WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney on Friday launched his first general election ad with an appeal to four key swing states as he tried to set a positive tone while promising he’ll start working on “Day One’’ for tax cuts, changes in health care laws and approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The ads, which don’t explain how those tax cuts would be paid for or how soon health care laws could change, are upbeat and statesmanlike – very much unlike the attack ads Romney supporters used during the primary campaign to crush opponents.
The ad was part of a new initiative by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to woo voters in North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa and Ohio. Romney followed it up Friday with a 30-minute “tele-town hall” meeting with residents of those states.
Romney’s strategy counts particularly heavily on winning Virginia and North Carolina. President Barack Obama won those states in 2008, reversing years of Republican presidential victories.
“If you’re not engaged in Republican politics, you probably haven’t paid a lot of attention to Mitt Romney. This is an effort to help define him in a positive manner,” said Steven Greene, associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University.
After all, he said, “The Obama campaign is going to try to define him in a negative manner.”
It tried again Friday. After the ad’s release, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith called it a reminder of Romney’s “empty promises.”
She noted “the one thing (Romney) did accomplish – implementing health care reform that was a model for federal reform – is now something he would undo on Day One of his presidency.” Romney signed into law a Massachusetts health care law and says such matters are up to the states, not Washington.
Obama is running his own positive ad, which touts economic progress since he took office in January 2009. The Romney ad tries to strike a similar informative tone, devoid of the kind of opponent attack supporters used during the primary season.
Negative ads, though, are still prevalent. And reports earlier this week said that Romney backer Joe Ricketts was presented by Republican supporters with the possibility of running an ad recalling Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright stirred controversy in 2008 with his impassioned sermons, including one that preached “God Damn America.” Romney on Thursday repudiated the idea of running such ads, and Ricketts rejected any such campaign.
The new Romney ad, called “Day One,” vows that on his first day in office, Romney “immediately approves the Keystone pipeline, creating thousands of jobs that Obama blocked.”
Congressional Republicans – and some Democrats – and the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main lobby group, say Keystone XL would bring jobs and energy security to America.
Environmentalists have fought the Keystone XL pipeline, chiefly as a climate change issue. The Canadian oil in the pipeline would yield more heat-trapping pollution than conventional oil. But much of the focus ended up on a fragile ecosystem in Nebraska that the pipeline would cross.
Obama rejected the application over the winter, saying he didn’t have enough time under a deadline from Congress. At the same time, he left open the possibility of a future pipeline, explicitly saying that his administration would "look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry" and mentioning an alternative pipeline option for the Canadian oil.
The ad next vows, “President Romney introduces tax cuts and reforms that reward job creators, not punish them.” Romney has promised to fight to cut income tax rates by 20 percent across the board.
Currently, Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, and the top tax rate would go from the current 35 percent to 39.6 percent.
Romney would keep the Bush cuts, and then cut them further, so the top rate would wind up at 28 percent. Obama would preserve the cuts only for less wealthy taxpayers.
Continuing all the Bush cuts would cost about $3.8 trillion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Romney’s tax cut pledge is similar to one made by Ronald Reagan during the 1980 campaign. Seven months after he took office, he signed into law a 25 percent, three-year tax cut.
Supporters at the time argued that the cut would spur enough economic growth to increase revenues and lower deficits. Instead, deficits climbed more than $100 billion in fiscal 1982, the first time they had topped that mark, and persisted at high levels throughout the decade.
Romney was asked during Friday’s town hall how he would pay for his plan. Without citing numbers, he said he would “work with Congress to limit deductions, exemptions and special deals in our tax code.” Romney would maintain current rates on dividends, interest and capital gains for wealthier taxpayers.
In addition, lower taxes would help the economy grow and be of particular help to small business, he said.
The ad next promises that Romney would issue orders “to begin replacing Obamacare with common sense health care reform.”
To repeal the law entirely, he’ll need Congress’ approval, meaning he’ll need 60 Senate votes to overcome any filibusters.
Democrats now control 53 of the 100 Senate seats, but they have to defend 23 of the 33 seats up this November. Few analysts think Republicans can attain 60, so Romney could face some difficulty.
Romney has offered several alternatives to revamp the health care system, including limits on economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, barring discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions if they maintain continuous coverage and permitting people to buy coverage across state lines.
Renee Schoof of the Washington Bureau contributed.