During the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama described negative campaigning as the refuge of candidates who “don’t have a record to run on.”
An Obama TV commercial that aired in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, suggesting that Mr. Romney may not have paid any income tax in recent years, is only one example of the negative onslaught that the president’s re-election campaign has deployed this year.
The sheer volume of those ads is blanketing the nation as well as battleground states. In the 30-day period that ended July 2, the researchers said, the Obama campaign ran 68,443 ads on TV, either on local broadcasts, national networks or national cable outlets. Of those Obama spots, 52,016 had an anti-Romney message — 76 percent of the total.
Observers say the furiously negative tit-for-tat is occurring much earlier in the presidential race than in 2008. The Wesleyan Media Project, which studies campaign advertising, said one reason the race has become so negative is because of the “skyrocketing involvement of interest groups, who have increased their activity by 1,100 percent over four years ago.”
But Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director, said the group cannot attribute the rise in negative ads solely to independent organizations, noting that even the candidates’ own campaigns have gone negative early.
The Wesleyan Project said interest-group airings were 75 percent positive in 2008, compared with only 14 percent positive through April 22 of this year. It said candidates’ ads, which made up the bulk of the airings in 2008, were only 9 percent negative in 2008.
The negative tone is rising as the race hits the midsummer period that often provides a lull in campaigning.
Last week, Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter even argued that Mr. Romney may have committed a felony by allegedly providing misleading or false information to the Securities and Exchange Commission about his final years at the private equity firm Bain Capital.
Ms. Cutter defended the noticeably negative shift in the president’s campaign from four years ago.
“I think the president is laying out the choice,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday. “Elections are about choices. And we have two very different directions that we can go in this country, and that’s what the president is communicating.”
She added that Mr. Obama is talking about his own record “every single day” on the campaign trail.
The Romney campaign argues that Mr. Obama is going negative precisely because he is confronting his own lesson of four years ago — he doesn’t have a record to run on.
“With no rationale for re-election and no plan to help middle-class Americans, President Obama has resorted to running a campaign of distraction, distortion and dishonesty,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.