NEW YORK – One Republican campaign ad describes the "buyer's remorse" some voters feel about President Barack Obama. Another ad features a woman saying she had supported Obama because "he spoke so beautifully," but he's failed to deliver on his promises. Still another ad woos Obama supporters with a direct but gentle prod: "It's OK to make a change."
Come on in, the water's fine. That's the message from Republicans as they try to persuade voters who supported Obama in 2008, many of them women, to switch to Republican candidate Mitt Romney this time.
Nearly all of the $100 million Romney and his allies have spent on TV ads in general election battleground states has been aimed at a single audience: swing voters who say they like Obama personally but are disappointed in his job performance. To reach those voters, Republicans have adopted a political soft sell: Coax them to consider Romney without criticizing the choice they made four years ago.
"You have to approach those voters with a respect for their former votes but to point them in a new direction," said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the pro-Romney groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together have spent about $34 million on campaign ads so far. "There is a worry that the tonality of an ad, if it's too harsh, will turn off those voters and thus have them tune out the message."
The soft-sell approach drew a rebuke from Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who said Republican appeals to women in particular would fall short.
"There is no campaign ad that can change Mitt Romney's out-of-whack positions on issues important to millions of women across the country," Psaki said, citing Romney's support for a budget plan offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would make deep cuts to programs like Head Start.
The Obama campaign is running a hard-hitting ad campaign aimed at mitigating Republican overtures to undecided voters, depicting Romney as a tone-deaf plutocrat whose policies would hurt the middle class. The Obama team has recently deployed the president himself in some ads, having him speak to the camera in a reassuring voice as a way to remind undecided voters of what they liked about him.
"You have a choice to make. Not just between two political parties or even two people. It's a choice between two very different plans for our country," Obama says in one ad.
To be sure, most ads from Romney and the Republican-leaning super PACs have been highly critical of Obama, bashing him for his handling of the still-fragile economy and persistently high unemployment. But most also have steered clear of criticizing the president personally.
Collegio pointed to 2004, when President George W. Bush's re-election campaign ran ads mocking Democratic rival John Kerry as an elitist who liked to wind surf. "Personal attacks at Obama because of his temperament and because of his good family pedigree are just going to be difficult to complete in the same way," he said.
Crossroads and other groups are even acknowledging in some of their ads the pride many now-disillusioned voters felt when casting their vote for Obama four years ago.
The Republican Jewish Coalition this week unveiled a new campaign, "My Buyer's Remorse," to appeal to Jewish voters who had supported Obama. Its debut spot features Michael Goldstein, a Democrat from New Jersey who voted for and raised money for Obama.
"I was a big Obama supporter. I really believed in him and what he stood for," Goldstein said, adding that his enthusiasm cooled because of the economy and Obama's policy toward Israel. "I've never voted for a Republican for president, but this time I'm going to vote for a Republican for president."
The ad is part of a $6.5 million campaign that was launched online Monday. The group will begin airing ads on television in September, director Matt Brooks said.
"These are real people telling their stories, not the big, bad Republicans here to hit you over the head with a 2-by-4," Brooks said. "There's no red meat, there are no scary pictures. And that's by design."
The Republican National Committee has put another $5 million behind a TV ad that's one the gentlest, calmest political spots on the airwaves.
The ad shows Obama taking the oath of office surrounded by his family. "President Obama came to the White House with big plans," it says, ticking through promises Obama made like reducing unemployment and cutting the deficit in half.
"He tried, you tried. It's OK to make a change," the ad says.
Republicans say the ad fares well especially with women, who are among the president's strongest constituencies and whom the Obama campaign is counting on to come out for him in large numbers.
"They like him personally, but they don't feel he's done the job," RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said. Instead of taking an us-against-them tone, he said, the message is, "We're all in this together."
Crossroads GPS ran an ad earlier this year that was noteworthy for its direct pitch to women. The ad featured a single mother worrying about her own retirement and the employment prospects for her two children.
"I supported President Obama because he spoke so beautifully. He promised change, but things changed for the worse," the woman said.
Mike McKenna, a Republican who runs an independent polling and strategy firm, told colleagues months ago that Republicans needed to help disappointed voters get over the hurdle of acknowledging that their 2008 support for Obama was a well-intentioned mistake.
McKenna said he and other researchers kept hearing the same thing from voters in focus groups. "They took a chance" with Obama in 2008, he said, "and it was a good chance."
"They just need some permission to say it didn't work out," McKenna said. Ads that made Obama out to be an idiot, he said, "implied you're an idiot for voting for him."
Associated Press writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.
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