US election campaign digest: Post-convention polling, remembering 9/11 and more

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


Polls show post-convention bounce for Obama

Several polling surveys conducted in the wake of the Democratic convention have found President Obama opening up a bigger lead over Mitt Romney, as some voices within the Republican party express anxiety about the former governor’s presidential bid. Tracking polls taken since the weekend have shown the Democrat besting the GOP nominee by around five or six points, with the incumbent’s approval rating hovering around the 50% mark.

A much-discussed CNN/ORC national survey showed a similar gap between the two candidates, as statewide polls found Obama rising in Ohio and North Carolina. Findings from Pew have hinted former President Bill Clinton’s barnstorming speech to delegates in Charlotte may have boosted Obama’s standing, although the current President’s address won better reviews from respondents than Romney’s had.

There is little sign last Friday’s disappointing jobs report has damaged Obama: indeed, data compiled by Gallup has revealed a sharp spike in voter confidence in the economy. Against this backdrop, disquiet has mounted in Republican ranks about Romney’s candidacy. Talk radio host Laura Ingraham accused the ex-governor of throwing away a “gimme election”, while The Wall Street Journal bemoaned his failure to “explain the economic moment”.

The Republican candidate appeared to lose his footing at the beginning of the week, briefly claiming Obama wished to remove mentions of God from America’s coins and mixing up his position on healthcare for people with pre-existing medical conditions. However, Romney’s campaign has insisted recent polling masks the continuing closeness of the race.

An ABC News/Washington Post survey released on Tuesday which showed Obama and the former governor locked in a dead heat among likely voters backed up this assumption, while a new poll published this week also underscored that the Republican is still competitive in the key battleground of Virginia. Further polls: [PPP]; [Survey USA – FL]; [Survey USA – NC]; [IBD-TIPP – Latinos].

Candidates pause to mark 9/11

The presidential contenders have taken a break from normal campaigning to remember the September 11th attacks, with President Obama attending a memorial in Washington and his Republican challenger focusing on the atrocities during a speech in Nevada. Speaking at a service outside the Pentagon, Obama reflected on “a day that began like so many others” but ended in horror, while stating “no act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for”.

He went on to note the progress America had made in eradicating Al-Qaeda, saying the Islamist extremists had been dealt a “crippling blow”. For his part, Romney gave a speech to national guardsmen in Reno honouring those who perished in the “heinous attacks” and praising those who served in Afghanistan. “Many have known violence so that their neighbors could know peace,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, Vice President Biden delivered a highly personal address at a service in Pennsylvania commemorating the passengers who died aboard Flight 93.

Overshadowing these events somewhat was the release of Navy SEAL Mark Owen’s book about the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, No Easy Day. In a controversial interview two days before the anniversary, the ex-serviceman gave new details about the operation as well as his unit’s subsequent meeting with President Obama. This provoked an angry response from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has hinted his department could soon take legal action against the soldier.

Administration slammed for Cairo embassy apology

Mitt Romney strayed from a pledge not to criticise President Obama on 9/11 when he condemned the administration’s response to an attack on America’s embassy in Cairo yesterday. In a statement released late on Tuesday, the Republican nominee said it was “disgraceful” the embassy had initially issued an apology for a video made by anti-Muslim pastor Terry Jones that prompted violent demonstrations, and accused Obama’s government of “sympathising with those who waged the attacks”.

An official subsequently told Politico the embassy’s words had not been approved by Washington.

Romney seizes on Chicago teacher spat

An industrial dispute between Chicago’s school board and the city’s teachers has made national headlines after the Republican nominee sought to exploit a walkout in President Obama’s hometown. Addressing a fundraiser in the Windy City on Monday, Romney said the needs of children should take priority over those of teaching unions, adding he would “stand up” to the labour groups if elected president.

Both Romney and running mate Paul Ryan subsequently took the side of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is battling teachers over plans to alter staff assessment and recall rights. Their interventions prompted a dismissive response from the ex-White House Chief of Staff and the Obama campaign, which said Romney was “playing political games with local disputes”.

The President has so far stayed well clear of the standoff, mindful of his past ties to the teacher’s union but also their opposition to policies championed by his education secretary, Arne Duncan.

Ryan under pressure over defence cut votes

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has defended his past votes in Congress after his running mate said House Republicans made a mistake by endorsing automatic defence spending cuts due to come into force next year.

Ryan told a Sunday morning show his backing for legislation which contained the cuts was a “down payment” for deficit reduction, and his goal was never for the sequester to occur. He additionally noted his party had advocated a bill that would reverse the cuts in question. President Obama’s campaign seized on Ryan’s discomfort, with a campaign spokeswoman blasting the Republican nominees for contradicting one another.

In a related development, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has condemned both parties for previously endorsing sequestration, branding their behaviour “irresponsible”. Further coverage: [Politico].

Prez regains fundraising lead

New campaign finance figures reveal President Obama narrowly outraised Romney through August, with the incumbent and the Democratic National Committee raking in $114m and the Republican ticket garnering $111.6m. Data also show Romney’s campaign spent upwards of $129m last month.

In related news, The Financial Times reports (£) President Obama’s Super PAC, Priorities USA, is bidding to raise $150m from wealthy Democratic donors in the weeks before election day. Music magnate David Geffen and Oprah Winfrey are understood to be those in the sights of the group, which has recently enlisted the services of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Clinton hits stump in FL [Palm Beach Post];

• Voters tip in upcoming debates [CNN];

• Netanyahu meeting snub denied [The Guardian];

• Regretted singling out Ryan in speech [The Hill];

• Campaign plots WI ad blast [Politico];

• Up by 5 in NM [TPM];

• Offers unconvincing defence of drones [Wired];

• WV gov whacks over coal in re-election ad [National Journal];

• Dems pursue OH election chief [BuzzFeed];

• White House approved quotes for major magazine profile [NYT];

• Supporter gives Prez a lift [CNBC]; Biden lap-sitting denied [WaPo].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Bain career becoming less of a negative [WaPo]; finder fee disputes in spotlight [ProPublica];

• Says Obama hasn’t stopped Iran nuclear progress [Jerusalem Post]; McCain laments lack of foreign policy focus [AP];

• Ryan pushes back on foreign policy criticism [AP]; Reid mocks marathon boast [LA Times]; to run re-election ads in district [SFG]

• Maintains AZ advantage [PPP];

• Europeans rate very negatively [The Guardian];

• Makes campaign stop in Jacksonville [Miami Herald];

• Aides fret over NV chances [Politico];

• Adelson could gain from tax plan [Huffington Post];

• Family Research Council chief claims regular contact [TPM];

• Laura Bush appears with Ann at fundraiser [KJRH];

• Can’t name favourite NASCAR driver [WaPo].

Congressional and State Races:

Akin bullish on party support

Missouri’s Republican Senate contender Todd Akin has said he expects to receive more financial backing from members of his party when a deadline for him to quit the contest expires.

The congressman, who returned to Washington this week for the first time since the outrage over his comments about rape, said he expected an upsurge in support after September 25th, the last point at which he could petition the courts to strike him from the ballot. There was speculation last week Akin’s resources were drying up when ads he ran in the aftermath of the controversy were removed from local TV stations. Further coverage: [AP].

Warren coming back after convention speech

A new survey of Massachusetts voters by Republican-leaning Kimball Political Consulting has found Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren closing the gap with Republican Scott Brown following her appearance at the Democratic National Convention last Wednesday. The incumbent has seen his lead over Warren fall from six points to one in the period since August 24th.

Medicare in spotlight as ND contenders debate

The candidates running for North Dakota’s open Senate seat have met for the first of three televised debates, with Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and her Republican opponent Rick Berg clashing strongly over Medicare reform.

Heitkamp used the encounter to accuse Berg of supporting efforts to privatise social security, and jabbed him for backing George W Bush’s 2005 attempt to overhaul the entitlement. Berg responded by claiming the former state attorney general’s attack was “what’s wrong with Washington”, a complaint that prompted loud booing from the audience.

Donnelly uses Ryan to slam Mourdock

Indiana’s Democratic Senate hopeful Joe Donnelly has released a new commercial which includes a clip of Republican vice presidential contender Paul Ryan disagreeing with his GOP opponent Richard Mourdock over the virtues of compromise. The ad, ‘Don’t Agree’, features video of Ryan telling a policy summit earlier this year he rejected Mourdock’s belief that “we need less bipartisanship in Congress”.

Polls have shown Donnelly is competitive with Mourdock, but that the Romney-Ryan ticket is overwhelmingly favoured to scoop Indiana’s electoral votes.

McMahon goes after rival’s mortgage deal

Connecticut’s Republican Senate contender Linda McMahon has called for an ethics investigation into an alleged ‘sweetheart’ mortgage deal obtained by her Democratic rival, Representative Chris Murphy. The former wrestling executive’s campaign has recently put out a number of releases regarding a low-interest mortgage rise Murphy received from Webster Bank, which he worked for during his years as a lawyer.

In another development, McMahon and Murphy have traded blows over federal defence spending, which is of considerable importance to the state’s economy and contractors. Further coverage: [Hartford Courant].

AZ race a nailbiter

Republican Representative Jeff Flake and his Democratic rival for Arizona’s open Senate seat, Richard Carmona, are locked in an extremely close battle according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. The GOP Congressman leads the former surgeon general by just one percentage point, although the former is much more well-known to voters.

Thompson says sorry for aide’s gay slur

Wisconsin’s GOP Senate candidate Tommy Thompson has apologised after a spokesman took to Twitter and derided his openly gay opponent Tammy Baldwin for dancing at a gay pride event. Thompson, who has not dismissed the aide in question entirely from his campaign, added a person’s sexual preference was “absolutely not an issue”.

Senior GOPers rally round right-wing congressman

A number of top Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have publicly supported controversial conservative Iowa Representative Steve King, who is locked in a tight fight with former Hawkeye State First Lady Christie Vilsack.

Romney’s endorsement of King – who is best known for his inflammatory comments on immigration – have prompted fierce attacks from Democrats, who accuse the GOP nominee of tying himself to “one the most strident voices in his party”.

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