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Summer break is calm before political storm

- Associated Press - Monday, July 2, 2012

The presidential race is entering the sultry summer, a final lull before the sprint to Election Day, with President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney neck and neck and no sign that either can break away.

As both candidates take a breather this week — Mr. Romney at his lakeside compound in New Hampshire and Mr. Obama at the Camp David presidential retreat — each sees problems he'd like to cure before Labor Day.

Mr. Obama and his allied groups aren't keeping pace with Mr. Romney and the Republican fundraising machine, and that places more pressure on the president to solicit huge sums himself. And the Supreme Court ruling that saved Mr. Obama's signature health care initiative last week didn't change the fact that most Americans don't like the law.

Mr. Romney's fundraising is impressive. But, in a sign of his hurdles, he's spending heavily in North Carolina, a state he almost certainly must win to have a chance at the White House. And some voters in key states appear uncomfortable with his record at a corporate restructuring firm before he became Massachusetts governor.

National polls suggest that Mr. Obama holds a small, perhaps insignificant lead as he awaits a new jobs report Friday that could bring bad news similar to last month's. Mr. Romney is offering few details of his own health and economic proposals for now, perhaps thinking outside forces will dislodge the president.

"When it's a 2- or 3-point race, that's not good for an incumbent president," said Republican strategist Rich Galen, who is not affiliated with Mr. Romney's campaign.

An eventful June began badly for Mr. Obama. Anemic job-creation numbers followed news that the Romney campaign was raising more money than his. Things got worse when Mr. Obama told reporters, "The private sector is doing fine," a line now featured in countless GOP attack ads.

The month ended better for Mr. Obama. The Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona's strict anti-immigration law, a law the president opposed. Then the justices upheld the 2010 national health care law, a victory that nonetheless forces Mr. Obama to keep defending an unpopular mandate to obtain insurance or pay a fee, which the court labeled a tax.

"Last week was a reminder to the American people of whom the president is fighting for," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She cited "access to health care" and "immigration reform."

Mr. Obama on Thursday starts a two-day bus tour of Ohio and western Pennsylvania, a trip that partly mimics Mr. Romney's earlier and longer recent tour. The president might spend part of his drive time dialing for dollars. It's a chore all candidates face, but it poses new urgency for the president, because pro-Romney super PACs are raising far more campaign money than are Democratic groups.

Mr. Romney is vacationing this week in New Hampshire, where family games might mix with talk of who his running mate should be. Mr. Romney, whose oversight of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games won wide praise, plans to attend the Summer Games later this summer in London.

He also will go to Israel, a trip that could appeal to Jewish voters and donors, and to conservatives who see Israel as a vital military and political ally.

Meanwhile, Republicans worry that Democrats are making headway with claims that Mr. Romney supported shipping jobs overseas when he headed a corporate restructuring firm called Bain Capital. His campaign says the former Massachusetts governor did not oversee the export of U.S. jobs, although Bain at times invested in companies that helped pioneer outsourcing certain jobs to places such as India.

"It is a problem," Mr. Galen said of anti-Romney ads citing Bain and outsourcing. But he said the ads might have had greater impact if Mr. Obama could have saved them for September. Instead, Mr. Galen said, Democrats had to throw every weapon possible to counter the damage from Mr. Obama's "private sector is doing fine" remark.

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