Barack Obama launched an ad Monday exploiting for the first time Mitt Romney's derogatory comment caught in a secret video about 47% of Americans being freeloaders, a gaffe that could dictate the outcome of the White House race.
Romney's camp had been hopefully predicting last week that the issue would have been largely forgotten by election day, November 6, but the Obama campaign team is intent on keeping it live.
Although the election is still six weeks away, this is an important week when the polls begin to solidify post-convention. Obama is enjoying an average lead of about 3%.
The Obama team's 30-second ad claims Romney had "callously written off" 47% of Americans whom Romney said paid no income-tax, including veterans, the elderly and the disabled. "Doesn't the president have to worry about everyone?" the ad asks.
The ad also raises another issue on which the Obama campaign feels Romney is vulnerable, his failure to follow the tradition of presidential candidates publishing their tax returns in full.
The ad says: "Mitt Romney paid just 14.1% in taxes last year. He keeps millions in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. He won't release his tax returns before 2010. Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, Romney should come clean on his."
The Republican presidential candidate released on Friday his tax return for 2011, adding to the release earlier this year of one for 2010. But he only produced a summary of other tax returns dating back to 1990, leaving open many questions.
The launch of the Obama ad is aimed at keeping Romney on the defensive, as he has been for almost all of the last two months, and disrupt his plans to get his own message across.
The Romney team ended up in a shambles last week, twice promising to reset its campaign strategy. It is still not clear what the new strategy is going to be, with the candidate and his team sending out different messages about what direction it is going to take.
Some of the harshest criticism has come from fellow Republicans, urging him to show some passion or at least agree on a campaign message and stick to it. The Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speech-writer Peggy Noonan called the campaign a "rolling calamity".
Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, brushed aside the conservative criticism. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, he said: "I think that's just the nature of conservative punditry is to do that – to kind of complain – about any imperfection they might see." Ryan said the campaign still had "a ways to go".
Romney has been criticised for failing to spend enough time on the road and too much preparing for next week's first presidential debate. He is scheduled to embark today/Tuesday on a three-day bus tour of Ohio, one of the biggest of the eight swing states.
The Obama ad, at least initially, is only being shown in Ohio.
Having twice relaunched of its campaign last week, a Romney strategist, Ed Gillespie, Monday morning announced a "change in message", focusing on an issue that the campaign believes resonates with voters, the idea that China is stealing US jobs.
The Romney team released an ad of its own, accusing Obama of failing to stand up to China, accusing it of stealing US ideas and technology.
The ad says: "Fewer Americans are working today than when President Obama took office. It doesn't have to be this way, if Obama would stand up to China. China is stealing American ideas and technology. Everything from computers to fighter jets."
A new poll by Politico and George Washington University shows Obama leading Romney by 50% to 47%. According to the polls, Obama records a favourability rating of 50%, something that has eluded him for much of this year and last. It is hard for a president to be re-elected with favourability ratings below 50%.
Romney's unfavourable rating rose from 46% to 49% while his favourability rating remained static, at 46%.
In a poll in Florida, another of the big swing states, Obama and Romney are tied but with Obama gaining among independent voters
A Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll has Obama on 47% to Romney's 46%.
But a Public Policy Polling survey in the state puts Obama further ahead, on 50% to Romney's 46%.
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image: © Gage Skidmore