Between the Lines By Mark Halperin

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Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are high-minded and policy-oriented; the campaigns they are presiding over are not. The past week saw an escalation of the negativity, as depressing as it is predictable, that has infused the entire election year. Depressing, like Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's allegations that Romney has paid no taxes for 10 years--charges so reckless, they recalled Joe McCarthy and the birthers. A new Democratic ad features a man who suggests his wife's death from cancer was Romney's fault. Both sides cynically welcomed a dubious Republican TV ad about Obama's welfare policies--and the base-mobilizing injection of race into the debate that inevitably came with it. The two campaigns would rather not discuss tough issues like the deficit, so they need distractions. Senior strategists in both camps are veterans of scorched-earth election victories, and they don't believe voters are turned off by negative ads. The advent of Twitter, rapidly proliferating super PACs and other modern political tools has removed many practical and moral restraints; most everything now, even spouses, is considered fair game. With so much money pouring into both candidates' campaign coffers, negative attacks are not a zero-sum proposition. Which side does the race to the gutter help? The conventional wisdom says a fight over anything but the weak economy benefits Obama, and his team acknowledges that his path to victory requires making Romney an unacceptable alternative. But the Republicans think Obama's personal likability has been able to protect his favorability ratings from negative perceptions of his economic record, and they hope he will dirty his good name by mud wrestling with Romney. Best bet: the nuclear summer becomes a nuclear fall.


Homegrown Terrorism

Wade Michael Page, 40, was a neo-Nazi who spent more than a decade roaming the fringes of the far right. After his demotion and discharge from the Army in 1998, Page became a fixture in the white-power music scene, joining at least two racist bands as well as the Hammerskins, a skinhead group with chapters across the U.S. Page's downward spiral ended on Aug. 5, when he allegedly gunned down six Sikh worshippers at a temple, or gurdwara, south of Milwaukee before killing himself after a shoot-out with police. Page had a history of minor alcohol-related crimes in Texas, Colorado and North Carolina. He broke up with his ex-girlfriend Misty Cook in June. That was around the time he stopped showing up for work, passed a background check at a local gun store and bought the 9-mm pistol used in the attack.

The massacre highlighted a recent surge in violence by homegrown hate groups. Active militia cells have multiplied from 50 to more than 260 since 2008, says Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL and others have warned of the rising threat, but, says Pitcavage, "it's very difficult for police to prevent a lone offender from going out and committing a shooting spree."


Sikhs in the U.S.

The world's fifth largest organized religion is one of America's smallest faith groups. At least 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S., according to the Sikh Coalition. Since 9/11, they have been the target of sporadic but lethal hate crimes.

A difficult journey

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