The US presidential race is turning nasty as Republican challenger Mitt Romney and Democrat president Barack Obama fight it out in a close race.
After months of hammering Mr Obama over the struggling US economy – his greatest weakness – Mr Romney has not been able to erase the president’s slight lead in the polls.
So, the Republican has changed tactics, going after Mr Obama’s greatest strength.
Voters like the president even if they don’t like his policies. To that end, Mr Romney on Wednesday said Mr Obama was running a White House campaign of “division and attack and hatred”.
That’s uncommonly tough language even in the rough-and-tumble of US politics. The Obama campaign responded that Mr Romney seemed to have come “unhinged.”
Mr Romney’s outburst came the day after vice-president Joe Biden told an audience that included many African-Americans that a Romney presidency would put them “back in chains” by repealing Wall Street regulations. The Romney camp took that as an attempt to link Republicans to slavery. “These are comments, I think, that a lot of people find troubling,” Mr Romney said.
The challenger’s attack on the very nature of Mr Obama’s strategy probably grew from frustration over assaults by the president’s campaign – and those of a so-called super political action committee (super-Pac) that supports him.
Priorities USA Action aired an advert implicating Mr Romney in the cancer death of the wife of a man who worked at a steel plant bought and shut by Mr Romney’s venture capital firm, Bain Capital.
The challenger benefits even more from such committees, which were set up after the conservative-dominated US Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions had a first amendment right to free speech. That allowed super-Pacs to raise and spend unlimited amounts on behalf of a candidate so long as there was no direct co-ordination.
Some Obama defenders argue that Democrats are only now turning long-used Republican tactics back on Romney.
They cite remarks by Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, who said Mr Obama had “palled around with terrorists”. They also point to the so-called “swift-boating” of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 in a massive campaign designed to falsely denigrate his Vietnam war record. Mr Kerry commanded a swift boat assault vessel during that war. While voters claim they don’t like negative ads, candidates increasingly rely on that tactic.
“Few voters are undecided about their vote. Hence candidates are trying to increase the intensity of support and ultimately turnout among their base,” said Lynda Powell, professor of political science at the University of Rochester. “One might speculate that when candidates target core constituents, the negativity could be useful in motivating the base.”