The (Full Contact) Presidential Campaign Has Begun

At 8:10 p.m. on September 7th, it arrived in inboxes across America: the official notice that the full-contact campaign had begun.

The team behind Mitt Romney sent an email entitled: “Perry’s Record on Jobs: a Closer Look.” It questioned what was supposed to be Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s strong point, that he is the best jobs-creator in the race. The research is filled with bullet points such as: “FACT: Perry Has Substantially Underperformed His Predecessors in Job Creation.” And at the top of the release, this photo banner:


It’s the typical not-so-flattering, grainy imagery that we have come to expect in the realm of opposition research and comparison ads. More importantly, it’s the kind of thing you don’t throw together in just a few minutes. The Romney team has clearly been hard at work on their  Perry roll-out for some time. So just 10 minutes into the first debate where Perry would be standing side-by-side with Mitt Romney, they were able to hit their send button, and unleash the river of research.

That was 8:10 p.m. The next came at 9:00 p.m., with the headline: “Perry Does Not Believe Social Security Should Exist.”  9:09 p.m. was “Perry and Hillarycare,” with research suggesting “Perry Signed A Letter Praising Hillary Clinton’s Health Reform.” And then 9:31 p.m. was “The Perry Record on Spending,” with the assertion that “Under Perry’s Leadership, Total State Spending Has Increased By An Average Of Nearly 17% Each Budget Cycle Through Fiscal Years 2010-11.”

So four releases in 1 hour and 21 minutes, on four different subjects. The substance of the claims will be the centerpiece of the discussion for months to come. But behind all this the fact that the campaign for Romney has fundamentally changed.

Romney spent the summer with a laser-like focus on President Obama, with nary a mention of anyone else in the GOP field. This was a stark contrast from his run four years ago, when on one single day (12/28/2007) the Romney campaign took the unprecedented step of launching two negative ads on two separate candidates (an ad about Mike Huckabee in Iowa, and one about John McCain in New Hampshire.)

But this spring and summer, as the front-runner in the GOP field, he neglected to engage in intra-party sniping. In an interview with ABC News on the day he announced his candidacy, he didn’t rule out flashing sharp elbows against his Republican opponents, but he did indicate it was not his preference. “I’m going to let my political folks keep their own council on that,” he told ABC News in June, but he added, “I think we’re wisest and most effective when we’re targeting President Obama.”

But now Perry is ahead in the polls. And now the Romney team appears to believe the wise and effective move is to challenge Perry head on.


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