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The tax return fight and the cult of transparency

at 07:40 AM ET, 07/11/2012

President Obama is amping up the pressure on Mitt Romney to release more of his past tax returns, an attempt to change the subject from the still-struggling economy and bring the issue of transparency to the fore in the 2012 campaign.

“What’s important if you are running for president is that the American people know who you are and what you’ve done and that you’re an open book,” Obama told a New Hampshire reporter on Tuesday. “And that’s been true of every presidential candidate dating all the way back to Mitt Romney’s father.”

Vice President Joe Biden, as he is wont to do, took the critique of Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns a step further. “Mitt Romney wants you to show your papers, but he won’t show us his,” Biden told a Hispanic audience Tuesday in Las Vegas.

And then there was this web video released by the Obama campaign that asked “why is Mitt Romney hiding the rest of his tax returns?”

The strategy behind the re-emphasis on Romney’s taxes is a recognition of a few things by the Obama team.

First, spending a week (or more) playing defense on why the economy isn’t any better isn’t how the Obama team wants to spend its time. Changing the subject is essential — and what better way to do it than with the one-two punch of calling for an extension of the tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less and then calling on Romney to release more than a year of his tax returns?

Second, all voters like transparency. They feel like politicians get special treatment at every turn and are always able to hide behind their positions and their power.

While almost every voter these days feels that way, independent and unaffiliated voters are huge fans of transparency, so driving a narrative that revolves around the idea that Romney may be hiding something (even if he isn’t) helps Obama make the case that he is the best choice for independents.

And, finally, any discussion about Romney’s tax returns allows Obama and his campaign to remind people of the former Massachusetts governor’s wealth and — as importantly — the exoticness (Swiss bank account, Cayman Island account) of Romney’s finances. In an election that Obama badly wants to make about which candidate shares the values of the middle class, any chance to talk about Romney’s wealth is one the Obama team will jump at.

Of course, nothing in politics happens in a vacuum, and Romney is already punching back hard. In an interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, Romney cited Obama’s decision to invoke executive privilege regarding documents tied to the “Fast and Furious” gun smuggling program to insist the incumbent was a hypocrite on transparency.

“If there is transparency that needs to be considered here, it’s the lack of transparency in his administration to let the American people know what has happened in a scandalous activity known as ‘Fast and Furious,’” said Romney.

This election will still be decided by the economy — and how voters feel about Obama’s handling of it. But remember that both campaigns are focused on a sliver of undecided voters about whom issues like transparency can genuinely matter. That’s why the Obama team won’t give up calling on Romney to release more of his tax returns any time soon.

Q poll shows huge marriage gap: A new Qunnipiac University poll shows Obama leading Romney 46 percent to 43 percent nationwide, thanks to a 20-point edge among unmarried voters and a 29-point advantage among unmarried women.

Romney, meanwhile, leads by 13 percent among married voters.

Both men have slightly higher unfavorable ratings than favorable ratings.

The same poll shows Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has a 46 percent approval rating, compared to 34 percent who disapprove. The Court itself gets a 47/41 split.

Kaine raised $3 million in second quarter: Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine (D) has set the fundraising bar in Virginia’s open Senate race since he announced his candidacy. And he appears to be doing it again.

Kaine announced early Wednesday that he raised $3 million in the second quarter — his best quarter to date and a very difficult number for former senator George Allen (R) to match. Allen has been outraised each of the last four quarters.

Kaine’s cash on hand declined significantly, from $4.5 million to $2.7 million because his campaign has already purchased $3.5 million worth of advertising time in the fall. Most candidates don’t buy their ad time this early, though they may tentatively reserve it.

Donnelly debuts new ad: A new ad from Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D-Ind.) Senate campaign compares Republican opponent Richard Mourdock to that know-it-all fan in the stands.

In the ad, Donnelly talks about coaching his kids’ baseball and basketball teams and uses it as a metaphor for working across party lines.

Donnelly contrasts that with Mourdock, who has stressed uncompromising conservatism, before a Mourdock impersonator stands up and yells, “Hey Donnelly, it’s my way or the highway!”

Fixbits:

Romney camp labels Obama the “outsourcer in chief” in a new video.

Craig Romney cuts a new Spanish-language ad for his dad.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) says she is not being vetted for Romney’s vice presidential slot.

Vice President Allen West? Romney says: “All suggestions are welcome.”

Elizabeth Warren won’t say whether she considers herself a minority.

A new poll in Maine shows former governor Angus King (I) leading GOP nominee Charlie Summers 55 percent to 27 percent. Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill is at just 7 percent.

A new ad from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) hits Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.) for voting to “eliminate funding for breast cancer screenings.” The ad features a breast cancer survivor and has $60,000 behind it.

Rep. Martin Heinrich’s (D-N.M.) fundraising surged big time after he secured his party’s nomination for Senate, and he pulled in $1.4 million in the second quarter.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also had a good quarter for his Senate campaign, pulling in $1.2 million.

ABC reports that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill.) mystery ailment will likely keep him from returning to Congress before Labor Day.

Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) final, certified margin of victory: 1,086 votes.

Former congressman Bill Foster (D) raised $475,000 in the second quarter for his run against Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.).

Freshman Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) will announce today that he raised $406,000 in the second quarter and has $1.2 million cash on hand.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) is partially cleared by the House ethics committee.

Must-reads:

Every Single Media Outlet Is Misreporting Obama’s Tax Proposal” — Dan Amira, New York Magazine

Mitt Romney would face tough road trying to repeal ‘Obamacare’ if elected president” — Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

George P. Bush: A Political Dynasty’s Young Hope” — Molly Ball, The Atlantic

Independent Voter Surge Cuts Democrats’ Swing State Edge” — John McCormick, Bloomberg

Berkley’s not quite dead yet” — Jon Ralston, Las Vegas Sun

 
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