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  |   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.


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.

  |   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."


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.


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.


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."


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.


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)

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 Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

  |   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.

Nick Wing   |   September 5, 2012    2:22 PM ET

GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Tuesday continued to clean up the mess he made last week when he falsely claimed he had completed a marathon in under 3 hours.

"I literally thought that was my time. It was 22 years ago. You forget sorta these things," Ryan said in an interview with Toledo News Now.

In a radio interview before his Republican National Convention speech last week, which was itself heavily criticized for factual deficiencies and outright fabrications, Ryan claimed that when he was younger he had run a "2 hour and 50-something" marathon.

Runners World found this impressive feat surprising and sought to verify it. After digging, they found that Ryan had finished only one marathon, in 4 hours, 1 minute and 25 seconds, an average time. The vice presidential candidate was later forced to walk back his misstatement.

During his interview Tuesday, Ryan maintained that he had forgotten his actual time, and was simply trying to say that he'd completed a marathon in a normal time.

"I hurt my back when I was in my mid-20s, so I had to stop running. And so obviously, my perception of races and times was off,” Ryan said. “I thought that was an ordinary time until my brother showed me a 3-hour marathon is, you know, very -- crazy fast. I ran a 4-hour marathon."

Democrats have been eager to attack Ryan's exaggeration despite his attempts to clear up the ensuing controversy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ribbed Ryan during his Democratic National Convention speech Tuesday night.

"You know, I'm not here to boast about my marathon time, but I bet I could outrun him," said Reid. "I've run a few marathons, OK? I'm not a great marathon runner. I know how hard it is to run a 3-hour marathon. As soon as I saw him say that, I knew he was being dishonest. We runners don't lie about our time."

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was more relentless in comments to the DNC's Ohio delegation on Tuesday.

"I must confess, I do not do an under-3-hour marathon," Sebelius joked. "Anyone who starts with the notion that you have to make up your marathon time tells you all you need to know about Paul Ryan."

The Daily Szep- The Ryan-Romney Safety Net

Paul Szep   |   September 4, 2012    1:12 PM ET


Nick Wing   |   September 4, 2012   10:17 AM ET

The Secret Service will refer to GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan as "Bowhunter" this election season, his recently selected codename, GQ reports.

Following the tradition of having family members pick code names beginning with the same letter, Ryan's wife, Janna, will go by "Buttercup," a campaign official told the magazine.

The moniker has particular relevance to Ryan, who is in fact a renowned bowhunter. Protectees now typically get to choose their own codenames, so it appears that Ryan, who will be on the cover of October's Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, playing second fiddle to a picture of a large buck, chose an apt title.

GQ first reported that Ryan's running mate, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, would go by the code name of "Javelin," a type of car once manufactured by American Motors, the company where George Romney, Romney's father, was chief executive.

President Barack Obama is sometimes identified by the Secret Service as "Renegade," while his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, uses the tag "Renaissance." Their daughters, Sasha and Malia, go by "Rosebud" and "Radiance." Vice President Joe Biden is known by his code name "Celtic," and his wife, Jill, "Capri."

The leaking of Secret Service code names has been commonplace since the agency became capable of ensuring high-tech encryption of its communications lines.

A Legitimate President or a New American Apartheid?

Glenn W. Smith   |   September 3, 2012    9:56 AM ET

Both sides don't do it.

And when journalists shrug their shoulders and say the democratic process is little more than the two main parties throwing around distortions and untruths, they are failing to do their jobs and helping to take our country to a dangerous place. Candidates must be confronted for their blatant falsehoods. Lies cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged because it enables the election of the dangerously unprincipled and puts the nation at great risk.

We end up with an illegitimate president.

But the current problem in this election is about more than simple lies. The Romney campaign is using tactics that are clearly designed to complement the outright lying and distortions of the president's record, which are serving to encourage bigoted resentment among white voters in swing states. An even more cynical tactic being utilized is to disenfranchise poor and minority voters to keep them away from the polls on Election Day. Because the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling unleashed corporate money, the Romney campaign and its associated super PACs are able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars from secret donors in pursuit of this strategy.

As unlikely as a Romney victory may seem after the campaign's clunky and sometimes embarrassing national convention, his strategy forces us to consider a question that we avoided in 2000. What, exactly, constitutes a legitimate presidency? If the candidate is carried into office floating on a raft of lies that has deceived the voters, do we recognize his power? The candidate has spent unknown tens of millions to foment unrest with a lie that the president eliminated Welfare to Work provisions of federal assistance laws with an executive order, which is patently and demonstrably untrue. (Point of clarification: the president made it easier, at the request of numerous governors, for state's to design their own welfare to work programs as long as they adhered to federal requirements and moved more people into work.)

Romney's running mate seems to lie almost pathologically and exaggerates his performance time in a marathon by more than an hour. He is either too insecure to serve beside a president or he has trouble discerning reality from what he wants to be true, which serves as an explanation for why he thinks his budget plan won't decimate American institutions and infrastructure.

The country should be prepared for an election-day nightmare if the Pants on Fire Pair win by a margin smaller than the number of demonstrably disenfranchised voters in Cleveland or Philadelphia or Miami.

The question we ask is not an alarmist one. Rather, it is as important to our democracy as it is to a family stocking up on flashlights, food, and drinking water before a storm makes landfall. If victory comes through callous lying, cynical voter suppression and the kind of dog whistle race-baiting that gives confidence to an attendee of the GOP convention to throw peanuts at a black journalist and call her an animal, are there are any circumstances under which Americans would judge an election outcome illegitimate? Because if that line hasn't been crossed by the Romney campaign we may be in more trouble as a country than we've yet been able to realize.

There may be a second election that comes in the days after the vote. In 2000, Karl Rove led the Bush campaign down to Florida to challenge the outcome of the vote and launched an immediate psychological war on network news shows. What the cable reporters never showed were corporate jets from companies like Enron flying in with hundreds of young Republicans in Brooks Brothers suits. They eventually showed up on TV yelling and creating chaos outside of recount centers as if there were a spontaneous outburst. America succumbed to national anxiety and the term constitutional crisis became currency on talk shows. Al Gore was backing away from exacerbating the crisis even before the Supreme Court ruled Bush had won. This time, democrats, on behalf of the integrity of American democracy, need to be ready to defeat any attempt to steal the election.

The high court's ruling certainly did not make case law but it sent the unmistakable message that the need to maintain the illusion of electoral legitimacy trumped all questions about the actual integrity of the voting process. In other words, no matter the circumstances, it is more important to maintain an illusion of democracy than to actually have a democracy. Shrugging acceptance of the Romney strategy would guarantee the same ending. No matter how illegitimate or unconstitutional the election process, anyone challenging that legitimacy would be accused of causing yet another constitutional crisis.

The facts of 2012, however, are that Romney is causing such a crisis by building a campaign around voter disenfranchisement and fundamentally dishonest and racist campaign themes, and all of it funded with blank checks from secret donors.

We have to consider the possibility that Romney's strategy is taking us in the direction of a de facto political apartheid. The lies represent only one stretch of fence being constructed. Suppression of voters through impossible to meet registration laws are attempts to disenfranchise poor and minorities that are decidedly more likely to vote for Mr. Obama. Fortunately, progressives won huge victories recently in Ohio, in the Texas redistricting and Voter I.D. cases and in Florida, where Republicans had placed requirements on voter registration groups that had virtually shutdown voter registration efforts for progressive organizations. Legal avenues for challenging those sane and protective court rulings, however, have not yet been exhausted. The American legal system, if it eventually upholds these discriminating regulations placed on voters in conservative state legislatures will have approved a key element of a new apartheid.

Waiting to ask a question about a legitimate election and president until after the results are being reported is almost irresponsible. The question will be the focus of blame for prompting a constitutional crisis when the actual cause will be Romney's political practices. During inaugurals, Americans consistently take pride in the peaceful transition of power but can that be considered an absolute virtue under any circumstances? And what is the alternative to passive acceptance when the facts require the rejection of an election outcome as illegitimate?

We think the question needs to be raised. We are in an extreme circumstance in which one candidate's strategy includes the manipulation of voting procedures to disenfranchise a significant segment of qualified American voters. We raise the question rhetorically. We are trying to start a conversation. The fundamental question: Are there any circumstances under which an American election outcome would be considered illegitimate? If so, what would we then do about it?

We are not challenging Romney's personal legitimacy as a candidate for president, which is the tactic the GOP has used on the president with birtherism insinuations and campaign phraseology like "We are the real America." Instead, we are simply asking if America must accept the illusion of a fair and open democracy after it is made abundantly clear that the election system is anything but fair and open.

And if we don't accept it, then what?

'Don't Say Gay' at the GOP Convention: A View From the Floor

  |   September 3, 2012    9:55 AM ET

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Romney Heads South To Survey Hurricane Damage

Elise Foley   |   August 31, 2012    9:38 AM ET

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will make a previously unannounced trip to Louisiana on Friday to visit first responders and survey the damage from Hurricane Isaac, according to a pool report.

Romney was originally scheduled to attend a rally in Richmond, Va., which will now feature only vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Instead, the presidential hopeful will meet with first responders to thank them for their work, talk to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and visit Lafitte, La., which has felt significant impact by the storm.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on Monday ahead of Isaac. Although the storm didn't directly hit New Orleans, it caused power outages and flooding along the Gulf Coast this week.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Romney was considering a trip to Louisiana, but at the time the campaign said there were no specific plans to do so.

Romney expressed his sympathy and concerns at a Wednesday rally for the people of New Orleans.

"Our thoughts are of course with the people of the Gulf Coast states," he said. "Seven years ago today, they were bracing for Hurricane Katrina."

CORRECTION: 12:59 p.m. -- This article has been corrected to reflect that Romney will visit Lafitte, La., and not the city of Lafayette.

The Romney-Ryan Budget: Turning Medicare Into a Boon for the Insurance Industry and a Bust for Seniors

Terry O'Neill   |   August 31, 2012    8:55 AM ET

This is Part 3 in a series. Find previous parts here.

At a July 11 press conference announcing NOW's endorsement of President Barack Obama, a reporter asked about Mitt Romney's message on the economy, and I suggested that the GOP candidate "bring it" -- that feminists are ready to have a substantive conversation about Romney's economic ideas and the impact they would have on women if he were elected.

Exactly one month later Romney did indeed bring it -- the pain, that is -- by choosing Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate and supply-side soul mate. Ryan is the author of the deeply unpopular House budget plan, now appropriately referred to as the Romney-Ryan plan.

I've already addressed what the GOP team has in store for women's health care, so now I want to talk about Medicare. A lot of confusing, contradictory information on the future of Medicare is being lobbed at us right now via the opposing campaigns, their surrogates and the media. So I'd like to get to the heart of the matter, to what women and their families will experience if Romney and Ryan get their way.

First off: Although the Romney-Ryan budget plan goes to some length trying to disguise it, the reality is that converting Medicare to a privatized voucher system is a key element of the Romney-Ryan scheme.

In other words, take health care coverage for retirees out of the hands of the U.S. government, where it has worked comparatively well, and shift it to the private market, which has proven to be a high-cost failure for most everyone else. Oh, and simultaneously repeal Obamacare, so the array of benefits that recently became available to seniors, often without co-pays or deductibles, disappears. Women especially should beware. Senior women's median annual income is shockingly low: just $15,282, compared with $25,877 for men. Where are senior women supposed to find the resources to pay the extra costs for their health care?

Remember, Medicare isn't designed to make a profit, while that is the main mission of private companies -- to produce lots of money for their investors. The health outcomes of seniors are secondary to private insurers. The reason Medicare was introduced in the first place is because, as we age, we have less income just as we start developing more health issues and needs. This is when we need stability, reliability and affordability most in our health coverage.

But the Romney-Ryan budget prods seniors into taking their chances in the private market, which is exactly where the right-wing always funnels public money whenever it can. And what a favor they're doing for retirees: Isn't that how all of us want to spend our golden years -- shopping for health insurance that won't break us financially yet will provide all the services we require (or think we will require, because we can't know in advance what health condition might emerge next).

One thing we do know is that older women's health care needs are greater than men's. That's partly because women are more likely than men to experience physical limitations and to suffer from chronic conditions like arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis. Moreover, according to the National Women's Law Center, nearly half of women with Medicare report having three or more chronic conditions; just 38 percent of men do. These conditions require medications, so it's especially important for women to have drug coverage under Medicare. But the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan makes it harder for women to get the medications they need. Remember the "donut hole" -- the gap in drug coverage that requires seniors to pay out of pocket once their medication costs have reached a certain level? In 2007, 64 percent of those affected by the donut hole were women. Obamacare closes the donut hole. The Romney-Ryan plan, by repealing Obamacare, opens it right back up again.

Oh, and the Romney-Ryan plan also raises the Medicare eligibility age to 67, leaving millions of retired seniors high and dry -- without employer-based health care, relegated to the private health insurance market during the interim. And because the Romney-Ryan scheme repeals Obamacare, insurers would go right back to refusing coverage based on "pre-existing conditions," and wouldn't be required to cover life-saving preventive services like mammograms, bone scans and screenings for a range of conditions (heart disease, high blood pressure and cervical cancer, for example) without co-pays.

Imagine a woman in her 60s or 70s -- who may already have health conditions in need of consistent supervision and treatment -- laboring to discern what each private plan available has to offer. She has a government-issued voucher, or as Romney-Ryan now call it, a "premium-support payment," for a fixed amount of money. What information will she have to help her judge whether or not a private plan's rate is truly a good buy? The price might look right compared to her voucher, but what extra costs might pile up down the line?

Do we think for a moment that these companies are going to be completely forthcoming about what services their policies cover and what extra costs are involved, thereby allowing this woman to make a thoroughly informed decision? The sub-prime mortgage crisis offers an important lesson here: Big companies cannot be trusted to police themselves and act in the best interest of the consumer. The Romney-Ryan plan contains no failsafe to prevent analogous scams being run on future retirees.

And just how easy will it be for this woman to move from one plan to another until she finds one that suits her budget and health needs the best? Will her doctors accept all of the competing plans, or will she need to switch providers as well? Romney and Ryan use terms like "empowering" and "the power of choice" to describe this process, but it sounds exhausting and is in fact risky and cost-inefficient. Please note that according to the Romney-Ryan plan, the competition factor is what would drive down health care costs, so their system only works if seniors flock to insurers that do a good job and drop ones that aren't delivering. Not that this approach has ever worked to contain costs in the larger health care market, but don't mind that small detail.

Now wait, you ask: Doesn't the Romney-Ryan plan include an option for retirees to stick with the tried-and-true "traditional" Medicare? The answer is that the option to stay with Medicare is set up to fail. In other words, after the huge blowback against Ryan's original plan to voucherize Medicare, this most recent version now gets there in several steps rather than in one giant leap. But the end result is the same. After all, the GOP platform tells us in black and white just what the wizards are up to -- moving Medicare (and Medicaid) to the private market.

The Romney-Ryan plan claims this major Medicare overhaul would not go into effect until 2023, so that people 55 and over wouldn't be affected, but that turns out to be not quite true: Despite the delayed implementation, if this plan were to be enacted along with repeal of Obamacare during a Romney-Ryan administration, out-of-pocket costs for all people on Medicare would start going up almost immediately.

Here's another clue that these guys' pants are seriously on fire: Surely you've seen the Romney TV ads charging President Obama with viciously cutting $716 billion from Medicare in order to fund health care reform. Romney promises to restore those funds, but what the ads don't tell you is that Obama's cuts don't affect benefits, only over-payments to insurers, providers and hospitals. The president's cuts responsibly address inefficiency and waste. The New York Times reports that repealing those cuts would "immediately add hundreds of dollars a year to out-of-pocket Medicare expenses for beneficiaries."

Finally, don't be fooled into thinking that a privatized Medicare with seniors paying for more of their health care is needed to somehow control rising health care costs. The truth is, the Romney-Ryan budget plan undermines Medicare -- and many other essential social programs -- in order to pay for increased military spending and enhanced tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. No meaningful reduction in the federal budget, and certainly no reining in of runaway health insurance costs are included.

In my first post in this series, I introduced Linda and her daughter Emily. Linda retired with no savings, no 401(k) and no pension. She didn't save much from the low-wage jobs she worked, and today she relies on Social Security for more than 90 percent of her monthly income. Without traditional Medicare, she would not be able to afford health coverage, and Emily would be exhausting her own savings and salary helping out her mother. That is exactly where the Romney-Ryan plan would leave Linda and Emily: stuck in a cycle of economic insecurity that gets passed from one generation to the next.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, he said: "No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime."

Our nation has the ability to protect and enhance President Johnson's vision of health care for all. But the Romney-Ryan plan to convert Medicare to a private voucher system takes us in exactly the wrong direction.

Next time: What the Romney-Ryan budget plan's scheme for Medicaid means for women.