All it took was a $22,000 ad buy in five swing states today to set off a war of words, conference calls and emails that seemed like a preview of a possible general election match-up between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
This morning, the Democratic National Committee unveiled a new website and ad campaign entitled "Mitt v. Mitt," featuring new television ads airing in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and North Carolina, as well as in the District of Columbia. The TV ad, which takes the form of a movie preview, splices video clips of Mitt Romney in 2011 with those of Romney from his previous presidential campaign, and from his time as Massachusetts governor. Online, a much longer version of the ad lays out a far more comprehensive list of alleged flip-flops, on issues ranging from gun control to abortion to TARP.
To get the word out, the DNC further announced a slate of so-called "amplifying events" -- mostly conference calls -- with Democratic officials around the country, further tweaking Romney for perceived flip-flops of note locally, particularly in swing states and early-nominating states like Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire.
On a morning conference call explaining the ad campaign to reporters, DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse said it was important to highlight Romney's evolving record on various issues, and that if Romney's GOP rivals weren't up to the task, the DNC was happy to help out. Woodhouse said he thought the ads would draw a response from the Romney campaign, including belittling the size of the ad-buy, because the new DNC campaign "stings."
But if the DNC was looking for a reaction from that sting, the Romney campaign seemed happy to oblige.
Before most Americans had finished breakfast, the campaign released an official on-the-record response to the ad, in which a Romney spokesperson ripped the president's economic record, and said that "instead of focusing on the economy and creating jobs, President Obama and Democrats are focused on tearing down Mitt Romney," and pushing back on the veracity of one of the ad's supposed flip-flops.
By midday, the Romney campaign had announced their own panoply of conference calls to push back against the DNC assault, led by the campaign's national co-chair, and former Romney opponent, Tim Pawlenty.
"Before the first vote in the Republican primary is even cast, the democrats are blasting Mitt Romney and trying to tear him down," Pawlenty told reporters. Why? "Because they don't want to focus on their own failures."
All told, Romney's campaign put on a dozen so-called "response" calls of their own, using surrogates like Nevada's Lt. Governor Krolicki and former Pennsylvania Congressman Phil English to attempt to hammer home the same message: the Obama campaign doesn't want to talk about the economy, they only want to tear down Mitt Romney.
As the conference call and email marathon wore on, it became apparent that the subject matter of the ad itself -- and the fact that President Obama frequently talks about the economy, as he did last week in New Hampshire -- was almost secondary to the Romney campaign's response strategy. Woodhouse, the DNC spokesman, noted in an email to reporters that the Romney campaign only aggressively pushed back against one of the eleven flip-flops they highlighted.
Instead, as a number of analysts pointed out today across cable television and on First Read this morning, the Romney campaign seemed to revel in becoming the primary target of Democrats, firing off press releases with titles like "OBAMA CAMPAIGN AND DEMOCRATS DO NOT WANT TO RUN AGAINST MITT ROMNEY" and "PRESIDENT OBAMA FOCUSED ON TEARING DOWN MITT ROMNEY, NOT CREATING JOBS."