Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, presented Obama's health care law yet again as a budget buster that could yield big savings if repealed, despite the nonpartisan forecast of the Congressional Budget Office that the law actually will reduce the deficit at least a little. Romney's pledge to balance the budget while cutting taxes, increasing military spending and restoring more than $700 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years is based on strikingly incomplete accounting, the basis for Obama's complaint that his rival isn't coming clean.
And the political ads? Hold on to your hat.
The Romney campaign set a tone for dishonest discourse nearly a year ago with a commercial that had Obama saying: "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." In fact, Obama was quoting his 2008 rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Romney's ad people sliced up Obama's fuller comment, "Sen. McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose," and used it to put McCain's words seemingly in Obama's mouth.
More recently, the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super political action committee ran an ad implicating Romney in the cancer death of a woman whose husband lost his job and health insurance at a Kansas City steel plant taken over by Bain Capital, Romney's former private equity firm, five years earlier. No link was established between his layoff and her death, and the ad seemed to go beyond the pale for Obama himself. "I don't think that Gov. Romney was somehow responsible for the death," he said.
But does the new focus on honesty mean the high road is finally ahead? One test of that will come Thursday, in the vice presidential debate.
It pits Vice President Joe Biden, a master of excitable exaggeration, against Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who grossly understated his time in a 1990 marathon and audaciously criticized Obama for failing to act on the report of a fiscal commission that Ryan himself voted against.
This political marathon, at least, only has a month to go.
AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look behind the rhetoric of the political campaign