The real campaign has not even started yet, and already we can barely see the candidates for all the mud that is clinging to them. The barrage of negative political ads is costing millions, souring moods, and, if Gallup is to be believed, doing little to change voters’ minds about their choice for president.
Just last week, the Obama campaign unleashed a new round of television spots aimed at undermining Mitt Romney’s claims to be the master job creator and defender of the working class.
Called “Believe,” the ad takes yet another swipe at Romney’s record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm that the former Massachusetts governor founded in 1984 and headed for 15 years.
The ad calls Bain “a pioneer in outsourcing,” and suggests that Romney has shipped thousands of jobs overseas, including to US economic rival China.
The ad has particular resonance in the face of the disappointing jobs numbers released last Friday by the Labor Department. President Barack Obama has been seeking to portray himself as the champion of economic recovery, struggling to help Americans regain their footing after the disastrous economic meltdown precipitated by his predecessor.
Romney, on the other hand, has repeatedly slammed the president for his failure to get the economy going again. He’s putting himself forward as the man with the financial chops to put America back on track.
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The Romney campaign has called the new anti-Bain ads “vicious lies,” and some fact-checking organizations have also criticized the ads as “misleading.”
The Obama campaign is targeting the “swing states” — the handful of venues such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan where the real battles will be fought.
According to Gallup, one of the country’s leading polling organizations, eight out of 10 voters in swing states say they have seen campaign ads, as opposed to six out of 10 in “red” or “blue” states, where the outcome of the election is felt to be already certain.
But, says Gallup, the ads are doing little to change people’s minds or make them more likely to participate in the elections:
"For the most part, swing-state voters say the ads they have seen generally reinforce what they were already thinking about the candidates (70 percent), rather than changing their views (8 percent) … One reason [for this] is that voters may pay more attention to ads that focus on their chosen candidate."
This is especially galling given the mountains of cash that are being directed toward negative advertising.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Obama campaign had raised over $250 million by the end of May; the Romney campaign was at $121 million. But June was a red-letter month: the Romney campaign netted $100 million in that one month alone, more than the president’s group, although exact figures for the Obama campaign have not yet been released.
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All of the money and rhetoric have not impressed Monica, a retired teacher in Massachusetts.
“I am so tired of this campaign,” she sighed. “It’s all negative. I tried to follow it for a while, but now I just cannot watch it.”
Monica has been trying to make up her mind — she will definitely vote, she said, but does not yet know for whom.
“I consider myself an independent,” she said. “But I cannot find any real information about the issues. People are just interested in complaining — about immigrants stealing jobs, about uninsured people getting a free ride, about everything. And I am talking about both sides here.”
She paused, smiled ruefully, and shook her head.
“I just have one question,” she said. “Where’s the beef?”