Back to Campaigning for Romney After Uneven Trip
Washington. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pivoted quickly into the three-month stretch run to the US election, unveiling a new feel-good television ad and stoking speculation about his vice presidential pick after wrapping up a stumble-marred overseas trip.
Abroad as well as at home, Romney sought to focus on the US economy — the issue voters care most about in the tight presidential race and the greatest liability for President Barack Obama.
Obama was countering by urging the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all but the highest-earning Americans. Romney has proposed cutting taxes for everyone, including the wealthy, and making the Bush tax cuts permanent for all income levels.
The tax issue has created a problem for Romney, with Democrats and some leading Republicans calling on Romney to release more of his income tax returns. Romney, who would be among the nation’s wealthiest presidents if elected, has released just one year of personal income tax returns and promised to release a second, but no more.
Obama was making campaign stops Wednesday in the pivotal state of Ohio, which he views as open to his record on taxes and manufacturing, particularly his decision to rescue automakers General Motors and Chrysler in 2009.
Obama’s campaign released a new ad Tuesday focused on taxes and the deficit, calling Romney’s approach a way to provide a “new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires.” The ad said Romney’s approach on tax cuts, coupled with increased military spending, would add “trillions to the deficit.”
“To cut the deficit we need everyone to pay their fair share,” Obama said in the ad’s tag line, looking into the camera. The spot was airing in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Florida, battleground states where polls show the candidates separated by only a few percentage points.
Romney was spending Wednesday in private meetings at the campaign’s Boston headquarters as speculation swirls about the selection of his vice presidential candidate. The campaign is preparing to ramp up his public schedule in the weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, at the end of August.
In the final hours Tuesday of his foreign trip, in Warsaw, Poland, the former Massachusetts governor extolled the Polish economy as a model for the rest of the world in an era of slow growth or worse, and he simultaneously sought to limit the political fallout caused by comments he made earlier on a stop in Israel that angered Palestinians.
“The world should pay close attention to the transformation of the Polish economy” since the end of communist rule more than two decades ago, he said in a speech in the Polish capital. “A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad and an important and growing role on the international stage.
“Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade and live within its means,” he added.
It was thinly veiled criticism — one of several instances on the trip — of the policies Obama has pursued while in office, and Romney was slightly less veiled in a Fox News interview.
He did not mention that joblessness in Poland is over 12 percent, roughly half again as much as in the United States.
Advisers accompanying Romney said he would resume direct criticism of Obama’s record soon enough, after observing a mini-moratorium while on foreign soil.
Yet a new television commercial suggested another immediate priority was to close a likeability gap in the polls. While the voting public generally believes Romney has better economic policies than Obama, it views the president in more favorable terms personally.
Shorn of any criticism of Obama, the ad appears designed to introduce Romney to voters in hotly contested states who know little or nothing about his personal background except what they’ve seen and heard in unflattering commercials aired by Democrats. It follows weeks of efforts by Obama’s team to define Romney as a wealthy financier whose private equity firm benefited at the expense of workers.
The US president is not chosen by popular vote but in a series of state-by-state contests. With the race near deadlock for months, both candidates are aggressively courting a relative sliver of undecided voters who live in eight or so states that are neither reliably Republican nor Democratic.
In the ad, Romney speaks of his years in private business, in government and as the head of the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City a decade ago and says, “I want to use those experiences to help Americans have a better future.”
Romney’s campaign also sought to stir up interest in his looming vice presidential pick, unveiling an app for smartphones that officials said would “serve as the campaign’s first official distribution channel” for the news of his choice. Separately, Republican officials noted an announcement could come any day.
As for one of the controversies on his trip, Romney said in the interview with Fox before leaving Europe that he hadn’t been speaking about “the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy” in his remarks earlier in the week that prompted one Palestinian official to question whether the Republican’s views were racist.
At a fundraiser with Jewish donors in Jerusalem, Romney had said their culture was part of what had allowed them to be more economically successful than the nearby Palestinians. He made no mention of the fact that Israel has controlled the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since capturing them in the 1967 war, a presence that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund both say limits the Palestinians’ potential for economic growth.
There were other uneven moments on what Romney and his aides had planned as an illustration of his ability to handle the world stage. In London, he drew a tart response from Prime Minister David Cameron after wondering aloud whether the British had adequately prepared for the Olympic Games now under way.
And in a speech in Jerusalem he declared that the city is the capital of Israel, even though the US has its embassy in Tel Aviv and maintains a policy that the city’s designation is a matter for negotiations between the Jewish state and Palestinians.
Aides later said that despite any mistakes made during the trip, there was little evidence they would materially affect the campaign.
“I don’t think that will go down in history as very important,” said campaign aide Stuart Stevens of possible missteps.
Not surprisingly, Romney got nothing but criticism from the president’s surrogates.
Robert Gibbs, a senior Obama campaign adviser, called the trip “an embarrassing disaster” for Romney. “He both offended our closest ally and triggered a troubling reaction in the most sensitive region of the world.”