Presidential campaign is nice, and then again not

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.

Whatever the economic news itself, voters increasingly say the country is heading in the right direction. In an Associated

Press-GfK poll taken at mid-month, 48 percent of registered voters said they expect the economy to improve in the next 12

months, compared to only 41 percent who said so in a survey in August.

Additionally, 41 percent of registered voters said in this month’s poll that the nation is heading in the right direction,

up from 34 percent saying the same in August.

Obama’s handling of the economy, still

tepid, is better than it has been. The latest AP-GfK poll finds 48

percent of registered

voters approve of the president’s handling of the economy, while

49 percent disapprove. In June, 56 percent disapproved and

43 percent approved.

Romney spoke first during the day, speaking to Clinton’s organization.

He said the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya two weeks ago was caused by a terrorist attack, something Obama

has refrained from saying.

“Many Americans are troubled by the

developments in the Middle East,” Romney said. “Syria has witnessed the

killings of tens

of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the

Muslim Brotherhood. ... And Iran is moving toward nuclear

weapons capability.

“We feel that we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events,” he added.

Although Romney did not overtly

criticize Obama’s foreign policy in the speech, as he had on Monday, his

words took on a sharper

edge when he suggested to CNN during an interview that the White

House had misled the American people by not characterizing

the violence in Libya as a terrorist attack.

“The White House’s failure to acknowledge that the assassination of our ambassador was a terrorist attack, a terrorist event,

suggests that they are trying to paper over the seriousness of what’s happening in the Middle East,” Romney said.

In his New York speech, Romney said

that if he is elected, he will create “prosperity pacts” in the Middle

East, private-public

partnerships designed to remove barriers to free markets around

the region. He said developing countries would receive U.S.

assistance “focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the

rule of law and property rights.”

Obama, in a speech later in the morning

to the U.N. General Assembly, said the recent assaults on U.S. citizens

in Libya “were

attacks on America” and called on world leaders to join in

confronting the root causes of the rage across the Muslim world.

But in a slap at Romney, Obama said “let us remember that this is a season of progress” in the Arab World, where autocratic

leaders have been deposed in several countries.

In another jab, he said, “Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on peace.”

Obama didn’t mention it, but Romney says on a videotape that recently came to light that “the Palestinians have no interest

whatsoever in establishing peace. The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”