WASHINGTON - In a campaign fast growing nasty, the Republican National Committee is trying a gentler approach. President Barack Obama tried to fix the economy, says an ad running in seven battleground states, then tells viewers: "It's OK to make a change."
That type of soothing pitch may have a place in advertisements for toothpaste or even coffee. But in presidential campaigns, advertisers don't generally spend much time giving voters permission or nudging them toward a conclusion. They attack, demand, ridicule, taunt.
In this case, there's a method to the lack of meanness. Several Republicans who were not involved in making the ad say a softer approach may be essential to the effort to defeat Obama in November, given polls that show he retains strong personal favorability ratings.
The RNC ad is "geared to independent voters, especially women, who are disappointed in Obama and about the economy, but who still like him and are sort of pulling for him," said Charlie Black, an informal adviser to the Romney campaign who was not involved with the commercial.
It lacks a "mean tone," he said, yet focuses on Obama's economic record, which is at the core of the GOP attempt to defeat him.
The ad shows Obama taking the oath of office in 2009 and says he had big plans to fix the economy and shrink unemployment. "What did we get? National debt over $15 trillion and climbing, unemployment above 8 percent for 40 straight months, an economic crisis with no end in sight," the announcer says.
The voice then says of Obama: "He tried. You tried. It's OK to make a change."
Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney is neither mentioned nor shown.
The ad - airing in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia at a cost of about $5 million - is a stark contrast to the most recent commercials aired by Romney, Obama and various allies.
A spot by the president's re-election campaign features Romney singing "America the Beautiful" in a tune that grows increasingly off-key. Messages float by on screen saying that his firms sent jobs overseas, that Massachusetts outsourced jobs to India when he was governor, and that as an investor he kept millions in Switzerland and had tax havens in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
One of Romney's recent commercials is a frontal assault on Obama's character.
"When a president doesn't tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?" it says, rejecting the charge that the Republican once shipped jobs overseas. It says that in 2008 "candidate Obama lied about Hillary Clinton," and shows the one-time presidential candidate saying, "So shame on you, Barack Obama."
Not coincidentally, perhaps, Clinton drew widespread support from women in her own presidential campaign.
There are hints that Romney and his close aides also recognize the significance of the polling data about voters viewing Obama favorably.
"Even if you like Barack Obama, we can't afford Barack Obama," the Republican challenger said in a springtime speech in Charlotte, N.C. In his case, the line was uttered in an otherwise scorching condemnation of the president's handling of the economy.
Nor do the leading independent groups go for the softer stuff in their own ads.
Crossroads GPS, aligned with Republicans, is on the air with a commercial that features ominous-sounding music. First a newsman and then an announcer tick off grim statistics: Weak job growth, "over three years of crushing unemployment. American manufacturing shrinking again. President Obama's plan: spend more. He's added $4 billion in debt every day."
Priorities Action USA, a super PAC that supports the president, has an ad that says while in business, Romney "bought companies, drowned them in debt ...Thousands of workers lost jobs, benefits and pensions. But for every company he drove into the ground, Romney averaged a $92 million profit ... If Romney wins, the middle class loses."
The RNC ad was the work of an independent expenditure unit, which receives funding from the party, but no direction on what type of ad to make.
Jim Murphy, who heads the unit, did not respond to an email request for comment.
Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican Party, said the ad's existence was evidence of the RNC's financial turnaround.
He said that in early 2011 the party had a debt of more than $20 million, and cash on hand totaling only about $300,000. It now has about $70 million in cash on hand and has cut the debt to $9 million.