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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Romney Offers Sharp Criticism of Obama\'s Handling of Libya Terrorist Attacks


ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Mitt Romney delivered his most pointed criticism to date of President Obama's handling of the lethal attack in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday, a possible foreshadowing of how Representative Paul D. Ryan will address the issue in the vice-presidential debate.

“President Obama, this is an issue because Americans wonder why it was it took so long for you and your administration to admit this was a terrorist attack,'' Mr. Romney said at a rally here.

Mr. Romney previously had offered only general criticism of the administration for not labelling the Sept. 11 attack, in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died, as terrorism. Although Mr. Obama called the ass ault “an act of terror” the next day, his spokesman and other senior administraiton officials continued to describe it as unplanned and part of a protest outside the American diplomatic mission. Republicans in Congress and conservative commentators accused the Obama administration of downplaying an act of terrorism to avoid embarassing the president.

Republicans in Congress and conservative commentators suggested the Obama administration was playing down terrorism to avoid embarrassing the president.

Mr. Romney did not go that far. But he offered a biting response to earlier comments on Thursday by Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Obama's deputy campaign manager, who accused Republicans of playing politics.

“The entire reason that this has become the, you know, political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan,'' Ms. Cutter said in an interview with CNN. “It's a big part of their stump speech, and it's reckless and irresponsible.''

Mr. Romney repeated the remarks at the rally here. “No, President Obama, it's an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated,” he said. “Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11.

“This is a very serious issue,” he added. “These are serious questions and the American people deserve serious answers, and I hope they come soon.''

Vice Presidential Debate Fact-Checks and Updates


Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan square off on Thursday night in Danville, Ky. in the only vice presidential debate. Live coverage begins at 8 p.m. eastern. The Times will be providing updates and analysis on our live dashboard. You can also follow along on Twitter @thecaucus, or follow our list of Times journalists covering the debate.

Democratic Group Brings Comedy to Fact-Checking


Fact-checkers will be out in force on Thursday night, offering plenty of serious assessments of the claims made by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan.

A new Democratic “super PAC” is taking a different approach.

Convinced that people sometimes tune out all the serious fact-checking, a group called the Jewish Council for Education and Research is preparing to release a series of fact-check videos in the days ahead aimed at setting the record straight on claims made by Mitt Romney‘s campaign.

The twist? The videos will all be made by comedians with the aim of using humor to cut through the myriad oh-so-serious fact-checking efforts.

“We know that opposition tracking footage and research-based fact checks aren't the sexiest things out there, so we embrace this opportunity to break through the clutter and find a way to get information directly to voters who may not have otherwise seen it,” said Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century, which is teaming up to produce the videos.

The videos will feature the comedian Sarah Silverman, the actress Rosie Perez and others, all making the case that the truth actually matters. The videos will be posted at actually.org.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

The Caucus Click: Split Crowd


Ryan Pumps Iron in Time Magazine Photos


Representative Paul D. Ryan is pumped. Seriously. He's like Arnold Schwarzenegger-pumped.

On the eve of his first nationally televised vice-presidential debate, Time Magazine published pictures of the famously fit Mr. Ryan pumping iron.

The pictures were taken as part of the magazine's consideration of Mr. Ryan to be its person of the year. He wasn't chosen in the end, but sat for the photo shoot nonetheless.

The pictures show Mr. Ryan in a T-shirt and shorts, holding a weight in one hand and grinning. He has a red baseball cap on backward and iPod-like earbuds in his ears. In one picture he's wearing a nicely tailored suit, but is sitting on a workout bench with weights at his feet.

The pictures became a kind of Internet sensation on Thursday after Matt Drudge, the conservative news aggregator, featured one of them on his well-traveled home page.

Mr. Ryan, who is a fan of the P90x workout regimen, is not the first political celebrity who has had fitness pictures make the rounds of the Internet. In June 2009, after losing her bid to become vice president the year before, Sarah Palin was featured in Runner's World magazine.

Ms. Palin, a runner, was pictured in several photos wearing running shorts or capris and a red shirt.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

Bush-Era Feud Plays Out in Senate Ad in Arizona


In perhaps no race has the Bush administration played a bigger role than the Arizona Senate contest, where a new attack features a former health official accusing Richard Carmona of severe anger issues.

In a new ad for Representative Jeff Flake, a Republican in a tight race for the open seat, Cristina V. Beato recounts hearing “a pounding on my door, in the middle of the night.”

“I feared for my kids and my self. It was Richard Carmona,” continues Ms. Beato, a former acting assistant secretary of health who was Mr. Carmona's boss when he was surgeon general under President George W. Bush.

“He has issues with anger, with women, and with ethics,” Ms . Beato says, ultimately concluding. “Richard Carmona should never, ever be in the U.S. Senate.”

Mr. Carmona's campaign manager, Alexis Tameron, called the accusation “completely false.”

“Congressman Flake's decision to run this false ad is deplorable and shows how desperate he is,” Ms. Tameron said, in a statement.

The Flake campaign said the spot is running on broadcast and cable television, with a Spanish-language version on Telemundo and Univision.

It's not the first time Mr. Carmona's clashes with members of the Bush administration have become an issue in the campaign. In fact, one of the reasons Democrats worked to recruit Mr. Carmona was because he accused the White House of blocking him from speaking about stem cell research and sex education for political reasons.

Ms. Beato rejected his claims when the House investigated in 2007, and she gave secret testimony that year accusing him of the angry visit to her home. She also ac cused him of taking too many government-funded trips during his tenure, a charge his campaign rejected when the issue flared up again in May.

On Thursday, Mr. Carmona's campaign referred to their longstanding feud.

“It's no secret that Dr. Carmona pushed back on her attempts to spin science for political gain,” said Ms. Tameron, “but this accusation is a work of fiction.”

Ms. Beato's secret 2007 testimony was first reported in May by Politico.

Vice-Presidential Debate Poses Challenges on Substance and Style


The debate on Thursday night between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan will be split into nine, 10-minute segments, with Martha Raddatz, the moderator, choosing the topics for each.

Ms. Raddatz, the senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News, has said she plans to alternate between domestic and foreign policy during the 90-minute debate. Her success at keeping to that schedule may depend on how feisty the two candidates are.

But if she sticks to her plan, the debate could become a rare, broad-ranging discussion that offers voters a good opportunity to judge the two men and their capabilities.

While it is hard to know exactly what topics might come up , here is a look at some of the possible lines of questioning and the challenges they could pose for the candidates, on both substance and style.


Substance: As the self-described “sheriff” of the 2009 stimulus law backed by President Obama, Mr. Biden's challenge will be to defend the much-maligned government program against Republican charges that it did not do enough to address high unemployment and economic stagnation. Mr. Ryan's task became harder after Friday, when the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent, robbing him of the chance to hit the vice president on the administration's claim that stimulus spending would keep unemployment below 8 percent.

Style: Tone is especially important when talking about jobs and the economy. Being too glib about the challenges that people face could get Mr. Biden into trouble. But so can being to grim, as the vice president discovered at a rece nt rally, when he said the middle class has been “buried” for four years. Mr. Ryan needs to convey empathy - a trait that Mr. Romney's ticket is only now getting credit for having.


Substance: The Libya hearings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday provided the perfect opening for Mr. Ryan to hammer the Obama administration on the security before the raid in Benghazi and how their story changed after the raid. Mr. Biden will have to find a way to downplay the specifics even as he defends the administration's broader policy in the region. He could also have to explain why the administration took so long to characterize the attack as an act of terrorism.

Style: A discussion about terrorism may provide one of those signature moments that Mr. Ryan has to worry about. If he's not careful, he could give his rival a softball and Mr. Biden will slam it home, perhaps with his favorite line: “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”


Substance: There is little doubt that Mr. Biden will be on the attack here, trying to pin down Mr. Ryan on the particulars of his one-time plan to change Medicare into a voucher system. More broadly, the vice president will try to link Mr. Romney to Mr. Ryan's proposals.

Style: The challenge for Mr. Ryan will be twofold: avoid getting caught up in the intricacies of Congressional budgeting and don't come across as overly defensive. Both may be difficult for the Republican House Budget committee chairman, who is steeped in arcana and hemmed in by the constraints of having to follow the lead of his running mate.


Substance: Mr. Ryan's running mate has been highly critical of Mr. Obama's Iran policy, accusing him of not doing enough to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But Mr. Biden, who has a lengthy record on foreign policy, is likely to push back, both by citing the intense sancti ons regime imposed by the United States and by pointing out the similarities between Mr. Romney's stated policy and the one the White House is pursuing.

Style: This is one of the areas that Mr. Biden might exploit in the hopes of taking advantage of the difference in experience between himself and Mr. Ryan, who has limited experience abroad, and needs to make sure voters can envision him as commander in chief, should that need arise.


Substance: With a serious fiscal crisis looming just after the election, both men will be eager to engage on this one. Mr. Biden is sure to go after the Romney-Ryan plan to cut taxes, while Mr. Ryan is likely to focus on the looming deficits - a key strength for the Republican ticket. Both will likely struggle to answer how the country can avoid falling off the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year.

Style: Another danger zone for the wonky Mr. Ryan, who can descend into budgetes e if he's not careful. But Mr. Biden is a creature of the Senate and it's often fruitless negotiating sessions. He has to remember that he's speaking to the voters, not to his former colleagues in the Senate.


Substance: Syria presents another opportunity for Mr. Ryan to raise questions about the president's foreign policy choices, especially his handling of the unpredictable changes sweeping across Arab countries. Mr. Biden is likely to try and demonstrate that the administration grasps the complexities of the region in a way that Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney do not.

Style: Diplomacy is an art, not a science, and Mr. Biden has to be careful not to seem like he's dodging the tough issues even as he's careful about what he says. For Mr. Ryan, the danger is in overreaching in criticizing the administration's policy, which could make him seem unsophisticated.


Substance: The topic might have been passed over if not for Mr. Romney's comment this week that abortion legislation wouldn't be part of his agenda. That gives Mr. Biden an opening to press the administration's case against the Republican ticket on issues of particular concern to women. He will likely push on the cost and availability of contraception as well, noting Mr. Ryan's votes on the issues. Mr. Ryan will try to turn the contraception issue into a question of freedom for religious institutions.

Style: This is a tricky one for Mr. Ryan because the Republican ticket is trying to reach out to moderate, independent voters in the final 26 days. But he can't alienate conservative voters either, by seeming to run away from the Republican record on the issue. Mr. Biden will likely cite Mr. Ryan's votes on abortion and contraception in the hopes of setting that trap.


Substance: Mr. Ryan will be eager to lay blame for the looming defense cuts at the administr ation's feet in what could be a debate over the proper size of the military in a world dominated by terrorism concerns. Mr. Biden, who handled the withdrawal from Iraq for the president during the past four years, will tout the country's departure from a long war. Both will likely signal an eagerness to do the same in Afghanistan.

Style: Mr. Biden's age and experience means he may already have passed the commander-in-chief test. But Mr. Ryan needs to demonstrate to voters that they can envision him directing troop movements if he should become president. Talking smartly about the country's wars and the military budget is an opportunity to do that.


Substance: Mr. Romney recently said he would not seek to deport young immigrants who signed up under a temporary Obama program. Mr. Biden is likely to seize on that comment as an example of Mr. Romney's differing position on immigration. Mr. Ryan may push the vice president on efforts to secure the border, and could bring up the controversial gunrunning effort called Fast and Furious, which Republicans in Congress have been investigating.

Style: Hispanics are a huge voting block that will influence the election's outcome. So far, Mr. Obama is winning big among the voting group, in part because of the perception that Republicans will take a harder line against illegal immigrants. A softer tone by Mr. Ryan could help the Republican ticket peel off some of those voters in states like Arizona, Colorado and Florida.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

Increasing Savings With Promotional C.D. Rates


Earlier this week, Bucks wrote about using “laddering” of certificates of deposit as a way to eke out extra interest on your savings. The Web site NerdWallet has done an analysis of banks and credit unions, and has another suggestion for increasing savings rates: promotional or bonus rates on C.D.'s.

While interest rates over all are meager, some institutions - typically credit unions or smaller community banks - may be offering time-limited rates to attract deposits as part of their capital strategy. Usually, such offers apply only to new funds coming in from elsewhere. You won't get the bonus rate if you're rolling over an existing C.D. at the bank. So if you're willing to shop around, and can resign y ourself to moving your money when the promotional rate expires, you can increase the interest rate you earn - and often tie up your money for a shorter period of time, NerdWallet found.

For its analysis, NerdWallet looked at data from Market Rates Insight for the 12 months ending in September and found that bonus rates over all offered up to an additional 0.68 percent over average rates. The average annual percentage yield for a three-year C.D., for instance, was just 0.7 percent, but the average bonus yield for the same term was nearly double that, at 1.38 percent.

The analysis also found that longer-term C.D.'s don't always yield higher returns than short-term certificates, when bonus rates are taken into account. Over the last year, for instance, one-year C.D.'s actually had lower rates than shorter, three- to nine-month bonus C.D.'s, NerdWallet determined.

The catch, of course, is finding these promotional rates, which by their nature are offered for a limited time. NerdWallet has started a weekly index, showing how promotional rates compare with average C.D. rates, and featuring some of the most attractive promotional rates available around the country. Consumers can use those rates as a point of comparison for promotional deals they may find at credit unions or community banks closer to home. (The site also offers a tool to help search by ZIP code for the best  interest rates on C.D.'s and savings accounts, but it generally doesn't include promotional rates, which change frequently.)

The caveat with credit unions is that they often have membership restrictions - you have to work for certain employers, or live in a specific geographic area.

One credit union highlighted by NerdWallet this week, for example, is Service Credit Union, which serves military families as well as residents of specific towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. If you meet the membership criteria, you can join and avail yourself of a three-month C.D. with a 0.9 percent annual percentage yield.

Community banks may offer such rates, too, often without some of the membership hurdles, NerdWallet notes. Doral Bank in New York is offering a two-year C.D. at a 1.5 percent yield, NerdWallet found.

What do you think? Is it worth chasing promotional rates to earn more interest?

Latinos Favor Obama by Wide Margin, Poll Finds


Latinos who are registered voters favor President Obama by 69 percent to 21 percent over Mitt Romney, according to a national poll published on Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center. The margin has not changed during this year despite recent efforts by Mr. Romney to lure some Latinos.

Mr. Obama's lead over his challenger among Latinos in the final stretch of the race is larger than his margin in 2008 over John McCain, the Republican candidate. Mr. Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote then, and Mr. McCain won 31 percent.

The Pew survey was conducted from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4, one day after the debate where Mr. Romney performed far better than the president. The lift Mr. Romney has received since then i s not reflected in the poll.

But there are indications that Mr. Obama's big advantage among Latinos remains solid. Approval for the Democratic Party among those voters is at its highest level since the Pew center began asking survey questions on the issue in 2002, said Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. In the poll, 61 percent of Latinos said the Democrats had “more concern” for them, up from 45 percent in 2011. Only 10 percent now say the Republican Party is more concerned about Latino issues, the poll found.

The impact of Latinos in the presidential election will very much depend on their turnout. According to the Pew poll, they are likely to continue to vote at lower rates than the general public, with 77 percent of registered Latinos saying they are “absolutely certain” to vote. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, the parent organization of the Hispanic center, 89 percent of all regi stered voters said they were certain to cast ballots.

At the same time, the numbers of registered Latinos have grown by 4 million since 2008 to 23.7 million voters, making them a record 11 percent of the nation's electorate, according Pew Hispanic Center figures.

Mr. Lopez said Latinos may seem less engaged than other voters because many live in states like California, Texas and New York that are not in play in the presidential contest and have not seen intense campaigning. In the elections in 2008 and 2010, Latinos made a difference by turning out in force at the last minute in some closely contested states.

In nine battleground states, Mr. Obama is leading Mr. Romney among Latinos by 65 percent to 23 percent, the Pew Hispanic poll found. Latinos could cast crucial ballots in three of those states - Colorado, Florida and Nevada - and their numbers have grown enough to make them a factor in North Carolina and Virginia. (The others are Iowa, New Hampshire, O hio and Wisconsin.)

Mr. Obama's standing among Latinos seems to have been bolstered by his move in June to grant reprieves from deportation and work permits to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants who came here as children. In the poll, 89 percent of Latinos said they approved of that program. Three of every ten Latino adults said they knew someone who has applied for it.

Since June, Mr. Romney has tried to reach out to Latinos - especially in Florida, a crucial state for him - by softening positions he took during the primaries, when he said he would focus on tough enforcement and would veto the Dream Act, a proposal in Congress to benefit young illegal immigrants that is very popular among Latinos. Mr. Romney said he would give permanent residency to those immigrants if they serve in the military, and would consider other paths to legal status for them.

Last week Mr. Romney said he would stop the deportation reprieve program soon after he tak es office, but he would work with Congress on a broader immigration overhaul.

The Pew Hispanic Center poll is based on a nationally representative bilingual telephone survey of 1,765 Latino adults, including 903 registered voters, with a margin of error for the full sample of 3.2 percentage points.

TimesCast Politics: New Polling From Swing States and a Debate Preview


Debate Coverage at a Glance


Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan will square off Thursday in Danville, Ky., at 9 p.m. Eastern in their only vice presidential debate. Visit nytimes.com for comprehensive coverage, including:

  • Debate Live Stream: The Times will show the debate live and in its entirety at nytimes.com and on mobile apps.
  • TimesCast Politics: A preview of the debate in a live video broadcast starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, and analysis and fact-checking immediately after the event.
  • Live Blog: Starting around 8:30 p.m. Eastern, Times reporters and editors will provide real-time updates and analysis.
  • Q. and A.: Ask Times reporters and editors questions on the live blog, or on Twitter using the hashtag #asknyt.
  • Fact-Checking: Throughout the debate, Times reporters will take a closer look at the candidates' statements and attacks.
  • Election 2012 App: The latest debate news from The Times and other top sources. Plus opinion, polls, campaign data and live video.
  • Photo Slide Shows: Times photographers provide portraits of the candidates and chronicle the event from the hall.
  • Social Media: Follow the action live on Facebook and on Twitter.
  • Annotated Debate: Check back on Thursday morning for an interactive debate video and transcript featuring reporters' annotations and illustrative graphics.
  • Columns and Editorials: Op-Ed columnists and editorial board members provide analysis and commentary, and dispatches on the Campaign Stops blog.

Flying Without a Photo ID


Not only are extra fees for checked bags annoying, but they nearly caused me to miss a flight.

Last Friday, while my family gulped down breakfast before leaving for a weekend trip, I dealt with a last-minute, work-related technology snafu and went through a mental travel check list. Cancel delivery of the newspapers? Yes. Stop mail? Yes. All that was left was to check in online and print out the boarding passes. I grabbed my wallet to pay the $50 in advance for two checked bags to save time at the airport.

We then piled into the minivan, dropped our dog off at the kennel and headed to the airport, congratulating ourselves that, for once, we were on schedule.

Our self-satisfaction - or at least, mine - evaporated, though, when we arrived at the airport, I opened my purse and discovered that my wallet was missing. I quickly realized that after using my credit card to pay for the checked bags, I had left my wallet on my desk. At home. With my driver's license (read: photo identification) in it.

There wasn't time to go home and get my wallet. I would have missed the flight. And my family didn't want to go ahead without me. So we approached an agent at the security checkpoint, handed him our boarding passes and explained the situation.

He wasn't amused. (Are security agents, ever?) But, after asking my husband and children to step aside, he summoned a colleague - some sort of “no photo identification” specialist - to deal with me.

According to the Transportation Security Administration's Web site, a federal- or state-issued photo identification is required to fly. But, the site adds: “We understand passengers occasion ally arrive at the airport without an ID due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won't be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone's identity, like using publicly available databases.”

The special T.S.A. agent had me sign a form, allowing the agency to verify my identity. He asked me if I had any other form of identification (I didn't), or if my husband had anything in his wallet that had my name on it. (Again, no.) I did have a checkbook, bearing checks that had both my name and my husband's, so I handed that over for him to examine. Then, he called someone else on his phone, and asked me some questions - things like my previous addresses and my date of birth. It reminded me of the online verification process you go through when opening a bank account or obtaining your credit report.

Apparently I answered sat isfactorily, because the agent was finally given a number that he jotted on my boarding pass, before waving me on to be screened. The process took about 15 to 20 minutes. I asked if I could have some sort of documentation of the screening process for my return flight, but he shook his head. “Make sure you get to the airport early,” he advised, in case the screening process took longer on the trip home. (It didn't. The process was much the same, although I was asked slightly different versions of the screening questions, and had my hands swabbed before being sent on my way.)

We made our outgoing flight with a few minutes to spare, but the whole process was very stressful. I know that it's ultimately my fault that I left my wallet behind in the rush to get out of the house. But I can't help but blame the airline's extra baggage fees. If I hadn't had to grab my credit card from wallet to pay for them, my wallet wouldn't have been out of my purse in the first place.

Have you ever flown without your photo identification? What happened?

Paul Ryan\'s Debate Challenge


Long before he was anointed Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul D. Ryan was the young hero of Washington's supply-side crowd. And so it will be interesting to see how Mr. Ryan, in his debate with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday, plans to navigate between his running mate's latest ideological turn, on one hand, and the orthodoxy of economic conservatives on the other.

In a late and frantic dash to the center, Mr. Romney argued for the first time in last week's debate that his plan to scale back income tax rates for the wealthy didn't really add up to a tax cut. This surprising parry seemed to leave the president at a loss for words, as if Mr. Romney had just asserted that nuclear warheads weren't a ctually weapons.

Afterward, most of the commentary centered on the immediate question of whether Mr. Romney's plan would add some $5 trillion to the deficit, as Mr. Obama claimed, or whether Mr. Romney could make the plan “revenue-neutral.” But Mr. Romney's argument was remarkable for larger, philosophical reasons, and it presents something of a dilemma for Mr. Ryan as he considers his own debate strategy.

First, it should be noted that by backing away from the idea of tax cuts, Mr. Romney seemed to be acknowledging a dramatic shift in the politics of the issue. At least since 1984, when Walter Mondale announced he was going to level with the American people about his plan to raise taxes and walked away with a whopping 13 electoral votes, Democrats have been on the defensive over taxes, and Republicans have been pressing the advantage. In campaign after campaign, Republican candidates vowed to lower taxes (mostly for the wealthy), while Democrats strove to pe rsuade voters they weren't going to raise them.

In Denver, however, it was the Republican who found himself backing away from party orthodoxy. Here was Mr. Romney fleeing from the suggestion that he supported tax cuts for the wealthy, when by any reasonable definition he did. And here was the Democratic president, insisting that he was against those same tax cuts, even though he could fairly have taken credit for having extended them during his term.

This reversal by itself should bother the economic conservatives who believe that ever-lower taxes are a prerequisite for growth. But Mr. Romney didn't simply distance himself from conservatives on the politics of taxation. By any literal reading of what he said, Mr. Romney broke with conservatives on the substance of their argument, too.

From the Reagan era until now, conservatives have traveled a path from being anti-tax to anti-government. In other words, their main conviction n ow isn't simply that tax rates are too high, but that government gets too much in revenue, and that the only way to stimulate growth is to “starve the beast” of the federal bureaucracy and force government to reduce its commitments.

Another important tenet of economic conservatism holds that the wealthy Americans already pay more than their fair share of taxes, as a percentage of the total, while too many Americans pay close to nothing. And conservative tax activists like Grover Norquist contend that rescinding some expensive “tax expenditures” - like, say, the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners or some industry subsidies - would amount to tax increases on the average American.

At last week's debate, however, Mr. Romney could not have been clearer in rejecting all of these premises. “I'm not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce the revenues going to the government,” Mr. Romney said flatly. He added that he would not reduce the tax burden born by wealthy Americans. And he promised to eliminate unspecified tax expenditures.

In short, Romney now seems to be pretty much where John A. Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, was in his budget negotiations with Mr. Obama last year. Mr. Boehner actually entertained an offer that would have added as much as $1.4 trillion over ten years in additional revenue. (Although, like Mr. Romney, Mr. Boehner was assuming that a lot of that additional revenue would come from the supply-side alchemy of lower tax rates spurring economic growth).

But that's not where Mr. Ryan or the other conservatives in the House are, which is why Mr. Boehner's gambit ultimately went nowhere with his own caucus. They favor less revenue for government, not more, and they oppose a more progressive tax code that would heap even more of the overall burden on the wealthiest Americans.

Perhaps Republican activists weren't listening very hard to what Mr. Romney was actually sayi ng last week; their attitude seems to be that he won the debate and climbed in the polls, and that's all that matters. But you can bet that Mr. Ryan's admirers in the policy world took note of Mr. Romney's moderate rhetoric, which sounded a lot like the “big-government conservatism” they sometimes deride.

Mr. Ryan will almost certainly be asked to elaborate on the tax plan at Thursday's debate. And the question is whether he can get fully behind Mr. Romney's pronouncements about not lowering taxes on the rich and holding the line on federal revenue, or whether he will try to subtly walk it back, so as not to tarnish his brand as the keeper of the conservative faith.

The answer may tell us something about whether Mr. Ryan is thinking only about this election, or whether he also has his mind on carrying the conservative mantle for years to come.

In New Poll, Kaine Ahead in Virginia Senate Race


Tim Kaine, the former Democratic governor of Virginia, has the lead in his race to join the Senate, despite a torrent of negative advertising from third-party groups on behalf of his Republican rival, George Allen, the state's former senator.

Mr. Kaine holds a seven-point lead over Mr. Allen, according to a survey of likely voters by Quinnipiac University, The New York Times and CBS News. The poll shows Mr. Kaine with 51 percent to Mr. Allen's 44 percent, beyond the poll's margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. A separate poll in Virginia by NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Marist has the race essentially tied with Mr. Kaine only one percentage point ahead.

The ra ce is one of the marquee Senate battles in the nation and the outcome will help decide whether Democrats maintain control of the Senate.

Mr. Kaine, who also served for two years as President Obama's choice to head the Democratic National Committee, is matching Mr. Obama's performance in the commonwealth. The same survey shows the president at 51 percent, five points ahead of Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president.

Crossroads GPS, a conservative group, has been advertising against Mr. Kaine for weeks. The latest ad hits Mr. Kaine for supporting a Congressional deficit deal that threatens deep defense cuts if lawmakers do not reach an agreement to avoid them.

“Tim Kaine supported the Washington budget deal, a deal that could destroy over 500,000 jobs in the defense industry,” the ad says. “Tim Kaine didn't put Virginia first, so, Virginia, don't put Tim Kaine in the Senate.”

But Mr. Kaine's direct-to-camera ads comparing his record to that of Mr. Allen appear to be working. He is leading in the state even as voters there give high marks to the state's current Republican governor, Bob McDonnell. Fifty-two percent of voters said they approve of the way Mr. McDonnell is handling his job as governor.

The matchup between Mr. Kaine and Mr. Allen pits two of the state's most experienced politicians against each other. Both men served as governor in the past. Mr. Allen had served one term in the Senate starting in 2000, but was defeated in 2006 by Senator Jim Webb, who decided to retire this year.

Mr. Webb's decision cleared the way for Mr. Kaine, who would join fellow Senator Mark R. Warner, another Democrat, if he wins in November.

Strategists for Mr. Allen and Mr. Kaine have both said they think the race is likely to be affected by the clash between the president and Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama's current success in the state may be helping to lift Mr. Kaine's Senate bid.

But in the end, both races could come down to efforts to turn out voters in the state's different population centers.

Mr. Allen's campaign, like most Republicans, is targeting conservative voters in the state's rural areas, the military communities around Virginia Beach, and the Republican exurbs. Mr. Kaine is counting on the massive population center in Northern Virginia, African-Americans and the state's rapidly-growing Hispanic communities.

Voters in Three Swing States Predict Ryan Will Win Debate


More voters in three swing states said they expected Representative Paul D. Ryan would win tonight's debate against Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., according to the latest Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls in Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Mr. Biden will be facing off against a very different opponent this time around. In 2008, his sparring partner was Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, somewhat of a rookie to the national political scene. But Mr. Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate and the House Budget Committee chairman, is no neophyte when it comes to national policy or politics.

Nearly half of likely voters in Colorado and Wisconsin said they expected Mr. Ryan to beat the vice p resident, and voters in Virginia gave Mr. Ryan a slight edge over Mr. Biden, 41 percent to 36 percent.

Anticipation for the debate is high, with more than 8 in 10 voters in each state saying they plan on watching or listening to the vice-presidential debate. The first presidential debate garnered more than 70 million viewers last Wednesday night.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Ryan has stronger favorability ratings than Mr. Biden among voters in his home state of Wisconsin - 46 to 36 percent. In Virginia, the vice-president's favorability is slightly higher than Mr. Ryan's, 43 to 38 percent, while In Colorado, the men have similar favorability ratings.

About 4 in 10 likely voters in all three states said that Mr. Biden was qualified to serve as president, if it becomes necessary. In Colorado, 4 in 10 said he was not qualified, while about a third in Virginia and Wisconsin said he was not qualified.

Nearly half of voters in Wisconsin said Mr. Ryan was qualified to become president if necessary, while just a third in Virginia, and about 4 in 10 in Colorado said so. Nearly 3 in 10 likely voters in each state said Mr. Ryan was not qualified to step into the presidency.

In all three states, women viewed Mr. Ryan less favorably than men. Despite that, in Colorado and Wisconsin, more women said Mr. Ryan would win the debate, while in Virginia, women were divided over who would emerge the winner.

Whatever the outcome of tonight's debate, it will likely have little effect on the overall presidential race. A new analysis by Gallup shows that none of the last eight vice-presidential debates influenced voter preferences in a significant way.

Thursday Reading: Motorists Warned About Counterfeit Airbags


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

Thursday Reading: Motorists Warned About Counterfeit Airbags


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.

Before a Big Crowd in Ohio, Romney Glides on Debate\'s Lift


SIDNEY, Ohio - “I'm overwhelmed by the number of people here. There are even people out there, that's another county over there,” Mitt Romney said as he surveyed a sea of supporters at the county fairgrounds here in western Ohio on Wednesday.

As he wrapped up a second day of all-in effort in this critical battleground state, Mr. Romney continued to rally large crowds, the biggest of his campaign, and to glide on the lift of his debate performance last week. Every reference to the debate drew cheers. The Romney campaign said the throng numbered 9,500, citing the Secret Service.

“This is bigger than the fair was,” said Louie Pennycuff, 64. “After the debate, people woke up.”

Earlier i n the day when Mr. Romney visited a bakery restaurant, throngs lined the streets of Delaware, Ohio, for his motorcade as if for a Fourth of July parade.

Mr. Romney, who all year has allowed Democrats to define him as a rich son of privilege who wants to benefit his own kind but lacks empathy for ordinary people, seems to have broken free of that image. Certainly the crowds who come to see him are not of the plutocratic class.

He released a new television advertisement on Wednesday using a clip of the presidential debate in which he asserted, “Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300.”

His stump speech these days is less about small businesses whose owners “did built that,” than about conveying empathy for working-class Americans with economic anxieties. He introduced unlikely and surprising new characters to his speech: he offered praise for “a single mom who's trying to raise a kid or t wo or three,” and “a dad who's taking on multiple jobs.”

At an appearance earlier in the day in Mount Vernon, he stood with the chief executive of a factory, Karen Buchwald Wright, but perhaps the most memorable thing he said was not about her business but that she and Ann Romney, the candidate's wife, “are both breast cancer survivors.” He wore a breast cancer awareness pin.

The Obama campaign responded to Mr. Romney's new ad, “Helping the Middle Class,” by revisiting the analysis by independent tax experts that the tax plan Mr. Romney has proposed, including a 20 percent across-the-board rate cut without adding to the deficit, would mean increased taxes for the middle class.

“Here's what the real Mitt Romney's plan would mean for middle class families: a $2,000 tax increase for those with kids to pay for $250,000 tax cuts for multimillionaires - he just won't be straight with voters about it,” said Danny Kanner, an Obama campaign spokesm an.

Many of Mr. Romney's talking points have a populist ring, though they are less populist on closer inspection. Attacking Mr. Obama, he said, “He wants to raise the tax on savings,” a reference to the president's proposal to increase taxes on investment income, even though it is mostly the rich who receive income from dividends and capital gains.

The president wants to “put in place a death tax which will make it more difficult for people to pass farms on,” Mr. Romney said at a lectern with a sign, “Farmers for Mitt.” He did not mention that Mr. Obama's proposal includes a $3.5 million exemption. The Congressional Budget Office has said that only a handful of farms a year nationally would owe any estate taxes.

The most striking aspect of the more empathetic Mr. Romney appearing on the stump is a series of reminiscences of people whose lives were tragically cut short. On Wednesday, however, he dropped one account introduced the day before, abou t having met a former Navy SEAL killed in the attack on the American outpost in Libya, after the man's mother objected.

Barbara Doherty, the mother of Glen A. Doherty, who was killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, told WHDH-TV in Boston: “I don't trust Romney. He shouldn't make my son's death part of his political agenda. It's wrong to use these brave young men, who wanted freedom for all, to degrade Obama.”

Mr. Romney did not mention Mr. Doherty at his evening rally. Instead, he told a story about a Boy Scout troop that convinced NASA to include its American flag in a Space Shuttle mission, only to watch the vehicle, Challenger, explode “before their eyes” on television. The flag miraculously was found intact. Mr. Romney described standing beside it at a scout ceremony. “I looked over at that flag and I pulled it out and it was like electricity was running through my arms,” he said.

To him, it represented the spirit of Americans sacrificing â €œfor something bigger than themselves.”

The Early Word: Swings


In Today's Times:

  • Mitt Romney is getting better marks on leadership after his dominant performance last week at the Denver presidential debate, while President Obama is benefiting from improvements in the economy, according to the latest Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll. Michael D. Shear and Megan Thee-Brennan write that surveys of likely voters in three swing states - Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin - showed Mr. Obama holding a slim advantage in Virginia and Wisconsin, but tied with Mr. Romney in Colorado.
  • Capitalizing on Mr. Romney's breakout performance at the debate, his campaign has revved up efforts to soften his conservative edges and showcase him in bipar tisan and personal ways. Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker write that aides believe their strategy - to “defy the perceptions that have dogged him throughout the race” - is their best shot at victory, but it risks raising questions about Mr. Romney's authenticity.
  • The tight race between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney has created some uncertainty in the health care field, where providers and insurers are putting off long-term planning until voters decide who will occupy the White House for the next four years. Abby Goodnough and Robert Pear outline the stark differences between the president and his Republican rival's visions for the future of the American health care system.
  • The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a case challenging the use of race in public college admissions. Adam Liptak writes that the court's ideological center has shifted rightward since it last heard a similar case nine years ago, and with Justice Anthony M. Ke nnedy - who has never voted to uphold an affirmative action program - at the center, there is reason to believe the court could overturn its earlier decision.
  • Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will face Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, in a debate tonight. Trip Gabriel writes that Mr. Ryan's budget proposal, the “fiscal cliff” and foreign policy are among the issues that will loom large in the debate..
  • Looking back at vice-presidential debates past, John Harwood writes that although those confrontations rarely have an impact on the outcome of the elections, experts opine that they can “increase momentum for a ticket considered to have won the first debate of the presidential nominees, or serve as ‘a circuit breaker' for the ticket that lost.”

    Happening in Washington:

  • Economic reports expected today include international trade for August and weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m., followed by weekly mortgage rates at 10.
  • At 9:15 a.m., Mike Hammer, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, will answer questions about American foreign policy in a Spanish-language Twitter briefing.