SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Mitt Romney's plane touched down here Friday, and with it arrived the beginning of what is expected to be the most expensive and intense political advertising war ever.
The Romney campaign has unleashed its first barrage of commercials in Iowa and seven other battleground states, a narrowly targeted effort that underscores just how much money will flood so few states in such a small amount of time, and presents a challenge to the Obama campaign, which will be at a financial disadvantage.
In Iowa — and in a handful of states from Colorado and Nevada in the West to New Hampshire and Virginia in the East — the next two months before Election Day will be a blur of TV, radio and Internet ads, campaign rallies and endless unsolicited phone calls.
Friday, the first real day of general election campaigning, offered a preview of what the race will look like over the next few weeks.
As the morning newscasts were getting under way with coverage of both Obama's speech to the Democratic convention on Thursday night, and the release of new, disappointing jobs numbers, the Romney campaign put its ads on the air. They hammer the president with a line of attack that Romney has started making more forcefully in recent days: that Obama's policies have failed to make the country better off than it was four years ago, despite what he and his allies might say.
For his part, with the convention over Obama wasted no time crisscrossing the country. He and Romney campaigned just hours apart in Iowa and New Hampshire. Then the president left for Florida, where he is going on a bus tour this weekend. Obama has a rally this morning at St. Petersburg College in Seminole. Tickets are required. (Story, 3B)
Obama alluded to his financial disadvantage while campaigning in Portsmouth, N.H., with his wife, Michelle, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.
"You can't give up on the idea that your vote makes a difference," Obama told the crowd. "Because if you do give up then the lobbyists and the special interests, they'll fill the void: The folks who are writing the $10 million checks, the folks running all these super PAC ads."
Obama also took some swipes at Romney and Republicans, saying their criticisms of him were merely a diversion because they lacked a plan of their own.
"They want your vote, but they don't want to show you their plan," he said. "That's because all they've got to offer is the same prescriptions that they've had for the last 30 years — tax cuts, tax cuts, gut some regulations, oh, and more tax cuts. Tax cuts when times are good; tax cuts when times are bad. Tax cuts to help you lose a few extra pounds. Tax cuts to improve your love life. It will cure anything, according to them."
Romney's campaign released 15 new ads in all, each focused on a specific state and the issues most likely to resonate with voters there.
In Florida, for example, people will see commercials about falling real estate values and high foreclosure rates. In Colorado, where the military and its contractors are large employers, people will be told that the president's budget cuts could cost 20,000 military jobs there.
And in Iowa, ads will tell voters how "excessive government regulations are crushing small businesses and family farms."
Despite the differing messages, the ads open with the same clip from Romney's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. "This president cannot tell us that you're better off today than when he took office," he is shown saying.
The other states where the ads will run until Tuesday — when both candidates have agreed to suspend their ads for the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — are Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
The ads will help Romney keep pace on the air with Obama, who spent close to $50 million on television commercials in the last month alone.
Though Republican super PACs gave him cover by showing their own ads during the summer, Romney was limited by campaign finance regulations from spending his $185 million war chest on advertising until he officially became the nominee.
For the first time, Obama will be at a direct spending disadvantage compared with Romney. As of the most recent reporting period, which counted campaign account totals through the end of July, Obama had about $60 million less cash on hand than his Republican rival.