What substance? Campaign attacks get nastier than ever

Harsh rhetoric between the Obama and Romney campaigns was reached new heights by Wednesday. Nancy Cordes reports.
Harsh rhetoric between the Obama and Romney campaigns reached new heights.
AP Photo

(CBS News) DAVENPORT, Iowa - Many commentators speculated this week that once Mitt Romney put Paul Ryan on the ticket, it meant the campaign would be about two competing visions for the country -- a campaign about substance.

So much for that. Just days later, the campaign is already turning into one of the nastiest and most personal in modern times -- one side accusing the other of coming "unhinged," the other invoking charges of anger and hate.

Gov. Romney unleashed one of his harshest critiques of the president to date in Ohio Tuesday night -- and it was intensely personal. He criticized the president for, as he put it "pandering" to some Americans and demonizing others.

"So Mr. President," Romney said at the rally, "take your campaign of division and anger and hate, back to Chicago let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America."

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Gov. Romney's campaign said his long-simmering frustration boiled over that night after the vice president leveled a charge against him in Danville, Va.:

"Romney wants to -- he said in the first 100 days he's going to once again let the big banks once again write the rules," Vice President Joe Biden told teh crowd at the Danville event. "Unchain Wall Street. He's going to put you all back in chains."

On "CBS This Morning" Gov. Romney said attacks like that demean the White House.

When asked what he thought of the Obama campaign's claim he became "unhinged," Romney said, "I'm very measured. I can be much more dramatic, I think. I think 'unhinged' would have to characterize what we've seen from the president's campaign."

As evidence, his aides pointed to the Obama camp's refusal to denounce an ad by an outside group. The commercial linked Romney to an uninsured woman who died of cancer five years after Romney's former company, Bain Capital, shuttered her husband's steel plant.

"She passed away in 22 days," the steelworker in the ad said. "I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone."

The Obama campaign called Romney's accusations "particularly strange coming at a time when he's pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false."

"These folks on the other side, they're writing $10 million checks," Obama said at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Monday. "Gov. Romney obviously got a lot more friends than I do who can write $10 million checks."

His campaign cited a pair of recent ads that accuse the president of gutting welfare.

"Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work, and you wouldn't have to train for a job," the ad claims.

And they noted Romney had a different view of negative campaigning when he was accused of it during the primaries.

"You know, it's pretty warm in the political kitchen, and uh, if you can't handle the heat that's on right now, just wait until we have a billion dollars of Barack Obama's 'Hell's kitchen' ads," Romney said in an interview in December of last year.

The president did not address Gov. Romney's charges head on, but his aides did. One called it a "crazy rant," another called it a "contrived fit of righteous indignation."

The Obama campaign says they would rather focus on substance, and that may be true, but the decision to leave the name-calling to the president's aides was likely a political decision to enable him to appear to stay above the fray while the other side did the name calling.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.