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Obama's unlikely ally in battleground state ad war: Mitt Romney

September 18, 2012|By Michael Finnegan

CINCINNATI – There’s a simple reason why presidential candidates devote a huge amount of time to raising money for TV advertising: That’s how they win.

But successful advertising usually requires validation by news coverage that voters see as consistent with the TV commercials.

That’s why Mitt Romney, improbably, appears to have strengthened the potency of President Obama’s advertising in Ohio, Florida and more than a half dozen other battleground states.

Romney’s surreptitiously taped remarks in a video made public Monday were the latest in a series of missteps by the wealthy Republican nominee that buttressed Obama ads portraying him as out of touch with the middle class.

In the video, recorded a few months ago in Florida, Romney told wealthy donors  that 47% of American voters are government dependents who see themselves as victims “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

PHOTOS: Obama on the campaign trail

“My job is not to worry about those people,” Romney said in the video, obtained by Mother Jones.

On TV news shows here in Ohio, snippets of the video aired within minutes of Obama ads saying that Romney was hiding his tax returns and refusing to release details of a tax proposal that would benefit millionaires like himself while denying healthcare and college aid to the middle class.

Romney denies that his tax cut proposals favor the rich, and advisors say he plans to provide more specifics on his economic plans in the days ahead.

Most of Romney’s inadvertent assistance to Obama’s ad campaign has come from offhand remarks – that students should borrow money from their parents to go to college, that his wife owns two Cadillacs, among others. Also helpful to Obama’s efforts to craft his opponent’s image were Romney’s plans to build a car elevator in his La Jolla oceanfront house, which he filed just as the campaign was getting under way.

Romney has helped Obama’s advertising cause in other ways, too. Obama opened his ad assault on Romney on May 1 with a spot saying his Republican rival had failed to disclose personal assets in a Swiss bank account. Subsequent ads, run by the Obama campaign and an allied group, Priorities USA Action, accused Romney of enriching himself in investment deals that cost thousands of American jobs and sheltering his fortune in other foreign tax havens.

PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

But for three months, Romney failed to define himself on more flattering terms for voters who were inundated with the Obama ads.

“The Romney campaign did not lay down a layer of positive ads at the outset to give voters some understanding of who its candidate is,” nonpartisan election analyst Charlie Cook wrote in a recent National Journal column. “So when the deluge of negative ads about Bain Capital, layoffs, outsourcing, income taxes, and foreign bank accounts came, Romney had no Teflon coating to protect him. The dynamic was more like Velcro.”

In August, Romney started running a spot portraying himself as a turnaround specialist with a successful history as a businessman, chief of the 2002 Winter Olympics and governor of Massachusetts. But he quickly dropped that approach and returned to ads bashing Obama’s economic record and touting his own promises to cut taxes, spending and the deficit while creating 12 million jobs.

And Romney stopped running nearly all of those ads during the Republican and Democratic national conventions, allowing Obama to dominate advertising in the battleground states for nearly two weeks at a crucial juncture of the campaign.

Using data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, the nonpartisan Wesleyan Media Project reported last week that Obama campaign ads ran 37,230 times from Aug. 26 to Sept. 8, while Romney’s ran 4,503 times. Allies of Romney ran too few independent ads during that period to offset Obama’s lopsided advantage.

INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map

Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the project, suggested that the imbalance in advertising was at least one of the factors in Obama’s recent advance in the polls. “During both the Democratic and Republican conventions, pro-Obama advertisers dominated the airwaves in numerous markets, including key swing states such as Colorado, Ohio, Nevada and Virginia,” she said. “This advantage may help to explain why Obama’s 'convention bounce' was larger than Romney’s.”

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganlatimes

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