Pity the poor voter in a swing state in the final weeks of this campaign. Whenever you turn on the television, there is yet another campaign ad from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — and most of the time they are bashing the other guy.

We have reviewed and rated many of these ads over the past months, but as the ad spending reaches a crescendo, we thought it would be useful to once again examine some of the most frequently aired ads. With the help of Kantar Media, we identified the 10 ads from each campaign with the greatest spending on them. We then selected five from each side, with a bias toward picking ads that were released recently. (There is one additional Romney ad that we note — but do not rate.) Where appropriate, we also include links to our original column on the ad.

 Looking at these ads, we are struck by the consistent themes, with Obama portraying Romney as a heartless corporate raider and Romney portraying Obama as a hapless president.

Obama campaign ads

Obama: ‘Firms’

 This sly, almost wicked ad features Mitt Romney signing “America the beautiful” while images flash of his alleged connections overseas — his Bain Capital firms shipping jobs to Mexico and China, outsourcing jobs to India as governor, and his use of a Swiss bank account and tax havens overseas.  We did not rate this specific ad, but have investigated most of these claims and they are exaggerated or lack evidence.

A similar ad earned Four Pinocchios, but this one, on a blended basis, gets Three.


Obama: ‘Believes’

This ad hits Romney as believing in  “outsourcing” while touting Obama as an advocate of “insourcing.” The charge against Romney is based on a Washington Post article that, as we have often noted, is not correctly quoted by the Obama campaign.


Obama: ‘Heard It All Before’

This ad trashes Romney’s economic record as Massachusetts governor, frequently stretching the truth. It claims Massachusetts was 47th in job creation in the nation, but that is a blended four-year rating, and thus ignores the fact that Romney boosted the Bay State’s standing — from 50th to 28th — in tough economic times. The Massachusetts state debt did increase by $2.6 billion, but as we have explained much of that was for capital investments such as public buildings and roads, not operating expenses. We had awarded Two Pinocchios to a similar Obama ad.

Obama: ‘My Job’

This highly effective ad uses Mitt Romney’s own words about the “47 percent of Americans” who do not pay federal income taxes — secretly video-taped at a Boca Raton fundraiser — against him. The ad simply plays Romney’s dismissive comments as photographs of ordinary, working Americans flash by. When the video was first revealed by Mother Jones magazine, we gave Three Pinocchios to Romney for failing recognize that many of these people do pay other taxes, especially payroll taxes. Romney has since said his remarks were “just completely wrong.” But the impact of this ad may be long felt. We cannot find anything misleading or false in it, so it earns a rare Geppetto Checkmark.

Obama: ‘Table’

This is an unusually long ad — two minutes — in which Obama talks directly to the camera and outlines his plans for the nation. We had previously given this ad Three Pinocchios for Obama’s claim that Romney would “double down” on the same tax-cut and regulatory policies that led the economic crisis. There is no evidence that the George W. Bush tax cuts led to the economic crisis. In this ad, Obama also repeats a claim we have frequently faulted — that the savings from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq can be used for nation-building at home and to reduce the deficit. It is a budgetary gimmick that still puts the money on the credit card that Obama has long decried as bad policy under Bush.

Romney campaign ads

Romney: ‘Shame on You’

We were surprised to discover that two of Romney’s top 10 ads — this one and a similar one titled “No Evidence” — featured the conclusions of a Fact Checker column about an Obama Bain Capital ad, which we had given 4 Pinocchios. These ads also feature then Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton complaining about misleading ads — what the Romney ad calls “vicious lies” — run by her then rival, Sen. Barack Obama. She of course now works for Obama as his secretary of State. We are uncomfortable rating something that quotes this column so we will simply note it for the record.

Romney: ‘Where Did the Money Go?’

This kitchen-soup ad throws out a lot of charges about Obama’s stimulus bill — claims about crony capitalism, and also money spent on supposed windmills in China and electric cars from Finland. It also features a quote by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), which in intended to validate the claims but turned out to be out-of-date and overtaken by events. On balance, when we previously rated the ad, it earned Two Pinocchios.

Romney: ‘These Hands’

This ad features a small businessman who denounces Obama for his comments — taken out of context — that “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” From a reading of the full comment, made in a campaign speech, it is pretty clear that the “that” referred to roads and bridges, as part of a riff on how the wealthy should give something back to the government because they benefit from it in many ways. (Later it emerged that the business owner featured in the ad had benefited from millions of dollars in government contracts.) But that did not stop Republicans from making “build that” the theme of the first night of the GOP Convention. We awarded this quote-twisting Three Pinocchios when this ad first aired over the summer.

Romney: ‘Paid In’

This ad focuses on Medicare, in particular the claim that Obama took more than $700 billion from Medicare to fund the health care law. We have repeatedly noted the problems with the claim that he “cut” Medicare by that amount — and we have also highlighted the fact that the budget plan authored by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, kept much of the same Medicare savings but dedicated it to other purposes. The most objectionable part about this ad is that it suggests that Obama is taking money that seniors had “paid in” to the system, when in fact the reductions are aimed mostly at hospitals and providers.

Romney: ‘Stand Up to China’

Two of Romney’s top 10 ads feature China, and this one is particularly misleading. The ad claims that Obama’s policies toward China have “cost us 2 million jobs.” The claim was based on a 2011 report from the International Trade Commission concerning the impact of Chinese intellectual-property infringements. The report noted that improving protection of such rights could lead to an additional 2.1 million jobs — but that is not the result of Obama’s policies. The report framed it as an opportunity lost, not the disappearance of jobs. In fact, the report notes that the Obama administration had taken action on the issue. This ad earned Three Pinocchios.

Romney: ‘Too Many Americans’

This 60-second ad is Romney’s speak-to-the-camera moment; it was intended to help mitigate the fallout from his “47 percent” comments. He throws out a lot of statistics about economic woes in the United States, but his most misleading comment is about his own economic plan — that it would create 12 million jobs. As we have previously noted, that is in line with what economists think will happen — no matter who is president.

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