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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.