Obama ad targets Romney's threat to end Sesame Street producers' subsidy
Campaign misfires with bid to exploit Big Bird, but downward turn in polls spurs donors
A day after some national polls showed US President Barack Obama's edge over Mitt Romney evaporating, he responded with an attention-grabbing commercial featuring Big Bird of Sesame Street and Romney's debate-night vow to end US government funding to producers of the hit children's television show.
It did not exactly take flight.
Sesame Street creators have asked Obama to leave Big Bird out of it. And even some Democrats said the advert, suggesting that Romney would be tougher on Sesame Street than on Wall Street, was not what nervous party activists and volunteers were looking for.
"The right message is that on Friday, we saw great economic news," said Brian Moran, the Virginia Democratic Party's chairman, referring to new data which showed that the national unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8 per cent last month. "Things are moving in the right direction. That's where the focus should be, and not on the debate."
Big Bird was just one element of a broader effort by Obama and his team on Tuesday to reassure supporters - many of whom were confident a week ago that his re-election was all but assured - that his campaign had not lost its intensity or focus.
Later in the day, Obama delivered a spirited campaign appearance in Ohio, and his aides were reaching out to big donors with a calming message that they always expected a tight finish.
The Big Bird advert may not have inspired universal confidence among Democrats. But if nothing else, they said, any sense of complacency was now gone.
"Certainly, you're not hearing anyone out here saying this is in the bag, and you were beginning to get that sense," Colorado governor John Hickenlooper said. "Dire is the wrong word, but I do think it is a wake-up call."
At Obama's Chicago headquarters, senior advisers had already worked to calm younger staff members by counselling them to tune out the natural, if jarring, gyrations of a closely fought presidential race.
Its ranks of supportive Democratic governors were doing the same on Tuesday. "Did we forget no-drama Obama?" Montana governor Brian Schweitzer asked in an interview, reprising Obama's 2008 go-steady slogan.
Polls in battleground states appeared to show that the race had reverted to where it was before Obama went on a run and Romney stumbled after their party conventions, with Obama for the most part holding slight but shrinking edges in surveys.
"I wouldn't use the word 'panic', but there is a sense that everything the campaign told us about the need to continue the fight is absolutely true," said Justin Buell, a member of Obama's national finance council in San Francisco.
He and other members said there was at least a bright spot in that the latest turn in the campaign appeared to be driving a new round of donations.
"After the initial 24 hours where people recognised that it wasn't our best night, they seemed to double down and dig in," said Andy Spahn, a Los Angeles public relations executive who helped organise a fundraiser there last Sunday. "People who were watching and feeling him to be comfortable ahead, and not writing those last checks, they have felt the race tighten, and they are coming through."
Some Democrats questioned just how much Obama would gain from his Big Bird commercial. "I don't think anyone would argue this ad will make any sort of contribution to the decision in this race," said David Doak, a Democratic advertising strategist. But he said it could be more effective in getting free attention from the news media, which it did.