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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In New Ad, Romney Stresses Moderate Positions on Reproductive Issues

Mitt Romney's campaign, in an effort to appeal to women who hold more moderate views on reproductive issues, is releasing a new commercial that highlights his support for contraception and abortion in limited circumstances.

“You know, those ads say Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraception seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it,” says a woman identified as Sarah Minto, who is shown on camera searching on Google for “Romney on abortion.”

Ms. Minto adds: “It turns out Romney doesn't oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life.”

The ad is Mr. Romney's most aggressive attempt to rebut attempts by the Obama campaign to paint him as extreme on women's rights.

Mr. Romney has long strug gled with women. All year polls have shown President Obama with a sizeable advantage. But as the race tightens in the final three weeks before the election â€" and one major poll showing this week that the Republican nominee is significantly narrowing the gender gap â€" the Romney campaign is moving dramatically to showcase its more moderate positions.

This strategy is not without risk. Many socially conservative Republicans have long been wary of Mr. Romney, who as a candidate for United States Senate said that abortion should be “safe and legal” and touted his pro-gay rights positions.

Reproductive rights have continued to bedevil Mr. Romney over the course of this election. Just last week he raised eyebrows when he denied to the editorial board of The Des Moines Register that he would pursue anti-abortion legislation. “There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” he said.

Mr. Romn ey's advisers have long said that they believed the election would turn on the economy, and that is where Ms. Minto ends her statement in the ad.

“I'm more concerned about the debt our children will be left with,” she says as she looks into the camera. “I voted for President Obama last time. We just can't afford 4 more years.”

Follow Jeremy W. Peters on Twitter at @ jwpetersNYT .

Share Your Reactions to the Second Presidential Debate

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama meet tonight in the second presidential debate of 2012. The town-hall style debate, moderated by CNN's Monica Crowley, features questions from uncommitted voters selected by Gallup. Do you think swing voters will be persuaded by either candidate tonight? Have they persuaded you?

Follow along with our coverage, which includes blog posts, video and fact-checks, and share your reactions in the comments here.

Second Presidential Debate Fact-Checks and Updates

President Obama and Mitt Romney square off on Tuesday night in Hempstead, N.Y. for the second of three presidential debates. 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.

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Romney Campaign Makes $12 Million Ad Buy

The Romney campaign, flush with cash from its impressive haul of $170 million last month, is reserving large quantities of airtime for the coming week.

In one of his biggest ad buys of his campaign so far, Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, has booked about $12 million worth of television advertising for a six-day rotation of commercials that will begin on Wednesday.

The ad buy - timed to start the day after the second presidential debate - will cover both cable and broadcast television in nine states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The biggest amounts will be spent in Ohio (about $2 million), Virginia ($1.5 million) and Florida (more than $3 million).

The advertising onslaught coming from the Romney campaign only adds more political noise to the thoroughly saturated airwaves in battleground states. From now until Election Day, candidates and “super P ACs” have set aside more than $83 million for advertising, all of it concentrated in 10 states. (Michigan is the one state where neither campaign is advertising, despite the efforts of a pro-Romney super PAC there.)

And the barrage of ads is only going to get heavier. The Romney campaign typically books its advertising time only a few days in advance because it is wary of tipping its hand to Democrats. But with so much money at its disposal - and a group of top advisers who have long said the election will be decided in the final days of the race - the campaign is certain to buy heavily over the next three weeks.

Commercial time in many states like Nevada, which is the epicenter of the 2012 political advertising binge, has been completely bought out on some programs.

Las Vegas is the most saturated media market in the country, data from Kantar Media show. Cleveland is No. 2, followed by Denver, Reno and Columbus, Ohio, rounding out the top five.

Follow Jeremy W. Peters on Twitter at @ jwpetersNYT .

Predebate Scenes From the Postdebate Spin Room

Supporters cheered for President Obama on the campus of Hofstra University before the start of the second presidential debate on Tuesday in Hempstead, N.Y.Eric Gay/Associated Press Supporters cheered for President Obama on the campus of Hofstra University before the start of the second presidential debate on Tuesday in Hempstead, N.Y.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. â€" Four hours before the candidates step on the stage at Hofstra University here, the cavernous spin room is already crackling with narratives and counternarratives â€" most about how pugilistic President Obama is likely to be.

“They all say he's going to come out swinging,” said Senator Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who played Mr. Obama in mock debates to prepare Mi tt Romney. “He's going to be a new Barack Obama â€" new, different, improved.”

But an hour earlier, Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Obama's deputy campaign manager, insisted, “He is not looking to come here to score punches on Mitt Romney; he's coming in here to describe what a second term of an Obama presidency would look like.”

She said the expectations of a very combative Mr. Obama were largely a creation of the Romney campaign. At the same time, Ms. Cutter said the president would be “passionate” about making his case for a second term. She said that Mr. Obama would hold Mr. Romney to account for his statements, but that it would not be his primary thrust.

“We'll do our best to keep Mitt Romney honest,” she said, “but that could take all night.”

The traffic was light compared to the flood of surrogates who will fill the room after the debate. The Obama campaign said it would field 22 people to handle p ostdebate spin, while the Romney campaign said it would have 37.

The feverish prespinning came on a day when a number of new polls showed Mr. Romney opening up a small lead over Mr. Obama nationally. Ms. Cutter and other campaign officials brushed off the numbers, saying that the campaign had always banked on a tighter contest and that the state polls were relatively stable.

Mr. Portman, however, contended that one of the fiercest battlegrounds, Ohio, was a dead heat, with momentum flowing in Mr. Romney's direction. “Our own tracking indicates that it's a dead heat,” he said. “That's a big change.”

Mr. Portman said the movement in the polls was more than a reaction to the first debate, in which Mr. Romney delivered a commanding performance. Voters in Ohio, he said, were starting to pay attention to the substance of Mr. Romney's proposals. After a long stretch of heavy negative advertising in Ohio by the Obama campaign, Mr. Portman said, Mr. Romney w as now matching Mr. Obama in advertising buys in the state.

“I don't think style is problem, actually,” Mr. Portman said. “I think it's substance.” The senator said he had studied Mr. Obama's proposals for new ideas to play him in the debate prep, but had not found any.

The Adelson Phenomenon Spreads Among Donors

There is more than one Sheldon Adelson-type donor in the world of “super PACs,” according to new filings with the Federal Election Commission.

A number of new super PACs, many of them spending millions of dollars to upend House races, made their first financial disclosures to the F.E.C. on Monday, revealing - in some cases for the first time - the interests financing a late surge of attack ads. And while Mr. Adelson gained notice for almost single-handedly financing a $20 million super PAC supporting his friend Newt Gingrich in the Republican nominating contest this year, he is just one of several wealthy donors providing overwhelming support to a candidate they are seeking to elect.

A California-based super PAC known as America Shining, which has spent about $283,680 against Representative Edward Royce, a Republican, has been financed exclusively by Shaw Chen, the brother of Mr. Royce's Democratic opponent. Treasure Coast Jobs Coalition, a Florida super PA C aiding the Republican Representative Allen West, has been paid for chiefly with a $1 million contribution last month from Richard Roberts, a pharmaceutical executive and big super PAC donor. (Mr. West's Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy, is backed by a super PAC financed largely by Mr. Murphy's father.)

Robert Mercer, a Long Island hedge fund executive, donated another $250,000 to Prosperity First, a super PAC backing the Republican Congressional candidate Randy Altschuler, a fellow critic of the new financial regulations, bringing his total to $750,000. That is three-quarters of the group's money.

The Florida Freedom PAC, a group focusing on boosting President Obama in Florida, has raised about $1 million this year, all from the Service Employees International Union, a close ally of Mr. Obama's.

And Mr. Adelson is not limiting himself to the battle to unseat Mr. Obama. In addition to tens of millions of dollars he has given to groups seeking to elect R epublican majorities in the House and Senate, Mr. Adelson has poured $1 million into Patriot Prosperity, according to The Wall Street Journal. The group is seeking to help elect Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is running as a Republican to unseat Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat.

From the White House, Beer We Can Believe In

From the White House, Beer We Can Believe In

IT may well have been the most famous home-brewing experiment in history. The White House chefs, using a kit bought last year by President Obama, produced their own beer with honey harvested at the White House.

THE FIRST BEER Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery made a batch of White House Honey Ale, recreated from a recipe released by the White House.

The president was photographed over the summer enjoying the White House Honey Ale, which prompted a relentless demand that the administration hand over samples or at least discuss its methods. On Sept. 1, the White House yielded and published a recipe.

The president said the beer was good. Was it? The Dining section truth squad leaped into action, enlisting Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, to make a batch to assess.

After steeping, boiling, cooling, fermenting and settling, Mr. Oliver stowed away 38 750-milliliter corked bottles to mature in a conditioning room kept at 77 degrees. One month later, the beer was ready to be tasted. On Monday, Mr. Oliver and I uncorked one chilled bottle.

Mr. Oliver had expressed concern that the beer might not be ready, but our patience had reached its limit. The potential problem? Brewers carbonate most mass-market beers by injecting them with carbon dioxide, but home brewers generally rely on the ancient technique of initiating a small second fermentation in the bottle before capping it. With nowhere to escape, the carbon dioxide produced by this fermentation turns into the bubbles that animate the beer.

If the second fermentation had gone wrong, or simply wasn't finished, we'd know. The uncorking would be accompanied by a wimpy sigh, or worse, silence. We hoped for the best as Mr. Oliver removed the wire cage imprisoning the cork. He pulled it out, and with it came a stately, resounding pop.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have beer,” he said.

Methodically, he filled a couple of goblets. The beer poured out a lovely auburn brown with touches of red glinting in the midday sunlight. It was hazy, indicating that dead yeast cells had not completed their journey downward to the bottom of the bottle. A rocky head of foam was textured and held its form nicely. We drank, tentatively at first, then deeply.

The verdict: It was good. Very good.

The aromas were floral with a touch of orange and a metallic note that I sometimes find in honey. On the palate, it was breezy, fresh, tangy and lightly bitter, not bone dry but not at all sweet. I could sense the honey in the round, rich texture of the beer: thickness without weight, like a chenin blanc wine. The soft carbonation enhanced the texture. It didn't have the insistent rush of bubbles that you would find in a mass-produced beer, or the snappy twang of a pilsner, but rather the soft fizz of a British hand-cranked cask ale.

“It's not without complexity,” Mr. Oliver said, “and it's an interesting, broad sort of bitterness, a British type of bitterness, which fits the sort of hops they used.”

The White House brewers chose classic British hops, Kent Goldings and Fuggles, which yield a gentle, more generalized sort of bitterness than the sharper grapefruit and pine of American hops familiar in American craft beers. They had taken another British-style step, adding mineral salts to the water, a process intended to mimic the famous waters of Burton-on-Trent, a British town renowned for its brewing heritage. Burtonizing is a long American tradition as well. Mr. Oliver has found advertisements in century-old brewing magazines for the American Burtonizing Company in New York.

As the beer was exposed to air in the glass, it seemed to become brighter and juicier. Professional brewers have many sophisticated techniques for shaping complexity, but home brewers have it all over them when it comes to freshness. Drinking a proper home-brewed beer that is alive and leaps from the glass is enough to bear out President Obama's assessment.

For me, the biggest surprise was how powerfully the honey influenced the beer in almost every aspect - texture, aroma, flavor - except sweetness. It was a reminder of how extraordinary honey can be both as an ingredient and as a reflection of its particular origins.

Mr. Oliver said a request to the White House for a jar of its own honey went unanswered, so he used local wildflower honey, thinking that White House bees would have little motivation to rove beyond the flowers on the grounds.

In analyzing the beer as it was brewed, Mr. Oliver was surprised by how much sugar went unfermented and feared it might be a tad sweet. He pondered whether, on a second try, he would take steps to make the beer drier.

“Now that I've tasted it, I don't think I would,” he said. “It's perfectly balanced.”

The beer is still young. With time, the yeast particles should settle, clarifying the brew, and Mr. Oliver suggested it might carbonate a little more. Six months from now, it might develop some nutty, sherry-like characteristics as the beer begins to oxidize. Aside from curiosity, I'd prefer to drink it fresh.

In the end, the White House beer is easy drinking at 4.89 percent alcohol. It is rich, round and not terribly bitter. It's a people's beer that ought to please a wide spectrum of drinkers, from novices to aficionados.

“It has character, but it's also crowd-pleasing,” Mr. Oliver said. “It's a politically friendly beer in that regard, and isn't that what we're all looking for?”

A version of this review appeared in print on October 17, 2012, on page D3 of the New York edition with the headline: From the White House, Beer We Can Believe In.

The Caucus Click: Spin Room Prep

Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, sat for early interviews in the spin room at Hofstra University before the start of the second presidential debate on Tuesday.Doug Mills/The New York Times Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, sat for early interviews in the spin room at Hofstra University before the start of the second presidential debate on Tuesday.

The Caucus Click: Spin Room Prep

Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, sat for early interviews in the spin room at Hofstra University before the start of the second presidential debate on Tuesday.Doug Mills/The New York Times Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, sat for early interviews in the spin room at Hofstra University before the start of the second presidential debate on Tuesday.

Romney Donors Meet to Schmooze . . . and Raise More

So just what did Mitt Romney's high-dollar donors come to the Waldorf-Astoria to do this week?

They chatted punt fakes with Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and a national finance co-chairman of the Romney campaign, clad in his trademark green tie.

They traipsed onto the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Monday evening, braving the spitting rain to be regaled at a gala dinner by the likes of Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney's running mate, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and even Donald Trump.

And they passed through the dimly lighted oak lobby of the storied hotel en route to strategy sessions, as “super PAC” heavy hitters - Carl Forti, who directs the more than $100 million political ad budget of Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney group, and Charles Spies, the group's lawyer - chatted just in front of the reception desk.

But perhaps the most valuable experience of the three-day donor retreat came Tuesday afterno on during a session titled “Make the Difference,” when Spencer Zwick, the campaign's national finance chairman, informed the more than 1,000 donors present that they were about to kick-off a speed call-a-thon.

The goal? A cool $2 million in just 45 minutes.

Donors, most of whom had long ago raised the $50,000 entrance fee, were urged to pull out their cellphones and begin dialing for dollars, tapping into their networks for people who had donated to Mr. Romney during the primary but had not yet jumped on board financially for the general election.

A PowerPoint slide urged them to recruit a total of 800 new donations, at $2,500 a piece. “Process today,” reminded another bullet point.

(Earlier in the lobby, Mr. Johnson had offered his own theory on rustling up money: Don't send e-mails, he explained, because “that's a warning.” Just cold call, and tell your friends that Mitt Romney needs their help.)

Earl ier during Mr. Zwick's session, according to people who had seen the PowerPoint presentation, donors had been plied with encouraging numbers: The finance team had always hoped to raise $750 million for the entire campaign, but it was now on track to hit $850 million by Election Day. Roughly $128 million of that haul had been raised online, more than $50 million in the past six weeks. Even small-dollar donations were picking up - 96 percent of the online donations were less than $250. (In fact, in April, the campaign had set an overall fund-raising goal of $800 million, a number it seemed to walk back slightly at the retreat, a strategic lowering of expectations in order to far exceed them.)

Mr. Zwick also explained just what $2 million could buy in the final stretch: Nearly 3,000 30-second ads, for instance, or more than six million pieces of direct mail.

In fact, the Romney campaign has highly specific plans on how to spend whatever additional money it can rais e for the push until Election Day. Nearly two-thirds of its fund-raising will go to ad spending, with the other third helping with voter contact and get out the vote initiatives. A small percentage will go to digital outreach.

Between sessions in the lobby, the mood was light-hearted and optimistic, evidence perhaps that Mr. Romney's team feels the Oval Office is truly within reach. Donors were buoyed by Mr. Romney's strong performance in his first debate against President Obama, and were looking forward to Tuesday night's rematch, which they planned to watch at the Roseland Ballroom, where Dennis Miller would provide comic entertainment.

Surveying the scene, Mr. Johnson smiled and said he expected that after Mr. Romney won, he would come back and stay at the Waldorf when he had to be in New York for official business.

Then, he paused and reconsidered. “Actually, he's so cheap, he'll probably still stay at the Courtyard Marriott,” he concluded.

Follow Ashley Parker on Twitter at @AshleyRParker.

Neil Young: One Show Well Worth Our Time and Money

Neil Young with Crazy Horse in concert in September.Julie Glassberg for The New York TimesNeil Young with Crazy Horse in concert in September.

Like most families, we try to keep a tight rein on discretionary spending. But when I heard that the musician Neil Young would be touring with the band Crazy Horse, I decided that if he played anywhere near where we live, we'd certainly buy tickets.

Mr. Young may be an acquired taste for some (one of my college roommates, unfortunately, never appreciated him, nor my incessant playing of his albums). But I've never had that problem. His guitar sound often strikes me as a rock version of bagpipes - chilling and exciting, yet plaintive at the same time. I was a mere child when he arrived on the scene in the '60s, but his 1979 album with Crazy Horse, “Rust Never Sleeps,” provided much of the soundtrack to my college years. I have seen him perform live twice and each time came away awed at his talent and energy.

Which is how we came to drive two hours on Sunday to Tulsa, Okla., to a stop on his current tour within striking distance of our home in Northwest Arkansas. Even though we were seeing the concert in a smaller market and the tickets were relatively reasonable, the total cost of the outing was likely to reach nearly $400 - about what I was lucky to make in a week during my early years of Neil Young fandom. So our expectations were high.

Here's the rundown: two midrange tickets (about $120), a pub dinner before the concert ($45), two T-shirts ($60), two beers at the show ($15), gas and parking ($30) and a babysitter who came early, then stayed until we arrived home in the wee hours of Monday morning (another $120.)

When we arrived in Tulsa, we w ere a bit concerned. Instead of the city's gleaming Bok Center, Mr. Young was playing in a much smaller (and older) convention center. It promised a more intimate setting, but, as my husband noted, it appeared one step removed from a high-school hockey arena, with narrow corridors and stingy restroom capacity.

And aside from a few people with children in tow, the crowd was exceedingly … mature. Even as Mr. Young, 66, has aged, he has managed â€" or so we had thought - to recruit new, younger fans, with his unflagging enthusiasm and creativity. So where were they? We began to worry. Had Mr. Young become an oldies act? Was he reduced to playing recycled hits at second-rate sites? Were we doomed to an evening of disappointment and then a bleary-eyed drive home?

When the lights dimmed, however, our fears were immediately put to rest. Hulking over his wailing guitar like a deranged rag doll, Mr. Young put artists a quarter of his age to shame by playing hard for two and a half hours. The set mixed songs from his soon-to-be released album with Crazy Horse with older hits (“Cinnamon Girl,” “The Needle and the Damage Done”). I might have replaced one of his longer, distorted-guitar solos with one of the revamped folk standards from his recent “Americana” album, which oddly failed to make the set list. But that's just nitpicking. The second song of the show was one of my favorites, “Powderfinger.” That, by itself, was worth the price of my ticket.

All in all, we agreed on the long drive back in the dark, it was an evening that was (phew!) worth both the time and money spent.

How do you decide what entertainment to spend money on? Have you ever been disappointed by a big-ticket show?

Conservative Group Calls for Tennessee Republican\'s Resignation

Tennessee's oldest and largest conservative organization is mounting a campaign to force the resignation of Representative Scott DesJarlais after a taped phone call of Mr. DesJarlais, an anti-abortion Republican, appeared to show him pressuring a mistress to terminate a pregnancy.

Lloyd Daugherty, chairman of the group, the Tennessee Conservative Union, said in an interview Tuesday that Mr. DesJarlais, a doctor and freshman lawmaker, had crossed a line the group could not ignore, confirming an article in Tuesday's Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“In 2010, he ran on two issues: ‘I'm going to end Obamacare,' not ‘I'm going to help end Obamacare' but ‘I'm going to do it personally,' and that he would be a pro-life Republican on every issue,” Mr. Daugherty said. “He got elected on the same issue that he obviously does not have the same personal commitment to. It's the hypocrisy.”

Mr. DesJarlais has been battered in t he Tennessee press over news, carried last week by The Huffington Post that he appeared to pressure a mistress, one of his former patients, to end a pregnancy.

“You told me you'd have an abortion, and now we're getting too far along without one,” Mr. DesJarlais told the woman.

Later in the conversation, the woman complained, “You told me you would have time to go with me and everything.”

“I said, if I could, I would, didn't I? And I will try,” Mr. DesJarlais replied.

Mr. DesJarlais told The Times Free Press that he had raised the abortion issue to force her to acknowledge that she wasn't really pregnant, and that no abortion took place.

But in conservative Tennessee, the matter is not sitting well, especially coming from a man from out of state with few roots in the community before his defeat of Representative Lincoln Davis, a veteran Democrat, two years ago.

Mr. Daugherty called the congressman's explanation “a little too i mplausible.” His organization, which he said has 15,000 members, has been reaching out to other conservative groups to force Mr. DesJarlais to step down.

“We just think he ought to do the honorable thing and resign without us having to ask,” he said.

Mr. DesJarlais's troubles may follow him to Washington. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against the congressman for having sex with a patient, a violation of Tennessee law, the complaint says.

“Tennessee law is crystal clear: Doctors are prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with patients. The only question remaining is, now that Tennessee authorities are aware of Rep. DesJarlais' blatantly unethical and scurrilous conduct, what are they going to do about it?” said Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, in a written statement.

But it is not clear whether Mr. DesJarlais's troubles could be the Democratic Party's gain. In 2010, the Tennessee Conservative Union backed Mr. Davis, an anti-abortion, low-tax Democrat, but Mr. Daugherty said it was highly unlikely the group would throw its weight behind Eric Stewart, a middle school principal and DesJarlais's current Democratic opponent.

Even in Tennessee, fear of emboldening Democrats may curtail any drive to push Mr. DesJarlais from office, Mr. Daugherty said.

“If this was a Republican, we would be reacting the same way. If this was a Democrat, we would be reacting the same way,” he said. “I'm afraid we've lost perspective. Excuse my Tennessee language, but conservative and Republican ain't necessarily the same thing.”

TimesCast Politics: Looking Ahead to the Second Presidential Debate

Getty Images
  • 0:28  Previewing Tonight's Debate

    Jeff Zeleny previews tonight's debate and the challenges facing each candidate.

  • 5:46  Debate Advice From the Beltway

    Michael D. Shear shares some advice he's been gathering from political insiders for the candidates in tonight's debate.

  • 11:03  Two Incumbents Face Off in Iowa

    Jennifer Steinhauer reports on Representatives Tom Latham, a Republican, and Leonard L. Boswell, a Democrat, two incumbents battling for a House seat who are finding their campaign inextricably tied to the presidential contest.

Town Hall Format Poses Risks for Obama and Romney

As President Obama and Mitt Romney prepare for their debate on Tuesday night, they face an unpredictable variable that was not a factor in their previous encounter: the common voter.

Both presidential candidates have had some of their most awkward and politically fraught moments when confronted directly by voters. Tuesday's debate will force as many as a dozen such encounters, any one of which could become a crucial moment in the campaign's remaining weeks.

Mr. Obama was caught off guard during a 2010 economic town hall forum on CNBC when an African-American woman declared herself profoundly disappointed in him. He grinned awkwardly and then rambled for four minutes, providing new evidence of the political peril from a still sluggish economy.

At the Iowa State Fair in 2011, Mr. Romney's answer to a combative voter provided one of the most enduring - and damaging - moments in his campaign. “Corporations are people, too, my f riend,” a defensive Mr. Romney responded, a line that would dog him in the months ahead.

For 90 minutes tonight, both candidates must seek to avoid such moments - and their advisers know it. There is precious little time left before Election Day to correct a devastating interaction should one occur.

Both men live in protective bubbles, shuttled around in bulletproof cars and protected by aides. The pointed questions they usually get are from reporters, pundits or the occasional greeting from a supporter on a rope line.

Mr. Romney is seen as particularly awkward when interacting with voters, and polls suggest that he has the bigger challenge. In most surveys, a majority of people say they do not believe that he understands their plight. He does not get high marks for empathy.

In the same polls, Mr. Obama scores better when it comes to understanding voters. But the president has sometimes struggled to display empathy when he's talking to them. Instead , he has a tendency to answer emotion with explanation, often launching into a long, rambling discourse laden with facts and figures.

In Tuesday's debate, most of the questions will come from members of the audience, who were selected by Gallup as examples of uncommitted voters. That could translate into particularly pointed questions for the two candidates, particularly on the subject that has dominated the campaign: the economic struggles of the middle class.

What makes the questions particularly difficult - and what has bedeviled both men during the past year - is the proximity of the questioner.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly been asked by reporters, news anchors and others about the disappointment that his supporters feel in his inability to turn around the economy more quickly. In most of those cases, he is able to quickly dismiss the question or find a way to change the subject.

But that was impossible in the case of the woman who confronted Mr. Obam a at the CNBC forum. There she was, standing just feet from the president, declaring her frustrations for all to see.

“I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration,” the woman told the president. “I'm deeply disappointed where we are right now. I'm waiting, sir. I'm waiting. I don't feel it yet. … Is this my new reality?”

Mr. Obama offered her the same explanation that he often does on the campaign trail, trying to thread the needle between being compassionate and defending his own record. “My goal here is not to convince you that everything is where it needs to be,” he said. “But what I am saying is that we are moving in the right direction.”

The president had a similar exchange with a voter at a town hall meeting on health care in 2010. The woman asked about taxes included in his health care plan, asserting, “We are overtaxed as it is.”

Mr. Obama's answer took more than 17 minutes, as he rambled on about Medica re, the Congressional Budget Office, earmarks, payroll taxes, the deficit, Congressional pay-as-you-go rules and Cobra insurance coverage. All the while, the woman asking the question stood politely.

“Boy, that was a long answer,” Mr. Obama said when he finished. “I'm sorry.”

Mr. Romney has had just as much trouble during his interactions with real voters.

In a coffee shop in Tampa, Fla., Mr. Romney met with voters who complained about their difficulty finding work. “I should tell my story,” Mr. Romney said, trying to be funny. “I'm also unemployed.”

But instead of humor, what persisted was the unfortunate image of Mr. Romney - who is worth an estimated $250 million - sitting next to unemployed workers and joking about being out of work himself. It added to the ammunition for Democrats that he is out of touch with regular people.

In 2011, when a young boy handed Mr. Romney a $1 bill turned into origami, the Republican struggled t o find an unfolded $1 bill to hand back to the boy. The Washington Post reported that Mr. Romney “had a $100 bill” in his billfold and eventually found a $5 bill to give the boy.

And in Youngstown, Ohio, in March, Mr. Romney told a young college-bound student that he should “shop around” for the lowest price, suggesting that he shouldn't look to the government for help in paying for college. That gave Mr. Obama a chance to tout his own efforts to raise government student loans.

Both candidates have spent day preparing for the debate, though advisers know that there is a limit to how much they can be scripted to deal with an interaction with a voter.

Mr. Obama expects voters to question him on the slow economic recovery. Mr. Romney can rehearse how he might respond to questions about his wealth or his business practices while at Bain Capital.

But in the end, success or failure tonight is likely to come down to how comfortable each appears to be in handling those questions. The cameras will be watching, and so will tens of millions of voters.

Who Won the Debate? Think Twice About the Answers on Twitter

As President Obama and Mitt Romney finish their closing statements in the presidential debate on Tuesday night, viewers at home will quickly consider who won and who lost. People wanting objective assessments of that question might not want to turn to their Twitter feeds for the most fair-minded answers.

Social media services like Twitter are often hailed for their ability to rapidly deliver the latest news and opinions to users. But while the networks make a wealth of information available to anyone with a smartphone or a computer, users do not consider all sources of information on a level playing field. They pick and choose the Twitter accounts to deliver their news and analysis on the basis of their own biases and opinions. The phenomenon is known as homophily, a tendency of similar people to cluster together and form similar opinions.

“The narrative is that technology is the great democratizer, yet we are divided as ever into our familiar neighborhoods,â € said Gilad Lotan, the vice president for research and development at SocialFlow, a social media marketing company whose technology The New York Times uses to manage some of its Twitter accounts.

After the debate between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan last Thursday, Mr. Lotan's company gathered examples on Twitter of users who used strong language like “Biden won” or “Ryan won” in describing their perception of the debate's outcome. And just as some polls found a close division of opinion on the debate's winner, an almost even number of Twitter users found that Mr. Biden or Mr. Ryan was the victor.

But underlying the declarations by Twitter users of the victor in the debate were signs that the conclusion was echoed by their sources of information on Twitter. Users who concluded that Mr. Biden won the debate often follow a similar group of Twitter accounts, and those who awarded the victor y to Mr. Ryan follow another group of Twitter accounts with very little overlap between the two.

The finding was illustrated by two co-follower graphs Mr. Lotan generated for SocialFlow. The graphs are a visual representation of the sources an audience online shares in common, and which sources are most followed within that audience. And in this case, they showed that Twitter users with a strong opinion about the debate's winner were grouped together around certain Twitter accounts, with little overlap between them.

Twitter users who gave the debate to Paul Ryan.Social FlowTwitter users who gave the debate to Paul Ryan.
Twitter users who gave the debate to Vice President Biden.Social FlowTwitter users who gave the debate to Vice President Biden.

While it is difficult to conclude how something like a Twitter post influences opinion, Twitter users with differing opinions on last week's debate do not appear to overlap much in what they consume on the social network.

“Those who support Ryan, and consider that he won the debate, have very little in common with those who support Biden and claim he won the debate,” Mr. Lotan said.

As Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney conclude their second debate on Tuesday, perhaps you can break out of your social neighborhood on Twitter and gather some opinions you do not usually look to in order to evaluate who won the debate.

But are you likely to do that? Maybe not. Mr. Lotan said that users in a state of h omophily tend to shun opinions that clash with their perceptions.

“The typical reaction is to go somewhere else, to feel uncomfortable, to feel unwanted, to feel like it's not your place,” he said.

Do you think you receive a diversity of opinions from social media? Tell us in the comments.

Debate Could Provide Romney Chance to Close Gender Gap

Mitt Romney's second debate appearance Tuesday night will provide him another high-profile opportunity to offer an image of reasonableness and moderation that could be crucial in winning over key voting blocs, especially women, with whom President Obama has had long-standing leads.

The candidates must find ways to be both assertive and understanding during the 90-minute debate on Long Island. But Mr. Romney, in particular, has a chance to close the gender gap if he can dispel Mr. Obama's criticism about the impact his policies would have on women.

Polling released Monday by Gallup and USA Today suggested that Mr. Obama's double-digit edge among women has evaporated in the wake of the first debate with Mr. Romney. The survey found Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, leading slightly among women in battleground states and tied elsewhere.

That survey result was strongly contested by Mr. Obama's top advisers, who said the poll was flawed. And the Democratic advantage among women still persists in other polls, including surveys conducted by The New York Times in several battleground states last week.

But for Mr. Romney, the challenge remains: to use the debate to try to further erode the president's usual advantage among women.

Top aides to Mr. Romney said there would be no specific effort to tailor his message to women during the town-hall-style debate. Rather, they said they hoped Mr. Romney could continue to present himself as the best alternative to the president for all of his constituencies, including women.

“Our internal polling shows strong movement toward Governor Romney over the past two weeks,” said Rich Beeson, the campaign's political director, in a memo released to reporters Tuesday morning. “It also shows serious movement by independent voters, women, and those who were soft supporters of President Obama toward the Romney-Ryan ticket.”

The format of th e debate could provide Mr. Romney the opportunity to make further inroads with women.

The questions from voters will give both candidates an opportunity to prove that they can identify with the plight of voters. If Mr. Romney can make that connection with a female questioner, it could help his cause.

There are risks, too. An awkward exchange during the debate could set back the Republican outreach to women just as the campaign is reaching its closing days. It could be hard to recover in the time left.

Advisers to Mr. Obama have been stressing Mr. Romney's opposition to abortion and his position on contraception in the days since the first debate, hoping to energize women. Many women had said they were disappointed that Mr. Obama did not bring the topic up during the first exchange.

That will likely change tonight. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a point of raising the issue during his debate last week with Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romn ey's running mate. Mr. Obama is likely to try to find a way to to do the same tonight.

Top strategists for Mr. Obama on Monday insisted that the Gallup poll was flawed and that the president retained a strong lead among female voters.

In a memorandum to reporters, Joel Benenson, the president's lead pollster, said the poll's findings regarding women underscored “deep flaws” in the way the survey identifies which voters are most likely to actually cast ballots in the November election.

Mr. Benenson noted that the poll showed Mr. Obama with a nine-point lead among all registered voters. That lead disappears when the poll is limited to likely voters, a result that Mr. Benenson says is evidence that Gallup is misidentifying who is likely to vote.

Other recent polls have shown little evidence of a shift among women toward the Republican ticket. A New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac University survey of Virginia last week showed Mr. Obama with a 14-point lead over Mr. Romney, essentially unchanged from before the first debate.

A similar poll in Wisconsin showed Mr. Obama with a 10-point lead. In national polls from ABC News and The Washington Post from before and after the first debate, there was no significant swing among female voters.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

Justice Department Seeks to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Operation Fast and Furious

The Justice Department has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by the House oversight committee seeking to compel the Obama administration to release more internal records involving the botched gun-trafficking case known as Operation Fast and Furious.

The judiciary should play no role in a dispute like this one between the executive and legislative branches, the department said - one in which the White House has asserted executive privilege over its internal deliberations, and the House of Representatives has voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for refusing to comply with the committee's demands.

“Disputes of this sort have arisen regularly since the founding,” the department said in a brief filed Monday night in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. “For just as long, these disputes have been resolved between the political branches through a constitutionally grounded system of negotiation, accommo dation, and self-help.”

The dispute generated by the long-running investigation of the gun operation by the House Committee on Government Operations and Oversight, led by Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, culminated last month in an exhaustive report by the Justice Department's independent inspector general, which scathingly criticized federal officials for their handling of the fiasco but essentially exonerated Mr. Holder.

The House committee has not had as much access to internal documents as the inspector general, and is seeking access to internal records about the administration's response to the committee's investigations. Although voluminous records were handed over, the committee wants more, in part to see whether its own investigation was obstructed.

For the court to intervene, as the committee has sought, “would dramatically alter the separation of powers,” the Justice Department's brief argu ed.

Operation Fast and Furious has been a deeply divisive political issue from the outset, as the committee's politically charged hearings and the contempt citation against Mr. Holder made clear.

Referring to the wrangling between Congress and the administration, the agency's brief says that the process of seeking accommodations “is political, and often disorderly and contentious, and the ultimate resolution often reflects a variety of considerations and compromises on both sides. But it is precisely the inherently political nature of the process of confrontation and resolution that makes it ill-suited for judicial review.”

The botched investigation into a gunrunning network linked to a Mexican drug gang began in late 2009, and was shut down in early 2011 after two guns linked to the case were found near the site where a Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed.

Tuesday Reading: Web Tools Cut Wait Time at Doctor\'s Office

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.

  • F.D.A. warns of other risks from tainted drugs. (National)
  • Fatal E. Coli outbreak tied to county fair. (National)
  • Well-off would benefit from student debt-relief plan, study says. (Business)
  • Airlines likely to match Southwest's fare increase. (Business)
  • Hospitals ditch formula samples to promote breastfeeding. (Science Times)
  • A spotlight on compounded medicines. (Well)
  • Allergies on the move. (Well)
  • Can a computer tell how you really feel? (Science Times)
  • Web tools help reduce waiting time at the doctor. (Well)
  • Myths of running barefoot, etc. (Well)
  • Options in treating incontinence. (Well)
  • Steroid shot near spine gives illness an opening. (Science Times)
  • An E.V . charger goes portable. (Wheels)
  • Converting Word files into an e-book. (Gadgetwise)

Private Student Loan Gripes Echo Mortgage Complaints

Gripes received about the handling of private student loans bear an “uncanny resemblance” to complaints about mortgage servicing during the housing crisis, and the government should consider changes to address some of the problems, says the federal ombudsman for student loans.

Rohit Chopra, the loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the author of a new report on private loans prepared for Congress, said yesterday that the bureau has received nearly 3,000 complaints about private student loans since March.

Unlike student loans made by the federal government, private loans lack some consumer protections, like income-based repayment plans to help borrowers manage payments, or deferments for military service. Many borrowers said they were never advised about the difference between a federal and private student loan and complained that they had not been fully informed of the terms of their loans.

The va st majority of the complaints related to servicing of the loans, like problems with fees, billing, deferments and forbearances. Many borrowers told the agency, for instance, that they had trouble getting their payments credited properly and obtaining accurate information about their loans from their servicing firms. They often ran into trouble when their loans were transferred or sold to different servicers.

The report notes that some borrowers reported problems with unauthorized payments, in cases where the borrower has a checking or savings account with the same institution that is servicing their loan. If the borrower was late with a payment, the bank might deduct the funds from the account automatically - sometimes even charging an overdraft fee, if the payment overdrew the account.

In another instance, Mr. Chopra said, the agency heard from a borrower who was on time with payments but went into default because of a clause in the loan terms. A co-signer on th e loan filed for bankruptcy, which caused the loan to go into default under the terms, even though the borrower wasn't the one filing.

Many borrowers reported that they had tried to make “good faith” payments toward their debt but were placed in default anyway.

A large majority of the complaints related to seven companies, with nearly half related to loans serviced by Sallie Mae. But Mr. Chopra noted that the company is a major player in making, servicing and collecting student loans, so the number of complaints “does not seem particularly disproportionate.” Over all, he said, the distribution of complaints “is not surprising,” given the companies' relative market share. (He also noted that the study is based mainly on borrower complaints and isn't meant to be a statistically significant analysis of problems in the private loan industry.)

The largest share of complaints came from borrowers aged 22 to 29, suggesting that younger borrowers who hav e recently graduated into a tight job market are struggling, Mr. Chopra said.

Mr. Chopra's report makes several general recommendations. Congress, he urges, should consider options that would allow student loan borrowers to modify or re-finance their loans at more attractive interest rates. It also suggests that other government officials - specifically, the head of the consumer bureau, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Education - look into ways to improve servicing of such loans. The report also urges officials to consider broader application of income-based repayment plans already available for federal loans, to reduce the burden on students who also have private loans.

Have you had problems with private student loan? What was the outcome?

From the Magazine: Paul Ryan Can\'t Lose

Paul Ryan Can't Lose

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Paul Ryan at a rally in Fishersville, Va.

On a Monday night in late September, Paul Ryan sat on the edge of a couch in his suite at the Cincinnatian Hotel, his left fist clenched so tightly around the neck of his bottle of Miller Lite that I could see the veins bulging in his hands. It was the end of a long day that began at Ryan's home in Janesville, Wis., where he'd spent the weekend preparing for the vice-presidential debate. Early Monday morning, he flew to the first of two fund-raisers, on top of which he did three local TV interviews and a brief chat on Fox Business Network and also a town-hall meeting, plus a half-hour phone call with Mitt Romney, after which he finally settled in on the couch to watch his Green Bay Packers play the Seattle Seahawks on “Monday Night Football.” A few minutes after kickoff, Ryan's traveling press secretary, Michael Steel, led me into the suite where Ryan was watching the game with his older brother Tobin, his campaign adviser Dan Senor, the Republican National Committee chai rman Reince Priebus and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

A day after the first presidential debate, spirits soared in Fishersville, Va.

“Is this the guy who's writing that hit piece on me?” Ryan said, rising to shake my hand. He's adept at wielding sarcasm in a way that can both disarm and manipulate - signaling a likable, faux-fatalistic awareness of How the Game Is Played. At 42, Ryan looks even younger and more angular in person than he does on television. He says he was teased as a child for looking like Eddie Munster, because of his black widow's peak, and in the course of reporting this article, I also heard people liken him to Greg Brady; Will Schuester, the music-club director in “Glee”; Kyle MacLachlan, who played Special Agent Dale Cooper on “Twin Peaks”; a bat; an owl; an eagle; and Boner, from “Growing Pains.”

“Get yourself some ribs,” Ryan said after shaking my hand. Everyone had plates balanced on their laps filled with ribs and chicken and coleslaw from a Cincinnati barbecue joint that Ryan frequented in his college days at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The game on TV was the infamous contest - the crime, Ryan called it - that effectively forced a settlement of the referees' lockout, after Seattle won on a last-second touchdown pass that the replacement officials should have ruled an interception or offensive pass interference. At a rally the next morning, Ryan would parallel the incompetence of the replacement refs to President Obama's handling of the economy. But the calamity unfolding now involved the Packers offensive line being devoured by the Seattle pass rush, which was on its way to sacking quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half. “And we drafted all these linemen too,” Ryan said.

Ryan tries to plan his schedule around Packers games and also owns shares in the team, the only nonprofit, community-held professional sports franchise in the United States. “I am an owner,” he said proudly. When I made a crack about how that would make him another of Mitt Romney's rich N.F.L.-owner pals - a reference to Romney's ill-fated attempt in March to score Everyman points by asserting his friendship with a couple of the league's chieftains - Ryan did not seem to know what I was talking about, or pretended not to.

Across from the couch where Ryan was sitting, Portman kept urging me to “get some sauce” for my ribs, motioning to a glass bowl next to the television. Portman, a former congressman and White House budget director, was a top runner-up to Ryan in the vice-presidential sweepstakes. One mark against the wealthy senator was that he might be perceived as too much of a Grey Poupon Republican in the stiff mold of Romney, an image Ryan helps to counter with his deer-hunting, football-loving, Rage Against the Machine-listening ways. As Seattle's quarterback unleashed a long pass from midfield - and as Portman looked up suggestively at me and said, again, “It's all about the sauce” - the Ryan brothers let out a simultaneous moan as the Seahawks went up 7-0. Ryan swigged from his beer and sniffled and made the first of several mentions of the bad head cold he was fighting. “I should not be drinking,” he said. “But, c'mon, it's ribs, it's football, so I gotta have a beer.† He then coughed a couple of times and announced that he would be watching the second half in bed.

Mark Leibovich is the magazine's chief national correspondent. He last wrote about searching for inspiration in the 2012 campaign.

Editor: Joel Lovell

A version of this article appeared in print on October 21, 2012, on page MM27 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Paul Ryan Can't Lose U Y S.

The Early Word: Ads, Ads, Ads

Today's Times

  • Las Vegas is home not just to a closely fought presidential race but to competitive House and Senate races as well, making it the epicenter of a nationwide political advertising binge, Jeremy W. Peters reports. “I hate 'em, I hate 'em, I hate 'em,” one resident said.
  • The Romney campaign has begun a late push to raise tens of millions of dollars for a barrage of advertising â€" an unprecedented experiment in last-minute, high-dollar fund-raising by a presidential candidate, Ashley Parker and Nicholas Confessore report.
  • The outcome of the partisan budget fight in Congress between the election and the presidential inauguration is likely to shape the next four years, no matter who wins the White House, Jackie Calmes reports.
  • Though the format for Tuesday's presidential debate is designed to seem free flowing, the candidates, moderator and participants have to adhere to strict rules and time limits, Jeremy W. Peters writes.
  • Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois, is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the possible misuse of campaign money, Michael S. Schmidt and Monica Davey report.

Around the Web

  • Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will follow Tuesday's presidential debate with appearances Wednesday on CBS's “This Morning,” NBC's “Today Show” and ABC's “Good Morning America,” Buzzfeed reports.
    • Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, relayed an important message from President Obama: Robert Griffin III, the Redskins quarterback, may have restored faith in Washington sports teams, Politico says.

    Happenings in Washington

    • A variety of economic reports will be released Tuesday. The Labor Department has the Consumer Price Index for September, the Federal Reserve will release industrial production numbers and the National Assoc iation of Home Builders will issue the housing market index for October.

    Coming Later Today: Coverage of the Second Presidential Debate

    President Obama and Mitt Romney will square off on Tuesday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., at 9 p.m. Eastern time in the second of three presidential debates.

    Watch 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 time, and analysis and fact-checking immediately after the event.
    • Live Blog: Starting around 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, Times reporters and editors will provide real-time updates and analysis.
    • 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.
    • Annotated Debate: Check back on Wednesday morning for an interactive debate video and transcript featuring reporters' annotations and illustrative graphics.