Obama pouring millions into attack ads

President Barack Obama campaigned Saturday in Virginia, one of the key states in which he is spending heavily on television ads.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s campaign has spent nearly $100 million on television commercials in selected battleground states so far, unleashing a sustained barrage designed to create lasting, negative impressions of Republican Mitt Romney.

In a reflection of campaign strategy, more than one-fifth of the president’s ad spending has been in Ohio, a state that looms as a must-win for Romney more so than for Obama. Florida ranks second and Virginia third, according to organizations that track media spending and other sources.

About three-quarters of the president’s advertising has been critical of Romney as Obama struggles to turn the election into a choice between him and his rival, rather than a referendum on his own handling of the weak economy.

Obama’s TV ad spending dwarfs the Romney campaign’s by a ratio of 4-1 or more. It is at rough parity with the Republican challenger and several outside GOP-led organizations combined. They appear set to outspend Obama and his allies this fall, perhaps heavily.

The latest attack ad, released Saturday, includes Romney singing an off-key rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Pictures and signs scroll by that say his companies shipped jobs to Mexico and China, Massachusetts state jobs went to India while he was governor, and he has personal investments in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Democrats and even some Republicans agree that the effort to cast Romney as an unfit steward for the economy shows sign of making some headway. Yet GOP strategists hasten to add that Romney has ample time to counter, particularly with recent signs of a struggling economy and the fall campaign yet to begin.

“Despite all of the negative advertising from the Obama campaign, polling numbers are exactly where they were before they started this onslaught,” the Romney campaign said in a memo distributed last week, referring to a rolling average of polls.

Romney accused the president’s campaign of false accusations Friday, and demanded an apology.

He also released an ad of his own Thursday designed to respond to some of Obama’s charges, the sort of rebuttal that often can signal concern that an attack is hitting home.

In 2008, “candidate Obama lied about Hillary Clinton,” the ad states, adding that there was no truth to the charges that Romney was associated with companies that outsourced jobs.

Some surveys suggest shifts in the electoral landscape. A recent poll by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that Romney has lost ground in the past month on the question of which candidate was better able to improve the economy.

“They wanted to define Romney before he could define himself, and by every indication they’re doing a very effective job of that” said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist.

According to strategists in both parties, focus groups with voters indicate that the public knows relatively little about Romney’s background, making the subject generally fertile territory for anyone trying to create an impression.