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The Romney-Ryan Budget: Who Are the Real Moochers in Their Medicaid Scheme?

Terry O'Neill   |   September 25, 2012    8:28 AM ET

This is Part 4 in a series. Find previous parts here .

The more I read about the projected impact of the Romney-Ryan budget proposal, and the more the GOP candidates talk about their plans for the economic future of this country and its people, the more anxious -- and angry -- I grow.

The topic for this fourth part of my series on the Romney-Ryan budget is Medicaid; but first, I can't emphasize enough: We now have overwhelming evidence demonstrating just how out-of-touch Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is with the hard-working and struggling people of this country. In a frank moment shared with deep-pocketed donors, Romney dismissed nearly half -- 47 percent -- of U.S. voters as beholden to Barack Obama because the president is financing their "dependent" lifestyle.

Romney doesn't seem to care if the government takes taxes out of every paycheck you earn; when you sit down to do your income taxes each year, if your wages are sufficiently modest that the bottom of your 1040 doesn't have a number in the "amount you owe" box, then you must be some kind of freeloader. Never mind the payroll, state, property, sales and other taxes you pay. Never mind that the right-wing is always arguing that folks should keep more of the money they earn. Never mind that conservatives have long said that taxes are bad. Now it's the low- and moderate-income people who don't pay enough taxes that are bad.

In Romney's world, and the world of his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, a large group of people have supposedly decided they would rather be "victims" than "take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Romney's would-be spongers include teachers, child care workers, waitresses, home health care workers, grocery store cashiers, social workers, police officers, firefighters and many others who, as Nicholas Kristof said, "have contributed far more meaningfully to America than some who can shell out $50,000 to attend a fund-raiser like the one where Romney spoke in May."

In the estimation of the Romney-Ryan campaign and the radical fringe who have taken control of the Republican Party, this country is afflicted with millions of lazy people who want to sponge off the hard work of the righteous. They are not underpaid and underemployed people doing the best they can to care for themselves and their families, in need of a hand up before they sink down even further. Nope -- they are selfish moochers.

And in case you need to be reminded who the most selfish of all moochers are, well Romney is only too happy to tell you. One of his ads that ran in heavy rotation this summer stated: "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you a welfare check. And welfare-to-work goes back to being plain old welfare." That's right -- low-income moms, disproportionately women of color, are the villains in this decades-old, deceitful and divisive ploy to win party allegiance and votes.

It's this kind of thinking that allows Romney and Ryan to initiate such a reckless attack on Medicaid. If the people you're hurting with your policies are blameworthy -- irresponsible loafers and swindlers who think they're entitled to health care, food, housing, you name it -- then it's ok to punish them, right?

But the world is not the simplistic, producers-and-moochers fantasy promoted by Ryan's hero, author Ayn Rand. (It's worth noting that most people outgrow their black-and-white worldview not long after middle school; Paul Ryan's continuing devotion to it tells us just how shallow his economic thinking is.) The real world is complex and gray, and the people who would suffer under the Romney-Ryan budget are living, breathing human beings, not caricatured cardboard cut-outs.

Before we assess what would happen to Medicaid under Romney-Ryan, let's look at how it works right now. Medicaid is a health care program for the most vulnerable among us, jointly funded by the federal government and the states, with no middle guy/insurance company to add an extra layer of costs. Each state administers its own program, so no two states have exactly the same plan. This means there is a fair amount of flexibility from state to state as to who is eligible for benefits. But federal law does determine a minimum level of coverage that must be met, constructing a floor under which the states must not drop.

And just who does Medicaid serve? It shouldn't surprise you to learn that it's mostly women and children. The National Women's Law Center recently reported that the poverty rate for women is now 14.6 percent, compared with 10.9 percent for men. In other words, more than one in seven women live in poverty in the U.S., and, shamefully, an astounding one in four women of color live in poverty. Today, some 50 million of these women and their children get health care through Medicaid. By 2014, thanks to Obamacare, as many as 10 million more will become eligible, too.

More than half of all poor children in this country live in households headed by women. Medicaid means that millions of low-income moms don't have to choose between a doctor's appointment for a child versus food for the family. And it provides essential prenatal and postpartum care for pregnant women. Astonishing as it might sound, Medicaid covers almost half of all childbirths in the U.S. -- resulting in healthier mothers and healthier babies.

In middle-class families, many children with acute illness or disabilities receive desperately needed health care through Medicaid. Our allies at MomsRising have collected countless stories from women who have been in this position.

Here's Jennifer's story:

When my daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at 15 months of age, I had to quit my job to take care of her while she received chemotherapy and IV meds literally around the clock as an inpatient. Due to the loss of my income our family could no longer afford to pay for insurance for all of us so we applied to Medicaid for my daughter. Medicaid saved us financially, and covered LIFE SAVING chemotherapy medication that our insurance would not have covered anyway. My daughter is now over 4 years old and thriving.

Sounds like a real deadbeat, huh?

Women with disabilities also rely on Medicaid to help pay for their own health care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, half of women under 65 with permanent mental or physical disabilities have Medicaid coverage.

In their retirement years, women's health care expenses go up more than men's, but after a lifetime of unequal pay, they have less savings, less Social Security and less retirement income to cover their needs. For them, Medicaid often picks up where Medicare leaves off. Remember our retired friend Linda and her daughter Emily? Linda relies on her state's Medicaid program to help pay the balance of her doctors' bills and prescriptions, and she is greatly relieved to know that Emily doesn't have to deplete her own savings to help with these costs.

One day, if Linda needs more care than her daughter can provide, Medicaid will help pay for her to stay in a nursing facility. A long-term care facility is not cheap -- most people in this country could not afford such care on their own, nor could their family members afford to foot the bill without quickly compromising their own financial stability. Because of this virtually inescapable reality, roughly half of all Medicaid dollars go toward nursing homes. But don't worry. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to put these layabouts in their place.

The Romney-Ryan budget plan "block grants" Medicaid, meaning the federal government would send a set amount to the states each year, after which they're on their own. There would be no more minimum requirements for coverage, no floor below which the states cannot descend. It wouldn't matter how sick eligible people become, or how much they need home health care or nursing home care. Because for Romney and Ryan, it's not about health, it's about the money. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis "federal spending for Medicaid would be 35 percent lower in 2022 and 49 percent lower in 2030 than currently projected federal spending." That's how they measure success.

With less money coming from the federal government, states would either make up the difference themselves, which seems highly unlikely considering how hard-hit the states have been in this economic downturn, or drastically cut benefits, the most likely outcome. Under the block grant scheme, "between 14 million and 27 million fewer people would be covered in 2021 than under Medicaid as it currently exists," according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

Additionally, Romney-Ryan would repeal Obamacare, including its expansion of Medicaid to cover people making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. As estimated by the CBO, this would push an additional 11 million people back into the ranks of those without access to health coverage.

What do Romney and Ryan think all these people are going to do? Do they really think that millions of people just need a swift kick to get them raking in the bucks? That denying health care to poor women will magically make them find better-paying jobs, build up hefty savings accounts after years of working at minimum wage, or prevent their children from developing disabilities? How many more people would have to fall into poverty and die too soon before this ridiculous experiment would be considered an utter failure?

I think that if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were to answer those questions honestly -- despite their reputations as Governor Etch-a-Sketch and Lyin' Paul Ryan -- they would admit that their agenda is pretty simple: reward their fat cat supporters with more advantages, riches and privilege; punish anyone who didn't get the opportunities or breaks in life that they did; and turn to Ayn Rand's shaming and blaming rhetoric as justification for it all. Sounds like the real moochers in this scenario are the ones looting Medicaid.

How much worse could the Romney-Ryan budget plan get? Stay tuned...

Opportunity Lost

Abby Huntsman   |   September 24, 2012    8:45 AM ET

Well America, here we are -- with early voting having already started and final debates and final arguments around the corner. We now sit with deep anticipation as to who will hold the reigns as our President and Leader of the Free World. It seems like it has been an eternity, filled with the ups and downs that are predictable in modern day elections. What started as a "clown show" to many is now down to a choice between two men -- one Republican, one Democrat.

Looking back at the primary season, fueled with so much hyperbole, negativity and empty rhetoric all aimed to appease a red-meat-loving base, our nation missed a generational opportunity to force a real discussion early on about the issues most salient for the next generation. A year later we are no smarter, no wiser.

We all hoped that once the Republican Party had a nominee, the conversation would pivot away from tit-for-tat entertainment and back toward a substantive debate so needed at this time in our country's history. With one war abroad (yes, I feel it's important enough to mention), a messy Middle East, a crushing mountain of debt and millions still unable to find work, we're in desperate need of an honest conversation. Perhaps at no other time since the 1860's and the 1940's has our nation been so ready for a generational conversation about what is being handed down to the next generation. How did we get here? What are we doing right now to solve these issues? And what's the actual plan going forward to make sure we come back stronger and more competitive than ever?

Unfortunately for all of us, the months since Romney locked up the nomination in May have been filled with political theatre. The news cycle was driven by the latest gaffe to roll off each candidate's tongue (remember Obama telling us "the private sector is doing just fine," and Romney insulting the British during his trip to the Olympics?). We were then left with the summer winding down, and all eyes focused on the "Veep Stakes" and the forthcoming conventions. Mr. Ryan was chosen with great hype and a hope that substance would be infused into the conversation, but as with all VP candidates, his luster only lasted for a few weeks. And while the DNC was generally viewed as having the stronger message, I'd say the conventions did more for Clint Eastwood's comedy career and Bill Clinton's popularity numbers than it did for the candidates themselves.

I've been waiting and waiting for that moment when we all "get serious." When the candidates let down their guards and square with all of us about how they're going to lead this nation. It's hard to imagine the same lack of focus under Lincoln in the '60s or under Roosevelt in the '30s and '40s. Romney can tell us the Obama administration is a train wreck and that he's going to create "millions of jobs," and conversely Obama can talk about Romney's plan to "destroy the middle class," but in the end these statements are meaningless. Neither one will talk specifics or speak to a long-term vision Americans can embrace. Today's politics is motivated by hatred and division and not by ideas and a vision. Speaking for my generation, the group most impacted by the outcome of this election (who's going to pay that debt after all?), we want to hear real ideas about the shape of things to come. We can't keep kicking the can down the road on debt and spending and expect the inherent structural issues in our economy to fix themselves. Hello! We're looking for leadership, which may require one going against the "orthodoxy" of ones political base.

So, even though this will be the most expensive election ever run, we will remain among the least informed voters. Many might blame the media's focus on the daily drama, but in the end, the candidates are required to drive the conversation. If they and their campaigns choose to focus on the nonsense of the day, there's no possible way that big picture issues will be able to break through. While there is some time left, including four (if you count the VP) heavily anticipated debates, I'm still hopeful that the transcendent issues of my generation will break though. Sadly however, if the status quo prevails, the eventual loser will be confined to the dustbin of history and our problems will remain unaddressed. And we'll all reflect back and realize this election was indeed historic, because of the generational opportunity lost.

  |   September 19, 2012    5:23 PM ET


* Republican tries to turn missteps to advantage

* Trails Obama by 5 points in Reuters/Ipsos poll

* Republicans fear candidate may not recover

By Steve Holland

ATLANTA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Mitt Romney said on Wednesday he would do a better job of helping the poor than President Barack Obama as the Republican tried to recover from a secret video that showed him dismissing nearly half the electorate as dependent on government help.

Romney has sought to make the Nov. 6 election a referendum on Obama's economic stewardship, but over the past week the spotlight has been fixed firmly on his own missteps - most recently a video that shows him writing off Obama supporters.

Romney hopes to recover by framing the presidential election as a choice between big government and economic growth. At an Atlanta fundraiser, Romney said he wants to spur job creation by encouraging private enterprise.

"The question in this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class. I do, he does," Romney said, jabbing the podium with his index finger and his voice rising with emotion.

"The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can, he can't and he's proven it in four years," he said.

Romney's campaign argues that Obama has presided over a stagnant economy, forcing more Americans to rely on food stamps and other government assistance.

The video, recorded in May at a luxurious Florida home, shows Romney telling wealthy campaign donors that 47 percent of Americans will back Obama no matter what. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he says.

The remarks fed into a perception that multimillionaire Romney has battled throughout the campaign: that he is insensitive to the struggles of less-wealthy Americans. They drew condemnation from Democrats and an array of Republicans, including congressional candidates and conservative columnists.

In an apparent attempt to deflect attention from the video, Republicans are pointing to a recording that surfaced this week of Obama discussing his belief in "a certain level" of wealth distribution.

"Mitt Romney and I are not running to redistribute the wealth. Mitt Romney and I are running to help Americans create wealth," Romney's vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan said at a campaign event in Danville, Virginia.

Romney had hoped to spend the week fleshing out his plan to bolster the economy until the video went viral on Monday and pushed the campaign into damage-control mode. It came on the heels of a Politico report about dysfunction in his campaign and a statement on strife in the Middle East that was widely criticized as unstatesmanlike.

REPUBLICAN ANGST

Republicans worry that their presidential candidate may not be able to recover in the seven weeks before the election.

"There is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney's hands," Wall Street Journal editorial writer Peggy Noonan wrote in a blog post. "It's time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one."

A Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll showed Obama leading Romney 48 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. Among all registered voters, Obama led 49 percent to 38 percent.

Romney already faced a more difficult path to victory as he can count on fewer sure wins among the 51 state contests that determine the outcome of the election. Across the handful of states that remain competitive, Obama holds an advantage of 48 percent to 46 percent, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll.

Most polls have yet to reflect fallout from Romney's comments, which were released by the liberal magazine Mother Jones.

In the video, Romney gave voice to a conservative preoccupation that the expansion of income-tax breaks and the growing reach of government benefit programs risk dividing the country into "makers" and "takers."

Romney lumped all Obama supporters into the latter group.

Romney was referring to the 46 percent of U.S. households that paid no income taxes last year and the 49 percent that received some form of government benefit, from housing assistance to Social Security pensions. Those two groups include many Republican voters whose support Romney will need to win the White House.

Romney Humanizes Himself With Millionaire Donors

Mike Lux   |   September 18, 2012    3:39 PM ET

All through the Republican convention, all we heard from media pundits was how Romney needed to humanize himself, and clearly that was a major goal for their convention. They tried to do it a whole bunch of different ways: Ann Romney's speech, stories from people who had known Romney over the years talking about what a great guy he was, warm and fuzzy videos, and Romney's own speech, where he talked about his family and early days in business. None of it really worked very well; Romney still came off as stiff and robotic. Even walking down the aisle of the convention center, shaking hands with his most loyal supporters, he never looked comfortable.

Now, though, with the video that Mother Jones just broke, from the Romney meeting with his most elite, millionaire megadonors and fundraisers, we have finally seen the real Mitt Romney. Sounding relaxed, confident, and even impassioned at times, Romney showed what his true values and beliefs were and revealed the private man behind the public candidate.

Now we know why he looks so stiff in his public appearances: He really doesn't want regular voters to see who he really is.

For 32 years now, I have been working on campaigns or with political leaders as a staffer, consultant, or informal adviser, and one of my most fundamental rules for successful campaigns is that a candidate needs to be who he or she is and not try to be something they aren't, because voters will see through the phoniness most of the time. Most of the time, with decent people, whatever kind of people they are are can be turned into an asset on the campaign trail. Insider, outsider, wonky, funny, folksy, intense -- voters look for different things in different candidates, and a lot of different ways of being can work. But the problem for Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan is that the values they hold, the kind of people they really are, is not something that is very appealing.

Romney and Ryan really do believe the things Romney said in the video. They really do think that the people not supporting them are lazy no-accounts who are dependent on government and who believe they are victims. And they really do think it is their job to not worry about those people, even if they believe about half of all Americans are such people.

And here's the most interesting thing of all. Historically, most candidates who would get caught saying something even remotely as offensive as that would be apologizing and backtracking as quickly as they possibly could. "I was tired," they might say; "It was out of context"; "I sincerely apologize for the misstatement." But not Mitt: He is standing by what he said, allowing only that it was "inelegantly" phrased. As embarrassing as this statement is, he can't back away, because this is what the Republican base completely believes, and he can't afford to offend them.

This is the philosophy of Ayn Rand, whom Paul Ryan has acknowledged as the person who inspired his political beliefs, but clearly Romney believes in her philosophy, as well. It's the philosophy that anyone not wealthy and successful, anyone who ever needs a hand up from the rest of us at any point in his or her life, is a leech on society and a moocher who steals from the virtuous. This includes anyone who gets any form of help from the government (except of course businesspeople, even though they use roads and bridges and airports and educated workers and tax subsidies), such as Social Security, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or Pell Grants, or student loans, or disability payments, or Head Start, or veterans' benefits. It even includes, as Romney alluded to in his remarks to the millionaire supporters, unemployed people, and part-time workers, and students, and retirees too poor to pay income taxes (even if they do pay sales and property taxes and all kinds of fees).

They also believe, like Rand, that anyone who opposes these ideas, even if they are successful themselves, are "looters," enablers of these parasites of society who don't take responsibility for their lives. That's why Romney believes that anyone supporting Obama is a bad person, someone who believes in dependency.

The Romney-Ryan-Rand philosophy is to have government serve the financially successful and take money away from the "moochers." This is the real them, and they aren't going to apologize for it. While I'm sure the Romney campaign is very unhappy that this video came out, because its brutal honesty about Romney's values is so stark and off-message, they can't back away, because it is what the modern Republican Party believes to its core.

These are not the values I was taught in Sunday school, and not the values that made this country great. The people who founded this nation, and those who built and held it together through all the trials and tribulations that came along in the 236 years to follow, knew that, as Ben Franklin said, we'd better all hang together or we'll all hang separately. They knew, as Jefferson did, that we had to build schools and roads and bridges in order to build the country. They knew, as Lincoln did, that creating land-grant universities and giving poor people free land through the Homestead Act would add to America's greatness. They knew, as Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt did, that sometimes the wealthy and powerful abused their power and needed to be reined in, and that sometimes the old and the poor needed to be given aid. And they knew, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, that our fates are "inextricably linked in a garment of destiny."

You know who else knew that the values Mitt Romney expressed in that video were wrong? That guy I learned about in Sunday school, the guy Romney and Ryan claim to be followers of. In the one time he actually talked about how people would be judged, Jesus of Nazareth said that when the nations -- including ours, presumably -- are assembled before him in the last judgment, he will decide their fate based on one thing: how they treated the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner, "the least of these." If Mitt Romney's and Paul Ryan's values and policies are the ones we choose, I'm guessing this nation won't fare so well in such a judgment.

Paul Ryan Heckled

Nick Wing   |   September 14, 2012   12:33 PM ET

GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's address at the Value Voters Summit in Washington D.C. Friday was marked with several audible interruptions, as protesters rose at various points to heckle the Republican congressman. In the clip above, a man can be heard cutting off Ryan, yelling "corporations aren't people," a reference to presidential candidate Mitt Romney's famous refrain. The audience quickly shouts him down with chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A," before he is hauled away by security personnel.

Read more on Ryan's appearance at the annual conservative gathering here.

STEVE PEOPLES   |   September 13, 2012    5:53 PM ET

BOSTON — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is expected to begin receiving regular intelligence briefings from the Obama administration in the coming days.

Senior aides report that the Romney campaign is nearing the conclusion of a required security clearance process. The former Massachusetts governor did not have to request the briefings. They are customary for major-party candidates after their nominating conventions.

  |   September 12, 2012    8:46 AM ET



* Romney's strategy could cost him election, some say

* Conservatives challenge him to detail his ideas

* Republican concerns grow as Obama takes lead in polls

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - For months, Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has been built on broad themes: cut taxes, repeal and replace Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, increase defense spending.

But when it comes to specifics - namely, how to pay for the tax cuts and extra spending, and what exactly a Romney healthcare plan would look like - Romney has been reluctant to give details, essentially gambling that Americans' frustration with high unemployment rates and a struggling economy will be enough to propel him to the White House.

Now, with polls showing that Obama has taken a slight lead in the race after the Republican and Democratic national conventions, increasingly anxious conservatives are calling on Romney to spell out more of his plans - even if it risks alienating some undecided voters.

The calls for a change in strategy have become particularly loud since Sunday, when Romney struggled during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" program to explain what income tax loopholes he might close to help offset the cost of his tax cuts, or whether he would keep portions of Obama's healthcare overhaul, including a requirement of insurance coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions.

"Mr. Romney's pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies," said an editorial published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, which often is a barometer of the thinking of leading conservatives.

"Such vagueness carries its own political risks," the Journal editorial said.

It isn't the first time that conservatives in his party have raised doubts about Romney's campaign strategy, but with the Nov. 6 election less than two months away, the calls for the former Massachusetts governor to be bolder and more explicit have become increasingly urgent.

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said that Romney could be setting a course to lose the election despite the factors working in the Republican's favor - such as the nation's 8.1 percent unemployment rate.

"When a challenger merely appeals to disappointment with the incumbent and tries to reassure voters he's not too bad an alternative," Kristol wrote, "that isn't generally a formula for victory."

Romney's advisers say they are sticking with their strategy and not panicking. A Romney adviser from outside the campaign said there was nothing to be gained by putting out a specific plan on issues such as his tax-cut proposal because it would have to be negotiated with Congress.

"When he's president, it might call for him to put out a more specific plan to negotiate with them. But there's no reason for him to put out a detailed tax reform plan now," the adviser said. "It'll just allow the Obama campaign to shoot at it and not put out a plan themselves."


REPUBLICAN HAND-WRINGING

Romney has long had trouble winning over many of the Republican Party's most ardent conservatives, a problem that was evident during a long and bruising primary campaign.

He is distrusted by some conservatives largely because of moderate stances he took as governor of liberal Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, when he backed a state healthcare overhaul that was a model for Obama's nationwide plan.

Obama's post-convention "bounce" - which put the Democrat ahead in what had been an even race - may be short-lived. But it has ignited a wave of Republican hand-wringing about Romney's campaign team and his failure to flesh out his conservative positions more boldly.

Romney's campaign is "too intent on winning over the small batch of uncommitted and independent voters by saying absolutely nothing that might possibly offend them," John Podhoretz, a conservative columnist and former presidential speech writer for Ronald Reagan, wrote in the New York Post.

"The problem with that strategy is a) it means he doesn't say much, and b) it does nothing to stimulate the enthusiasm of those already in his corner," Podhoretz said.


'SHUT DOWN THE PARTY'

Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said Monday that if Romney's campaign fails to capitalize politically on the nation's sluggish economy, the implications for the Republican Party should be lasting.

"If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party," she said. "Shut it down. Start new, with new people. This is a 'gimme' election, or at least it should be."

As dire as such analyses make it seem for Romney, the presidential race remains close. An online Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Obama with a 3 percentage point edge on Romney, 46 percent to 43 percent. The two candidates were tied on who would do the best job handling the economy.

The criticism Romney is facing from within his party is similar to the concerns some Democrats expressed about Obama's campaign in early September 2008, after Republican John McCain charged out of his convention on a wave of momentum and, with vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, seized a slight lead in opinion polls.

At the time, Obama tried to reassure supporters and retooled his message to take a more aggressive approach. Shortly afterward, the worst financial crisis since the 1930s hit the United States, boosting Obama's calls for change after the eight-year tenure of Republican President George W. Bush. The Democrat cruised to a relatively easy 7-point victory over McCain.

Romney, a former private equity executive whose vast holdings in offshore accounts has led Democrats to accuse him of dodging taxes and call for him to release more than the two years of tax returns he has made public, has echoed that argument in refusing to release more returns.

He has said that doing so would merely give Obama's allies more targets for criticism. Romney's stance has, however, added to criticism of his campaign's tactical decisions.

"It is becoming clear that if President Obama is re-elected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign," Charlie Cook, founder of the non-partisan Cook Report, wrote in the National Journal. "If Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign."

Cook said Romney's campaign has been to slow to counter efforts by Obama's team to portray Romney as a wealthy businessman who is out of touch with middle-class Americans.

The Romney campaign's decision "to defer any biographical ads until August - ads that would have sought to define Romney on a personal level beyond being just rich, as someone worthy of trust, and as someone whom swing voters might be comfortable having in the White House - is inexplicable," Cook said.

  |   September 11, 2012    8:52 AM ET


(Repeats from earlier Sept 11)

By Margot Roosevelt

LYNCHBURG, Va., Sept 11 (Reuters) - Sheryl Harris, a voluble 52-year-old with a Virginia drawl, voted twice for George W. Bush. Raised Baptist, she is convinced -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- that President Barack Obama, a practicing Christian, is Muslim.

So in this year's presidential election, will she support Mitt Romney? Not a chance.

"Romney's going to help the upper class," said Harris, who earns $28,000 a year as activities director of a Lynchburg senior center. "He doesn't know everyday people, except maybe the person who cleans his house."

She'll vote for Obama, she said: "At least he wasn't brought up filthy rich."

White lower- and middle-income voters such as Harris are wild cards in this vituperative presidential campaign. With only a sliver of the electorate in play nationwide, they could be a deciding factor in two southern swing states, Virginia and North Carolina.

Reuters/Ipsos polling data compiled over the past several months shows that, across the Bible Belt, 38 percent of these voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is "very wealthy" than one who isn't. This is well above the 20 percent who said they would be less likely to vote for an African-American.

In Lynchburg, many haven't forgotten Romney's casual offer to bet Texas Governor Rick Perry $10,000 or his mention of his wife's "couple of Cadillacs." Virginia airwaves are saturated with Democratic ads hammering Romney's Cayman Islands investments and his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns.

At the Democratic convention last week, Obama mocked the GOP's "tax breaks for millionaires" as "the same prescription they've had for the last 30 years."

A former private equity executive with a net worth of some $250 million, Romney vehemently disputes insinuations that he has paid less taxes than required by law. He calls the attacks an effort "to divert attention from the fact that the president has been a failure when it comes to reigniting the American economy."

The GOP nominee's lucrative business career, which he touts far more than his record as governor of Massachusetts, does resonate with many Southern conservatives. "I don't like to see the wealthy punished for their success," said Cory Beaver, 26, as he waited on customers at a Lynchburg restaurant. "Obama leans toward socialism."

Romney's opposition to gay marriage and his commitment to reversing the Supreme Court's decision granting women the right to abortion also gain him more support in the Bible Belt than in other regions of the country.


WHERE OLD AND NEW SOUTH COLLIDE

Focusing on 11 states from Virginia and North Carolina to Texas and Oklahoma, the Reuters/Ipsos polling project canvassed 8,690 people in households with incomes under $55,000 a year -- just above the U.S. median.

Non-Hispanic whites in this bracket have skewed Republican for more than three decades, and they prefer the GOP nominee to Obama by 46 percent to 29 percent. However, as Romney launches a post-convention ad blitz, those numbers could signal trouble for his campaign. Strategists in both parties figure that to offset the president's expected landslide among an expanding electorate of blacks and Hispanics -- Obama won 80 percent of minority votes in 2008 -- Romney must garner more than 60 percent of the white vote overall.

In Virginia, polls show the candidates virtually tied. The state's 5.9 percent unemployment rate, well below the 8.1 percent national average, works in Obama's favor. Overall, 35 percent of the electorate is black, Hispanic or Asian.

Large swaths of northern Virginia, which includes Washington, D.C. suburbs, and the Tidewater region, with its heavy military presence, see the federal government as more friend than enemy.

In Lynchburg, a city of 76,000 in south central Virginia, Old and New South collide as downtown's Victorian gingerbread homes yield to high-tech suburban factories. On Main Street, a pawnbroker displays racks of shotguns across from a marble-and-stainless steel bakery offering creme brulée cupcakes. Several times a day, Appalachian coal trains, more than 100 cars long, wind through town.

The city is best known as headquarters of an evangelical empire: Thomas Road Baptist Church, with 25,000 members, founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, and its fast-growing offshoot, Liberty University.

At Liberty's May commencement, Romney, a Mormon, sought to stake out common ground with fundamentalist Christians. Without directly mentioning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as the Mormon church is formally known, he told the crowd of 34,000: "People of different faiths, like yours and mine ... can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview."

According to Reuters/Ipsos polling data, however, 35 percent of voters overall, and the same proportion of lower- and middle-income white Bible Belt voters, say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon.

Many evangelicals who would normally vote Republican say they view Mormonism as a cult.

Several of those interviewed in Lynchburg were devotees of the TV series "Big Love" and "Sister Wives," about polygamous Mormon families. They were unaware that the Mormon Church long ago renounced polygamy.

"Mormons don't believe like we believe," said Dianna McCullough, a retired factory worker, as she tossed salad in a Tree of Life Ministries soup kitchen. "Like the wives -- Romney's probably got more than one."

Still, she is undecided in the election. "The gay marriage thing hurts Obama," she said. "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

The president has said he supports gay marriage, whereas Romney, in his speech at Liberty, drew his biggest applause with the line, "Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman."


ENTHUSIASM GAP

Four years ago, almost a quarter of voters identified themselves as white Protestant evangelicals in exit polls. Obama won only a quarter of them. This year, many passionately want to defeat him.

In a survey conducted this summer by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, almost a third of Republicans said they believe Obama is Muslim, compared with 16 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats. The falsehood is a frequent theme of conservative talk radio.

Still, the challenge for the GOP is to ensure that white evangelicals, most of whom voted for other candidates in the primary, are sufficiently enthusiastic about Romney to make it to the polls.

On a humid evening at the Thomas Road church, the weekly "Hands Stitching 4 Jesus" group was crocheting teddy bears for children in Mexico. Middle-school teacher Stephanie Parrish, 27, was setting up a slide show from her recent mission to Guatemala with Campus Crusade for Christ.

Her thoughts on the presidential election?

"Abortion and gay marriage -- where they stand on morality, that's big for me," she said.

In 2008, Parrish was a fan of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was defeated in the GOP primary. She counts him as a Facebook friend. She has yet to "friend" Romney, although she plans to vote for him.

"I'm not extremely excited," she confessed. "I'd prefer not to have a Mormon."

Nonetheless, she added, "Romney seems to align himself with conservative values."

Among low- and middle-income white Bible Belt voters, 21 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos polling data said they are uncertain they will vote in the presidential election. That's not much more than the 17 percent of other respondents who were uncertain. But in a group that leans Republican, it could be enough to hurt Romney.

Democratic TV spots in Virginia and other battleground states portray Romney as outsourcing jobs to China and Mexico when he was chief executive officer of Bain Capital -- a charge he calls "deceptive and dishonest."

The GOP nominee's attacks on "big government" as "hostile and "remote" appeal more strongly to white low- and median-income Southerners than to the nation as a whole. The deep cuts in the federal government's domestic program pushed by his vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, reinforce the message.

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, these Bible Belt voters blame Washington more than Wall Street for the recent recession by a margin of 30 points. Overall, Americans blame Washington, too, but by only six points.

"Other than the military, everything that's government-controlled is screwed up," said William Clarkson, a retired postman who was rooting for the Lynchburg Hillcats, the city's minor league baseball team, on a sweltering afternoon.

"Romney took a lot of businesses that were failing and turned them around," he said, adding: "I don't see big business as evil. Obama is using class warfare with his ads about Romney wanting to give tax breaks to millionaires."

Obama's plan is to extend Bush-era tax cuts for families with incomes under $250,000 a year, while Romney and congressional Republicans support an across-the-board extension.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos data, 35 percent of the white Southern group saw Romney as having a "better approach" to taxes, while 25 percent thought Obama does.

Paradoxically, the same group agreed by more than 4 to 1 with the statement: "The wealthiest Americans should pay higher taxes," which is Obama's campaign theme.


SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT

The apparent contradiction in public attitudes about tax policy mirrors widespread confusion over the Affordable Healthcare Act, which Romney has promised to repeal.

Overall, 54 percent of Americans -- and a decisive 69 percent of white low- and median-income Southerners -- opposed Obamacare, according to the Reuters/Ipsos data. But when asked about specific parts of the law, the results largely favored the president.

Both groups opposed the provision that would require them to buy health insurance. However, by more than 2 to 1, both supported making businesses with more than 50 employees offer insurance and forcing insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions.

Almost two-thirds of both groups supported a central element of Obamacare: extending Medicaid -- the federal-state program that covers healthcare for the poor -- to families earning less than $30,000 a year. Romney and Ryan seek to cut the growth of Medicaid by capping federal contributions and shifting responsibility to the states.

If Obama has fed class resentment with attacks on Romney's taxes and his mixed record at Bain Capital, the GOP is tapping into a different strain of white middle-class rancor -- one directed toward low-income recipients of government aid.

A Romney ad asserts that "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you a welfare check." Independent fact-checkers say the ad distorts the administration's plan to give states more flexibility on work rules -- a request that came from Republican governors.

In Lynchburg, however, it resonates with some white conservatives. At the Modern Barber Shop on Main Street, where the Ten Commandments are displayed in the window, a group of retirees chatted about the election on a recent morning.

"I don't believe in free handouts," said Robert McCanna, a former accountant. "Obama is pitting blacks against whites."

Retired truck driver Lyle Campbell interjected, "If I was black, I would get anything I want."

Just up the street, however, Sheryl Harris, the senior center activities director, sees the election through the lens of class, not race. "Romney didn't get to the top of the pile by being a nice guy," she said. "To make the money he makes you have to step on a lot of people ... Democrats are more interested in helping the lower and middle classes." (Editing by Lee Aitken and Douglas Royalty)

JIM KUHNHENN and THOMAS BEAUMONT   |   September 10, 2012    8:27 AM ET

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's challenge in the art of connecting with an audience has always been to meet the high expectations. For challenger Mitt Romney, it has been to exceed the low ones.

Their party conventions now over, both men are entering the high-speed flat track ahead of them with new vigor. The two have their own distinctive alchemy with their crowds – Obama with his lectern-grabbing riffs and his "love-you-backs" and Romney with his jeans-clad informality in a ramrod frame.

The Republican Party Has to Show It Has Heart

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach   |   September 7, 2012    5:16 PM ET

Attending the GOP Convention got me thinking. Those of you following my race for the United States Congress know that politics is not my first calling -- religion, impacting students and saving marriages and families are my foremost priorities. I started this Congressional race to discuss a new set of values to America. Not one that focuses on gay marriage but rather on reducing the 50% rate of divorce, focusing not on debating abortion but stopping genocide and the slaughter of innocents by tyrants, and, in the field of economics, emphasizing the importance of dignity and self-reliance and work. Something that should truly unite all as we seek to lend people the majesty of financial independence.

Once you enter the realm of politics you discover your own naiveté and most importantly your own limitations. That so much of what you want to achieve is so difficult for many reasons, but perhaps this one, more than all others. If you run to get out a message the media will only take you seriously if they think you can win. And they will only think you can win if you focus on the issues that score in polls and have a lot of money in the bank and the all-important and magical "COH," cash on hand. If you are missing those things, no matter how compelling your message it will never get any kind of traction.

I enjoyed being at the Republican Convention. I enjoyed the energy and meeting people from all over the country. I also believe in an aggressive foreign policy that holds tyrants accountable, which I think has been the hallmark of the Republican Party since George W. Bush's presidency.

But this needs to be said, because I care too much about America and the Republican Party because I believe in limited government and larger individuals. I have a gay brother who lives a generous life. From the time he was a teenager and came out he began to invite to our Sabbath table so many young Jews, many of whom had no place to go. Some of their families had told them they were no longer welcome in their homes and not to return. Is the Republican Party really going to be a collection of individuals who would shun a man like that? Who would tell him that he has no right to serve in the United States Military should he choose? Who would tell him that he has no right to proclaim his own belief in greater economic and financial accountability and limited government? Does he have no right to stand up to Saddam Hussein or to demand that President Obama stand up to Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

One of my own campaign staff is a gay Republican who works tirelessly to promote my candidacy. He recently confessed to me that prior to working on this campaign he had one foot out of the Republican Party. And who can blame him? When the party becomes more about its obsession over gay marriage than saving the American family it begins to seem almost incongruous.

Take Chick-fil-A, for example. I'm told it has some of the best food in the world. Sadly, I have never tried it because it is not kosher. (In fact, I will use this column to put out a call to CEO Dan Cathy to finally do a kosher branch.) But in our campaign we are using Chick-fil-A's policy of being closed on Sundays, putting God and family before profit, as a shining example of everything that could be in America. As a business that closes one day a week so employees may have a day to spend with their families and children. My race held a press conference using Chick-fil-A as an example of one of my signature campaign ideas -- tax breaks for businesses that close on Sunday, like with the blue laws we have here in Bergen County, New Jersey, which have yielded the largest retail zip code in the country, thereby demonstrating that business and family are not incompatible.

But what does the CEO of Chick-fil-A decide to highlight instead? His opposition to gay marriage. He's a religious man and I respect him. But wouldn't it have been a more wholesome message for him to talk about his belief that parents spending time with their children is even more important than making a buck? Couldn't that have been the uniting message and would it have been amazing for my Christian conservative brothers and sisters, to inspire all people.

Look at the debate in Missouri. I am not here to question Catholic and Evangelical teachings on abortion. They are much more stringent and much more severe than in Judaism. In Judaism there is no question that if a mother's life was endangered by the fetus the fetus would be immediately removed. Some of the world's leading orthodox rabbis allow abortion in far lesser circumstances as the life of the fetus is debated heatedly in Jewish law. But how many fathers truly believe that it would be easy, if one of their daughters were, G-d forbid, raped, no matter their religious convictions, to look their young daughter in the eye and tell her that after having been barbarously assaulted by a man that she would have to go through the agony of bringing that baby to term? I'm not saying your position should be she should have an abortion. Rather, just have the courage to state and admit the anguish it would cause the young girl, and you, even if that is your religious position. In other words, even as you state that position, feel the tug of your humanity.

We religious people dare never allow our faith to compromise our humanity, even as we uphold our different beliefs.

Like every other politician running for office, I would love to win. My campaign is gathering momentum, and I have been elevated to "Contender" status by the NRCC. It would be an honor to be chosen to represent the people of my district. I think I could do well in Congress. I think I have great ideas for this country. But win or lose, I know that we have to have more soulfulness in politics. You have to go into politics with the sincere belief that winning isn't everything, that your ideas about winning is much more important.

I know that the Republican Party has a heart and that it is truly compassionate. I know that what appears to people as an economic policy that seems unconcerned about the poor is completely inaccurate. I don't believe that anyone wants to be a ward of the state. I think we all want to be self-reliant and independent. But I also believe that some of these issues that are dominating our party are a distortion of true religious teachings. G-d gives us his law by which we must abide, but G-d has a heart. He understands that human beings are complex. G-d understands that human beings struggle with all different kinds of identities, whether it is sexual, ethnic, religious. G-d is understanding and we must always show that.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has just published the best-seller "Kosher Jesus," is the Republican nominee for New Jersey's Ninth Congressional District. In October he will publish a monumental book on the nature of human suffering "The Fed-Up Man of Faith." His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

BILL KACZOR   |   September 7, 2012    1:21 PM ET

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Some organizations are turning to sophisticated data mining, direct mail, the Internet and other strategies to register voters typically underrepresented on the rolls, including young people and ethnic minorities. Others are simply targeting those who favor their political goals, such as conservative Christians.

The shift away from more traditional voter registration drives – like volunteers with clipboards in front of a supermarket – is driven as much by restrictive state laws as it is better technology. Several states including Florida have recently passed legislation setting tight deadlines for groups to turn in voter applications, so groups like the NAACP were looking for ways to get the applications directly into the hands of voters. And they also have to rely on voters to turn in the applications themselves.

  |   September 7, 2012   11:53 AM ET



WASHINGTON, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said on Friday that another round of monetary stimulus from the U.S. Federal Reserve would be a bad idea.

Ryan's comments in an interview with CNBC came ahead of the Fed's Sept. 12-13 meeting, where some economists think the policymakers will unveil another round of bond buying to prop up the country's weak economic recovery.

"All this easing is simply, in my opinion, the Federal Reserve trying to bailout bad fiscal policy," Ryan said. "I think the costs are clearly outweighing the benefits of this."

Ryan declined to comment on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's position that, if elected, he would not reappoint Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to a third term.

"I don't think it's appropriate to comment on what you do with personnel such as that," Ryan said. "I have known Ben a long time. He and I have disagreements on these issues, but (we) are respectful of one another."

Bernanke's second four-year term as chairman at the Fed ends January 31, 2014.

Many top Republicans have blasted the Fed's aggressive recession-fighting policies that involve ultra-low interest rates and purchases of billions of dollars in bonds and notes as overreaching and reckless.

Ryan has been a harsh critic of the Fed's loose monetary policy. He has backed legislation that would open up the Fed's monetary-policy decisions to congressional scrutiny and strip the central bank of its mission to seek maximum employment.

  |   September 7, 2012   11:13 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan says the latest unemployment report shows the economy is "limping along" as a result of failed leadership and bad fiscal policy coming from the Obama administration.

Ryan says news that employers added just 96,000 new jobs in August "is not even close to what a recovery looks like."

He commented during an interview with CNBC before a campaign appearance in Nevada.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in August, down from 8.3 percent in July. But the drop was only because more people gave up looking for work.

Ryan says he and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will push for low tax rates, economic growth and regulatory reform to help employers create jobs.

BEN FELLER   |   September 7, 2012    9:54 AM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A dismal new snapshot of jobs in America shadowed the presidential campaign on Friday, testing the voter patience that will save or sink President Barack Obama's re-election bid. Seizing on the timing, Republican Mitt Romney said Obama's convention party had given way to quite a "hangover."

Employers added just 96,000 jobs in August, not nearly enough to seriously dent unemployment, let alone inspire confidence that the economy is getting better. Even the good news – the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent – resulted from many job-hunters just giving up.