New ads from the presidential campaigns encapsulate where the race stands, with President Barack Obama's camp continuing its assault on his challenger over his business record and refusal to share tax records and Mitt Romney trying to make allegations of cronyism knock the incumbent off the assault.
A new Romney TV commercial advances the campaign's latest attack strategy, accusing Obama's administration of sending taxpayer dollars to failed energy companies whose owners contributed to his campaign.
"Where did all the Obama stimulus money go?" the ad's narrator asks against a backdrop of burning cash. "Friends. Donors. Campaign supporters. Special interest groups."
The commercial specifically points to Solyndra, an energy company that went bankrupt after receiving a $535 million grant from the government under an Obama administration loan guarantee program for green technology manufacturers. It also highlights Fisker Automotive, another recipient of the loan program that announced major layoffs this year.
The ad ends with 2010 footage of Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York announcing at a news conference that "79% of the $2.1 billion in stimulus grants awarded through it went to overseas companies."
In a statement accompanying the ad, Romney's campaign said Obama has "showered his friends with stimulus funds" and raised the question, "If we can't trust him with our money, why should we trust him for another four years?"
The Obama camp quickly responded.
Obama campaign spokesman Lis Smith said Romney has "joined his surrogates and allies in launching over-the-top attacks that independent fact-checkers and news organizations have said are 'flat out false,' 'wrong' and use 'weasel words.' The truth is that President Obama's investments in clean energy -- along with the loan guarantee program established under the Bush administration that Romney now attacks -- have supported nearly 225,000 jobs in the clean energy sector and have helped bring our dependence on foreign oil to a 16-year low."
The Obama campaign says the new attacks are simply trying to distract voters from increased attention to Romney's business record and financial portfolio.
And there's no letup in Obama's full assault on Romney over his tenure at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded, and over Romney's commitment to release only two years of tax returns.
Democrats have seized upon reports that Romney remained CEO of Bain Capital after January 1999, when he has repeatedly said he left to head the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. At the heart of the debate are companies that were acquired by Bain after 1999, which in some cases resulted in jobs being outsourced to countries with low labor costs. The Obama campaign and a pro-Obama super PAC have hammered Romney in ads for months, labeling him an outsourcer.
The Obama campaign put out a man-on-the-street-style Web video Wednesday that makes fun of Romney's complex statements explaining that he didn't have any responsibility with Bain after January 1999, even though he was listed as chairman and CEO in financial documents.
"That sounds very suspicious," a woman says in the video. "If you're a person in charge of a business, then you should take full responsibility for your actions."
The Romney campaign touts that two nonpartisan fact-checkers have poked holes in the "outsourcer" claims. It also cites national and state polling to say that the attacks have not seriously hurt Romney. But the Obama campaign obviously sees a vulnerability there and continues its Bain and tax return attacks.
Romney continues to hear from some fellow Republicans that he should rethink his position on tax returns. Former Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry reaffirmed his position Tuesday that candidates should be forthcoming with their tax documentation, finding himself again at odds with Romney.
Perry first called on Romney to release his tax returns this year in the GOP primaries, and in late January, Romney released his records for 2010 and an estimate of his liability for tax year 2011. He says he'll release his 2011 returns when they are complete. He filed an extension with the Internal Revenue Service, meaning he may not submit his returns until the October filing deadline.
Perry becomes the latest high-profile Republican to call on Romney to be more transparent or to say he would be more transparent in Romney's position. Others include GOP presidential candidate and congressman Ron Paul, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, The Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, conservative writer George Will and Matthew Dowd, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. The conservative National Review also made the case Tuesday.
Romney has repeatedly said that he does not intend to release additional years of tax returns. He said Tuesday that Democrats would use the records to "distort" him.
Romney holds a town hall in Bowling Green, Ohio, on Wednesday, two days after the president campaigned in Cincinnati. Ohio is a crucial swing state, and both campaigns are fighting furiously for its 18 electoral votes.
Joining Romney in Ohio on Wednesday are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who's thought to be on the running mate short list, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose name has also come up as a possible vice presidential pick.
There's speculation that Romney could announce his running mate Thursday. Sen. Rob Portman, whose name is often mentioned, is from Ohio. And since the state is so crucial to the outcome of the election, the conventional wisdom is that it's smart to name a running mate there. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, introduced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate at an event in Dayton, Ohio.
But while there's some speculation an announcement will come this week (Romney also holds an event Friday in New Hampshire, another battleground state), the conventional wisdom is that he'll wait until after an overseas trip and after the Summer Olympic Games conclude on August 12, just two weeks from the start of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.
Romney's visit to Ohio comes one day before Vice President Joe Biden stumps there.
CNN and most other news organizations consider the race for Ohio a tossup. Another sign of how important the state is: More than $22 million has been spent by the campaigns and independent groups to run TV commercials on broadcast TV in Ohio since the start of the general election campaign in mid-April. That's according to data from Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ad spending on broadcast and national cable TV.