US election campaign digest: DNC 2012 and more

Larry Smith reports on the latest events in the US Presidential election campaign.


Democratic National Convention

August jobs report sours Obama pitch:

A disappointing new jobs report has taken the shine off the Democratic convention’s finale, with President Obama’s speech to delegates overtaken by fresh arguments about the pace of economic recovery.

Figures released by the Bureau of Labour Statistics on Friday showed employers added 96,000 new positions in August, many less than the 130,000 forecast by experts beforehand. Unemployment fell to 8.1%, but largely as a result of 368,000 people leaving the jobs market.

Republicans quickly seized on the data: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told a rally on Friday that the “disappointing” figures were further proof his rival “just doesn’t know what it takes to get America strong again”.

Obama, who knew the details of the report when giving his speech on Thursday, admitted the results were “not good enough” while faulting Congress for inaction and mocking Romney’s plan to stimulate the economy through tax cuts.

During his acceptance speech in Charlotte, Obama told those watching that America had been through “one of the worst economic crises in history”, but was now “moving forward” under a different style of leadership.

He went on to frame the election as a choice between two very different visions, assailing Republican approaches to tax, Medicare, financial regulation, energy and education spending. He also sought to blunt GOP attacks on his attitude to government, arguing that while not every problem could be solved with a “dictate from Washington”, the state could act as a force for good.

Reaction to Obama’s address has been mixed: many pundits noted it lacked some of Obama’s usual eloquence and was overshadowed by speeches given earlier in the week. However, those present in the convention hall went away energised and fresh surveys imply the Democratic ticket could enjoy a bounce in the polls.

A Gallup poll taken throughout the convention has given Obama a three to four point lead over Romney, with the President’s approval ratings reaching their highest level since the killing of Osama Bin Laden. A Reuters tracker has meanwhile put Obama two points in front of the former governor and found him scoring more highly across a range of attributes.

The Democrat repeated many of the arguments used in his convention speech during an event with former GOP Florida Governor Charlie Crist today.

Clinton to hit trail after barnstorming address:

Ex-President Bill Clinton is set to stump for Barack Obama in key battleground states following his much-acclaimed speech to the Democratic convention. The Obama campaign revealed on Thursday it would seek to harness momentum from Clinton’s return to the limelight by deploying him in Florida and Ohio next week.

One of Clinton’s leading congressional allies, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, later added he would be spending “a lot of time” in the Midwest in the run-up to November. Appearing at the DNC on Wednesday, Clinton delivered a heavily improvised, yet remarkably detailed address that set the current incumbent’s economic record in context of the financial crisis and skewered the Republican ticket’s approach to debt and taxation.

He additionally rebutted the GOP nominee’s charge that Obama was watering down his welfare reforms, saying the current administration’s changes were about creating “more work, not less”.

Although there were complaints about the length of Clinton’s remarks, reaction to the speech has been strongly positive. Policy commentators were delighted the former President opted to discuss issues in detail, while fact-checkers noted many of his claims and statistics were accurate. Several Republican strategists agreed Clinton’s words would bolster Obama’s election chances, and millions of Americans tuned in to watch him even as the US football league’s kickoff game was being screened.

Also praised for turning in strong speeches at the DNC were former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, ex-Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and 2004 presidential contender John Kerry, who boosted his chances of succeeding Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords won a standing ovation when she recited the pledge of allegiance on the final evening.

Jerusalem plank causes row:

There were angry scenes on Wednesday when the DNC reinserted a line supporting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel back into its policy platform. The language, which had been dropped in the face of objections from Jewish donors and pro-Israel groups, was readopted on the floor of the convention despite clear opposition from some delegates.

President Obama personally intervened to ensure support for Israel’s claim remained in the platform, something that may damage his credibility with Palestinian leaders if he seeks to restart peace negotiations during a second term.

The Romney campaign has already indicated it will use the furore to soften Obama’s support among Jewish voters, even though previous polls have revealed Israel ranks very low among their policy priorities.

Support for gay rights touted:

President Obama and many other senior Democrats put their party’s support for LGBT rights at the centre of proceedings during their three day-long convention. In his acceptance speech, the President warned against letting “Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry” take power, while mentioning his administration’s successful efforts to end the policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.

First Lady Michelle Obama had said earlier in the week that every American should enjoy the same opportunities regardless of “who [they] love”, and the last night of the convention saw two of the most senior openly gay Democrats, retiring Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank and Wisconsin Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin, given prominent speaking slots.

Democrats also talked up their backing for a woman’s right to choose while in Charlotte, with Georgetown student Sandra Fluke among those contrasting the Obama administration’s approach to reproductive issues with the Romney-Ryan agenda. Some moderate and conservative female pundits have argued the party unduly marginalised pro-life voices, although staunchly anti-abortion Catholic leader Timothy Dolan was allowed to offer a closing prayer that defended the rights of those “waiting to be born”.

2016 runners test waters:

A number of Democratic leaders reported to be considering a presidential run four years from now have used the convention to raise their public profiles. Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, who has generated a great deal of early buzz, delivered a prominent speech to delegates before touring multiple breakfast events and playing a gig with his Irish folk band.

Another big name tipped to succeed President Obama as the Democratic standard-bearer, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, put in an appearance at a relatively low-key meeting of Empire State delegates. Massachusetts Senate contender Elizabeth Warren, Bay State Governor Deval Patrick, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and her Minnesota colleague Amy Klobucher were also among those generating interest.

The greatest speculation however concerned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was absent from her first convention in decades but is regarded by many Democrats as the obvious frontrunner for the nomination.

Presidential Race – Other News

Ryan under pressure over Obamacare bid:

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has faced questions about his opposition to President Obama’s reform of healthcare following reports he supported efforts by a health centre in his district to obtain a grant contained within the Affordable Care Act.

The Wisconsin Congressman wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking officials there to consider a request the Kenosha Community Healthcare Centre had made for funding dedicated to improving primary care clinics in deprived areas. The Ryan camp responded by arguing the grant in question did not really constitute part of the ACA because it had started during George W Bush’s presidency.

However, Ryan’ correspondence was dated December 2010, well after it had been incorporated into the healthcare law. Elsewhere, the Romney campaign has refuted claims Ryan exaggerated his record as a mountaineer during an interview with one of his local papers.

Woodward book complicates Dem defence cuts argument:

Politico has obtained excerpts from a new book by veteran reporter Bob Woodward which reveals White House officials, not Congress, first proposed significant cuts in the defence budget as part of negotiations to raise America’s debt ceiling.

The revelation could hinder President Obama’s efforts to tie the spending reductions to Republicans, and came as the Romney campaign condemned the White House for failing to submit information to Congress about how it would implement the cuts due to take effect next year.

Israeli PM lashes out over administration’s Iran stance:

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has disagreed sharply with America’s envoy to his country over the Obama administration’s attitude to Iran, amid hints a strike on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities may not take place before November’s election.

In an interview earlier this week, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, confirmed reports in the Israeli press Netanyahu was “agitated” and at his “wit’s end” during a meeting with Ambassador Dan Shapiro he attended in August. Rogers, a Republican congressman, added Israel could launch an attack on Iran soon unless the US laid down more “red lines” regarding Tehran’s ambitions.

However, there are signs within Israel momentum is shifting away from immediate unilateral action. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who has adopted the most hawkish stance towards Iran, is now said to oppose any intervention before the US election and has publicly noted America’s superior ability to handle the Iranian threat.

Leaks out of Israel’s security cabinet also reveal the country’s intelligence services do not agree on the risk Iran’s nuclear programme poses.

Feds probe Romney tax return theft claim:

The FBI and Secret Service have stepped in to investigate after anonymous hackers alleged they were in possession of the Republican candidate’s tax records and threatened to release them if not paid a ransom.

The group claimed in a website posting they had taken the filings from a PricewaterhouseCoopers office in Tennessee and would make public the information if they did not receive $1m in bitcoin, the internet currency. PwC have said there is no evidence to suggest Romney’s returns were improperly accessed, but added they were co-operating with the relevant authorities.

GOP skips advertising in MI, PA:

The Romney campaign and supportive national conservative groups are opting not to purchase airtime in Michigan and Pennsylvania, a move which implies they do not consider either of the two traditionally Democratic states realistic targets.

OH election official backs down over early voting:

The official in charge of Ohio’s elections has withdrawn a directive ordering his subordinates to maintain a ban on early voting in spite of a court ruling to the contrary. Secretary of State Jon Husted was forced to apologise to a federal judge for contradicting a ruling which reinstated voting three days prior to election day in the Buckeye State.

In another high-profile case related to voting rights, lawyers acting on behalf of Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett have defended stringent voter ID requirements he signed ahead of a case being heard by the Keystone State’s Supreme Court.

Putin praises “genuine” Obama:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has waded into the US election, hailing President Obama as a “genuine” individual while faulting Romney for dubbing his nation America’s main foe.

During an interview with a state-run TV channel, Putin described his counterpart as a man who “really wants to change much for the better”, and said Russia would be more concerned about an American missile defence shield based in Europe if someone “who considers us enemy No. 1” was in the White House.

Top Republicans have seized on Putin’s remarks, arguing the Russian leader wants to keep exploiting Obama’s ‘reset’ policy. In related news, the former governor’s campaign released a foreign policy memorandum which blasts the incumbent for engaging with the Putin-Medvedev administration, and for damaging ties with allies such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel.

The document has been praised by neoconservatives, but savaged by other international affairs observers who have described it as a “bad joke” and accused Romney of lying about issues like Iran.

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