath waiting for an October release of the Iranian hostages; it did not happen until hours after Ronald Reagan's inauguration. It is possible that October comes and goes this year without a pivotal moment.

But if it does come, here are five possibilities:

A DEBATE MOMENT President Obama and Mitt Romney will stand next to each other on a stage three times during October. Each one of those debates will provide an opportunity for an October Surprise that might change the trajectory of the 2012 campaign.

That surprise might come in the form of a gaffe that raises new questions about one of the men. Or it could be a surprise policy proposal offered as a Hail Mary pass to alter the political discussion. Or it could be a striking stylistic observation that changes the way voters assess the two candidates.

FOREIGN POLICY The events in Benghazi, Libya, in September were a vivid reminder of how quickly an event overseas can hijack the political ne ws cycle in America - and often rightly so. The Libyan situation is important in its own right, but so are the reactions to it by Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney.

What else could pop up on the world stage in October? More re-evaluations of the terrorist attack that killed the ambassador to Libya? Developments in the Iranian nuclear drama? Dramatic economic collapses in European nations already weakened and teetering? Something totally unexpected?

ECONOMIC STATISTICS Here at home, there will be one more opportunity in October for the government to report the jobless rate and other economic data. That will come at the end of this week, on Friday, Oct. 5. Will the unemployment rate go up again, hold steady, or tick down a bit? A slight change in either direction might not matter much, but a dramatic shift would definitely qualify as a potentially critical October Surprise.

There will be one more jobs report, on Nov. 2. But throughout October, the economy will be the single most important subject on the minds of voters. That means that a big gain or loss in the stock market could affect the election. So could big financial news affecting some of the country's largest institutions.

INVESTIGATIVE NEWS Journalists have already spent years delving into the backgrounds of Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama. But the digging continues, and there is still plenty of room for new revelations that could affect the outcome of the election.

In 2000, just days before the election, George W. Bush was forced to acknowledge that he had a drunken driving conviction in his past. That kind of personal information could yet emerge about one of the two current candidates. If it does, it could affect the small number of truly undecided voters.

For the two campaigns, both of which have elaborate opposition research departments, October is the last hope to peddle damaging information about the opponent.

UNRELATED INCIDENT Finally, there is always t he possibility that something happens in October that has no particular relevance to the election, but steals the spotlight, an event on par with July's shooting in Aurora, Colo., or a natural disaster like the Japanese earthquake.

Both campaigns expect to have the month of October to make their final appeals to voters. If an unrelated event consumes the attention of the news media and the American public, the campaigns will find it harder to break through with their closing messages.

Poll Shows Obama and Romney Close in Iowa


Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are essentially tied in Iowa, according to the latest poll conducted for the The Des Moines Register.

Among likely voters surveyed, 49 percent support Mr. Obama and 45 percent back Mr. Romney. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Only 2 percent of respondents were undecided, but 10 percent said they could still change their minds. However, voters have already begun to cast their ballots as early voting in Iowa started last Thursday.

Mr. Obama won Iowa four years ago, but it swung Republican in the previous two presidential elections, backing George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisco nsin is considered an asset to Mr. Romney's campaign by 56 percent of voters surveyed, while 47 percent regard Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. a liability. But the favorability rating for the two running mates is fairly even: 46 percent have a favorable opinion of Mr. Ryan and 41 percent are unfavorable while 45 percent have a favorable view of Mr. Biden and 45 percent are negative.

On the other hand, Mr. Obama's favorability rating is higher than Mr. Romney's. A majority of voters, 54 percent, have a positive impression of Mr. Obama and 43 percent have an unfavorable opinion. In contrast, 44 percent have a favorable opinion of Mr. Romney and more, 51 percent, hold a negative view.

The telephone poll was conducted Sept. 23-26 with 650 likely voters by Selzer and Company.

Ryan Sees \'Media Bias\' in Campaign Coverage


At a time when the Republican presidential ticket has received some scolding from fellow conservatives for being insufficiently bold, the vice presidential nominee, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, suggested on Sunday that part of the problem might be in getting the message past the mainstream news media.

“It goes without saying that there is definitely media bias,” Mr. Ryan said on “Fox News Sunday.” He said he believed that most people in the news media were left of center and pro-Obama; that meant that he and his running mate, Mitt Romney, needed to take their message directly to the people.

Mr. Ryan declined to say exactly where he saw such bias.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the Republican campaign has had its flaws, including what he described as Mr. Romney's “inarticulate” comments about people who pay no taxes and receive government help.

“We've had some missteps,” he said, “but at the end of the day the choice is really clear.”

Some conservative commentators contend that Mr. Romney is keeping Mr. Ryan too tightly collared, preventing him from making the full-throated arguments that many on the right are waiting to hear.

“I hear the hand-wringing in Washington,” Mr. Ryan said. He insisted, however, that “Mitt Romney has never once asked me to temper anything down.”

But one fellow Republican said on Sunday that complaining of media bias was not, perhaps, the most effective response.

“I'm not going to sit here and complain about coverage of the campaign,” said Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. “As a candidate, if you do that, you're losing.â €

Mr. Christie defended Mr. Romney but also said he did not “buy” the assertion by some critics that voter surveys showing Mr. Obama leading nationally and in key states were skewed.

What was needed, Mr. Christie said on ABC's “This Week,” was a “big and bold” showing by Mr. Romney in his debate against the president on Wednesday â€" “and that's what he's going to give us.”

David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser, playing the time-honored game of expectations-setting, said that Mr. Romney might have spent more time preparing for the series of debates starting Wednesday than anyone ever, and that “challengers tend to do really well in debates.” Still, he said on ABC, Americans would be drawn to Mr. Obama's defense of the middle class.

Mr. Ryan said that his own opponent in an Oct. 11 debate, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was no pushover, despite a reputation for shooting from the hip.

“He's fast on the cuff, he's a witty guy, he knows who he is, and he's been doing this for 40 years, so you're not going to rattle Joe Biden,” Mr. Ryan said. “Joe is very good on the attack.”

In his own preparations, Mr. Ryan said that he was not focusing on zingers or sharp one-liners. “I'm not really a line guy, I'm more of a gut guy,” he said.

“In the end of the day,” he said, “I'm just going to go in there and be me.”

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sunday Breakfast Menu, Sept. 30


Just a few days before the first presidential debate, surrogates from both campaigns will join the Sunday talk shows to weigh in on what Mitt Romney and President Obama need to do to reach voters.

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin will grant an exclusive interview to “Fox News Sunday.”

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey makes the rounds on behalf of Team Romney, appearing on ABC's “This Week,” CBS's “Face the Nation” and NBC's “Meet the Press.”

David Plouffe, a White House adviser, will also appear on ABC and NBC, discussing Wednesday's debate in Denver and Mr. Obama's recent gains in polls in key battleground states.

On ABC, the political roundtable will feat ure Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former Mississippi governor, and Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

NBC's roundtable will include Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor.

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and presidential candidate, will join Mr. Christie on CBS, discussing how the Romney campaign can win over voters. Also, Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, will appear on the roundtable.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former Republican presidential nominee, will be on CNN's “State of the Union” to talk about the debate from a unique perspective: that of someone who has debated both candidates in the past. He will also weigh in on recent foreign policy developments in Libya and Syria.

Also on CNN: David Axelrod, an adviser to Mr. Obama's re-elec tion campaign, talking about the home stretch of the race. Plus, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, and Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, discuss what voters want to hear from the candidates.

Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is on Bloomberg's “Political Capital.”

Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan discusses the state of the housing market on C-Span's “Newsmakers.”

TV One's “Washington Watch” includes conversations about the presidential race and an interview with Colin L. Powell, the retired general and former secretary of state.

Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, and Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, will appear on Univision's “Al Punto,” as will surrogates from the Romney and Obama campaigns.

The president of Guatemala will also be on Telemundo's “Enfoque,” along with Ott o J. Reich, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.

The Caucus Click: Biden in Florida


The Weekend Word: Exposure


Today's Times

  • The White House's shifting accounts of the lethal attack on an American diplomatic compound in Libya have left President Obama suddenly exposed on national security and foreign policy, where the Romney campaign is now sensing an opportunity, Mark Landler reports. Beyond partisan politics, the attack calls into question the accuracy of United States intelligence gathering and the adequacy of the protection of the country's vulnerable personnel overseas.
  • With more than 50 million people expected to watch and a presidency at stake, both President Obama and Mitt Romney plan to use their first debate on Wednesday to reintroduce themselves to voters, Peter Baker and Ashley Parker write.
  • Mitt Romney used more tempered language to describe his tax plan this week, dismaying conservative supporters who liked the tougher tone they heard in primary season, Michael Cooper reports.
  • Mr. Obama issued an order prohibiting a Chinese company's acquisition and ownership of four wind farm projects near a Navy base in northern Oregon where training missions for drone aircrafts are conducted, Helene Cooper reports. The order is another step in the president's tougher line on China after Republicans accused him of being weak on Beijing.
  • As Mr. Romney and Representative Paul D. Ryan try to use the one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter to taint President Obama's record, historians agree that the parallels between the two Democrats make for legitimate comparisons, Scott Shane writes. But many of the details differ, and some tilt decisively in Mr. Obama's favor.

Weekly Address

  • President Obama discussed one of the bigg est causes of the financial crisis in this week's address: the housing market. “When the party stopped, and the housing bubble burst, it pushed our entire economy into a historic recession â€" and left middle-class families holding the bag,” he said. “Four years later, the housing market is healing.” Still, he said, millions are still struggling with their mortgages, which is why the administration teamed up with state attorneys general to help secure a settlement from the nation's biggest banks to help families stay in their homes. “When folks are spending less on mortgage payments, they're spending more at local businesses,” he said. “And when those businesses have more customers, they start hiring more workers.”

Around the Web

  • The Obama campaign could double as a party-planning committee. It will be hosting more than 3,200 debate-watching parties across the nation next Wednesday, Politico reports.

Happenings in Washingto n

  • Middle school students from across the country will compete in the National Geographic S.T.E.M. competition, where they will showcase projects on artificial intelligence and tsunami safety systems.  
  • The North American Police Equestrian Championships will take place in Gaithersburg, Md., with competition in events like “the fleeing felon course.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Washington Democrats Make a Move on Maine


Washington Democrats, after months of sitting on the sidelines, moved into the Maine Senate race on Friday with a sizable advertising buy to attack the Republican seeking to succeed Senator Olympia J. Snowe, the moderate Republican who is retiring at year's end.

The $410,000 ad buy came as the position of the front-runner, former Gov. Angus King, an independent, has seen some erosion. Washington Democrats have a difficult dance in Maine. They have avoided supporting their own candidate, Cynthia Dill, a state senator, hoping that Mr. King would walk away with the race and ultimately side with Democrats in Washington. But in recent days, that assumption has taken a hit with the rise of the Republican c andidate, Charlie Summers, in the polls.

“Charlie Summers is an anti-choice Tea Partier, who supports eliminating the Department of Education, privatizing Social Security, protecting tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and ending Medicare as we know it,” said Guy Cecil, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive, delivering a cookie-cutter broadside as the committee announced that its first round of attack ads will air between Oct. 2 and Oct. 12.

Republicans have been slyly playing two sides in the race, attacking Mr. King to bring down his once-stratospheric approval ratings and goading the committee to support Ms. Dill. They believe if Mr. Summers can simply run even with Mitt Romney on Election Day, other Mainers will split their votes between Mr. King and Ms. Dill and the Republican can win with a plurality. That strategy carries risks. Mr. King has refused to say which party's leader he would back if elected, but has warned that he will remember which side attacks him in the race. So far, only the Republicans have.

Two recent polls show the Republican strategy may be working, but they aren't there yet. Mr. King has maintained a lead in the high single digits or low double digits.

But the yawning gap he once had is narrowing.

In a stretch when most of the news on Senate elections has had a distinctly Democratic tilt, Republicans are happy about one bright spot for them.

“It's remarkable to see national Democrats now spending money in a state where they refuse to even endorse their own nominee,” said Rob Jesmer, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Now that they are spending almost a half-million dollars in Maine, the D.S.C.C. should make clear who they are supporting â€" the Democratic nominee or the candidate that the state Democratic Party chairman said today cannot be trusted.”

Romney Speaks With Netanyahu


ABOARD MITT ROMNEY'S CAMPAIGN PLANE - Moments after finishing a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Mitt Romney told reporters on his private campaign plane Friday that he did not believe military action against Iran would be necessary, but added that he would not “take that option off the table.”

“I do not believe that in the final analysis we will have to use military action,” Mr. Romney said. “I certainly hope we don't have to. I can't take that option off the table - it must be something which is known by the Iranians as a possible tool to be employed to prevent them from becoming nuclear. But I certainly hope that we can prevent any military action from having to be taken.”

Mr. Romney and President Obama both spoke to Mr. Netanyahu by telephone Friday, a day after the Israeli prime minister publicly addressed the United Nations General Assembly to set a “clear red line” in preventing Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. As for his own red line, Mr. Romney said he and Mr. Netanyahu did not get into “the kind of detail that would define precisely where that red line would be.”

Though Mr. Romney said he was not comfortable sharing the details of his phone call with Mr. Netanyahu, he said they discussed a nuclear Iran - “the greatest national security threat that we face,” he said.

“We spoke about his assessment of where the red line ought to be drawn and my own views with regards to Iran,” Mr. Romney said. “But we also spoke about other developments in his neighborhood: Syria, Egypt and other neighbors.”

Mr. Romney has long criticized Mr. Obama's handling of Iran, saying that the president should have long ago called for crippling sanctions. But now that the current administration has installed sanctions similar to those for which Mr. Romney had advocated, Mr. Romney said the president “has moved over time.”

“Part is to see action as opposed to just words,” Mr. Romney said, referring to the president's position on Iran. “His words more recently are more consistent with the words I've been speaking for some time, and we'll see what actions he pursues.”

Mr. Romney added that he would also indict the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under the Geneva Conventions for inciting genocide, as well as implement “extensive covert activity.” (Mr. Romney added that he did not know what type of covert operations the president is pursuing, and so he could not describe any differences between them on that front.)

“I would also look to take action against their diplomats and treat them like the pari ah I think they are, the same way we treated South African diplomats under apartheid,” he said. “And of course I would be exploring military options in the event they were necessary, and again, what options the president has considered is something only he could describe.”

Referring to a crude drawing of a bomb with a lighted fuse that Mr. Netanyahu held up during his United Nations presentation, Mr. Romney joked, “I suggested that his graphic was not up to the normal Boston Consulting Group standards,” before quickly clarifying, “No, I didn't actually do that, but I was thinking of it.”

In Florida, Biden Attacks Romney on Social Security and Medicare


Campaigning in Florida, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. widened his attack against Mitt Romney on Friday to accuse him of favoring higher taxes on Social Security benefits to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

“Right now the majority of seniors, over 50 percent, pays zero income tax on their Social Security benefits,'' Mr. Biden said. Those with higher incomes pay taxes on the benefits on a sliding scale. “If Governor Romney's plan goes into effect, it can mean that every, every one of you would be paying more taxes on your Social Security,'' Mr. Biden said.

He spoke at a retirement community in Boca Raton just a couple of miles from the home of a wealthy Republican donor where Mr. Romney utter ed his remark in May about the 47 percent of Americans who feel entitled to a handout.

“The average senior would have to pay $460 more in taxes for their Social Security,'' Mr. Biden said.

The vice president earlier attacked the deficit-cutting plan of Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, for transforming Medicare into a program he called “vouchercare.''

Sounding an alarm about Social Security is even more of a flashing red light, especially in senior-centric Florida, a battleground state in the election.

In response, Ryan Williams, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, said, “Vice President Biden is using Social Security to fabricate the Obama campaign's latest false attacks.''

Mr. Biden's charge was based on a Democratic interpretation of an independent analysis of Mr. Romney's tax proposals that Republicans have called flawed.

Mr. Romney has said that he will pay for his acros s-the-board cuts in income taxes and other taxes by eliminating deductions, but he has never specified which ones. The analysis, by the Tax Policy Center, concluded that making up all the revenue lost by Mr. Romney's tax cuts would require eliminating tax breaks, as Mr. Romney has said he would do, but not just for high earners. Households earning below $200,000 would lose 58 percent of their tax deductions â€" like the one for mortgage interest â€" the Tax Policy Center said. That would lead to higher total taxes for such households.

The Obama-Biden campaign extrapolated from this analysis to currently untaxed Social Security benefits. It figured an average increase on these benefits of $458 per household. The campaign claimed that even senior couples with incomes of as little as $32,000 would see an increase.

Mr. Ryan, the Romney spokesman, said that both the original Tax Policy Center study and the Obama campaign's analysis of it were riddled with false assu mptions. He pointed to Mr. Romney's campaign Web site discussion of Social Security, which says, “Mitt's proposals will not raise taxes and will not affect today's seniors or those nearing retirement.”

“These attacks will backfire,'' Mr. Williams said in a statement, when voters learn that Mr. Biden “supported higher Social Security taxes, and that seniors face a 25 percent across-the-board benefit cut because of President Obama's failure to lead on this issue.''

The reference was to Mr. Biden's vote on a 1993 Clinton-era budget that raised taxes, including expanding the portion of Social Security subject to income tax.

Giving With an Eye on the Impact


Paul Sullivan's Wealth Matters column this week discusses philanthropists who not only want their donations to do good, they are looking for a way to measure the impact of their giving.

It's called impact investing, and has become increasingly popular over the last decade or so.

While Paul is writing mainly about people have millions to give to charitable causes, people with far less in their bank accounts have also done impact investing. He mentions GiveWell, a nonprofit group that says most of its money comes from smaller donors.

Have you ever donated money with the idea of making a measurable impact? Tell us about your experience.

Romney Continues to Hit Obama on Defense Cuts and Foreign Policy


RADNOR TOWNSHIP, Pa. - Speaking to his second military group in two days, Mitt Romney hammered President Obama over cuts to military spending, as well as of his handling of foreign policy issues.

Before an audience of straight-backed, stone-faced cadets at Valley Forge Military Academy and College here, Mr. Romney returned to a criticism introduced earlier this week, over comments Mr. Obama made on “60 Minutes” in which he described recent developments in the Middle East as “bumps in the road.”

“The other day the president said that, you know, he has a vision for what's going to happen in the Middle East, but that there are going to be bumps in the road along the way,” Mr. Romney said. “You know, I don't consider 20- or 30,000 people dying in Syria just a bump in the road, or a Muslim brotherhood president in Egypt a bump in the road. I don't consider the killing of our diplomats in Libya a bump in the road, and I sure as heck don't consider Iran becoming nuclear a bump in the road.”

He added: “We need someone who recognizes the seriousness of what's ahead and is willing to lead.”

Turning to the topic of cuts to the defense budget, Mr. Romney told the cadets that he felt he would do more to help the military than Mr. Obama.

“I have to tell you that I don't know how a single person who goes to this institution could consider voting for the incumbent for president,” he said. “And I say that for this reason: If they want to go into the military - why, he is planning on cutting our military by about a trillion dollars over the next decade.”

The military spending cuts Mr. Romney was ref erring to are set to automatically occur if the president and Congress can't come to an agreement over alternate cuts to the budget, a fact the Obama campaign was quick to point out.

“Mitt Romney's campaign said that they wouldn't be dictated by fact checkers, and that much was clear from his remarks in Pennsylvania today,” said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman. “He falsely accused the president of supporting automatic defense cuts that could be prevented if Republicans in Congress, including Romney's running mate, would drop their refusal to ask for a penny more from millionaires and billionaires.”

Mr. Romney, who while campaigning in Ohio on Wednesday warned voters “don't be expecting a huge cut in taxes because I'm also going to lower deductions and exemptions,” on Friday promised not to raise taxes on middle-income Americans. Mr. Obama, he said, “wants to raise the income tax.”

“I don't want to raise taxes on the American peopl e, not when our economy's in the kind of trouble it's in,” Mr. Romney said. “I will not raise taxes on middle-income Americans.”

The Obama campaign, however, promised to challenge Mr. Romney over his tax assertion, as well.

“He said he wouldn't raise taxes on the middle class, but independent, nonpartisan experts agree he'd have to raise taxes on middle-class families to pay for his $250,000 tax cuts for multimillionaires,” Ms. Smith said. “In next week's debate, facts will matter - and Mitt Romney simply failed to meet the bar of honesty today.”

Campaigning in Pennsylvania, a state where he trails in the polls, Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, ended his speech on a confident note.

“You know, I've got a little secret here and that is that the Obama campaign thinks Pennsylvania is in their pocket - they don't need to worry about it,” Mr. Romney said, as the crowd booed. “And you're right and they're wrong we're going to win Pennsylvania. We are going to take the White House.”

Upsides and Downsides of Family Loans


In this weekend's Your Money column, I provide a primer on creating a family loan pool. The advantages here are many. There is potentially more money available if many family members contribute. Many people can participate in setting the rules and distribution of loans, so emotion is less likely to get in the way. And it may be easier to enforce those rules if an entire clan is standing behind the loan.

So what are the downsides of loaning money to a family member, and can a structure like the one I describe help avoid some of the potential pitfalls?

The Debate Expectations Dance


BOSTON - Ripping the stuffing out of your opponent means it is another day on the campaign trail.

But suddenly changing course to praise the other guy's experience, know-how and oratorical brilliance can mean only one thing: Presidential debates are coming up, and it is time to lower expectations for your campaign and raise the bar for your opponent. This way viewers will be unexpectedly surprised and score your candidate the winner.

Thus on Thursday did a senior adviser to Mitt Romney declare President Obama “a uniquely gifted speaker” and “one of the most talented political communicators in modern history.''

The adviser, Beth Myers, wrote in a memo to Republican surrogates that for Mr . Obama the first debate with Mr. Romney on Wednesday “will be the eighth one-on-one presidential debate of his political career.”

“For Mitt Romney, it will be his first,” she added in the memo, first obtained by CNN.

Do not try selling that story to Mr. Obama's team. The president's senior adviser David Axelrod made excuses that Mr. Obama has been too busy running the country to prepare for a debate and painted a gloomy scenario.

“First, just as he was in the primaries, we expect Mitt Romney to be a prepared, disciplined and aggressive debater,” Mr. Axelrod wrote in a memo on Friday to “interested parties.” “Second, debates - and particularly the first debate - generally favor challengers. Five out of the last six challengers were perceived to win the first debate against an incumbent president.”

Twisting the knife of sky-high expectations, Mr. Axelrod added, “Maybe this is why the Romney campaign has so confidently predicted for months that he will turn in a campaign-changing performance such as Ronald Reagan's in 1980.”

Jim Messina, Mr. Obama's campaign manager, wrote in a memo last week of Mr. Romney, “He's quick, polished and ready with a punch attack against the president.”

And Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor who fired up Democrats at their convention last month, was suddenly not so optimistic this week, predicting flat-out “the president is going to lose the first debate next week.”

“Mark my words,” Ms. Granholm said on her Current TV show, “The War Room.” “First off, he's obviously a brilliant man, but the president is not a great debater. You know it, you saw him hemming and hawing in debates four years ago.”

It is enough to make one think both candidates are spending the days ticking down to the first of three debates, in Denver, cowering under their beds. Do not believe it. Both are burrowing into their studies like the overachievers each has always been. Mr. Obama plans to spend three days beginning Sunday hunkered down and preparing for the debate in Henderson, Nev., outside Las Vegas. And although Mr. Romney is already a seasoned veteran of 20 primary debates, he attended a presidential “debate camp” in Vermont while the Democrats held their national convention last month, and he conducted five mock debates over two days recently, according to reports.

Parodying the quadrennial habit of lowering expectations, Ben White of Politico wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “Pre-debate flak spin: ‘I'll just be happy if my guy doesn't vomit blood and flat out murder our opponent with an ax.' ”

The praise for opponents is no more sincere than Br'er Rabbit's pleas not to be tossed into the briar patch. In the same memos hailing their opponents, both campaign advisers went on to explain why no matter what happens in the debates, their candidate will ultimately trounce his opponent.

“This election will not be decided by the debates, however,” Ms. Myers wrote. “It will be decided by the American people. Regardless of who comes out on top in these debates, they know we can't afford another four years like the last four years.”

And from Mr. Axelrod: “But in this debate, Americans will not be holding a scorecard to see who lands the most punches or who is quickest with the snappy sound bite. They'll be focused on what they have been throughout this campaign â€" who's going to lay out the most credible plan to create good-paying jobs for the middle class and to restore economic security?”

But please, don't hit me so hard.

The Caucus Click: Philadelphia Fund-Raising


Frontline Documentary Explores the Lives of Romney and Obama


What do the notes from Professor Barack Obama's law school classes look like? How was Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts able to fillet Mitt Romney, his challenger, in Mr. Romney's first major debate?

On Oct. 9, PBS will broadcast “The Choice,” a Frontline documentary exploring the formative experiences, decisive moments and worldviews of President Obama and Mr. Romney. In the run-up to the film's premiere, Frontline is sharing some rare documents, video clips and photographs of the candidates, including the law school notes, the Romney-Kennedy debate clip, and many others.

Friday, several Obama and Romney biographers, including David Maraniss and Jason Horowitz of The Washington Post a nd Jodi Kantor of The Times, will be discussing the documents and clips. (Last's week installment is available here, and another discussion will take place next Friday.)

Obama/Romney “Artifacts of Character” - Week 2

Friday Reading: Teens Say Parents Text and Drive


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

Debate Challenge? What to Call Your Opponent


As Mitt Romney and President Obama huddle with their debate coaches this weekend, they will each have to make a simple - but potentially critical - decision ahead of Wednesday's face-off.

What do they call each other?

Will it be “Mr. President” or “the president” when Mr. Romney refers to his rival on the stage? Will Mr. Obama talk about the policies that “the governor” wants to pursue? Or will he talk about the impact of those policies from “my opponent”?

Or will there be less formal moments, when “Mitt” and “Barack” slip out?

Millions of people will be watching the two men in one of the very few direct interactions they have had during the 2012 campaign. Am ong the things being scrutinized: how much respect will each contender pay to his rival?

“There's a certain amount of decorum that we expect in our debates,” said Brett O'Donnell, one of the Republican party's top debate coaches. “The reference that they use for each other is a beginning point for that decorum.”

Washington is famous for its fake friendliness - think of how often senators heap praise on their “good friend, the gentleman from Ohio” just before skewering the Ohio senator's motives and killing his legislation with a parliamentary maneuver.

Presidential debates are no different. They are among the highest-stakes moments in American politics. Yet they demand smiles and handshakes at the beginning - a demonstration of respect and friendliness that is often at odds with the tough rhetoric that often follows.

There have been few occasions in modern political history of outright nastiness or scorn when it comes to how presidential c andidates refer to each other during debates. Still, campaigns have often made subtle choices as they seek an advantage.

During the first debate between Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain of Arizona in 2008, Mr. Obama all but ignored Mr. McCain's decades as a senator, perhaps hoping not to draw too much of a contrast to his own short tenure in the chamber.

Almost every time Mr. Obama referred to his rival during that debate, he simply used his first name.

“I don't know where John is getting his figures,” Mr. Obama said at one point. Another time, he said: “John, nobody is denying that $18 billion is important.” Later, he spoke directly to Mr. McCain, saying: “John, 10 days ago, you said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound.”

In all, Mr. Obama used Mr. McCain's first name 25 times. By contrast, Mr. McCain referred to Mr. Obama as “Senator Obama” or “the senator” each time.

“It was a bac khanded compliment,” Mr. O'Donnell said, recalling Mr. Obama's use of Mr. McCain's first name. “On the outside, he was being friendly, trying to be comfortable. It was a way of being respectfully distrustful.”

Three weeks later, in the third debate of the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama had apparently thought better of his choice. He called Mr. McCain “John” only once, referring to him as “Senator McCain” throughout the rest of the debate.

That same year, Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and Mr. McCain's vice-presidential nominee, asked her rival, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., “Hey, can I call you Joe?” while shaking his hand at the debate's opening.

She went on to call him “senator” during most of the debate, but did drop the formality when responding to Mr. Biden's criticism of the previous Republican administration.

“Say it ain't so, Joe,” Ms. Palin said. “There you go again pointing backwards again.”

Debate co aches often suggest that candidates do whatever they can to subtly undermine their rival's experience and stature. In 2004, President George W. Bush repeatedly referred to Senator John Kerry as merely “my opponent,” even when referring to Mr. Kerry's Senate votes.

Mr. Bush used the same approach four years earlier, when debating Vice President Al Gore. Sometimes he called him “the vice president,” but often switched to “my opponent.” Mr. Gore stayed with the formal “Governor Bush,” reminding all who were watching of the limits of Mr. Bush's experience.

Mr. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, always referred to Michael Dukakis as “Governor Dukakis” in 1992. President Jimmy Carter was careful to say “Governor Reagan” during their 1980 debates. In fact, most presidential candidates seem to adopt that careful approach: be respectful by using a proper title that doesn't risk offending anyone.

The exceptions seem to come in those unscripted m oments when candidates either clash angrily or interact warmly, dropping for just a brief moment the formal pretense.

Perhaps the most memorable of those moments came during a presidential primary debate in 2008. When a moderator asked Hillary Rodham Clinton why people thought Mr. Obama was more likable, she answered, “I don't think I'm that bad.”

Mr. Obama dropped his guard and stopped calling her “Senator Clinton” in a moment that helped breathe new life back into Ms. Clinton's campaign against him.

“You're likable enough, Hillary,” he said. “No doubt about it.”

The Early Word: Voting Early


In Today's Times:

  • Voters began casting their ballots for president in Iowa on Thursday in a wave that's changing campaign rhythms as Election Day becomes more like Election Month. And so more than a month before Nov. 6, President Obama has begun making his closing argument to voters, Jeff Zeleny reports.
  • Security concerns have prevented F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings of four Americans on a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, forcing investigators to try to piece together the details of the crime more than 400 miles away, David K. Kirkpatrick, Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt report.
  • While neither candidate has said much about the us e of torture as part of terrorism investigations, it is likely that the future of American interrogation practices hinges on the outcome of the presidential race. Charlie Savage reports on the campaigns' approaches, including an internal Romney campaign memo encouraging the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
  • Taking advantage of the unknowns about Mitt Romney's policy proposals, the Obama campaign has filled in the blanks, leveling some charges that are overly specific or even most likely wrong. Now Republicans are signaling plans to go after the campaign's assertions, Michael Cooper reports.
  • The billionaire George Soros plans to give a few hefty contributions to the “super PACs” supporting Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats, Nicholas Confessore reports. The move by Mr. Soros, who said he had not donated yet because he opposed the Supreme Court decision that paved the way for unlimited money in politics, could encourage mo re contributions leading up to the election.

Happenings in Washington:

  • Mr. Obama will attend campaign events in Washington on Friday.
  • The Commerce Department is scheduled to release data on personal income and spending for August.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kentucky House Candidate Unveils Graphic Attack Ad


A commercial that all but calls President Obama a murderer â€" likening him to Hitler and Ted Bundy because of his support for abortion rights â€" is running on television stations in Kentucky despite its graphic images and provocative religious references.

The 30-second commercial is for Andrew Beacham, an obscure candidate for Congress who appears on camera at the end puffing on a cigar as he asks incredulously, “If you vote for Obama, the real question is what are you smoking?”

It opens with images of Hitler and Bundy as the candidate narrates. “Would you vote for a murderer?” he asks. “Would you vote for a man who paid others to murder for him? Would you vote for a man who stole f rom others to pay for his murders?”

Then a picture of an aborted fetus appears on screen. The candidate continues, “Well, Obama gives your money to Planned Parenthood to murder babies, and to the Muslim Brotherhood, who murders Christians and Jews.”

According to his campaign Web site, Mr. Beacham, who is running as an independent in Kentucky's Second Congressional District, is a “Christian and a patriot.” He identifies himself as a “full-time Pro-Life missionary” and Tea Party supporter.

Mr. Beacham, who is one of three candidates seeking to oust Representative Brett Guthrie, a Republican, also says he produces many of the advertisements for Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist who is known for his own graphic commercials that feature aborted fetuses.

Stations are typically free to reject ads that they find offensive or distasteful. The Associated Press reported that one of the stations running the ad, WKBO in Bowling Green, said it could not refuse to show it, but was considering running a disclaimer warning viewers of its offensive content.

A media buyer who monitors political spending said that there was very little money behind the ad â€" about $3,000 in three Kentucky markets.

Romney Adds Note of Inevitability to Stump Speech


To hear Mitt Romney tell it, a Romney administration is not a question of if, but when.

Speaking to a group of veterans in Springfield, Va., Thursday morning, Mr. Romney made a point of stressing that come Nov. 6, he expects to be the president-elect.

“And if I become president - no, when I become president of the United States - we're going to do what we have to do,” he told the group, pausing for effect.

In the face of public polls that show President Obama leading Mr. Romney in a number of crucial battle ground states, Mr. Romney has recently added a deliberate line to his stump speech - a when-not-if quip - that seems designed not only to pump up the crowd, but perhaps also to reassu re weary Republicans and staff members that he has what it takes to wrest the Oval Office from Mr. Obama on Election Day.

Addressing a group of wealthy donors at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles last weekend, Mr. Romney tried to sound a confident note.

“I'm asked from time to time, ‘What are going to do if you get to become president?' ” he said, gearing up for his big applause line. “And the answer is, ‘Well first of all, I'm going be president.' That's No. 1.”

Making his way through Ohio Wednesday on a modified day-and-a-half long bus tour, Mr. Romney  made sure to incorporate the line at every stop.

At a morning rally in Westerville, Ohio: “I can commit to you this: With every ounce of my energy, when I'm president of the United States,” Mr. Romney began, before repeating the phrase again, for added emphasis, “When I am president of the United States, I will strengthen America.”

Before a business round-table discussion in Bedford Heights, Ohio, encouraging the small business owners to give him suggestions: “So if there's some impediments to that growth, some challenges you think we face, if you'll let me know what those things are, because I'm going to be the next president of the United States and I want to know.”

And at an evening rally in Toledo, Ohio: “If instead I - no, instead when I become president - we're going to get this economy growing again, we're going to do the things that ignite this economy.”

The cheerily confident assertion that Mr. Romney believes he will be the next president has become a fail-safe applause line for him - akin to repealing the president's health care plan, or making the nation energy independent - and a way for Mr. Romney to project optimism at the daunting path he faces to 270 electoral votes.
The line is a big hit with voters.

Don Byers, 80, a Korean and Vietnam veteran, recalled that w hen Mr. Romney reassured the audience Thursday morning that he was going to be president, “the crowd roared.”
So what did his wife, Joyce Byers, 80, think?

“Hope,” she said emphatically. “We hope that he does, hope that he makes it.”


TimesCast Politics: Early Voting Under Way in Iowa


Soros Gives $1 Million to Democratic \"Super PAC\"


The billionaire George Soros is committing $1 million to Priorities USA Action, the “super PAC” supporting President Obama, two people with knowledge of the decision said Thursday, a significant donation that could help spur further contributions to the group in the closing weeks of the election.

A longtime political adviser to Mr. Soros, Michael Vachon, made the announcement at a luncheon on Thursday hosted by the Democracy Alliance, a group of liberal donors who have already invested heavily in building grassroots organizations and research institutes. Mr. Soros will also give an additional $500,000 to two super PACs backing congressional Democrats. Other donors at the lunch were expected to commit between at least $10 million more to Democratic super PACs, suggesting that many - like Mr. Soros - had overcome their aversion to the purely advertising-oriented super PACs.

The luncheon, which was headlined by former President Bill Clinton, suggested a rapprochement of sorts between progressive donors who have traditionally favored movement-building and Democratic strategists who badly want large checks to finance the party's emerging super PAC apparatus, which only in recent months have begun to draw significant financial support, much of it from traditional party sources like Hollywood, trial lawyers, and unions.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, also attended the event, each speaking briefly about why it was important for Democrats to win the House and keep control of the Senate. Mr. Clinton was introduced by Harold M. Ickes, his former White House aide. The donors and o fficials gathered at the Park Avenue apartment of Donald and Shelley Rubin, New York philanthropists and entrepreneurs who gave $1 million to Priorities USA earlier this month.

Mr. Soros had previously given $1 million to American Bridge, a group that provides research, video, and other services for its partner super PACs, and made a low-six figure contributions to House Majority PAC, a group supporting House Democrats. But Mr. Soros had earlier suggested he was unlikely to give to Priorities USA Action.

Mr. Soros' overall giving remains far below the scale of his political spending in 2004, when he and fellow billionaire Peter B. Lewis, the chairman of Progressive Insurance, together donated more than $40 million to Democratic-leaning independent groups. But his participation in the group supporting Mr. Obama could spur other donors to follow suit.

Mr. Soros did not attend in person because the luncheon was held at the same ti me as a board meeting for the Open Society Foundations, which he founded.

But in an e-mail to other invitees, Mr. Soros sought to dispel rumors that he was unhappy with Mr. Obama and explain his decision to contribute to Priorities USA.

“I fully support the re-election of President Obama,” Mr. Soros said in the email. He had not contributed until now, he wrote, because he opposed the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, which paved the way for super PACs and unlimited money in politics. But since then, Mr. Soros wrote, he had become “appalled by the Romney campaign which is openly soliciting the money of the rich to starve the state of the money it needs to provide social services.”

Buoyant Obama Courts Military Votes in Virginia


VIRGINIA BEACH - Appearing just a few miles from the shipyard where Mitt Romney announced last month that Representative Paul D. Ryan would be his running mate, President Obama on Thursday was fighting hard to make a dent in the Republican Party's traditional stranglehold on military votes.

Virginia Beach and Norfolk are crucial to both campaigns' hopes of winning Virginia, where the race is widely viewed as one of the closest in the remaining swing states, and one that both camps desperately want to win.

“I still believe in you!” Mr. Obama yelled out to the sea of white, brown and black faces before him. “If you stand with me and work with me, we'll win the Tidewater again. We'll win Virgin ia again.”

Just six days before the first debate, both candidates were in Virginia. Mr. Romney campaigned at a veterans' event in the Washington suburb of Springfield, where he, too, played to the military, promising to stop “devastating job losses” to veterans if he is elected. Mr. Romney also vowed to build a military that is “so strong that no one wants to test it.”

The state has 13 electoral votes, but pathways to victory for either man get far steeper if Virginia is taken out of the column. This is especially the case for Mr. Romney, now that polls show him trailing Mr. Obama in Ohio and Florida.

And yet, with each day that moves the president closer to Election Day - and perhaps because of the recent polling in Ohio and Florida - he has appeared more relaxed, almost as if he is starting to enjoy himself. Surrounded by 7,000 screaming supporters - a crowd as diverse as the Tidewater region, with its naval base an d countless veterans - Mr. Obama seemed determined to hang on to his small but steady lead in the state polls.

“How's it going, Virginia Beach?” the president shouted. He quickly attached himself to Senator Jim Webb, the Virginia Democrat and former Marine who had introduced him in a lengthy windup that trumpeted the president's support for military families. “I could not be prouder,” Mr. Obama said, “of a man who has served his country his entire life, as a Marine, as a secretary of the Navy.”

The crowd was eating it up, primed beforehand by the cast of colorful characters that make up Virginia Democratic politics. Representative Robert C. Scott, with his thick Southern accent, seemed a particular favorite. He got roars when he recounted how in 2008 CNN called Virginia for Mr. Obama for the first Democratic presidential victory here in 40 years, and then “two minutes later” called the election for Mr. Obama, a story meant to demonstrate how centr al winning the state has become to presidential aspirations.

Of course, winning the people at this rally looked pretty easy. Attendees were so pumped up that there was almost a stampede when organizers handed out the Obama campaign's “Forward” signs.

As is becoming the norm before the president enters a rally, the crowd took over as Al Green's “Let's Stay Together” came on, belting out the lyrics like the president did at the Apollo Theater. By the time Mr. Webb came out to introduce the president, the din at Farm Bureau Live - an outdoor concert amphitheater - sounded like a Bruce Springsteen concert.

The Obama campaign also released a two-minute television ad on Thursday, in which Mr. Obama pitches an economic plan that he says will create one million manufacturing jobs, cut oil imports and increase education jobs.

Mr. Obama characterized the plan as a “new economic patriotism.” Speaking in Virginia Beach, he said: “During campaign sea son, we always hear a lot about patriotism. Well, you know what? It's time for a little economic patriotism.”

The ad will be shown in seven swing states: Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. And with each poll that shows Mr. Obama ahead in Florida and Ohio and clinging to his narrow lead in Virginia, the president and his aides have seemed a little more buoyant - to the point that the campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, cautioned that “if we need to pass out horse blinders to all of our staff, we will do that.”

Romney Charges That Obama Has Shrunk Military Commitment


SPRINGFIELD, Va. - Speaking to local veterans at an American Legion Hall here, Mitt Romney offered a military-heavy version of his usual stump speech Thursday, attacking President Obama over cuts to defense spending and arguing for doing more to help the servicemen and women returning from war in need of psychological treatment.

“We have huge numbers of our men and women returning from conflict that are seeking counseling, psychological counseling, and can't find that counseling within our system,” Mr. Romney said. “And, of course, record numbers of suicides. This is a crisis.”

He said that as president, he would devote more financial resources to the military, including to help treat psyc hological issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. (Mr. Obama's wife, Michelle, has also made helping military families one of her main initiatives as first lady.)

“How in the world, as commander in chief, you could stand by as we shrink our military commitment financially is something that I don't understand, and I will reverse it,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Romney also attacked Mr. Obama over proposed cuts to the military, calling the proposed sequestration legislation a “kind of a gun to your head opportunity, which is that Congress couldn't get the job done properly and the president couldn't lead them.”

“The world is not a safe place,” he said. “It is still a troubled and dangerous world. And the idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating. And when I become president of the United States, we will stop it. I will not cut our commitment to the military.”

The Obama ca mpaign was quick to point out that Mr. Romney, while publicly offering a muscular pro-military stance, had offered slightly different words behind closed doors; in secretly videotaped remarks at a May fund-raiser, Mr. Romney referred to “47 percent” of voters who don't pay income taxes and are dependent on the government - a group that would most likely include veterans.

“Mitt Romney would like Virginians to forget how he disdainfully wrote off half of all Americans, including veterans and active-duty members, at a fund-raiser with high-dollar donors,” Lis Smith, an Obama spokeswoman, said in an e-mail statement.

The Obama campaign pointed to remarks Mr. Romney made in South Carolina, when he seemed to float the idea of privatizing veterans' health care, though he never returned to the suggestion.

“His plan could result in deep cuts to the VA, and he has suggested privatizing veterans' health care,” Ms. Smith said in her statement. “And becaus e of his refusal to lead his party and demand that Congressional Republicans, including his running mate, drop their opposition to asking for a penny more from millionaires and billionaires, he's stood in the way of preventing devastating automatic defense cuts. These policies would be disastrous for America's military, military families, and veterans and we can't afford them.”

Tying a strong economy to a strong military, Mr. Romney held up Russia - which he once called the country's “No. 1 geopolitical foe” - as an example of a country whose military had faltered under a shaky economy.

“The old Soviet Union tried for a while to maintain a Grade A, if you will, military, but they had a Grade B economy and they couldn't keep up,” Mr. Romney said. “They finally had to - well, they collapsed. We have to have a strong economy.”

He pointed out that while Russia's gross domestic product is growing at about 4 percent annually, the United States' gr oss domestic product last quarter was down to 1.3 percent per year - “about a quarter or a fifth the rate of Russia's,” he noted.

But Mr. Romney also used his visit here to share some personal stories, albeit with a military twist. He talked about his experience Tuesday night in Toledo, when his private charter plane was getting ready to take off as an honor flight - full of veterans who had spent the day in Washington visiting the war memorials - was returning home. Mr. Romney delayed his flight in order to greet all of the veterans as they walked down the gangway of their plane, and one elderly, wheelchair-bound World War II veteran, he said, stood out in his mind.

“I said hello to him and shook his hand, and then he turned to go through this long alleyway that had been set up with flags and people who were there to recognize each of the veterans,” Mr. Romney recalled. “But he stopped the person who was pushing him, pushing him in the wheelchair, and then he reached inside his coat and took out a flag. And waved it.”

Mr. Romney also talked about how, as governor of Massachusetts, he was attending a ceremony to send his state's servicemen and women off to Iraq and Afghanistan when one of the soldiers raised his hand with an interesting proposal.

“He said, ‘I have a young lady that I'm in love with, and we haven't been married and I'm going to go off to conflict - could you marry us?' ” Mr. Romney said. “And I said, ‘I don't see why not.' ”

He added, jokingly, “I figured I was the governor, I could do whatever the heck I want to.”

Mr. Romney said that he called the soldier and his girlfriend up to the front of the entire audience and married them right there.

“When I got back to the office, they said, ‘You know there's this thing called a marriage license,' ” he said, before adding, “We were able to take care of all those things and make sure it was legitimate.”

Attendees said they appreciated hearing some of Mr. Romney's more personal anecdotes.

“He's much more compassionate than the press gives him credit for,” said William McCarron, 76, a veteran of the Korean War. “When he talks about that honor flight and that marriage, that shows a compassionate side to him that's not getting emphasized.”

Poll: Pennsylvania\'s Voter I.D. Law Has Solid Support


A wide majority of Pennsylvania voters support state efforts to require photo identification to vote, the latest Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll finds.

The new law is backed by 62 percent of likely voters, including about 9 in 10 Republicans and two-thirds of independents. Most Democrats are opposed. There are 10 other states with voter ID requirements.

The law made its way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ruled last week that the lower court that had upheld it must determine first whether the state was doing enough to prevent voter disenfranchisement.

The question provided respondents with both sides of the debate, saying that some people say such a law is “need ed to prevent people from voting who are not eligible to vote,” while others argue that “such efforts are designed to suppress voting by minorities.”

The law is backed by most men and women, as well as majorities across all age and income groups. But while two-thirds of white voters support the law, fewer, about 4 in 10, nonwhite voters agree.

The statewide poll was conducted by telephone (land line and cellphones) Sept. 18 to 24 with 1,180 likely voters in Pennsylvania and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Full results of the poll.

Fewer Wealthy Americans Say They\'re Conservative Investors


Fewer affluent Americans describe themselves as “conservative” investors, suggesting that their tolerance for risk may be rebounding after some tumultuous years.

Thirty percent describe themselves as leaning toward lower-risk investment and savings options (like “mutual funds, bonds, savings  and money market accounts”), down from 36 percent a year ago and 50 percent two years ago, according to findings of the Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights survey.

The telephone survey, of 1,000 adults with assets of more than $250,000 to invest, was conducted in August by Braun Research on behalf of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Th e shift in attitude toward risk is most clear among affluent investors younger than 50. For instance, about a quarter of investors age 18 to 34 describe themselves as conservative, compared with 52 percent two years ago. These are investors who had become quite wary of the stock market, because of its volatility in the economic downturn. And a quarter of those age 35 to 50 also describe themselves as conservative, compared with 45 percent two years ago.

What is your risk appetite these days? Are you willing to consider individual stocks or alternative investments, or are you sticking with index funds and savings accounts?

With Start of Early Voting, Election Day Becomes Election Month


DES MOINES â€" As eight bells rang from the clock tower of the Polk County Courthouse, the doors to the election office opened on Thursday morning and voters began casting the first ballots of the presidential race in this highly competitive battleground state.

“It seems like we've been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Nancy Bobo, 60, who stood in line and voted for President Obama. “I'm just thrilled to get out here and vote as soon as I possibly could.”

Less than a week before the president's first debate with Mitt Romney and a month before the closing arguments of a campaign traditionally would be made, a steady stream of voters walked into election offices across the state to cast their ballots. They will be joined by voters in Ohio next week, along with 30 states where some type of voting is already under way.

For millions of Americans, the election no longer is a fixed date on the November calendar. It is increasingly becoming an item on the fall checklist, a civic duty steeped in the convenience of everyday life. The development is profoundly influencing presidential races, with Election Day becoming Election Month for as much as 40 percent of the electorate this year.

The number of people casting early ballots nationally climbed to 31 percent in 2008 from 23 percent in 2004, according to Michael McDonald, who studies early voting at George Mason University. This year, party strategists estimate that up to 40 percent of voters will cast ballots before Nov. 6, but the proportion is even higher in many battleground states.

In Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada, both campaigns believe th at as much as 70 percent of the ballots will be cast before Election Day. And in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, advisers to both campaigns said at least 30 percent of people are expected to vote early.

Iowa became the first swing state to allow voters to cast ballots in person this week, a provision of state election law that the Obama campaign has seized upon. In the opening hours of voting on Thursday, supporters of the president dominated the line here in the state's biggest city. They were easily identifiable by their blue Obama 2012 stickers that declared, “Be the First!”

The bustling line slowed to a trickle after about two hours on Thursday morning. But the real burst of voting is yet to come, when the tens of thousands of absentee ballots that were previously requested by voters start arriving by mail, and through satellite voting locations that will be open across the state in places that were requested by the campaigns to maximize turnout.

The Iowa Secretary of State's office said Democrats had a 5-to-1 advantage over Republicans in the numbers of absentee ballots requested statewide. Republicans said the numbers would level out over the next 40 days.

“We are going to close that gap in Iowa,” said Rick Wiley, political director of the Republican National Committee. “Democrats in Iowa have a propensity to cannibalize their Election Day voters. What they've done is find people who would vote on Election Day anyway.”

While the early voting laws are not new in most states, election officials say campaigns are seeking to leverage them to a greater degree than in any previous presidential campaign.

“It has changed from one 13-hour Election Day to 40 days,” said Jamie Fitzgerald, the Polk County Auditor, who oversees elections here. “You are really seeing a lot more emphasis on early voting and ballots by mail.”

The Obama campaign invited Jason Alexander, the actor who played George Co stanza on “Seinfeld,” to travel across Iowa to promote early-voting efforts on Thursday. The Romney campaign held a rally aimed at women, featuring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

At the election office, as Ms. Bobo stood with other Obama supporters on the first day of early voting, she said she wondered where Mr. Romney's supporters were.

“I don't see them,” she said with a smile. “But we're not taking anything for granted. We still have 40 days to go. You never know, things can change on a dime.”

When Non-Driving Factors Affect Auto Insurance Premiums


Automobile insurers may use factors unrelated to driving, like education and occupation, in determining rates.

Now, a consumer group is urging state insurance commissioners to restrict insurers' ability to use those factors, arguing that the result has been unfairly high rates for lower-income drivers. Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, said in a call this week with reporters that premiums should mainly reflect factors like accidents, speeding tickets and miles driven.

The federation analyzed auto insurance premiums quoted on the Web sites of the five largest insurers (State Farm, Allstate, Geico, Progressive and Farmer's) to price minimum liability coverage i n five cities. Using an example of coverage for a 35-year-old woman with a good driving record, the study obtained quotes while varying characteristics like marital status, education level, occupation, home ownership and gaps in insurance coverage. Her driving record was the same in all instances.

The group found that in most cases, annual premiums were much lower if the woman was a married homeowner with a college degree, a professional job and continuous insurance coverage. In four of the examples, the premiums fell by at least 68 percent.

Premiums tended to be high if the woman was single, rented in a moderate-income area, had a high school degree, worked as a bank teller or clerical worker and had a gap in insurance coverage.

The analysis first obtained quotes for the “standard” example - a 35-year-old single bank teller with a high school degree and good credit record who rents a house in a moderate-income Zip code. The hypothetical woman had driven 15 years with no accidents or moving violations, and sought the minimum required liability coverage on a 2002 Honda Civic. Then, the researchers changed the criteria to see what the impact was on the quoted premium.

For instance, the “standard” quote of $2,696 from Progressive, for coverage in Baltimore, fell to $2,212 when the woman's status was changed from single to married. And when all the criteria were changed to more a “favorable” status, the quote dropped to $718.

J. Robert Hunter, insurance director at the consumer federation, said a difference of nearly $2,000 based on non-driving factors is “patently unfair” and “actuarially unsound.”

Jeff Sibel, a spokesman for Progressive, said the insurer “works to price each driver's policy as accurately as possible, so that every driver pays the appropriate amount based on his or her risk of having an accident.” He added: “To do this, we use many different rating factors, which sometimes include non-driving factors, that have been proven to be predictive of a person's likelihood of being involved in a crash. Because different insurers use different information, which can cause rates to vary widely, we encourage consumers to shop around to find the combination of price and service that's best for them.”

Alex Hageli, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, disputed the federation's position in an e-mail, saying that data have shown “consumers' age, marital status, place of residence and occupation to be among the best predictors of future loss.” When such factors are “blended together” with criteria like driving experience, previous claims and vehicle age, he said, “these factors help to ensure that low-risk consumers can be better identified and pay less for insurance. In the final analysis, consumers benefit when insurance underwriting and rating decisions are ba sed on a wide variety of fair and objective factors.”

Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group,  said in an e-mail, “What's missing from the C.F.A.'s analysis is that every one of these factors that they attack is correlated, and highly correlated, with loss.”

Mr. Hunter of the consumer federation said his concern with using factors like occupation and education is that such factors are “surrogates” for criteria that states aren't allowed to use in setting premiums, like income. At the very least, insurers should give less weight to non-driving factors in setting premiums, he said.

Los Angeles had the lowest quotes, he said, because California limits the use of non-driving factors in setting insurance rates. It is up to state insurance commissioners and legislatures to take action, he said, because auto insurance is regulated at the state level.

“We're not trying to say get rid of these entir ely,” he said. “We're saying, you have to look at the combined effect and study these factors more carefully.”

Using non-driving factors drives up premiums, and forces many working families to drive without insurance, even though they risk paying fines or criminal charges for doing so. “Many low- and moderate-income citizens can't afford required insurance because insurers use unfair rating factors,” he said.

Do you think non-driving factors should be used to help determine insurance premiums?

Obama Unveils New Ad as Early Voting Begins


At two minutes long, President Obama's new ad, “Table,” is his longest direct pitch to voters in a television commercial this year. And the stakes could not be higher.

Early voting begins Thursday in Iowa, the first of many battleground states that allow people to cast their ballots well before Election Day on Nov. 6. The Obama campaign said the new ad would run not just in Iowa but in Florida, Colorado and Nevada as well â€" all of which allow early voting.

“During the last weeks of this campaign, there will be debates, speeches and more ads,” the president says, as the ad begins, adding “But if I could sit down with you in your living room or around the kitchen table, here's what I would say.”

In his script, the president sticks carefully to the story arc that he and his campaign have tried to lay out in their ads since the spring. He starts by reminding voters of the economic crisis he inherited and explains that progress â€" albeit too slow and incomplete, in his view â€" has been made.

“As a nation we are moving forward again. But we have much more to do to get folks back to work, and make the middle class secure again,” he says before laying out a four-point plan that includes investing in manufacturing, cutting oil imports, training new math and science teachers and reducing the deficit.

Mitt Romney's plan, he says, would “double down on the same trickle down policies that led to the crisis in the first place.”

The Early Word: Reach


In Today's Times:

Democrats' old deep-pocketed friends are beginning to pour money into Democratic “super PACs” like the groups Republican operatives have used to build their outsized influence in this election. Nicholas Confessore reports that the wealthy liberals who supported Democrats' efforts in 2004 remain on the sidelines, while Democrats draw from old friends like trial lawyers, unions and Hollywood. The financing comes at a crucial time for President Obama, as conservative groups prepare a barrage of attack ads.

In an aggressive effort to clean up the fallout from his “47 percent” comments, Mitt Romney is reaching out to middle-class and working-class voters with an ad aimed at reassuring them that he cares about their plight. Ashley Parker observes that the ad, which comes nine days after the remarks surfaced, reflected Mr. Romney's gamble that the election will be decided in the closing weeks and that Democrats' attacks will not hurt him much.

The president and Mr. Romney both stopped in Ohio on Wednesday before the state starts early voting next Tuesday. Helene Cooper writes that Mr. Obama is trying to “gallop ahead” to keep early voters out of Mr. Romney's reach, but Mr. Romney is campaigning hard in Ohio, too. Mr. Obama will visit Virginia on Thursday and Nevada on Sunday, before he begins two days of debate preparations in Denver.

Republicans in battleground states are stepping up their efforts to turn Jewish voters who are wavering on Obama into Romney supporters. Lizette Alvarez writes that Republicans hope “to erode Mr. Obama's deep-seated popularity in the Jewish community,” but Democrats call that “wishful thinking. ”

Around the Web:
The New Yorker explores how Mormonism and private equity shaped Mr. Romney's candidacy.

Happening in Washington:

Economic reports expected Thursday include second-quarter gross domestic product, durable goods for August, and weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Weekly mortgage rates and pending home sales index for August will be out at 10.

At 9, Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy will discuss “challenges for the euro and the future of European integration” on a conference call with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Thursday Reading: Ski Resort to Use Treated Sewage to Make Snow


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

Thursday Reading: Ski Resort to Use Treated Sewage to Make Snow


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

\'Super PAC\' and Labor Group Team Up in Anti-Romney Radio Ad


A Democratic “super PAC” is joining forces with a labor group to begin a $1.25 million radio ad campaign on Thursday that starts with a direct attack on Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire who has insulted nearly half of the country.

The one-minute radio ad, by Priorities USA Action and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, plays some of the audio from a secretly taped video of Mr. Romney speaking about 47 percent of Americans at a fund-raiser.

“150 million Americans: seniors, veterans, the disabled,” an announcer says in the ad. “Romney attacked them when he thought no one else was listening.”

The ad accuses the Republican presidential nomin ee of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class by $2,000 while giving millionaires a tax cut.

“Mitt Romney's just not looking out for us,” the announcer in the ad says.

The radio ad will run in Ohio and Virginia, two of the most critical battleground states, starting this week. The ad or others ads that might follow will continue running throughout the rest of the campaign.

The super PACs backing Mr. Obama have been particularly aggressive in attacking Mr. Romney's wealth on the president's behalf. Priorities USA Action, which is run by former aides to Mr. Obama, have spent millions to highlight the Republican candidate's background in business and his investments.

“Mitt Romney will not stand up for students, veterans, seniors and hard-working Americans looking to make ends meet, but he has no qualms about protecting tax loopholes so he and his fellow multimillionaires can pay a lower rate,” said Paul Begala, a senior adviser for the group. “Romney's agenda would be a blow to the middle class: slash education, turn Medicare into a voucher program and raise taxes on hard-working families.”

For the radio campaign, the group is teaming up with the labor federation, which has also focused its efforts on accusing Mr. Romney of not being interested in helping working people.

“Romney's complete disdain for the middle class, the hard-working men and women of this country, the 47 percent is reprehensible,” said Seth Johnson, the assistant political director of the labor group.

Aides to Mr. Romney have acknowledged privately that his comments about the 47 percent from the fund-raiser have hurt the campaign. Polls in several battleground states show Mr. Obama with significant leads over Mr. Romney.

They argue, however, that the impact of the comments is already beginning to fade, and will be nothing but a distant memory by the time Election Day rolls around in six weeks.

The Democratic groups behind the radio ads are trying to make sure that doesn't happen.

Labor Group Revives George Allen Gaffe in New Ad


As George Allen battles to regain his seat in the United States Senate from Virginia, one important name has not been mentioned - until now.


That word - a term that can refer to monkeys - torpedoed Mr. Allen's re-election campaign in 2006 after he was caught on video using it to describe a young man of Indian descent at a campaign rally. The video instantly went viral online, one of the first such examples on YouTube.

The incident sparked weeks of national news about Mr. Allen's past, including allegations that the Republican senator had embraced symbols of racial hatred during his political career and in his personal life.

Mr. Allen's opponent this year, Tim Kaine, th e former governor of Virginia, has steered away from all of that, preferring to argue that Mr. Allen's economic and policy record make him unfit for a return to the Senate.

But now, a labor group backing Mr. Kaine's election is trying to raise it all again with a series of small, online advertisements that note each of the most unsavory allegations against Mr. Allen. The ads were created by workersvoice.org, a political arm of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

One notes that Mr. Allen “kept a noose in his office” and shows a picture of Mr. Allen giving a thumbs up next to a hangman's noose. Mr. Allen has always claimed the noose was a lasso intended to represent cowboys.

Another banner ad says that Mr. Allen hung a confederate flag in his living room; he said it was a symbol of youthful rebellion. A third ad notes, correctly, that as a member of the Virginia state legislature, he voted against a holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. (The state celebrated “Lee-Jackson-King” day for 16 years.)

A fourth ad revives the controversy over “macaca” by simply printing that word next to Mr. Allen's picture.

“George Allen kept a noose and a confederate flag in his office and anyone who would insult the African-American and Latino people of Virginia this way is not fit to hold office,” said Eddie Vale, the communications director for the group. “This is similar to, but even more offensive, than Mitt Romney secretly attacking 47 percent of all Americans.”

The revival of questions about Mr. Allen's racial attitudes is clearly an effort to help Mr. Kaine break away from Mr. Allen in what has been one of the closest Senate elections in the country. Mr. Kaine, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has been targeted by national conservative groups with millions of dollars of negative television ads.

Will it work?

It could. The intensity of the “macaca” cove rage in 2006 made Mr. Allen toxic among donors, dashed his hopes of becoming a serious contender for the 2008 Republican presidential primary, and ultimately cost him his re-election against the Democrat, Jim Webb.

But the stories have faded now. There are plenty of new voters in Virginia who may have little memory of all that coverage. If the labor group can remind them effectively, it could cause Mr. Allen problems again.

But it also could backfire. Despite all of the negative coverage - including, for weeks, reporting about whether Mr. Allen had used a particularly offensive racial epithet often aimed at African-Americans - Mr. Allen came within just a few thousand votes of winning re-election. (He denied it.)

The avalanche of negativity was seen by political observers as evidence that many Virginia voters were turned off by the series of attacks. Mr. Allen could tap into that sentiment if Mr. Kaine's allies try a reprise of the 2006 campaign.

Odds are that Mr. Kaine's advisers are smart enough to avoid getting drawn into the attacks. Better for them if their allies can make the attacks work without any strings attached.

But in the end, it's also possible that the whole thing could just fizzle this time around.

The economy in 2012 is very different than it was in 2006. People are out of work. Housing values have plummeted. The appetite for personal attacks that date back decades may have faded in the face of those more serious issues.

If so, look for “macaca” to once again become part of YouTube's early viral history.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Senate Republicans Challenge Obama\'s Recess Appointments


Senate Republicans have filed a friend-of-the-court brief challenging President Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, reigniting a confrontation over presidential power.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, announced on Wednesday that 42 of the 47 Republicans in the Senate had signed the petition filed in the federal appeals court in Washington.

The lawmakers argued that the Senate was not in recess in January when Mr. Obama appointed three lawyers to the labor board and Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They said in the brief that the appointments were unconstitutional.

“The president's decision to circumvent the American people by installing his appointees at a powerful federal agency while the Senate was continuing to hold sessions, and without obtaining the advice and consent of the Senate, is an unprecedented power grab,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

Mr. Obama made the recess appointments on Jan. 4. Kathryn Ruemmler, the White House counsel, said at the time that the installments were lawful because the Senate was “unavailable to fulfill its function.”

Republicans were furious, arguing that the Senate held two brief “pro forma” sessions on Jan. 3 and 6. The brief filed on Wednesday fulfilled their repeated promises to challenge the appointments in court.

“The president claims power to deem the Senate not ‘genuinely capable of exercising its constitutional function' during pro forma sessions and thus in a de facto recess,” Miguel Estrada, the senators' attorney, wrote in the brief. “But the Cons titution confers no such power, and allowing the president to wield it would oust the Senate from its own constitutional role.”

Mr. Estrada, a former lawyer for the George H. W. Bush administration, was nominated to the federal appeals court in Washington in 2001. He withdrew his name two years later after Democrats blocked his confirmation in the Senate.

The brief was filed in Noel Canning v. the National Labor Relations Board, a case from Washington State brought by a bottling and canning company disputing a ruling by the labor board that the company violated federal labor laws.

The White House and Congressional Republicans have battled extensively over executive powers during Mr. Obama's term. Experts say the question of whether Congress can block a president from making recess appointments by staying in pro forma session turns on what counts as a recess - and who gets to decide.

The Republican senators who did not sign the brief are Scott P. Bro wn of Massachusetts, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Charlie Savage contributed reporting.