In Ads, Candidates Turn Up Heat On Romney

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While the controversy surrounding Herman Cain has dominated the news, the presidential candidates continue to attack one another in videos and paid TV ads. The candidate most under attack from all sides: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

A group called Americans for Herman Cain, which backs the former Godfather's Pizza CEO's candidacy, put together a video late last week, referring to the charges of sexual harassment against Cain and comparing them to charges leveled against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court 20 years ago. The video ends with the words "Don't let the left do it again."

Americans for Herman Cain also sent out a fundraising appeal to Cain's supporters, asking them for money to fight back. That's no coincidence, says Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media CMAG, which tracks political advertising.

"These early ads now aren't so much targeted at voters, but targeted at people who are going to give money," he said.

Cain isn't the only candidate whose supporters are running Internet videos now. There's one from a group called Priorities USA Action, which backs President Obama. It begins with clips of GOP pundit Karl Rove boldly predicting Obama won't be re-elected. It then pivots to present the scary-to-Democrats alternative, Romney.

Why are Obama supporters aiming now, before the Republicans have even begun selecting their nominee, at Romney?

"Advertising is a tell; advertising is an indicator clearly the Obama campaign and clearly his allies think that Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee and they want to get to work sooner rather than later defining him and sooner rather than later defining him in a way that can raise them money," Goldstein said.

Not only is Romney being pilloried by Democrats for his economic views, he's also a target of the right.

One ad from Texas Gov. Rick Perry uses Romney's own words against him.

But while Perry has targeted a negative video at Romney, he's also running an ad on TV in Iowa and other early voting states, in which the Texas governor stands before a plain backdrop, no tie and all smiles.

"If you're lookin' for a slick politician or a guy with great teleprompter skills, we already have that and he's destroying our economy," he says. "I'm a doer not a talker."

Perry's ad seems to address his much-criticized performance in several debates.

Peter Fenn, who produces ads for Democratic candidates, thinks it's a savvy move.

"The first job right now of Perry with his paid advertising is in a sense to reintroduce himself to the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina," he said. "That straight to camera, just speaking straight up, is probably a wise political decision for Perry."

One thing none of the candidates has done yet, is go after Cain, who still leads the Republican race in many polls. If he continues to do so however, that's likely only a matter of time.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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