WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney's campaigns traded accusations of lying Thursday, ratcheting up an already heated race for the White House.
The Romney camp's charge came in a hard-hitting, new TV ad accusing Obama of misleading, unfair and untrue attacks. The Obama campaign hit back, blasting Romney's "big Bain lie" and raising the possibility that he committed a felony for possibly mischaracterizing his exit from the Boston-based private equity firm he once ran.
Both sides looked to paint the other as little more than the typical politician as they sought an edge in what polls have shown to be a neck-and-neck contest. But each ran the risk of alienating voters fed up with negative campaigning.
The Romney campaign ad, titled "No Evidence," accuses Obama of falsely depicting the former Massachusetts governor as someone who shipped jobs overseas when he ran Bain Capital. The ad, which will run in several battleground states, asks voters: "When a president doesn't tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?"
The ad tries to show that dishonesty is a pattern with Obama and points to his 2008 Democratic primary rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to do it. It shows a clip of Clinton — now Obama's secretary of state — saying, "Shame on you, Barack Obama" and calling on her then-challenger to stop running dishonest ads.
The Obama campaign has launched withering attacking on Romney's record at Bain Capital, including ads casting him as an "outsourcing pioneer" who invested in companies that shipped American jobs overseas.
The Romney campaign has said the evidence the Obama team has used in its attacks is from after the Republican left Bain in 1999. And Romney insists job outsourcing was not a Bain policy when he was in charge.
But the Obama campaign Thursday seized on a new report that it says shows Romney may have been more deeply involved in Bain after 1999 than he has previously disclosed.
The Boston Globe cited government documents that list Romney as the sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president of Bain through 2002.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, said Romney may have committed a felony if he misrepresented his role at Bain on the Securities and Exchange Commission documents. And, if he was, in fact, running Bain after 1999, Cutter said Romney hasn't been truthful with the public.
"If that's the case, if he was lying to the American people, then that's a real character and trust issue," Cutter said.
Romney's campaign said the Globe report was inaccurate.
"As Bain Capital has said, as Gov. Romney has said, and as has been confirmed by independent fact checkers multiple times, Gov. Romney left Bain Capital in February of 1999 to run the Olympics and had no input on investments or management of companies after that point," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Bain also issued a statement Thursday, saying Romney had "absolutely no involvement with the management or investment" of the company's activities after February 1999.
"Due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney's departure, he remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999. Accordingly, Mr. Romney was reported in various capacities on SEC filings during this period," the statement said.
Obama aides sought to link questions over the SEC documents to its larger criticism of what it says is Romney's penchant for keeping his business and financial dealings secret.
"It's not always pleasant or comfortable, but it has become a well-established tradition in our country to make available information about one's private dealings," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "That just comes with the territory."
Romney has released only a single year's federal income tax return — for 2010 — along with an estimate for 2011. Other returns could contain information about accounts he has held in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, the existence of which has given Democrats an opportunity to accuse him of being secretive and taking advantage of tax loopholes that aren't available to average Americans.
The bulk of Romney's fortune, estimated to be as much as $250 million, comes from his time at Bain and the return on investments from the company.
Hunt reported from Jackson, Wyo.