WASHINGTON -- More than 18 months before the 2012 election, the first advertisement in the presidential race has been released, with a newly formed group friendly to President Barack Obama using the recent missteps of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in an attempt to tarnish former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Priorities USA Action, the outfit started by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, unveiled the first of what promises to be an expensive series of television spots on Friday. Titled "Pages," the ad will air in South Carolina in advance of Romney's visit there. It swipes the Massachusetts Republican for his support of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system.
The criticism piggybacks off remarks Gingrich recently made, in which he called the Ryan plan "radical" and "right-wing social engineering":
Newt Gingrich says the Republican plan that would essentially end Medicare is too "radical". Governor [Nikki] Haley thinks the plan is courageous, and Gingrich shouldn't be cutting conservatives off at the knees. Mitt Romney says he's "on the same page" as Paul Ryan, who wrote the plan to essentially end Medicare. But with Mitt Romney, you have to wonder ... which page is he on today?
Watch the ad:
The ad contains a lot to unpack, including using Gingrich as a wedge for Republicans. The former speaker has been on a lengthy, bumpy apology tour for his remarks about Ryan's Medicare proposal, going so far as to insist that any ad quoting his words would somehow be "false".
Beyond Gingrich, however, the ad's use of health care as a campaign issue marks a dramatic 180-degree shift from the 2010 cycle, in which Democrats acted almost universally defensive regarding the president's signature law. And on a more basic level, the move by Priorities USA Action -- signaling the rise of Democratic-leaning third-party entities -- is a significant new development.
Of course, Priorities USA Action may not end up raising the same amount of money as, say, American Crossroads, the group founded with the help of former Bush White House advisers Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. Indeed, its eagerness to launch the first salvo in the 2012 ad wars suggests that it's still looking to make a splash and draw the eyes of potential donors. But the group, along with others, is likely to tip the scale to some degree -- in the process, crowding the airwaves even further and alarming those already wary about secretive money in campaigns. Priorities USA Action, a political action committee, reveals its donors, but its sister organization, Priorities USA, a 501(c)(4), does not.
Andrea Saul, a spokesperson for Romney's exploratory committee, responded to the new ad in a statement. "President Obama’s first campaign ad is an attack ad. President Obama and his team are desperate to change the subject to anything other than jobs and the millions of Americans out of work. With 9.6% unemployment in South Carolina, voters are looking for a jobs plan not a smear campaign," she said.
The ad, Burton told the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, "will run during Romney's trip over the weekend across South Carolina and online at election year levels."
This article has been updated to include a statement from Romney's spokesperson.