Team Obama: As Nasty as They Want to Be

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant.”

-- Former steelworker Joe Soptic speaking about his wife’s 2006 cancer death in a new ad by the Obama-backed political action committee Priorities USA.

President Obama opened the general election ad wars with an ad calling soon-to-be Republican nominee a “vampire” because a steel plant partly owned by the firm of which Romney was CEO went bankrupt after Romney had moved on.

Power Play wondered where one would go from there. Now we know.

The political action committee endorsed by the president and led by a former top Obama aide is running an ad suggesting that Romney caused a woman to die of cancer.

The claim will likely require the expansion of various truth-o-meters and a nose extension for the Washington Post’s Pinocchio.

Romney left the firm before the mill went bankrupt, the mill would have almost certainly bankrupted sooner without intervention, the woman was diagnosed five years after the closure, she reportedly had insurance coverage for part of the time her husband was unemployed, etc.

But the rule for 2012 is that all this truth squad stuff matters little, especially to allied outside groups. What matters is that Priorities USA is going to blanket the airwaves in swing states with an ad that says Romney stripped a family of its insurance causing the mother to forgo preventative medical care and then die.

Not true? So what?

While Romney is punching away on policy issues, whacking Obama for undoing parts of the 1996 welfare reforms or his stimulus program, Team Obama is making it very personal, with relentless attacks on Romney’s character.

But counting on a pliant press corps, Obama knows that he will pay a lesser price than Romney would for being so nasty.

Romney pulls Pinocchio’s nose himself with ads on Obama’s record in office, including his current attack on Obama’s effort to change the landmark 1996 welfare overhaul by executive order.

The intensely personal nature of Team Obama’s work on Romney, though, should seemingly be more striking to the political press. While Romney has accused Obama of fecklessness on foreign policy and other issues, he has mainly stuck to policy issues. For Obama it is all about Romney the man, and the president really seems to despise him.

Obama, who has given the green light for members of his cabinet to attend fundraisers for the political action committee, can claim that he’s not directing the attacks himself, but the proximity here is too great to overlook.

But will Obama feel obliged to disown his allies? Will there be an outcry in the press over an ad so vicious and so personal?

So far, the Obama campaign and the White House haven’t disowned the remarkable claims of the Senate majority leader who accuses Romney of not paying taxes for a decade. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney actually echoed Harry Reid for a second day on Tuesday, encouraging Romney to answer the charge by dumping all of his tax returns.

Perhaps in this case, the White House and campaign will suggest that Romney should prove he did not kill Mrs. Soptic.

Poll Check: Generic Congressional Ballot

“Republicans +1.3”

-- Real Clear Politics Average for generic congressional vote.

If you want to cut through the clutter of poll results, there are a few good measures to watch that get to the heart of voter’s real preferences. And the generic congressional ballot is a very good one.

Other measures, including the head-to-head matchups between the candidates, are likely to produce more background noise. Respondents may shade their answers depending on a desire not to offend a pollster calling on the phone or may be more inclined to flatter themselves by saying that they are thoughtfully undecided, even if they are not.

Another useful, but sometimes confusing metric, is personal favorability. “Likability” is something different, a puffy measure of whether a voter likes the candidate or not. Favorability – the question usually being something about whether the respondent has generally favorable or unfavorable views about a candidate – is more useful.

On that point, Mitt Romney has reason to worry that the all-out assault by the Obama campaign and its outside allies is weakening the Republican’s chances.

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Romney’s favorable ratings stalled at 40 percent, but his unfavorable ratings climbing from 45 percent to 49 percent since late May. It’s not a huge jump, but as the number of undecided voters winnows, it’s not what Romney would like to see.

Obama, meanwhile, improved slightly since May, going from a net +7 to a +10. Romney’s -3 jumping to -9 looks even starker compared to Obama’s steady climb. But that’s deceiving.

Romney’s jump in negatives is likely the result of inevitable Democratic voters who had high-mindedly said they were withholding judgment now feeling entitled to deliver their verdict on the man against whom they would invariably vote.

The name of the game for Romney is the 11 percent who still say they don’t know enough about him to determine what their overall perception is. That number is only 4 percent for Obama.

Presumably the 11 percent who won’t pass judgment on Romney holds some conservative Republicans who are not saying anything at all about the moderate Massachussan because they can’t say anything nice. They’re going to vote for him anyway. The 11 percent also likely includes some Republican voters who simply aren’t tuned into the process and won’t start paying close attention until the 8-weeks-out mark.

The favorability number can be interesting now, but won’t really matter for another month or so when Romney is known to all Republicans who have made their final peace with the fact that the moderate won. When Romney’s undecideds on this measure start to match Obama’s, favorability matters more.

(Power Play stipulates the historic Democratic lean of the WaPo/ABC poll, but even a skewed survey is useful for tracking trends if the skew is consistent.)

This is why the generic congressional ballot is a great gauge. It’s not loaded down with personalities or the self-image of a voter, it simply asks whether voters would rather be represented by a Republican or a Democrat in Congress.

Except for a Democratic surge last fall and winter, the GOP has continued to hold a small lead in this measure since the start of 2011. The suggestion is that despite all the gridlock and the president’s hectoring, American voters would still prefer that Republicans control the House.

This is significant because Democrats under-perform the results of such polls by a few points. In 2004, for example, the GOP outperformed the final poll average by 2.6 percent. (There are more Democrats than Republicans in America, but Republicans vote at a higher rate than Democrats.)

There is also a strong correlation between congressional preference and presidential preference. Romney might like to see a larger lead for the GOP, but he can at least be happy that the electorate’s political baseline still favors the red team.

If you want to know the real state of play in the election, generic congressional choice is a great way to cut through the clutter and see where voters really are.

The Big Numbers

“6 percent”

-- Increase in home prices in the second quarter of 2012, according to CoreLogic. It was the largest quarterly increase since 2004.

“$347.1 Billion”

-- Cost of interest payments on money borrowed for the 2009 Obama stimulus, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“And hearing the secretary of State speak, with all due respect, what is she talking about?  Who cares what she says about our expectations of the absence of sectarian warfare afterwards.  The U.S. is not a player in this.  The players are Iran and Russia on one side, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar on the other side.  These are the people who matter, not what the secretary of state is saying.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on