Between the Lines: By Mark Halperin

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Top: Obama for America / Bottom: Republican National Committee

Still images from new political ad campaigns

With about 100 days to go until Nov. 6, campaign veterans spy a rarity in presidential politics: both the Obama and Romney operations like their chances of winning ... The phrase used consistently by each side: "I would rather be us than them" ... That is a shift from the recent past, when the McCain, Kerry, Gore and Dole camps all projected the air of fretful underdogs at this stage ... Two seminal new television commercials from the President's team perfectly capture both the incumbent's expectation of victory and his awareness of his vulnerabilities ... In one 60-second ad, "The Choice," President Obama speaks directly to the camera, making the case he thinks will win him the election: contrasting his plans on the big issues with Mitt Romney's agenda, which he links to the George W. Bush years ... "The Choice" is free of ominous music and ghoulish Romney photos, instead highlighting what the Obama campaign considers its greatest asset: the President himself ... Many observers have called the spot the best of the election cycle so far ... A companion ad, which came out one day later, shows the re-election team on the defensive, with Obama responding to the Republican charge that he doesn't understand how the free market works ... Sustained weakness in the economy remains the President's biggest vulnerability, and his recent remark that "if you've got a business, you didn't build that"--taken out of context and exploited by the GOP as purported proof that Obama neither understands nor respects the private sector--is resonating across much of the country with CEOs and pizza-parlor owners alike ... Meanwhile, the President's foes at the Republican National Committee have put out a television ad in which a mournful and sympathetic narrator seeks to soothe guilty Obama '08 voters with the words "He tried. You tried. It's O.K. to make a change" ... Its obvious intent: to give wavering voters permission to fire a well-liked incumbent ... The political truce following the Aurora, Colo., shooting tragedy lasted all of 96 hours, just enough time to circuit-break the Democrats' long-running, rather successful attack on Romney's unwillingness to release additional years of tax returns and on the details of his record at Bain Capital ... Still, Democrats plan to revive the charge, spearheaded by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom have demonstrated granular familiarity with their opponent's record, more than any ticket mates in recent memory ... ... Meanwhile, Obama headquarters in Chicago dismissed the criticism (rattled derision from Republicans and nervous anxiety from Democrats) over its hefty summertime budgets for TV ads and personnel: spending now, Obama aides say, will have a big impact in their efforts to define Romney, while attempts to reach voters in the fall through paid messaging may not work ... Romney's performance on the campaign trail in the past month has reinforced Democrats' confidence that their caricature of the GOP nominee will stick ... Republicans, wary over Romney's failure to overtake Obama despite the torpid economy, are looking to the model of 1988, when George H.W. Bush used a revelatory convention speech, withering advertising to key voter groups on radio and television, and strong debate performances to pull ahead in the final weeks of the race.