Chon A. Noriega: Romney’s October Surprise

As the candidates prepare for the first presidential debate on Wednesday, it is useful to note that the October Surprise actually came early in this election campaign — or, rather, it came during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15.

On Monday, September 17, Mother Jones released portions of a video in which presidential candidate Mitt Romney made reference to his Mexican heritage. Speaking of his father, George, who was born in Mexico, Romney noted:

“Had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, it would be helpful to be Latino.”

Then on September 20, Romney appeared on a Univision presidential forum, promising to fix the immigration system, and sporting noticeably darker skin than his post-video press conference earlier in the week. Romney had become Latino! Pundit-comics everywhere skewered Romney for his notion that being “Latino” would be a political advantage in national elections, given how many Latino presidents we have had in U.S. history.

But something more pronounced went unnoticed: Romney’s statement about his father presumes that “Mexican” and “American” are racially defined categories. While Romney’s grandparents were U.S. citizens brazenly fleeing federal prosecution and setting up a “Mormon colony” in another country, his father was Mexican by birthright. And like a million other Mexicans, George Romney was part of a large-scale immigration to the United States as a consequence of the Mexican Revolution — the first modern social revolution of the 20th century. Once in the United States, he was the beneficiary of “welfare relief” and, thanks to such support, one day rose to become a state governor and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Today George’s son Mitt, who qualifies for dual Mexican citizenship and has served as a state governor, is a candidate for the presidency. Our next president will most likely be determined by votes from the children and grandchildren of the million other Mexicans who immigrated to the United States alongside his father. Romney is wrong. It would not be helpful to be Latino — although in some respects he already is — but it would be very helpful to understand Latinos as integral to our nation. To do that would be an unprecedented October Surprise.

Howard Fineman: 2012 COUNTDOWN: Do Promises Matter Anymore?

WASHINGTON — In the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was full of promise — 508 of them to be precise. He was the harbinger of hope in the last dark months of the George W. Bush years.

But with just six weeks to go until Election Day 2012, President Obama has made few new promises and is not repeating many of the original ones. By PolitiFact’s accounting, he has delivered on 38 percent of them — a lousy shooting percentage in the NBA.

Instead, Obama is selling himself based on what he isn’t: Mitt Romney. And rather than trying to convince voters that great days surely lie ahead — a tough sell to a skeptical electorate — he often offers a litany of reduced expectations, grim economic realism and rueful lamentations about the gridlock in Washington that he, in his innocence, did not expect. His slogan, “Forward,” can sound less like an invitation to a glorious Elysium and more like a military command on a bloody battlefield.

The candidate who won on the high-octane power of optimism is now running on the cautious notion that the future ain’t what it used to be.

The message, rarely overtly expressed, is that we are facing a tough grind (in terms of tax increases, slow job growth and entitlement cutbacks), and it’s better to have a compassionate, user-friendly communitarian in the Oval Office than a wealthy, spreadsheet-and-shredder CEO who was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

The president now leads in this war of attrition and lowered sights.

Despite what the polls say, though, it is not clear the Obama strategy will hold up all the way to Election Day. There are three inherent risks: Voters prefer campaigns of dreams to those of realism. A chance, admittedly slight, remains that Romney will find his voice and a message at the last minute. And voters may yet choose to take one last look at the details of the president’s record.

What they will find is that the Obama that is often isn’t the Obama that wanted to be. This is not an observation confined to the Rush Limbaugh right; many on the progressive left have said the same thing.

That’s where the past promises come in — and the question of whether they mean much in our promiscuously promissory age.

Only once in any direct and sharp way has the president been confronted with tough questions about a failed promise. When Univision news anchors asked him why he had not won comprehensive immigration reform, or even pushed for it, Obama seemed both surprised and confused that he had been pressed on such an obvious point. The answer he gave — that the pressures in Congress were just too daunting — was less than convincing.

The president has kept promises No. 1 and No. 2: He calmly led the fight to bring the United States back from the brink of economic catastrophe (including a workable bailout of the auto industry), and he got a version of a national health care system passed and, as it turned out, sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But he hasn’t come close to reducing unemployment to the levels his aides envisioned and predicted, poverty is at an all-time high, and the annual deficit has certainly not been cut in half.

Here’s a short list of other, more specific promises compiled by PolitiFact:

• Establish a mortgage foreclosure prevention fund. (Deemed a “colossal failure” by a special inspector general.)

• Close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. (Punted.)

• Create a cap-and-trade system with interim goals to reduce global warming. (Punted.)

• Sign the Employee Free Choice Act, making it easier to unionize. (Couldn’t get a must-pass bill through a Democratic Congress.)

• Allow importation of prescription drugs. (Bargained away to big pharma.)

• Sign the Freedom of Choice Act, guaranteeing abortion rights against state legislative encroachments. (Never pushed it.)

• Include a “public option” in the health care plan. (Punted.)

• Bring in the dawn of a new bipartisan era. (Not.)

To that list, I would add one more failure: Public schools in general are not noticeably improving the education of students.

Perhaps lists such as these don’t matter anymore. After all, most focus on expansions of federal power that the president was not able to achieve — failures that Romney has no standing to criticize, given his conversion to Tea Party libertarianism.

It is true that Republicans have opposed the president at every turn, even though their truculence also exposed Obama’s lack of deal-making skills.

As for Romney, he isn’t making many specific promises, and the ones he is making tend to be of the negative variety: abolishing Obamacare, abolishing the Dodd-Frank bank regulation law, cutting tax rates, abolishing unspecified tax loopholes. His “promise” to “create 12 million jobs” is a laughable non-event, since that is the number of jobs the economy is predicted to produce over the next four years regardless of who is president.

But maybe voters, as cynical as they are these days, have just given up on expecting elected leaders to deliver on their promises. If that is so, how will voters decide whether a president deserves reelection — or a challenger deserves to replace him?

It’s not a promising development.

For Howard Fineman’s full 2012 Countdown, click here.


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Chris Weigant: Republicans Finally Admit Silliness of Obama TelePrompTer Caricature

You’ll have to forgive the pundit world of late. Political wonks are all in a collective breath-holding moment, as we all sit nervously awaiting the first presidential debate of the season. We tell each other that it’s going to be a big event — possibly the biggest — in the race for the White House, whether we actually believe this to be true or not. But because we’re all waiting for the main event, there is actually time to sit back and examine how Republicans are proving that one of their own put-downs of President Obama was laughable nonsense from the very get-go. I speak (without notes, to be snarky) of “TelePrompTer Obama” — the caricature that stated that Barack Obama was nothing more than a good speech-giver, and absolutely could not function speaking in public without the crutch of a prepared speech scrolling past his eyes.

This caricature began approximately the day Obama took office, and has been used scathingly by Republicans over the past four years. Obama was nothing more than a puppet, Republicans sneered, tied by the strings of his TelePrompTer, and unable to form a coherent thought or sentence on his own.

This was all ridiculous nonsense, of course, but that didn’t stop the Republican Party from having a field day with it. Politicians have been using these devices since the time they were invented — yes, even Republican politicians such as (say it softly) Ronald Wilson Reagan. The whole slur made about as much sense in the modern world as denouncing a politician for speaking into a microphone. TelePrompTers are hardly “new-fangled” devices, to put it another way. They’ve been around and been used for decades (although, as we’ve noted before, the media still has a major problem with the odd capitalization in the brand name, much the same way they got confused over “Etch A Sketch” and “Chick-fil-A” of late… but I digress).

Republicans had all kinds of fun building their caricature of President Obama as somehow lost without his TelePrompTer crutch, for years. Until this past weekend. Watching the Sunday political chatfests on television meant listening to Republican after Republican extol to the skies President Obama’s ability as a standalone debater. Obama was masterful, Obama was best talking off-the-cuff, Obama was one of the greatest political speakers of our time. This was coming from Republicans, mind you.

It’s all part of a game, of course, which both sides play. The name of this game is “Lower the Media’s Expectations.” Surrogates flood the airwaves right before a big debate talking up their opponent’s debating abilities. This sets the bar very high for the opponent, and sets it as low as possible for your guy or gal. Here is Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, playing this game on Fox News Sunday yesterday:

“Look, President Obama is a very — he’s a very gifted speaker. The man’s been on the national stage for many years. He’s an experienced debater. He’s done these kinds of debates before. This is Mitt’s first time on this kind of a stage.”

But by doing so, Ryan exposes not only his own doublethink on the issue, but the Republican Party’s larger idiocy in perpetuating this “empty chair” caricature of President Obama’s speaking abilities. Paul Ryan’s own hypocrisy is easy to see, since he regularly cracks TelePrompTer jokes out on the campaign trail. The punchline of the joke remains the same: Obama is so pathetic that he needs a TelePrompTer, but Ryan is so gosh-darned manly that he is able to speak without one. What gives the lie to this hogwash is that not only Mitt Romney, but also virtually every Republican who spoke at the party’s recent national convention used this supposed tool of the Devil. Somehow America is expected to believe that TelePrompTers are laughable and proof of ignorance only when used by Democrats (and by one Democrat in particular). The most amusing irony appears when some hapless Republican cracks an Obama TelePrompTer joke while themselves reading from the device which they are mocking.

It would have been nice if any of the Sunday show moderators (who always style themselves “journalists,” often with very little to back this assertation up) had pounced this weekend on the Republicans’ doublethink. By pumping up Obama’s debating skills as high as they could get away with, Republicans were, in essence, admitting that the whole TelePrompTer slam was, at heart, not only wrong but downright silly. So why was the “irony radar” of these well-paid and well-coiffed “journalists” seemingly broken? This was an entirely predictable event, since surrogates always play the expectations game right before a big debate. It wasn’t too hard to see this coming.

To put this another way, I would have paid good money to see someone ask: “How can you sit here and tell me Obama is a great debater, when you’ve been mocking him for four years as a man who is incapable of speaking without a TelePrompTer? Were you lying to us then, or are you lying to us now?”


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Romney Still May Have A Shot With Latinos

As the presidential campaign enters the final stretch, the claim that national polls aren’t fair and don’t matter is taking a turn as the latest Mitt Romney complaint.

The Romney/Ryan campaign has insisted in recent days that in swing states, Romney is closing President Barack Obama’s commanding lead among Latino voters and still has a solid shot at the White House.

“President Obama’s failed record on the debt, on immigration reform, and on the economy has created pause among Hispanics,” said Alberto Martinez, a Romney campaign adviser and spokesman, in an email to The Huffington Post. Martinez has a long history of political battle in Florida, a battleground state in which one part of the Latino population has traditionally leaned Republican. “President Obama is not where he was with Hispanic voters in 2008, and despite relentless negative ads, Governor Romney still has a real opportunity,” Martinez said.

But the real truth about Romney’s standing with Latino voters doesn’t require a deep understanding of statistical science. Nor does it back the Romney camp’s claims that on matters of policy, the GOP candidate is surging, said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist and co-founder of Latino Decisions, a national polling firm.

“What you are hearing is spin, a selective reading of the polls” said Barreto, The Romney campaign was “very fond of our national poll right after the Republican convention, when we showed that Romney had a significant but short-term jump in Latino voter support.”

In a long-term tracking poll of Latino voters in 10 battleground states, Romney has laid claim to about a third of the Hispanic electorate, according to an impreMedia-Latino Decisions survey released Monday. Another 61 percent say they will back Obama. The poll represents the first composite examination of Latino voter sentiment in Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa and Missouri — the 10 states where polls say the election remains close.

The long-term battleground state data was adjusted to account for fluctuations over the course of the campaign. It includes a large number of Cuban Americans living in Florida — a group that has historically supported Republican candidates. The Latino population in New Hampshire, Iowa and Missouri remains relatively small.

Polling that includes the views of Latino voters across the country paints a more dire picture for Romney. In the U.S., 21 percent of Latino voters say they will likely support Romney in November, compared with 24 percent one week ago. Another 73 percent of Latino voters say they are likely to back Obama, up from 69 percent last week. This data reflects recent campaign events — the secretly recorded 47 percent video and the Univision candidate forum, Barreto said.

“The real problem they have is that the issues they are promoting and sticking to are not ones that are in agreement with the views of the average Latino voter,” said Barreto of Romney’s campaign. “We see that they are doing quite well with a segment of Cubans in Florida who are heavily represented in the battleground state numbers. But stuff like failing to really answer the question about what he is going to do with the deferred action children just isn’t helping, or … advocating for a system that would cap and privatize Social Security — that isn’t working. This is a population that doesn’t have a long history with investments or large personal savings. So those are ideas that just aren’t going to be appealing.”

On issues ranging from the economy, to Social Security and the fate of young undocumented immigrants covered by Obama’s deferred action directive widely supported by Latino voters, long-term polling data shows Romney faces an uphill climb, Barreto said. Romney’s positions and his secretly recorded comments about the 47 percent of Americans who do not earn enough to pay federal income taxes have only deepened the sense that Romney can not relate to the concerns and struggles of ordinary Americans, including Latinos, Barreto said polling data shows.

The Romney campaign points to three polls released this week showing that in Colorado, Florida and Nevada, Romney has narrowed Obama’s lead among Latino voters. In Colorado and Nevada, Obama leads Romney among Latino voters by 15 percentage points or more. But, in Florida, a Public Policy Polling survey released Sep. 23 found that 47 percent of the state’s of Latino voters plan to back Romney, just short of the 49 percent who plan to support Obama.

Romney needs about 45 percent of the Latino vote in Florida to carry the state and maintain a real shot at the White House, Barreto said.

The Romney campaign has posted at least 13 full time field staffers in Florida to focus on Latino voters, a campaign aide told the Huffington Post last month. In New Mexico and some other states that now seem out of reach for the Republican candidate, Romney campaign offices have been closed.

Martinez declined to comment, saying the campaign does not confirm information on spending, resource allocation or strategy.

Justin Cash: Forget the Flip-Flopping, it’s Romney’s Nationalism That Worries Me

Much has been made of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s devotion to the Mormon Church. In previous writing, I may have been a little too hasty to trivialize Romney’s faith, thinking it of only limited relevance to his policy ideas.

But as the campaign trail has continued its insufferably slow progress towards election day, it has become clear that Mitt’s faith can tell us plenty about his vision and values. In particular, it arguably informs his nationalistic biases, his suspect foreign policy, and his tendency to judge America and its ideals as superior to all others.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just like any other religion, should not be subject to the brevity of synopsis that I am about to give it, but it is important to shed at least a little light on the Mormon history. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, believed that America is the earthly home of the Garden of Eden, and that a resurrected Jesus showed himself there to restore gospel. It is also where he will return again in the future.

Marion G. Romney, cousin of Mitt, and a leading authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has spoken in the past of the “final, great and glorious destiny” of the United States where “Zion is to be established and the New Jerusalem is to be built”. It is from there that the law of God can be brought to all nations.

Mitt has seemingly absorbed these messages into his political being. Exhibit A could be his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. See also his comments in Cathedral Age magazine: “My faith is grounded in the conviction that a consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another – to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God.”

Note the phrase “to our fellow Americans foremost”. This, of course, makes him no different from so many other patriotic politicians, but other policies of Mitt’s set him apart from the crowd, and could potentially be traced back to his Mormon roots.

Take defence spending. Romney’s ambition is to tie defense spending to GDP at a level of 4%. At first glance, this looks like an unaggressive policy, but should the economy grow as he predicts and defence spending is gradually adjusted to his goal by the end of his first term, then America could potentially fork out an extra $400 billion on defence over a Romney term compared to what is planned should Obama reclaim office.

An extra $400 billion. That’s nearly three times America’s current annual education budget, and not too far shy of what it currently spends on Medicare in a year. Already, the US government leads the world in defence spending with expenditure of $716 billion annually, more than the next 26 biggest spending countries combined.

Does this extra spending become an imperative for such a staunch follower of the Mormon faith, to protect the country that is at the core of it? Possibly. Of course someone without faith could espouse the same policy, but it would be equally misguided.

Gaffes made on his recent world tour, however, seem more uniquely Romney. The eight-day, three-country tour questioned not only his political professionalism but also his general foreign policy framework. It is unlikely that Romney will ever be comfortable on the world stage until he divorces himself from his great preoccupation with his own citizens, and in a world so integrated, he should not become President until he can do so.

The values that he holds are so overtly American that there seems little leeway for consensus, even with Democrats. He’s moved to the right of his moderate Massachusetts governing since entering the election race, sure, but it appears his Americo-centrism has ballooned also. The economic argument that he could give for his plans to lower taxes on the rich and to trust more to the markets, for instance, has been subsumed under the mantra that state programmes erode ‘American’ freedoms.

Make no mistake, America is at the heart of everything that Romney is about. And its not too much of a stretch to attribute this at least partly to his faith. Never mind his recently lampooned comment that his job is not to worry about the 47% of Americans dependent on government, it seems he is also reluctant to worry about the roughly 95% of global citizens who live outside the US. America cannot afford to isolate itself, and Romney needs to realise this pretty sharply should he enter the White House.

All this nationalism may win him votes. It may even win him an election. But at a time when America needs to abandon is self-styled exceptionalism in the name of cooperation, its bad news for almost everyone else.

Rich Fulcher: Romney Must Have a Master Debate

With polls widening even further in Obama’s favour after Romney’s ‘fundraiser-gate’ (to paraphrase his ‘inelegant’ remarks: ‘47% of Americans are tax cheating, benefit-sucking lowlifes’), the upcoming debates loom extremely large for both candidates. To show you how important it is for Romney, when he isn’t sporadically campaigning or ‘autumning’ in his NH lakehouse, he’s spending virtually all of his time debate prepping.

The stakes are huge for the former governor. He must win back his fleeing electorate by convincing them he is a viable candidate for ‘100%’ of the people as well as show he has a ‘specific’ plan for America. To use the proverbial boxing metaphor, he needs to score a ‘knockout’ punch, or at the very least, land some heavy blows that catch his opponent off guard and win on points. This will tighten the ‘swing state’ races, put all future debates in play and make it close until November.

For Obama, a killer performance could be the nail in the coffin that he needs to make his current campaign momentum unstoppable. He needs to make Romney look like the guy they’ve already been portraying thus far: an automaton who can’t relate to the average Joe (or Jane or Jose) and is out to screw the middle class. If the President wins on decision, it could be enough to go the distance but a TKO or a KO would almost assure an early end to the race (barring some kind of major fuck-up) and he could pretty much pop the prosecco on 3 October (unintentional alliteration).

Because of the singular importance of this first debate, I have thought up some handy tips for both candidates on how they can punch (or in Romney’s case, ‘sail’) their way to victory:


– Don’t be Apollo Creed.
In other words, don’t get too cocky. Remember the scene in Rocky when Creed is doing business on the phone while his bald assistant watches Balboa train by hitting the beef in a subzero meat locker? Creed didn’t take Rocky seriously. Imagine Obama in a similar scenario: he’s on the phone in Oval Office yelling at Hillary, eating a pastrami sandwich and going over his daily briefing while Axelrod watches Romney doing his debate prep on TV by adeptly sailing past buoys which have key planks of his platform on cue cards. There would never have been a Rocky II if Creed had trained properly. I rest my case.


– Fuck being a human.
Who are we trying to kid, you are who you are, don’t change this late in the game by removing the stick out of your anus. All we hear about from people who claim to know you is how great you are in business meetings. Well, treat this debate as one huge powerpoint demonstration and all of America are your employees. Be detailed and precise and anal, just like we expect you to be. Correct Obama if you find he’s wrong. Make it seem like you’re in charge. The problem up to now is you show amazing glimpses of rigid uppercrustiness, but you’re not really saying anything. Or if you are, it’s on tape and that’s what you call ‘off the cuff’, which is code for ‘the truth’. So be factual, detailed and specific. Embrace your inner Gekko, and I don’t mean the insurance company.

Since debates are often measured by who looks more presidential, here are some ideas as to how to throw the other candidate off guard…


– Talk about science.
Science reminds us of technology and technology reminds us of iPhones. The logic here is if you can paint Romney as anti-science, then he will be viewed as against talking on the phone, i.e. backwards. Pin him down on his belief in Darwinism, global warming, supply-side economics. If Obama can put Romney on a retro lazy susan and put it in a nice package with a pretty ‘W’ on it, he’s won. The public will think he’s like a grumpy old Dad who’s against change and they will not want to vote for him. I was going to say ‘old boxer’ but I think I’ve dropped that metaphor now.


– Present a more detailed policy than Obama.
He won’t be expecting this from you, Mitt. Act like you’re the only one thinking about stuff. Probably the best thing to speak about is energy, although your current plan is ridiculously centered on oil and coal. But if you can state a detailed ‘energy’ policy that looks towards the future and ties it to foreign policy, ie, with my plan, we wouldn’t have all this Middle East mess, then you might have an opening. If you have reasoned ideas and seem fair, the public will think you’re like a responsible dad and want to vote for you.

Most debates are measured in gaffes, like Ford’s ‘Poland is not communist’ or great lines like Reagan’s ‘there you go again’. While you can’t control the other person’s gaffes, you can come up with some great lines…



Lie in wait for anytime Romney mentions Russia then jump on it and say: ‘You mean the Russia that you said was our number one enemy? I think I read about that on your myspace page.’ (or something funnier) Face. Or ‘I guess we also have to worry about Sputnik, too’. Don’t be too smarmy or else it could backfire.

If Obama tries to mention any number close to 50 during the debate, all you have to do is say, ‘I thought 47 was more your number’? Literally, that’s all you have to say. It trivialises his argument (whatever it was) and makes a joke about Romney and does it in a very subtle way without hitting it on the head. Boom.

Guns and Religion
You have to have a comeback for the ’47’ and surrogates have already been dredging up Obama’s 2008 comments about rural voters ‘cling to their guns and religion’. So if Obama makes a big deal out of the ’47’ comment, you say, ‘I want those 47% to join the 53% to make 100%, but you catergorise them as ‘what did you say’ bitter because they cling to guns and religion’. That will probably equalise things as best you can, now move on.

Focus on the next four years…
‘Based on what you’ve seen [give your list of Obama grievances], will you be better off in the next four years?’ It’s risky, but if you have policy to back it up and Obama’s not doing very well in the debate, it will be effective, make a nice spin on Reagan’s line and definitely get into the newso-blogosphere the next day.

So, there you have it. Just a little bit of advice for the two gladiators. Let the training begin… and if anyone uses any of this, I’m going to have to get my personal attorney after you.

Two California Democrats Battle Over Campaign Loans

NEW YORK — An election battle between two California Democrats is heating up once again with new accusations from the campaign of Rep. Howard Berman that his opponent, Rep. Brad Sherman, has personally profited off his election campaigns to the tune of almost $500,000.

The details of the allegation are complicated, but they essentially boil down to a claim that Sherman charged unnecessary interest on personal loans he made to his own campaign. Such loans themselves are far from irregular, but the Berman camp claims charging interest is. By charging interest, they say, Sherman allowed donors in later campaigns to essentially make campaign contributions into personal donations.

Sherman supporters, meanwhile, maintain that the amount of money he supposedly “pocketed” off of interest was less than what he would have at a bank.

On a call with reporters, Brandon Hall, a senior advisor to the Berman campaign, said that Sherman “has intertwined his personal financial situation with his ability to raise money” as a candidate.

The question this raised for voters, he added, was “is it appropriate for a member of Congress to view their campaign account as an investment vehicle?”

John Schwada, Sherman’s press secretary, called the accusations “grossly misleading.”

Sherman’s campaign said in a statement that their candidate, a certified public accountant before he became a member of Congress, “always charged interest that was at least 2% less than the rate he would have received had he simply left the money in the bank.”

“The practice is completely legal and has never been criticized by an independent group,” the statement continued.

Sherman has not charged himself any interest on loans made in this campaign. And many of the loans in question were first made more than 20 years ago.

Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said collecting interest on personal loans to campaigns was “certainly not unheard of.”

“And it’s perfectly legal,” he added, “so long as interest is paid at a ‘commercially reasonable rate.'”

And the Federal Elections Commission has defined what is “reasonable” generously. Grace Napolitano, another Democratic representative from California, gave herself a loan at an 18 percent rate. The FEC said that was “high” but permissible. Campaign finance reformers scowled.

“We don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, about charging interest on campaign loans. But, she added, it’s “not that unusual.”

Berman and Sherman are locked in a fierce internecine battle over who will represent California’s 30th district in Congress. Because of redistricting and a new election system where voters in the general election pick between the two winners of the primary, the two Los Angeles-area Democrats — both of whom generally have similar political positions — have been forced to fight against each other.

Instead of arguing over policy issues, then, the candidates have sought to distinguish themselves on questions of ethics and likeability. The Sherman campaign, for its part, has claimed that Berman has taken far too many trips abroad (176).

“The Berman-Sherman race has turned into a very expensive, very unpleasant contest,” Eric C. Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, told The New York Times last week.

Sherman, the target of the new accusations, was up 45-32 percent against Berman in an independent SurveyUSA poll taken from Sept. 18 to 19.