NEW YORK (AP) — In a split-screen race for the presidency, Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama were on their best campaign behavior in public Tuesday, all the while slashing away at each other in paid television ads.
In separate appearances in New York, they swapped criticism on foreign policy. But they did it politely, without mentioning each other by name.
Romney found fault with Obama's approach to education, but did so after paying a public compliment to Arne Duncan, who has the administration's Cabinet portfolio for the subject.
There was an outbreak of self-deprecating humor from Romney, as well, as he received a glowing introduction from former President Bill Clinton before speaking to the annual Clinton Global Initiative.
"If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good," joked the Republican candidate for the White House, referring to the former' president's strong speech on Obama's behalf at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month.
"All I got to do now is wait a few days for that bounce to happen," Romney quipped.
Joking or not, it was as close as the Republican challenger has come to publicly acknowledging recent polls showing Obama moving ahead in several battleground states and gaining ground in national surveys.
Cut to the television ads, and the political reality both campaigns are trying to create for voters in battleground states.
Of the five commercials the Obama campaign says it is airing most frequently, one accuses Romney and running mate Paul Ryan of backing a plan for Medicare that would raise out-of-pocket costs for seniors. Another says the Republican challenger favors tax cuts for millionaires that could be paid for by reducing existing tax breaks for education expenses.
A third says Obama, not Romney, has pushed back against China's unfair trade policies. A fourth asserts that part of Romney's personal fortune is invested in China and says he's never stood up to the country. "All he's done is send them our jobs," it says.
The Romney campaign listed six ads currently airing, four of which criticize Obama.
"Dear Daughter. Welcome to America," says the announcer in a commercial that shows a young baby. "Your share of Obama's debt is over $50,000."
Two spots feature coal miners accusing the administration of pursuing policies that go after their industry. "Obama said he was going to bankrupt any new power plants that opened up ... He's keeping his promise," says a miner shown in one. "I've got two young grandsons. I'm scared for their futures, let alone mine."
A fourth accuses Obama of failing to "stand up to China" and asserts, "His policies cost us 2 million jobs."
In the world not made up of television commercials, one report released during the day showed consumer confidence climbing to the highest level since February. A second report said home prices increased in July as sales rose and foreclosures fell.
Taken together, that amounted to encouraging news for the president, given that the slow-growing economy and 8.1 percent national unemployment are the public's top issues in the race for the White House.