The provocative ad from the pro-Obama group — which has yet to actually air as a paid television commercial, according to a political ad tracking company — has drawn as much attention as any single spot so far in the campaign, breaking through a jumble of other messages and sound bites to dominate the political discussion for two days running.
Increasingly, for campaigns on both sides, that is the entire goal: to somehow rise above a cluttered media landscape, no matter how outrageous a message that requires.
That has led to a flood of statements, ranging from creative to incendiary, by the campaigns and their allies in recent days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has claimed that Romney did not pay taxes in multiple years. Democrats have produced an ad showing Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) punching a woman. President Obama accused Romney of being Robin Hood in reverse, calling his positions “Romneyhood,” which his rival countered by saying the president is full of “Obamaloney.” On Thursday, Romney released an ad claiming that Obama is waging a “war on religion.”
The push-the-envelope approach is not entirely new. Two years ago, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina released an eyebrow-raising “demon sheep” ad accusing her rival of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, complete with video of red-eyed sheep. And in the Democratic primaries in 2008, the ad that drew the most attention was a warning from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that Obama was not ready to face a national security threat at 3 am — a message conveyed in an ominous ad.
But this year’s cascade is notable in part because it is so early — and there seems to be little incentive for either side to tone it down. The trend is so widespread that it has already become the subject of a spoof in the Onion, which published a satirical story about a new Obama ad alleging “Romney murdered JonBenet Ramsey.”
“It’s a knife fight in a telephone booth and there is no conventional referee out there who is going to throw a flag that makes a difference, so there’s no downside,” said Chris LeHane, a Democratic strategist. “These ads drive the larger meta narrative of a campaign, and the stories and coverage of the ads and rhetoric will often have a bigger impact than the original ads or comments.”
On Thursday, Romney pushed back against the Priorities USA ad, charging that Obama and his supporters have given up on the hope and change rhetoric of 2008 in favor of a more scorched earth campaign that skirts the truth.
“You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad,” Romney on Bill Bennett’s radio show. “They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they’re wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them.”