This won't be pretty. The final two weeks of the presidential campaign will be among the most negative yet, with each side attacking the other in an effort to capture as many undecided voters in the battleground states as possible and to stimulate turnout among core supporters.
President Obama is using some of his most negative rhetoric so far, and his advisers are even more harsh. At a rally in Dayton, Ohio, late Tuesday, the president said, "Trust matters," and accused Romney of changing his mind on many issues, such as whether to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, chase down terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, and bail out the auto industry with government funds.
David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, told reporters that Romney's election would lead to "endless war," that his policies are "reckless and wrong," and that he is a "hypocrite" and an "empty vessel." The Obama campaign also released a summary of Obama's second-term agenda, but it contained nothing new, and the overall tone was increasingly critical of Romney.
Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super political action committee, produced another ad arguing that Romney has left a "trail of broken promises" in his business career with Bain Capital, a private equity firm. The ad went on to question Romney's sincerity in making promises during the campaign. The commercial will run in the battleground states of Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, a spokesman for the PAC said. He did not disclose the amount of the ad buy.
For his part, Romney is also ramping up his criticism, even as he argues that it is Obama who is being more negative. "You know, the truth is that attacks on me are not an agenda," Romney told a rally in Henderson, Nev. "His is a status quo candidacy. His is a message of going forward with the same policies of the last four years, and that's why his campaign is slipping and that's why ours is gaining so much steam."
Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, said, "In two weeks, a majority of Americans will choose Governor Romney's positive agenda over President Obama's increasingly desperate attacks. Mitt Romney has a real plan for a real recovery that will create 12 million new jobs with rising take-home pay, move us toward a balanced budget, and create prosperity for all Americans."
Meanwhile, American Crossroads, a conservative super political action committee, produced three new TV ads in seven states "pounding President Obama on his failure to turn the economy around," a Crossroads spokesman said. The buy totals $12.6 million for a week of commercials, the PAC's largest one-week buy to date, the spokesman said.
One ad, titled "At Stake," features actor-producer Clint Eastwood telling voters, "In the last few years, America has been knocked down....We need someone who can turn it around fast, and that man is Mitt Romney. There's not much time left, and the future of our country is at stake."
Eastwood caused a stir at the Republican National Convention when he talked to a pretend Obama in an empty chair.
The candidates are focusing their time and resources on a handful of battleground states where the race remains competitive, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia. Nationally, polls show that the contest is extremely close.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He has written five books, most recently Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.