On Thursday night, Mitt Romney, taking something of a victory lap following the first presidential debate, appeared on Fox News (where else?) with Sean Hannity (who else?), and was asked what he would have said had President Barack Obama referred to Romney's 47 percent rant. The Republican presidential contender replied:

Well, clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of question and answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case I said something that's just completely wrong. And I absolutely believe however that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent and that has been demonstrated throughout my life. This whole campaign is about the 100 percent. When I become president it'll be about helping the 100 percent.

This was quite different than what Romney said in that hastily called press conference after Mother Jones released the 47 percent video. At that point, Romney maintained that his comments had been inelegant, but he embraced the "message" he had been trying to convey at that private $50,000-a-plate fundraising dinner at a Boca Raton mansion. Nothing wrong with these comments, except for a certain clumsiness, said the candidate who wrote a book titled No Apology.

So he's changed his tune. Big surprise? Not really. This is an indication, though, that he and his strategists believed his 47 percent minute are still an important factor in the race and a profound problem for him. Romney wouldn't otherwise shift his response at this stage. Focus groups conducted by the Obama and Romney campaigns have indicated that his 47 percent remarks have alienated independent voters and even "weak Republican voters." Apparently, the 47 percent effect is not fading fast.

After the debate, Obama was much criticized by Democrats (and pundits) for a lackluster—to be polite—debate performance during which he never mentioned the 47 percent video, Romney's days at Bain Capital, or Romney's refusal to release tax returns of previous years. As I reported yesterday, an Obama campaign official explained,

Not that we won't talk about [the 47 percent video] again. We will. But [what's] most compelling [is] hearing it from Romney himself. We've got that on the air at a heavy dollar amount in key states. And it's sunk in. Ultimately the president's goal last night was to speak past the pundits and directly to the undecided voter tuning in for the first time about the economic choice and his plans to restore economic security.

Perhaps Obama had made a smart decision. Obviously, Romney and his aides calculated that he had to say something more contrite about his 47 percent tirade, and he was ready to make this nonapology apology at the debate in front of one of the biggest audiences he will have between now and Election Day. Purposefully or not, Obama ended up denying Romney a national platform for his reversal and forced Romney to play this move on Fox, where he wouldn't be speaking directly to millions of people ticked off by his comments.

As for Romney's actual explanation, it was thin. He didn't say what had been wrong about his comments. Was he merely wrong on the numbers by conflating Obama voters with people who don't earn enough to pay taxes and Americans who receive some form of government assistance or payment? Was he wrong to say that half the nation are moochers and victims who don't take personal responsibility for their lives? What does he really think about all this—and them? His explanation required a bit more explanation. Yet Hannity—don't be shocked—didn't challenge him. Which means this case is not closed, and Romney's 47 percent moment is not likely to remain in the past.

Marines with Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, execute a combat logistics patrol exercise on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Sept. 22, 2012. U. S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony Ortiz.

The monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was released on Friday, and it had good news for President Obama: Non-farm unemployment numbers dropped below 8 percent—to 7.8—for the first time since January 2009.


As soon as the report hit, conservative commentators seized on the unexpectedly low figure as evidence of a sinister plot by the Obama presidential campaign to cook the books four weeks before Election Day. Within an hour, the conspiracy had reached the ranks of Republican members of Congress. Here's Florida Rep. Allen West, locked in a tight re-election fight, calling the Obama administration "Orwellian" in a post on his Facebook page:

We all want the suffering of the American people from this rampant scourge of unemployment to end. However, today's jobs report is confusing to say the least. Previous months numbers have been revised and yet the workforce participation rate remains at a 30 year low. The unemployment rate drops to 7.8 percent, that is where it was in January 2009 when the President took office. But the U6 computation of unemployed, underemployed, and discouraged Americans remains the same at 14.7 percent. I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here. Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the Presidential election. This is Orwellian to say the least and representative of Saul Alinsky tactics from the book "Rules for Radicals"- a must read for all who want to know how the left strategize . Trust the Obama administration? Sure, and the spontaneous reaction to a video caused the death of our Ambassador......and pigs fly.

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot



"Throughout its existence, [our nonprofit] has regularly consulted with experienced tax counsel to ensure it is in full compliance with the federal tax laws."
A statement to ProPublica from the Government Integrity Fund, defending its 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status despite spending more than $1 million favoring Republican Josh Mandel in his challenge against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The Fund is a so-called "social welfare" group, which can't make politics its primary purpose. What that means, exactly, has been an ongoing discussion this year. The IRS is investigating potential violators of the rule, but it hardly ever audits nonprofits.


attack ad OF THE WEEK

At Wednesday night's debate, Mitt Romney declared, "I like PBS" and "I love Big Bird," but "I am not going to keep spending money on things [we have] to borrow money from China to pay for." (Just .00014 percent of last year's federal budget was spent on PBS.) After the debate, the liberal super-PAC American Bridge 21st Century released two web ads hammering Romney. The one below criticizes the candidate's offshore bank accounts, then switches to a scene showing Big Bird getting smashed by an anvil. American Bridge, which has spent more than $6 million supporting Democrats in the 2012 election, also rolled out a series of depressing images of Sesame Street characters bemoaning Romney's policy positions.



$1.84: The reduced cost, per gallon, of gas that the Koch-affiliated 501(c)(4) Americans for Prosperity has been offering on a tour that has hit Nevada, Iowa, and Michigan. The reduced cost, offered to about 100 to 150 motorists per gas station, is meant to reflect the cost of gas when Bush left office (conveniently not mentioned is that the low cost was thanks to the economic crisis). Thus far, AFP has also spent more than $30 million on ads attacking Obama.


charts OF THE WEEK

The Sunlight Foundation has a series of eight charts exploring where the money is going to House races, organized by the Cook Report's likely victor ratings. Below, the first chart shows total amounts of money in House races; the second, which shows outside spending, suggests that while incumbents tend to have an overall cash advantage, super-PACs and nonprofits often favor their opponents. (Also: Don't miss Sunlight's Senate elections charts.)



Ralph Reed's Group: An Obama Victory Means "He Can Complete America's Destruction": The nonprofit run by the ex-Christian Coalition leader blankets voters with grab bag of right-wing Obama hatred.
Are Super-PACs Overhyped?: Sure, they're blowing rich donors' money. But don't write them off quite so fast.
• Are your dark-money donations tax-deductible? Wall Street Journal
• Suggestions from tax experts on how to remove dark money from the shadows. Roll Call
• Jonathan Alter explores the role of small money in Citizens United-era politics. Bloomberg

Pundits largely took two things away from the debate last night: President Obama turned in a lackluster performance, and moderator Jim Lehrer let Mitt Romney walk all over him. A presidential debate moderator's job is not unlike a parent with two squabbling six-year-olds: While it's important to maintain neutrality, it's also necessary to find out which kid is lying about cutting the legs off all the Barbie dolls. Because Lehrer could hardly get a word in last night, let alone call out any questionable truths, we've done it for him: by comparing the statements made by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on "The Whopper Scale." Five Whoppers means that the statement is complete baloney. One means that the statement is kind of tasteless, but basically real: So…like the beef you'll find in fast food restaurants! 

Mitt Romney

The Statement: "Let—well, actually—actually it's— it's—it's a lengthy description, but No. 1, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan."

How Accurate Was It? Coverage for preexisting conditions keeps the most vulnerable Americans from falling through the cracks, and according to the Department of Health and Human Services, without Obamacare, up to 129 million citizens could be denied coverage. Romney, who has repeatedly promised he will repeal Obamacare, is misleading those Americans here. According to Talking Points Memo, even a top Romney adviser implied yesterday that under Romney's plan people with pre-existing medical conditions would likely be unable to purchase insurance.

Number of Whoppers:

The Statement: "[Unlike Obama] We didn't put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive."

How Accurate Was It? Romney didn't go so far as to invoke Sarah Palin's "death panels" in describing Obama's health care plan, but that's essentially what he was referring to. The idea that there is one board to rule them all, which will determine what kind of treatment Medicare patients receive, is false. The board Romney is referring to is the Independent Payments Advisory Board, which, according to PolitiFact, is "forbidden from submitting any recommendation to ration health care" and can't make decisions about individual patients.

Number of Whoppers:

The Statement: Obama said: "The average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more [under Romney's tax plan]. Now, that's not my analysis; that's the analysis of economists who have looked at this." And in response, Romney replied: "Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it's completely wrong."

How Accurate Was It? Romney has pointed to these studies before (this time, he added one) in trying to convince the middle class that tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are a good idea. The problem is, these aren't reliable studies. According to the Huffington Post, three of the "studies" are opinion pieces, which are not academic in nature and have an overlapping author. One is paid for by Romney for President Inc. And the last one, an actual study, is being misinterpreted by the Romney campaign.

Number of Whoppers:

President Obama

The Statement: "I've put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It's on a website. You can look at all the numbers, what cuts we make and what revenue we raise. And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for a dollar of additional revenue, paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit."

How Accurate Was It? According to the Washington Post's Fact Checker, "virtually no serious budget analysis agreed with this accounting." Obama's figure includes two questionable sources of income: the bipartisan, $1 trillion budget reduction cleared by Congress last year (which would apply to Romney, if he is elected), and also billions in so-called savings from leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, which, as you'll see next, don't really count.

Number of Whoppers:

The Statement: "I think it's important for us to…take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way."

How Accurate Was It? "The use of this war gimmick is quite troubling," writes Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. As the committee points out, the $850 billion Obama claims the United States is getting by leaving Iraq and Afghanistan hardly amounts to savings: Instead, it's money borrowed from abroad, which needs to paid back with interest. But at the very least, Obama is right that we won't be continuing to funnel money into active conflict zones.

Number of Whoppers?

The Statement: "Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut."

How Accurate Was It? Obama repeated the $5 trillion figure several times, then Romney denied that he even has a tax cut of that scale. So who's right? According to PolitiFact, Obama's figure, which is based on a study done by the Tax Policy Center, is "accurate but misleading." That number includes tax cuts over the next 10 years. And while Romney does have tax cuts of that scale, he theoretically plans to reduce tax breaks to offset the cuts. But the problem is, no one knows how Romney plans to do that exactly.

Number of Whoppers: 

Demi Moore in GI Jane.

Women could be poised to breach the final frontier of military macho. For the first time yesterday, women were included in a Marine Corps infantry officer training, a grueling three-month course at Quantico, Virginia, where Marines are schooled in making command decisions under extreme stress.

Women have fought and died in every American war, and more than 280,000 of them have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are still barred from the infantry. In February, as my colleague Adam Weinstein reported, the Department of Defense urged Congress to allow women to serve in more combat-related jobs, and has since then opened up new jobs for women closer to the front lines. This training program is part of a Pentagon experiment to develop "gender-neutral physical standards," and collect data on whether women's bodies can actually handle this kind of Rambo job.

Marines with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion after an air raid exercise at the Sweet Water training area, Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Sept. 17, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi.

After the first presidential debate in Denver—which an on-the-attack Mitt Romney seemed to exploit better than a noncombative President Barack Obama—at least one question loomed: Why had the president not once referred to the 47 percent video that showed Romney denigrating half of Americans as moochers and victims who don't assume responsibility for their lives? After all, this video seemed to have sent the Romney campaign reeling, and focus groups conducted by both campaigns have found it had a serious impact on voter perceptions of Romney.

The morning after the debate, I contacted several Democratic strategists. They each said they were puzzled by Obama's silence on this topic and by his decision not to say a word about Romney's days at Bain Capital. "This is the stuff that has been working for us," one remarked. "Bain, 47 percent, Romney not empathizing with the middle class. Why not mention it?"

The Obama campaign does have an explanation. When I asked a top campaign official why Obama had made no mention of Romney's 47 percent remark, he said,

Not that we won't talk about it again. We will. But [what's] most compelling [is] hearing it from Romney himself. We've got that on the air at a heavy dollar amount in key states. And it's sunk in. Ultimately the president's goal last night was to speak past the pundits and directly to the undecided voter tuning in for the first time about the economic choice and his plans to restore economic security.

It's clear, one Democratic strategist said, that Obama's inner circle concluded it was best not to turn the debate into a slugfest and hit Romney personally. That might come across as not presidential. It could distract from his aim of persuading those few remaining undecideds that they should see this election as a choice between two starkly different visions for the future and select his. Besides, there are weeks of ads to come, and if the 47 percent theme continues to resonate, the campaign certainly can keep producing ads that use the video as ammo.

Despite the pundit reviews noting that Romney performed better than Obama, is it possible that Obama's low-impact strategy worked—or didn't fail? Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super-PAC, has released a memo based on a "dial group session" pollster Geoff Garin held in Aurora, Colorado, during the debate; the participants were "weak Democrats and independents who voted for Obama in 2008 but who remain open to switching in the upcoming election." The results were mixed: 

Compared with the beginning of the session, there was a doubling in the number of respondents who said that Obama has good ideas for improving the economy. While Romney also improved on this dimension, 63% of respondents said at the end that Obama expressed good ideas for improving the economy, compared with 27% who said the same about Romney in the debate…

Romney did gain ground on the President on the issue of taxes, and he largely negated the advantage Obama had on the issue when respondents first walked into the room.

In the moment-to-moment dialing, President Obama’s high points were when he talked about outsourcing and tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, the need for a balanced approach to dealing with the deficit, and clean energy. Romney’s high points were fewer, but he scored best whenever he spoke about making jobs the number-one priority.

Respondents who came into the room open to Romney as an alternative to Obama felt disappointed in Romney’s lack of specifics. But Romney did benefit from low expectations among this group, and several said that Romney did not seem as bad as they thought he might be. For these key swing voters, whom Obama must hold and Romney must win, the first debate did not change much, but it also did not settle much. Obama continues to have the advantage with them, but the deal still is not sealed.

Not settle much. That's often the case with presidential debates. But perhaps the most worrisome of these findings for the Obama camp is that these voters ended up believing Romney's not such a bad guy. That suggests his debate performance has the potential to undo some of the damage he suffered from the Bain blasts and the revelation of his 47 percent tirade. Yet, as the Obama campaign official suggests, there's plenty of time—and plenty of opportunity—for the campaign to resume its Bain-bashing and reprise its 47 percent assault.

UPDATE: On a conference call with reporters, a defensive David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, noted that the president's supporters would have liked to see Obama slam Romney on Bain, tax returns, and the 47 percent video. But, he added, "a lot of these issues are well known to the public," and Obama's "choice was to talk about the main things people are worried about in their lives." Obama, Axelrod said, had wanted to avoid an insult-fest and instead use the debate to discuss the future. He did note that following the debate the campaign would "make some adjustments."

About halfway through Wednesday's debate, Romney took a hit at host Jim Lehrer's network PBS, and one of its most well-known stars: Big Bird. Talking about federal subsidies he would eliminate in order to reign in the deficit, he said this:

"I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually I like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for [it]."

The Twittersphere exploded with a Big Bird hashtag (#savebigbird) and Twitter handles, and the character's name earned 17,000 tweets per minute, according to The Hill. Incidentally, the Center for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS, made up .00014 percent of the federal budget last year. But whatever.

Here are a few of the Big Birds that were born.

Aw. Sad face.

It even inspired avatar solidarity:

The anti-abortion PAC Susan B. Anthony List announced on Wednesday that it is launching a new super-PAC, Women Speak Out, to counter the electoral advocacy of pro-choice groups.

The Susan B. Anthony List is a 20-year-old PAC launched to support anti-abortion candidates, which has become strongly aligned with the Republican Party in recent years. While the group has always spent money to elect anti-abortion candidates, the new super-PAC will allow it to raise unlimited funds to deploy in key states and districts. Women Speak Out says it plans to spend $500,000 on ads in swing states.

"We cannot sit back and allow the deep-pocketed abortion lobby led by Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List claim to speak for all women," said Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser in an email soliciting donations for the new PAC. The email requests contributions so that the group can air ads criticizing Obama as an "abortion radical" during Wednesday night's presidential debate. The ads would counter new anti-Romney spots bankrolled by Planned Parenthood's 501(c)4 and PAC. A pro-choice Super PAC has also received some major new donations in recent weeks. 

The Women Speak Out ads make a number of inflammatory claims about Obama—including that he supports aborting baby girls, that he supports killing babies who are "born alive" in the course of a "failed abortion," and that the healthcare reform bill is "the biggest ever expansion of tax-subsidized abortion."