June 15, 2012 9:40 pm

Campaign stalking taken to a higher level

Mitt Romney©AFP

As Mitt Romney took the stage in front of a farmhouse in Stratham, population 6,000, on the opening day of a five-state bus tour dubbed “Every Town Counts”, a small aeroplane circled above.

Dispatched by the progressive grassroots group MoveOn.org, the aircraft trailed a banner behind it on Friday, offering an alternative theme for the day: “Romney’s ‘Every Millionaire Counts’ Bus Tour”.

Until this week, Mr Romney and Barack Obama, the two rivals for the 2012 election, had been stalking each other on the airwaves at a distance and racing around the country to fundraising events.

Mr Obama was hosted in New York on Thursday evening by Sarah Jessica Parker, star of Sex and the City, and Anna Wintour, the Vogue magazine editor at a $40,000-a-head fundraiser.

With less than five months to polling day, the campaigns are moving into higher gear, starting to outline their lofty themes for the election while ramping up their on-the-ground psychological operations against each other.

Mr Romney followed Mr Obama into Ohio on Thursday to pre-empt Mr Obama’s speech before the president could take the stage, then the roles were reversed the following day.

As well as the aeroplane’s banner lampooning the grassroots bus tour, trivial tricks included a truck circling a second event in Milford, with a dog strapped to its roof.

The truck was a nod to the Republican challenger’s much-mocked family holiday in the 1990s when he strapped his pet dog Seamus in a kennel atop the family car for a lengthy drive to Canada.

The bus tour is the start of a process to introduce Mr Romney to a broader cross-section of the American public, an opportunity the Obama campaign was determined to drown out.

More seriously, Mr Obama also announced on Friday a scheme to minimise the deportation of illegal immigrants working in the US, an effort to shore up his huge lead among Hispanic voters.

Interactive graphic: Race for the White House

The backgrounds and platforms of the main candidates

The bus tour will take Mr Romney through five states – New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan – considered close but won by Mr Obama in 2008.

“We are playing on his turf,” said Russell Schriefer, a Romney adviser.

Despite Mr Obama’s attempts to get back on the front foot after several unsteady weeks, Mr Romney has a potent attack issue wherever he travels – that the president is not a competent economic manager.

The economy and jobs growth both gained momentum earlier this year, but that has now tapered off, a dangerous trend for the White House.

The Romney campaign’s pitch was boiled by down by his supporter Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, in his introduction of the candidate in Milford.

“Barack Obama’s campaign slogan is, ‘It could be worse’,” Mr Pawlenty said. “Mitt Romney’s slogan is, ‘It will be better’.”

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