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Monday, October 8, 2012

Romney in the Rain


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - The rain fell in sheets, turning the grass into a muddy bog, and prompting women to shuck their shoes to go barefoot. Mitt Romney gave an 11-minute abbreviated stump speech, joking at an outdoor rally, “I'm not going to go through all this in great detail because you've been here for a little while in this sunshine.''

Don't be fooled for a minute. Politicians love bad weather, the wetter, the nastier, the better. The photos look amazing. While spectators huddled under ponchos, Mr. Romney wore a black parka with a flipped-up collar but skipped a hat or umbrella. He toughed it out, appearing with gray naval ships in the background, on a day on which he earlier gave a foreign policy speech dedicated to peace through strength.

In July, President Obama also campaigned in a Virginia downpour. As supporters took cover under blankets and garbage bags, the president wore only a blue dress shirt that quic kly became soaked to the skin. Photographs appeared widely.

This all goes back to John F. Kennedy, who famously wore no hat or overcoat for his 1961 inauguration in minus-10-degree weather, projecting youth and resolve that contrasted with Dwight D. Eisenhower bundled in a coat and scarf.

Presidents and aspiring presidents may want to heed an earlier predecessor, however. William Henry Harrison gave his inauguration speech on a cold, wet day in March 1841, wearing neither overcoat nor hat. Thirty-one days later he was dead of pneumonia.

Pew Poll Shows Romney Advancing


Mitt Romney's strong performance at the debate last week has wiped out President Obama's lead in the latest national poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Two-thirds of voters said Mr. Romney did a better job than Mr. Obama, including 39 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents. And Mr. Romney has improved his standing on most issues and personal characteristics.

Mr. Romney is backed by 49 percent of likely voters and Mr. Obama has the support of 45 percent. Six percent remain undecided. The four-point difference between the candidates is within the poll's margin of sampling error of three percentage points for each candidate.

Mr. Obama had an eight-point lead among likely voters in the Pew Research Center poll conducted Sept. 12 to 16.

In the wake of last week's debate, Mr. Romney's supporters are newly energized: 82 percent said they had given a lot of thought to the election, up from 73 percent last month. In comparison, 67 percent of Mr. Obama's supporters have given a lot of thought to the election. Sixty-seven percent of voters who prefer Mr. Romney said they strongly supported him, up from 56 percent in September. The number of Mr. Obama's backers who strongly support him has stayed steady at 68 percent.

Mr. Romney's favorable rating among registered voters reached 50 percent for the first time in a Pew poll, up five points since September. On the other hand, Mr. Obama's favorability rating dropped to 49 percent from 55 percent.

In addition to overall favorability, Mr. Romney has gained ground against Mr. Obama in virtually all measures. They are now just about even on which candidate is a better described as strong leader and which is more willing to work with leaders from the opposition. Mr. Obama continues to be seen by more voters as the candidate who connects with ordinary people and who is consisten t on the issues. Mr. Obama's 14-point advantage as the candidate who is more honest and truthful candidate narrowed to five points.

In the latest poll, voters are closely divided on whether Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama would do a better job of dealing with taxes, health care, foreign policy and Medicare. Although most of the interviewing was completed after the improved jobs report was released last week, the voters give Mr. Romney an eight-point edge on improving the job situation.

The latest national poll was conducted Oct. 4 to 7 using landlines and cellphones among 1,201 registered voters, of whom 1,112 are considered likely voters.

The latest numbers from the Gallup tracking poll also shows a close race, but Mr. Obama with the advantage. Based on interviews conducted Oct. 1 to 7, Mr. Obama is the choice of 50 percent of the registered voters surveyed and Mr. Romney is backed by 45 percent.

In a separate poll conducted by Gallup, about two-thirds of those surveyed said they watched the debate, a level similar to Gallup's findings regarding the 2008 debates. Among those who watched the debate, 72 percent said Mr. Romney did a better job, including 70 percent of independents and 49 percent of Democrats. The telephone poll was conducted Oct. 4 to 6 with 1,013 adults, of whom 749 said they watched the debate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Obama Campaign Hits Back on Romney Foreign Policy Speech


KEENE, Calif. - The Obama campaign hit back aggressively on Monday at Mitt Romney's charge that President Obama has not led on foreign policy, accusing him of an “erratic, unsteady and irresponsible” national security strategy that could endanger the United States and alienate allies.

Responding to Mr. Romney's foreign policy speech at Virginia Military Institute on Monday morning, Obama campaign surrogates were quick to take to the airwaves, e-mail and telephone lines to fire back as part of their effort to maintain what is widely viewed as a rare Democratic lead on national security issues in an election year.

“Full of platitude and free of substance,” former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in  a teleconference call organized by the Obama campaign to rebut Mr. Romney's speech.

“How's he going to turn the page on the failed policies in Iraq if he wants to k eep 20,000 troops in Iraq?” added Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman.

“His position on Libya has no credibility since he's been both for and against our Libya policy,” wrote Michèle Flournoy and Colin Kahl, Obama foreign policy advisers, in a memo to reporters.

At an appearance to dedicate a memorial to Cesar Chavez, the farm labor movement hero, out here in the middle of the California high desert, the president himself eschewed wading into the fray, limiting the political portion of his remarks commemorating Mr. Chavez to a mild “si se puede,” or “Yes, we can” in Spanish.

(The supposedly politics-free Chavez dedication was anything but, however. The mostly Hispanic and Latino attendees chanted “Four More Years” and one even thrust a miniature stuffed Big Bird in front of Mr. Obama when he was working the rope line afterward, in a reference to Mr. Romney's assertion  during last week's debate that he would cut government money for PBS.)

Mr. Obama headed afterward to San Francisco for high-dollar fund-raisers later Monday evening, and aides said that the president would be sure to add his two cents to the Romney foreign policy bashing then.

The Obama campaign appears eager to engage in foreign policy in the remaining weeks of the campaign, since campaign aides have long believed that Mr. Obama's record - which includes the killing of Osama bin Laden, the ending of the Iraq War, the announcement of a timeline to withdraw from Afghanistan, the toppling of the Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi and a wariness to engage militarily in the myriad conflicts under way in the Middle East - are all far more in keeping with where the American public is now than Mr. Romney's positions are.

The next three debates - two for Mssrs. Obama and Romney and one for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan - will feature foreign policy, so both sides will have a chance to engage fu rther on the issue. In fact, the entire last presidential debate is supposed to be about national security.

Romney Says White House Botched Response to Benghazi Attack


LEXINGTON, Va. - After weeks of refraining from dipping back into the sensitive topic of the attack that killed an American ambassador in Libya, Mitt Romney offered harsh criticism of the administration for being slow to label the assault terrorism and faulted its overall handling of the attack.

The assault on the consulate in Benghazi “cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the Administration's attempts to convince us of that for so long,'' Mr. Romney said. “No, as the Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others.''

In a wide-ranging foreign policy address meant to polish Mr. Romney's image as a potential commander in chief, he belittled President Obama as “leading from behind” in conflict spots across the Middle East, from Syria to Iran to Egypt to Israel.

Acknowledging that Mr. Obama deserves credit for killing Osama Bin Laden, he nonetheless criticized the president for lack of comprehensive counterterrorism policy and failing to capitalize on the Arab Spring uprisings.

“Unfortunately, so many of these people who could be our friends feel that our President is indifferent to their quest for freedom and dignity,'' he said, speaking at the Virginia Military Institute. “As one Syrian woman put it, “We will not forget that you forgot about us.”

On Iran, Mr. Romney said that the president's sanctions had failed to slow its march to a nuclear weapon. He would “put the leaders of Iran on notice” that the United States, along with “friends and allies,” would halt that progress, beginning with a show of military force.

“I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf,'' Mr. Romney said. For the sake of peace, we mus t make clear to Iran through actions-not just words-that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.''

He went further, blaming Iran's continued progress toward a nuclear weapon on Mr. Obama's putting “daylight” between the Unites States and Israel, which Mr. Romney said “emboldened” Iran.

“The world must never see any daylight between our two nations,'' he said. Some Middle East experts have described that formulation as having the potential to lead the United States into war, given the bellicose signals of the Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanhyu, toward Iran.

The Obama campaign pushed back aggressively on Mr. Romney's address, beginning early in the day when excerpts from the speech were released.

Ben LaBolt, Mr. Obama's campaign press secretary, ticked off the president's foreign policy accomplishments in a call with reporters immediately following the speech. Mr. Obama, he said, “ended the war in Iraq, decimated Al Qaeda's leade rship'' and has shown “unprecedented and unwavering support to the state of Israel and the most crippling sanctions in history on the state of Iran.''

Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State under President Clinton, said on the call, “To someone not totally into foreign policy, it sounds pretty good, but it's really full of platitudes.''

“For someone who has spent her own life in foreign policy,” she added, “there's an awful lot of rhetoric but when you have to the specifics, you don't get the sense he knows what tools to use and how to operate in an international setting and what the role of the United States is in the 21st century.''

Roving broadly in his speech over Iraq, Afghanistan and counterterrorism, one name conspicuous by its absence from Mr. Romney's speech was George W. Bush, the architect of much of the unilateralist policy in the region, a version of which Mr. Romney embraced.

“It is the responsibility of our presid ent to use America's great power to shape history-not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events,'' Mr. Romney said. “Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama.''

When the Tax Tail Wags Your Investment Dog


Carl Richards is a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah, and is the director of investor education at BAM Advisor Services. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published this year. His sketches are archived on the Bucks blog.

With less than a month to go until Election Day, it's hard to miss all of the speeches about taxes. Tax rates, tax codes, tax deductions. So it's easy to see why we're so tempted to get really focused on our own personal tax situation and how to eke out a better result for ourselves.

But you know the old saying that we shouldn't miss the forest because we're so focused on the trees? Well, it happens with our investment decisions and taxes on a regular basis.

I had a recent conversation with some friends about a rental home they owned. They were evaluating their options for the property. Should they keep it? Remodel it? Sell it and look for an alternative investment?

As we walked through the details, it became clear to all of us that they have a great little investment in the context of their overall financial plan. Based on the price they paid years ago, the money they put into the house, the rental history and the income they collect, it appeared to be a much better investment than the alternatives they were considering, even when we accounted for the risk associated with rental properties.

But as soon as we came to that conclusion, they asked me this: “Why did our accountant tell us the opposite?”

Now, their accountant prefaced his advice with the disclosure that his job was to focus on taxes. Based on that perspective, his advice was to sell it because they currently qualified f or a substantial tax savings on the capital gain that would not be available to them in the near future.

To be clear, the accountant didn't give my friends bad advice. Instead he gave them advice based on one perspective, taxes. The reality is that smart, long-term financial decisions need to take more than one thing into consideration. But because taxes are associated with so much emotion (given how much people truly hate paying them), it's incredibly easy to let taxes become our sole focus. And that can lead to bad decisions.

In this particular example, even when you included the tax savings, it still made sense to keep the property once we zoomed out and considered the decision in the context of their overall plan. In this instance, we were trying to avoid the trap of the tax tail wagging the investment dog.

Another situation where taxes can cloud our judgment comes in the form of spending more to deduct more. I've heard one of my doctor friends say that she'd been told to buy a larger home with a bigger mortgage so she could receive the greater interest deduction.

Now there may be other reasons to buy a bigger home, but spending another dollar in interest just so you can get something far less than that back in taxes just doesn't make sense unless it's part of some bigger plan.

Taxes and the way we feel about them can pull us into emotional quicksand. And when we make taxes our primary focus for financial decisions, it's no wonder we get trapped into making decisions we may regret later. In the case of my friends, if they'd skipped over their initial assessment and made the decision to keep or sell the rental property based solely on the tax advice, they most likely would have regretted it.

Yes, we need to know the tax implications of our decisions, and getting good advice on the issue is helpful. But we need to be really careful to not let one perspective keep us from seeing the forest and making the wis er decision for our overall plan.


Monday Reading: Strategies for Saving on Holiday Airfares


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.

The Early Word: Details


Today's Times

- While Mitt Romney plans to hammer at President Obama's foreign policy record during a speech on Monday, the Republican nominee has yet to explain how he would conduct policy toward the Middle East, or resolve ideological rifts on foreign policy within his party, David E. Sanger reports.

- After what was arguably the lowest point in President Obama's campaign for a second term, his re-election team is putting renewed effort into winning the three remaining debates, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. moving into a Delaware hotel for three days of debate camp, Peter Baker and Trip Gabriel report.

- All three rallies Mr. Romney attended on Sunday were in Florida counties that Mr. Obama won in 2008, signaling how crucial that state is on the path to the White House, Trip Gabriel writes. While he and Representative Paul D. Ryan were mounting a get-out-the-vote effort there, Mr. Obama was fund raisi ng in California.

Happenings in Washington

- Mitt Romney will deliver a speech about foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

- The United States Marine Band will perform a musical selection in front of Union Station on Monday morning, and the Marine Corps Color Guard will present the colors in honor of Columbus Day. Diplomats from Italy and Spain will speak as well.