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Thursday, August 23, 2012

On Ryan\'s Campaign Plane, Kind Gestures but Few Questions Answered


ON BOARD REPRESENTATIVE PAUL D. RYAN'S CAMPAIGN PLANE - Paul Ryan really wants to be friends. He comes bearing white-chocolate macadamia nut cookies, and offering to buy you a hot dog on your birthday. If he hears you will soon be leaving his back-of-the-plane entourage, he walks down to shake your hand.

Mr. Ryan has made repeated small overtures to his traveling press corps, often involving food, clearly seeking good relations with the journalists who cover him everyday â€" and to avoid the mistake the Romney-Ryan campaign acknowledges that Mitt Romney made on his recent European trip, when a freeze-out of the foot soldiers of the media resulted in some edgy coverage of a series of verbal slip-ups.

But because the media strategy of both Mr. Romney and now Mr. Ryan is to avoid free-wheeling press conferences at all costs, aggressively managing their message, the small gestures are often fraught encounters.

When Mr. Ryan walked to the back of his plane Thursday night, on a flight between Missouri and Michigan, he was set upon by reporters so hungry for access that video cameras and tape recorders were thrust in his face.

“Every time I come back here, are you guys going to always do that?'' he said in exasperation. “Does it have to be so formal?''

You need to talk to us more often, someone said.

“You're always here,'' Mr. Ryan said. “It's kind of weird not talking.''

The impression, indeed, is that the candidate and the traveling press are the closest of strangers. Reporters might make an ice cream run with members of Mr. Ryan's staff, or glimpse him in workout gear in the gym of the same Marriott Courtyard where everyone stays. But as soon as a reporter springs a question about, say, Representative Todd Akin's recent comments about rape and abortion, the portcullis gate slams down.

At an intimate forum in North Carolina on Thursday, when the local host invited questions from the audience as well as the news media, campaign aides quickly put the kibosh on the idea and said no media questions would be taken.

So the relationship is one of mismatched expectations, the kind a Miss Lonely Hearts might be able to help with.

On the campaign plane Thursday morning, the day after Mr. Ryan passed around the plate of cookies, a television reporter rolled an orange down the aisle with the message “Hey Congressman, thanks for the visit. Don't be a stranger.''

It rolled back with a message from Mr. Ryan's traveling press secretary, Michael Steel: “Eat your fruits and veggies if you want more cookies.''

On Thursday evening, Mr. Ryan tried again. The pretext was to shake the hand of a reporter who would be moving on to cover Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

But questions were fired fast and furious at Mr. Ryan: On welfare reform. On his difference with Mr. Romney over exceptions to anti-abortion laws. On what he talked about in his policy briefing that day with staff.

“I want to get the C.B.O. baseline,'' Mr. Ryan responded to this last query, referring to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office on projections for economic growth. “That's the kind of thing I like to do,'' he said.

Most of Mr. Ryan's interviews are with local television stations, in an effort to woo voters in key battleground states. Some are hard-hitting, like a Pittsburgh station that asked him to clarify what a bill he co-sponsored meant by including the language “forcible rape.”

Most are less probing, like a zany interview conducted by a Roanoke, Va., station that aired Thursday, in which the reporter asked Mr. Ryan to play a game of word ass ociation. Chick-fil-A? “Good chicken,'' Mr. Ryan offered. “Free people exercising their free speech rights.''

He also revealed that “having a piece of cake is just like having asparagus as far as I'm concerned,'' adding, “So I'm like, well, eat the asparagus then.''

Mr. Ryan and his traveling press corps shared a laugh about the interview. “That was weird. I've never had an interview like that,'' Mr. Ryan said.

And what, he was asked, was his position on asparagus? “I love asparagus, it's my favorite vegetable,'' Ryan said, implying that in a Romney-Ryan administration, one Obama legacy that won't be uprooted is the White House vegetable garden.

An aide to Mr. Ryan said dinner was served at the front of the plane. And it included asparagus. “I'm going to eat my dinner,'' Mr. Ryan said, backing away. “Nice to see all you guys.''

Romney May Be Nominated Early


TAMPA, Fla. â€" Mitt Romney's quest to formally win the Republican Party's presidential nomination may suddenly come two days earlier.

Plans are being discussed for Mr. Romney's name to be placed into nomination on Monday â€" not Wednesday as originally scheduled â€" because of a potential threat from Tropical Storm Isaac and concerns about a possible disruption during the roll call vote from Ron Paul supporters at the Republican National Convention next week.

A potential change in the schedule at the Republican gathering, which aides are poised to finalize on Friday, was confirmed to The New York Times by two senior Republican officials. It is a formality, and Mr. Romney is still set to deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday evening, but the change would carry significance.

As soon as Mr. Romney officially becomes the party's presidential nominee, he can have access to the general election money he has spent mo nths raising. After being outspent for most of the summer by television advertising from President Obama's re-election campaign, Mr. Romney is on the cusp of tapping into a significant financial advantage for the final two months of the race.

But the potential change in the convention schedule, according to discussions underway among party officials here, has as much to do with a desire from the Romney campaign to keep an orderly convention next week as it does with Isaac, the storm that is expected to develop into a hurricane as it moves through the Caribbean toward Florida. Some supporters of Mr. Paul were pushing to make their voices heard next Wednesday during the roll call vote.

Mr. Paul, the libertarian Texas congressman whose Republican presidential bid fell short to Mr. Romney, won a majority of delegates from Iowa, Minnesota and Nevada. He also drew a measure of support in Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Oregon, but not enough state delegat ions to require that his name be placed into nomination.

The Republican National Committee voted Thursday to invalidate Mr. Paul's delegates from Maine, a decision that was reached after negotiations with party officials, the Romney campaign and Mr. Paul's aides. The Iowa Republican Party has offered to give guest passes to the convention floor for Mr. Paul's supporters in Maine who lost their designation as delegates.

While Mr. Paul's advisers have worked behind-the-scenes with the Romney campaign for months, several supporters have signaled their interest in making their admiration known for Mr. Paul next week on the convention floor. The Romney campaign has worked through most of the concerns about Mr. Paul, but officials said they were leaning toward moving up the roll call vote to Monday, a night when television networks were not planning to broadcast the convention to diminish the potential for any fireworks.

Republican officials, who have been nervou sly eyeing the path of the tropical storm, said that changing the roll call vote could resolve two potential problems: from supporters of Mr. Paul and the winds and rain of Isaac.

Abortion and Akin Were Off Limits During Romney Interview, Reporter Says


It's the sort of statement that leaves journalists slack-jawed: “The one stipulation to the interview was that I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin.”

That's what Mitt Romney's campaign demanded, said Shaun Boyd, a reporter for the CBS-owned television station in Denver, when she interviewed the Republican presidential candidate on Thursday. Ms. Boyd was one of four Denver reporters to be granted five minutes with the candidate via satellite, and the only reporter to tell viewers about any preset restrictions.

In response to Ms. Boyd's claim, the Romney campaign suggested that it does not demand that reporters swerve around certain topics during interviews. “This is not how we operate,” a campaign spokeswoman said. “The matter is being addressed.”

But she did not elaborate.

After her interview with Mr. Romney on Thursday, Ms. Boyd told Talking Points Memo that she “said to them, ‘Look, e verybody's talking about this. It's going to seem awkward if I don't ask about it. And they said, ‘Well, he's said all he's going to say about it. He doesn't have anything more to say. You won't be getting any new information, so we don't want to talk about that.'”

She said she ultimately agreed: “I wanted to get the interview with him because I have other issues I want to talk to him about.”

Campaigns routinely try to steer news media coverage by consenting to certain interviews (and interviewers) and rejecting other ones. Interviews are sometimes granted on a specific topic, like the economy or foreign affairs. But in those cases, reporters are still free to ask about whatever they want. Outright restrictions on an interview (“you may ask about X, but you may not ask about Y”) are rarely heard of. The candidate, after all, can simply choose not to answer a reporter's questions about a certain topic.

When Ms. Boyd's interview was broadcast on Thursday afternoon, the Obama campaign quickly sent the video and a statement to reporters with the subject line “Romney: No Questions on Akin or Abortion.”

(The headline on the CBS station's Web site on Thursday afternoon was similar: “Romney Speaks With CBS4, but Not About Akin.”)

This week, Mr. Romney did speak with another news media outlet, a television station in New Hampshire, about Mr. Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate whose views on abortion have been denounced by many politicians. Mr. Romney said then, “He should understand that his words with regards to rape are not words that I can defend, that we can defend, or that we can defend him.”

The Obama campaign said in its e-mail blast, “Mitt Romney's campaign might be able to muzzle reporters from asking tough questions, but women across America deserve to know the truth about Romney-Ryan's extreme agenda.”

The Obama campaign has come u nder scrutiny lately for guiding the direction of interviews with President Obama, though not the same degree of guidance as Ms. Boyd reported on Thursday.

This week, when Mr. Obama granted a round of satellite interviews with local television stations on the topic of sequestration, automatic budget cuts that are scheduled to take effect next year, one reporter was quoted as saying to him, “I know we were asked to talk about sequestration today,” before asking about another topic. The video clip was circulated on YouTube and was cited as evidence of Mr. Obama's effort to control the news media.

Campaigns, of course, have an increasing number of ways to bypass the news media entirely. A study released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that journalists are playing a smaller role in shaping campaign narratives than they once did.

“More of what the public hears about candidates also now comes from the camp aigns themselves and less from journalists acting as independent reporters or interpreters of who the candidates are,” the study concluded.

Debates Denied, Univision Turns to Candidate Forums


Univision's request for an official presidential debate may have been rejected, but the Spanish language network has succeeded in securing both candidates' attendance at “Meet the Candidate” forums, the network said late Thursday afternoon.

President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney will sit down on separate nights for a question-and-answer session moderated by Univision's Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas. The sessions will take place in front of a live audience and will most likely air on a delay with Spanish-language translation, a Univision spokeswoman said. The dates of the interviews have not yet been determined.

Although Univision has interviewed presidential candidates in the past, the upcoming events will mark the first time both parties' presidential nominees have sat down for this type of longer, interactive discussion. That level of access underscores the importance of the country's 21 million registered Hisp anic voters, especially in key swing states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado.

As the No. 1 Spanish-language network, Univision serves as the only source of TV news for many of its viewers who do not watch NBC or CNN. The network said it had partnered with Facebook and will solicit questions from viewers via social media before each “Meet the Candidate” forum.

Last week, Randy Falco, Univision's chief executive, wrote a letter urging the Commission on Presidential Debates to add a debate that would focus on issues like education, health care and immigration that particularly resonate with Hispanic voters.

After the Commission rejected Mr. Falco's proposal, Mr. Ramos, a host on Univision's evening newscast used his prime-time program to urge both candidates to speak directly to Univision viewers.

“These events speak to President Obama and Governor Romney recognizing the important role Hispanic America will play in the elections and in defining the future of our country,” Isaac Lee, Univision's president of news, said in a statement.

According to recent polls, Mr. Romney's selection of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has tightened the race in Florida where, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanics make up 13.1 percent of the state's more than 11.2 registered voters.

University Credit Unions Can Be Good Choice for Student Banking


″Students heading to college generally prefer a bank that's convenient to campus and doesn't charge a lot of fees. A new report from the Web site Nerdwallet.com suggests that university credit unions, when available, are often a better deal for students than big banks.

The site looked at about 80 universities and found that most of the time,  student accounts at university credit unions offered lower fees, better access and more perks than big banks. (The report focused on options with brick-and-mortar branches, rather than online-only banks or other nontraditional banking outlets, on the theory that many students may be new to money management and that they - or their parents - prefer to have teller assistance available if needed, said Stephanie Wei, a vice president at Nerdwallet).

Free student checking is alive and well, at both banks and credit unions. But credit unions charge less for out-of-network A.T.M. transac tions, and many offer a specific number of free out-of-network transactions per month, Nerdwallet found.

University credit unions, which typically serve students as well as university employees, also tend to be located where students can easily reach them. University credit unions had branches on campus more often than banks and offered more surcharge-free A.T.M.'s near campus. (Nearly three-fourths of university credit unions in Nerdwallet's report had branches on campus, compared with just over half of banks).

And the credit unions tended to offer more perks - like financial literacy classes, or even gift certificates for students who maintain good grades.

To help students compare options, Nerdwallet has designed a helpful tool that lets you see what options are available near your school. Say you're heading to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “UMassFive College Credit Union” beats Bank of America “with lower fees and better accessibility a nd perks,” the tool informs you, before adding details of on-campus A.T.M.'s and other features.

Off to the Georgia Institute of Technology? It's a bit of a closer match, in a competition with Wells Fargo, but the tool says the credit union still wins: “Georgia United Credit Union wins this match by offering truly free checking with low fees.”

Do you or your child bank with a university credit union? Are you a satisfied customer?

Ryan Blames Looming Defense Cuts on Obama


FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Campaigning a few miles from Fort Bragg, where patriotism runs deep and the local economy depends on military spending, Representative Paul D. Ryan pinned responsibility for a looming chop to the defense budget on President Obama.

Mr. Ryan blamed Mr. Obama for an 8 percent cut to defense in January that results from Congress's failure to compromise on a debt plan, even though Mr. Ryan voted for a 2011 deal requiring the automatic cuts as a way to force both parties to the negotiating table.

Mr. Ryan vowed that if he and Mitt Romney are elected, they will roll back the defense cuts of about $600 billion over 10 years.

“We will reverse these reckless, devastating defense cuts the president is bringing us toward,'' Mr. Ryan said. “We will recognize the primary responsibility of the federal government first and foremost is strong national defense.''

“It's not just policy, it's personal ,'' he added.

The impending automatic cuts, or sequestration, are the result of the failure of a bipartisan “super committee'' to compromise on spending and revenue, as required by the 2011 deal raising the nation's debt ceiling.

The deal included a Sword of Damocles provision that if no agreement were reached, $1.2 trillion in cuts would automatically kick in, half from the military and half from social programs. It is a deal Republicans now desperately want to unwind.

Mr. Ryan said here that despite agreeing to the deal-ceiling law, he had never approved its details.

“It was the president who insisted on this makeup, this formula,'' he said. “Defense spending is not half of all federal spending, but it's half of the cuts approximately in the sequester. We disagreed with that then, disagree with it now.''

A bill Mr. Ryan authored that passed the House in May would replenish military spending with deeper cuts to social safety-net programs for the poor, including food stamps, school-lunch subsidies and children's health insurance.

Senate Democrats and President Obama insisted that any deal include raising taxes on top earners.

“If Congressman Ryan were serious about avoiding the automatic defense cuts he decried in North Carolina today, he'd tell Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans in Congress to work with the President to achieve balanced deficit reduction that includes asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share â€" as the plan President Obama has put forward does,'' said Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, in a statement.

It is a deadlock both parties now are counting on the November election to resolve. In the meantime, there is no shortage of spin and image-management.

Mr. Ryan, who did not serve in the military, sought to burnish his defense credentials, mentioning that “one of my buddies just got out of Green Be ret school here.'' He showed a laminated card he carries with the names of soldiers from his Wisconsin district killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking on a stage that included retired generals and a mother and a wife of soldiers who have died, he spoke of the economic impact of the sequester on North Carolina, a state Mr. Obama carried in 2008 by a whispery margin.

“Right here in North Carolina it will cost 55,000 jobs,'' Mr. Ryan said. “The president's demanding a massive tax increase on small businesses, which will cost us jobs, in exchange for these defense sequesters. We don't want to trade small business jobs for military jobs. We want more jobs across the board.''

The Obama campaign accused Mr. Ryan of rejecting a deal to reduce the deficit last year out of political considerations.

“Congressman Ryan voted for the agreement he criticized today, and he walked away from a balanced deficit reduction plan last summer because he thought it wo uld help the President's re-election prospects,'' Mr. Kanner said.

Romney Unveils Plan for Energy Independence


HOBBS, N.M. - Mitt Romney unveiled an energy plan Thursday that he said would make North America energy independent by 2020, at what would be the end of his second term as president.

His plan would allow states more control over the development of energy resources on federal lands within their borders, as well as aggressively expand offshore oil and gas drilling - including along the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas - as part of a broader effort to reach energy independence.

“This is not some pie-in-the-sky kind of thing,” Mr. Romney said, speaking at trucking facility here. “This is a real, achievable objective.”

Using a bar chart behind him to explain his plan, Mr. Romney said the first bar represented how much oil North America currently produces - about $15 million barrels per day - which means that the nation still imports about one-third of the energy it uses.

The second bar, he said, repr esented the two million barrels a day the country produces from offshore drilling. Other bars were devoted to tight oil - oil produced from fracking technology; natural gas liquids; biofuels; the oil sands of Canada; and Mexico. His plan, he explained, would take advantage of these other resources, and thus help boost energy production in North America.

“The net net of all this, as you can see, is by 2020, we're able to produce somewhere between 28 million barrels per day of oil and we won't need to buy any oil from the Middle East or Venezuela or anywhere else where we don't want to,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Romney's presentation Thursday morning was a tightened version of the six-point plan his campaign presented to reporters in a conference call Wednesday evening. Mr. Romney's proposal, complete with a 21-page white paper, includes granting states more regulatory power over drilling on federal lands, revitalizing the nuclear power industry, and approving the Keystone XL pipeline to carry more Canadian oil to refineries in the United States.

But the stagecraft on Thursday may not have been exactly what Mr. Romney had hoped for. Despite being fairly large, the bar graph behind him was all but impossible to read for even those sitting in the front rows, forcing him to explain the plan - and the chart.

“I have a chart that's still, despite the wind, still holding up here,” he said. “But on the left-hand side, you see a bar there that represents, you can't read the writing, it's too far back, but I can read it even from here so I'm going to tell you what is says.”

His plan is bound to be contentious after the disastrous BP oilwell blowout in 2010, which leaked millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico and left 11 workers dead. The proposal may win votes in Virginia, where drilling would bring jobs and state revenues, but would be controversial in Florida, where offshore drilling has long been viewed as a threat to tourism.

Romney campaign officials emphasized the importance of opening more oil and gas drilling on federal lands, a theme that Mr. Romney is likely to trumpet later Thursday when he visits New Mexico, where the oil industry hopes to open more federal areas for exploration and production.

“What Governor Romney is proposing is that state governments, which already control the development of energy resources on their own and private lands within their borders, would also control the development of energy resources on federal lands within their borders,” said Oren Cass, the campaign's domestic policy director, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

On Thursday, Mr. Romney said that “on federal lands the permitting process to actually drill and get oil or gas is extraordinarily slow.”

“Now interestingly on state lands, and private lands, state regulators have streamlined their permitting process, their evaluation, their environmental process, safety processes,” he said. “They found a way, because we compete with one another. They found a way to do a job in a more efficient way.”

He cited North Dakota, where the permitting process takes 10 days, and Colorado, where it takes 27 days, as examples of states handling the process more efficiently.

The proposal will surely be controversial among environmentalists hoping to preserve lands like desert stretches of New Mexico where threatened species roam. A campaign document, however, said the proposal would exclude “lands specially designated off-limits,” which presumably means national parks.

The Obama campaign released a statement from Federico Peña, a secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, criticizing Mr. Romney's emphasis on drilling. “We will never reach energy independence by turning our backs on homegrown renewable energy and better auto mileage,” Mr. Peña said.

Mr. Romney has raised consi derable money from donors with ties to the oil industry. Over the past two days, he pulled in nearly $10 million in oil money: $6 million to $7 million Tuesday from two fund-raisers in Texas (in Houston and Midland), and $2 million at a fund-raiser Wednesday in Little Rock, Ark. Claiborne P. Deming, who introduced Mr. Romney at the Arkansas event and is a finance co-chairman in the state, is chairman of Murphy Oil, a global gas and oil company.

Nearly two-thirds of federal lands are currently off-limits to drilling and mining, and leasing has slowed in recent years. Oil production has been declining on federal lands, while booming on private lands as well as offshore.

The Obama administration has expanded offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska but barred development along the east and west coasts. The administration appears to be on the verge of giving final approval to Shell Oil to drill in the Alaskan Arctic for the first time in two decades, bu t its decision to enact a one-year moratorium on gulf drilling after the BP spill angered the oil industry.

Before the BP disaster, oil production in the gulf was 1.75 million barrels a day, and it is now down to roughly 1.5 million barrels a day, 700,000 barrels below what had been projected for 2012. Still, gulf production is rapidly ramping up again, and overall domestic oil production is up 10 percent this year in a continuation of a three-year trend.

Romney aides say the country could be doing much better.

“As a result of the president's policies, energy prices are higher, there are fewer jobs, our industries are less competitive, and family budgets are further strained,” said Ed Gillespie, a campaign senior adviser, on the conference call. “People who are living paycheck to paycheck are struggling as a result of this anti-energy policy, paying more for heating their homes and turning on their electricity, and turning on the lights, as well as ga s prices being up.”

Mr. Romney has said his policies would lead to independence from oil imports from outside North America by 2021. Many energy experts say expanded offshore drilling could be an important step in that direction, but debate how much oil there is along the coasts.

Virginia politicians of both parties have strongly supported drilling off the coast of a state that is pivotal to the election. But in Florida, another swing state, politicians have generally opposed drilling to protect the state's beaches.

TimesCast Politics: Voter Reaction to Paul Ryan

Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Akin Is In, For Now, but If He Drops Out ...


Despite the firestorm over his comments about rape and pregnancy, Representative Todd Akin says he has no plans to drop out as the Republican Senate nominee in Missouri.

But what if he did?

The procedures in Missouri to change nominees midstream are complicated and intended to discourage just the sort of change that many in the Republican Party say they are eager to see happen.

“As more time passes, you're starting to go up against deadlines,” said Stacie Temple, a spokeswoman for Missouri's secretary of state, Robin Carnahan, a Democrat. Ms. Temple said the longer Mr. Akin waited, the more difficult it would get.

The first deadline for Mr. Akin t o have easily withdrawn from the race was Tuesday evening. His decision to stay in the race means that he now has only a few weeks to reconsider before things get even harder.

Certification of the presidential ballots in Missouri will be no later than Sept. 17, and could be shortly after President Obama officially accepts the Democratic nomination on Sept. 5.

Once the ballots are printed, any candidate who seeks to withdraw must pay for the reprinting of new ballots. That could be prohibitively expensive for Mr. Akin, but presumably the Republican Party - which badly wants him to withdraw - would cover the cost.

Military overseas ballots begin shipping out Sept. 22. That might be the first firm deadline. But the drop-dead deadline is Sept 25, when general absentee ballots are sent out.

Mel Carnahan, the former Missouri governor and Ms. Carnahan's father, died on Oct. 16, 2000, during his campaign for the Senate against the Republican incumbent, John Ashcroft. Mr. Carnahan's name nonetheless appeared on the ballot in November - and he won. (His widow, Jean, was appointed to the seat, and lost it in special election in 2002.)

Assuming that Mr. Akin bows to pressure from Republican leaders (or simply concludes that he isn't able to raise enough money to mount a credible campaign), Missouri law requires that he seek a court order allowing him to drop out of the race.

State officials say that issuing such court orders is routine. Mr. Akin would merely have to file the necessary papers with the court and his name would no longer be printed on the November ballot. Republicans could then quickly nominate someone else to run against Senator Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent.

Democrats would no doubt like to see Mr. Akin - now politically weakened by his comments on rape and pregnancy - stay in the race. In theory, the Democratic officials who run the state's election offices could object to Mr. Akin's request for a court order, a move that would force a hearing before a judge.

The relevant statute says someone like Mr. Akin can withdraw “pursuant to a court order, which, except for good cause shown by the election authority in opposition thereto, shall be freely given upon application by the candidate to the circuit court in the county of such candidate's residence.”

Election officials say they can find no precedent at all for such an objection in the state's history. But Ms. Carnahan is herself a factor in Republican minds. As the Democratic Senate nominee in 2010, she lost to Representative Roy Blunt, and Republicans imagine she could put up a fight.

“The secretary's job is to protect the rights of Missouri voters,” Ms. Temple said when asked whether Ms. Carnahan would fight a court order to remove Mr. Akin's name from the ballot.

A further complication: Under state law, any election authority in Missouri can oppose a withdrawal order, do wn to the county and city level, and there are Democrats aplenty in Missouri. But Ms. Temple added that right now, it would be up to a Missouri court to determine whether Mr. Akin could withdraw, not the secretary of state.

“It's completely in the hands of the court to decide the facts,” she said.

Assuming Mr. Akin does manage to drop out, the state central committee of the Republican Party in Missouri would have to pick a new candidate within 28 days, or by Oct. 12, whichever comes first.

Video Feature: Florida\'s Vote

This video series checks in with voters in Central Florida and along the I-4 corridor, a highway that bisects the state, to see how they might swing the state's 29 Electoral College votes in the 2012 election.

Polls Highlight Senate Races in Swing States


Democratic incumbents have an edge over their challengers in the Florida and Ohio Senate races, while in Wisconsin, fresh from winning the Republican primary, former Gov. Tommy Thompson has a six-point advantage over Representative Tammy Baldwin.

New Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls of three swing states offer a view of the competition for control of the Senate.

In the Wisconsin race, Mr. Thompson has 50 percent of support among likely voters, compared to Ms. Baldwin's 44 percent. Mr. Thompson draws strong support among Republicans, men, high-income voters, those without a college degree, and perhaps the most sought after group of voters, those who consider themselves independen ts.

In Florida, Senator Bill Nelson, the Democrat, is backed by 50 percent of likely voters, compared with 41 percent for Congressman Connie Mack, the Republican. In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown has a 7-point advantage over Josh Mandel, the state's current treasurer, leading 48 percent to 41 percent.

Despite having faced a recall election this year, Gov. Scott K. Walker of Wisconsin has the highest job approval rating of the three Republican governors, with 53 percent approving and 43 percent disapproving. In Ohio, 45 percent approve of the way Gov. John Kasich is handling his job, while 40 percent disapprove. Gov. Rick Scott has a disapproval rating of 47 percent among Florida's likely voters, compared to 41 percent who approve.

In all three states, voters did not express concern for changes in voting and registration laws. More than three-fourths of voters in each state said that changes in these laws would make no difference in their ability to vote; about 1 in 10 said it would make it harder for them to vote this year. And a strong majority of voters in each state also said they supported efforts to require voters to show photo identification in order to vote.

In Florida, nearly two-thirds of voters said that the effort by officials to remove people from the state's voter rolls who are not United States citizens and ineligible to vote was being done to prevent people from voting who are not eligible, while about a quarter of voters said it was being done to suppress voting. More black and Hispanic voters than whites were likely to say this was an act intended to suppress voting, as were Democrats.

Key Democratic State Parties Have Financial Edge


While President Obama and Mitt Romney crisscross the nation raising money for their campaigns, in the battleground states Republican and Democratic organizations have been laying the groundwork for voter organization and turnout for the November election. Much of the money for those efforts comes from the national party organizations - the Democratic and Republican National Committees, plus several Congressional party arms - that has been sent to the states from Washington.

A new graphic shows the changes in state party finances since the beginning of 2011 through July 31 for Democratic and Republican committees in eight crucial states rated as “tossups” in the presidential election. Democratic state p arties overall have raised more money than their Republican counterparts, although their cash available as of July 31 was more mixed, with the G.O.P. holding cash advantages in Florida and Wisconsin. That is in part because of heavy spending by Democratic state parties in states such as Nevada, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. The Democratic National Committee and Obama's campaign have also donated in-kind equipment, including telephones and computers, to some state parties.

State parties typically maintain two accounts - one organized under federal election rules and another that is subject to state campaign laws. The graphic shows only the federal account, but that is where most of the state party activity will occur in a federal election year. Under Federal Election Commission regulations, any party committee spending that could affect the outcome of a Congressional or presidential election must be paid for at least in part with money from the federal account (there is some mixing of money from the two accounts).

Most of the tossup states have seen steady increases in state party finances starting near the end of 2011, but two states require some additional explanation. In Wisconsin, the failed attempt to recall Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican elected in 2010, attracted millions in outside spending and in donations to the state parties. In Florida, what appears to be a decline in the finances of the Republican Party of Florida is because of a change in its filing schedule; it filed a single report in July 2011 and began reporting monthly in November. As a result, it appears that the party's fund-raising dropped off, but in fact this is due to switching from reporting several months of activity at once to doing so on a monthly basis.

Not all of the money raised by state parties will be dedicated to the presidential race. Of the eight states shown, five have competitive Senate races and there are cru cial House races in several. The total amount raised by the party committees includes transfers from the national party House and Senate campaign committees.

Half of Homeowners Under 40 Are Still Underwater


The country's underwater homes are slowly resurfacing as the housing market improves. But younger borrowers are still more likely to be submerged, a new report from real estate site Zillow.com finds.

Overall levels of negative equity improved in the second quarter of the year compared with the first quarter, as home values continue to rise. But about half of borrowers under 40 still owe more than their homes are worth, the analysis found.

Younger borrowers are more likely to be affected by negative equity in part because they generally have been in their home for shorter periods of time and had less time to build equity before the housing debacle. But on the bright side, younger borrowers tend to be in relatively “shallow” water compared to older borrowers and are less likely to be delinquent on payments, said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow.com.

The disproportionate impact on younger borrowers may actually have a helpful effect on home values, by creating tight inventory of homes for sale. Younger borrowers trapped by negative equity tend to be reluctant to sell, even though their homes are often the most attractive to first-time buyers who might be ready to plunge into the market. “Sellers don't want to sell, even if buyers want to buy,” he said.

When they do sell, prices are higher - which helps push values up. The process is actually moving the market toward recovery, but it's a gradual process, he said. “Over all, the second-quarter report is positive,” said Mr. Humphries. “The housing market is healing, albeit slowly.”

These results come from the second edition of the new Zillow Negative Equity Report, which looks at curre nt, outstanding loan amounts for individual, owner-occupied homes, and compares them to those homes' current estimated values.

Of the 30 largest markets tracked by Zillow, negative equity fell the most from the first to the second quarter in the Phoenix metropolitan area (from nearly 56 percent to about 52 percent) and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area (from 46 percent to roughly 44 percent). The Las Vegas market continues to have the highest rate of negative equity, with nearly 69 percent of borrowers underwater (down from 71 percent in the first quarter.)

Are you an under-fortysomething with negative equity in your home? What will it take to get you to sell?

Republican Immigration Platform Backs \'Self-Deportation\'


Republicans have adopted a party platform on immigration that would require employers nationwide to verify workers' legal status and deny federal financing to universities that allow illegal immigrant students to enroll at lower in-state tuition rates.

In their debates this week in Tampa, Fla., over the party platform, Republican delegates hammered out an immigration plank calling for tough border enforcement and opposing “any forms of amnesty” for illegal immigrants, instead endorsing “humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily,” a policy of self-deportation.

The party's platform stance comes as Mitt Romney has been moving to court Hispanic voters before the ge neral election. During the nominating fight last year, he took a hard line on immigration, embracing the concept of “self-deportation” and saying he would veto legislation known as the Dream Act, which would give legal status to illegal immigrants who came to the United States when they were children.

But recently, Mr. Romney has sought to soften his stance, saying he would consider a Dream Act for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

The party platform offers no support for that proposal. A number of immigration amendments were offered by Kris Kobach, a conservative who is secretary of state of Kansas and was an author of laws in Arizona and several other states to crack down on illegal immigration.

Mr. Kobach proposed the plank calling for mandatory use by employers of a federal electronic system known as E-Verify to confirm the legal immigration status of new hires. “If you really want to create a job tomorrow, you can remove an illegal al ien today,” Mr. Kobach said.

At his urging, the delegates also adopted a call to complete a double-layer border fence and to end federal lawsuits challenging state enforcement laws like Arizona's.

The distance - at least on paper - between the Republican party and mainstream Hispanic organizations was highlighted on Wednesday when the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition that includes 30 of the country's largest Latino groups, issued a list of proposals it will promote at both the Republican and Democratic conventions. The coalition endorsed passage of the Dream Act for all undocumented students as well as “comprehensive immigration reform” to give millions of other illegal immigrants an “earned path to legalization.”

The Hispanic groups want to “demilitarize” the southwest border and curtail state and local enforcement of immigration laws. Though Hispanics generally favor Democrats, they have shown signs of cooling on President Ob ama, who pledged to pursue immigration reform as a candidate in 2008 but who only recently has drawn accolades from immigrant rights groups by issuing an executive order allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to stay in the county.

Both campaigns are scrambling to court Hispanics because of their potential clout in swing states including Florida, Nevada and Colorado.

Clinton Appeals to Voters in New Obama Ad


Mitt Romney has repeatedly sought to contrast President Obama with President Clinton, arguing that Mr. Obama has abandoned the former president's focus on moderate politics and middle class voters.

In recent ads, Mr. Romney has highlighted the success of Mr. Clinton's welfare overhaul and has argued - falsely, according to most independent fact-checkers - that Mr. Obama is trying to gut those reforms.

But now, Mr. Obama's campaign has released a new television ad featuring Mr. Clinton speaking directly to the camera and challenging Mr. Romney's assertions.

“President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education, and job training. It only works if there is a strong middle class,” Mr. Clinton says in the ad. “That's what happened when I was President. We need to keep going with his plan.”

Few political ads are more powerful than ones in which the politician talks directly to the camera - and to voters - without the distraction of video effects or fast-paced scenes.

Mr. Obama's campaign has already produced several ads like that, hoping to make use of what polls suggest is his personal appeal for many voters.

In the new ad, Mr. Clinton argues that the upcoming presidential contest is a “clear choice” between the two candidates.

“This election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment,” Mr. Clinton says. “The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That's what got us in trouble in the first place.”

Mr. Obama's campaign said the ad will be broadcast in eight battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

Thursday Reading: Father\'s Age Linked to Risk of Autism, Schizophrenia


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.


Clinton Appears in New Obama Ad


Mitt Romney has repeatedly sought to contrast President Obama with President Clinton, arguing that Mr. Obama has abandoned the former Democratic president's focus on moderate politics and middle class voters.

In recent ads, Mr. Romney has highlighted the success of Mr. Clinton's welfare reforms, arguing - falsely, according to most independent fact-checkers - that Mr. Obama is trying to gut those reforms.

But now, Mr. Obama's campaign has released a new television ad featuring Mr. Clinton speaking directly to the camera and challenging Mr. Romney's assertions.

“President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education, and job training. It only works if there is a strong middle class,” Mr. Clinton says in the ad. “That's what happened when I was President. We need to keep going with his plan.”

Few political ads are more powe rful than ones in which the politician is talking directly to the camera - and directly to voters - without the distraction of video effects or fast-paced scenes.

Mr. Obama's campaign has already produced several ads like that, hoping to make use of what polls suggest is his personal appeal for many voters.

In the new ad, Mr. Clinton argues that the upcoming presidential contest is a “clear choice” between the two candidates.

“This election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment,” Mr. Clinton argues. “The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That's what got us in trouble in the first place.”

Mr. Obama's campaign said the ad will air in eight battleground states: New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

The Early Word: The Swings


In Today's Times:

In three swing states, Medicare looms large behind the economy and health care as the most important issue of the campaign, according to the latest Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls. Michael Cooper and Dalia Sussman describe voter attitudes in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin that favor Mr. Obama's approach to the health care program for older Americans over the proposal offered by Mitt Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan. Adding Mr. Ryan to the Republican ticket seems to have helped Mr. Romney in Wisconsin and Florida, where Mr. Obama's lead has narrowed to a statistical tie.

Campaigning in key states on Wednesday, Mitt Romney tried to rise above distractions and return to his economic message in Iowa, while President Obama focused on education in Nevada, Ashley Parker and Mark Landler write. Debates over abortion and Medicare have dominated the political conversa tion since Representative Todd Akin's controversial remarks on rape and Mr. Romney's selection of Mr. Ryan as his running mate.

Mr. Akin's rape remarks and the Republican Party's decision to endorse an anti-abortion plank at its convention may have knocked Mitt Romney off balance, but his advisers are betting that the Republican candidate's message on the economy will still resonate with women voters when the debate over rape and reproductive rights subsides. Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman write that the bet is a risky one as Republicans seek to narrow the gender divide between Republicans and Democrats.

Ties to President Obama's surrogates appear to have helped an Illinois-based energy utility get access to top government officials at crucial moments in the shaping of the administration's energy policies and programs, Eric Lipton writes. While the White House and Exelon said the company received no favorable treatment, the seemingly easy access to offici als that Exelon enjoyed has angered its competitors at a time when the White House faces skepticism from conservatives over its energy policy.

Ann Romney's speech on Monday night at the Republican National Convention may not be seen by ABC, CBS, and NBC viewers since the broadcasters have cut coverage of the conventions to three hours a night. Jeremy W. Peters writes that the networks' decision to bank instead on original programming has left the Romney campaign furious, but the broadcasters believe viewers are tiring of political coverage.

Happening in Washington:
Economic data expected today include weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m., followed at 10 by new home sales for July and weekly mortgage rates.

At 10, Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, will discuss results of the Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times swing state poll at the National Press Club.

At 1:30 p.m., officials at the Natio nal Cathedral are expected to make an announcement about the effort to restore and preserve the structure, which was damaged last year in an earthquake.

At 7:30 p.m., Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will deliver remarks at the Lavender Law Conference, the annual gathering of the LGBT Bar Association.