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Has the 2012 presidential campaign set a new low for negativity?

July 18, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • A screenshot from a recent Mitt Romney campaign ad targeting President Obama.
A screenshot from a recent Mitt Romney campaign ad targeting President… (Associated Press )

Oh, how quickly we forget.

A week's worth of accusations about outsourcing, taxes and cronyism has led to a raft of headlines and cable news segments pondering whether the 2012 campaign has set a new low for negativity.

Mitt Romney's campaign has been particularly keen to ask whether the Barack Obama of 2008 would approve of the campaign President Obama is running in 2012.

Well, consider where the campaign stood at roughly a similar point four years ago.

Sen. John McCain's campaign launched a bombshell ad likening the Democratic candidate to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, playing up the rock-star treatment Obama had received during a trip overseas while implying that he, like the tabloid favorites, was devoid of substance.

Obama's response was, in part, to accuse the Republicans of trying to make voters "scared of me."

"You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills," Obama said at the time, characterizing the GOP's remarks.

That triggered a counterpunch from McCain's camp, accusing the Democrat of "playing the race card."

"And he played it from the bottom of the deck," McCain's campaign manager said.

Obama countered, "In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign is racist. I think they're being cynical."

A week later, there was a blow-up over inflating tires, of all things, ostensibly during a debate over alternative energy.

All this is to point out how the summer months, after candidates have secured their nominations but before the nominating conventions, are often a time when the silly overwhelms the substantive, usually as part of an effort to define the opposing candidates for voters before the final sprint of the fall.

This time, instead of the "Celebrity" ad from McCain, there was the ad from Obama using the soundtrack of Romney singing "America the Beautiful" while pointing to accounts about Bain Capital outsourcing.

The Republican counterpunch accuses Obama of playing "Chicago-style" politics and using federal dollars to reward campaign contributors.

The long-term impact of the contrast messaging is impossible to gauge. But the sharp jabs do test both sides' ability to respond quickly and effectively before the more intense campaigning to come.

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