US Election campaign digest: Romney’s tax return, gaffes galore and more

Larry Smith's weekly digest of the Presidential election, covering the decline of the Romney campaign and Obama picking up momentum.


US Campaign Briefing 23/09/12

Romney publishes 2011 tax return:

The Republican nominee has released details of his 2011 tax return, honouring a promise he made earlier in the campaign and attempting to answer persistent doubts about his financial affairs. In a move that came late on Friday, Mitt Romney’s campaign published a filing for last year which had just been submitted to the IRS. It revealed the former governor and his wife Ann paid an effective tax rate of 14% – $1.9m of $13.7m – after waiving charitable deductions.

These deductions – which can be claimed back in future years – would have taken the couple’s tax rate down to around 10%, contradicting Romney’s previous claim never to have paid less than 13%. Within the same filing, the Romneys reported $3.5m “from sources outside the United States” and recorded holdings in Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and the Cayman Islands.

The couple also volunteered a letter from their accountant summarising their tax history from 1990 to 2009, which stated they paid an annual effective tax rate of around 20% and donated an average of 13.45% of their yearly income to charitable causes. Neither publication has satisfied Romney’s opponents, with the Obama campaign arguing he “continues to fail” disclosure tests. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has reiterated his earlier criticism of Romney’s finances, accusing him of “hiding something” and dismissing the significance of an “outline by some accountant about his blind trust”.

However, Republicans have mostly rallied round their presidential candidate. Arizona Senator John McCain said it was “time to get back to discussing the issues that voters care about”; conservative pundits hailed Romney’s generosity; and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie upbraided Reid for lobbing unsubstantiated accusations at the GOP nominee.

Opposition researchers and reporters are likely to delve further into the documents over the coming days, as questions are asked about the tax rate Romney paid each year after 1990, the overseas investments made by his family’s trust and the effect that President Obama’s signature legislation would have on his income.

Fundraiser comments still in spotlight:

Romney has faced further criticism for secretly telling a group of fundraisers that 47% of Americans are welfare dependents who will not vote for him under any circumstances. Speaking at a rally in Virginia on Friday, President Obama tore into his rival for the remarks, arguing the country would not benefit from leaders who “write off half the nation as a bunch of victims”.

The incumbent’s campaign team and the national Democratic party matched his attack with salvos of their own, releasing videos that criticised Romney for stigmatising seniors and recapped devastating media coverage from earlier this week. Romney’s party has hardly come to his defence, with the GOP’s congressional leaders pointedlyavoiding questions about the comments, former primary contender Rick Santorum weighing in on the substance of his words and more statewide candidates actively distancing themselves from the presidential contender (see below).

In the most stinging intervention mounted by a Republican, Ronald Reagan’s ex-speechwriter Peggy Noonan called the former governor’s campaign a “rolling calamity”, adding he could no longer act as “CEO” of his own presidential bid. Romney and his team have largely shrugged off the pressure, condemning the dependency culture while faulting President Obama for once having endorsed redistribution and having lamented the difficulty of bringing change to Washington.

These lines of attack have been criticised in the press, amid allegations of distortion andhypocrisy on Romney’s part. Polling conducted on the controversy has made equally grim reading for the Republican candidate. Gallup found independents less likely to support Romney as a result of the comments, and a clear plurality of voters surveyed by Reuters had a less favourable view of him after seeing the video.

Romney has also been haunted by archive footage of his mother Leonore touting the time his father George spent on welfare.

Polls show Obama building up steam:

A fresh glut of polling has found President Obama clearly besting his Republican rival, as the latter continues to struggle in key swing states. A survey conducted by bipartisan firm Purple Strategies put Obama on top in Colorado, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, while showing Romney one up in Florida but just three points clear in Republican-leaning Arizona.

Quinnipiac had Obama aheadamong likely voters in Virginia, Colorado and Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin, which other polls have suggested is drifting out of the former governor’s reach. Findings from NBC and Maristconfirmed Obama held the advantage in the Badger State and additionally found him defeating the GOP nominee by eight points in Iowa.

Although Gallup’s daily tracker has shown the race returning to a tie, the incumbent has maintained or expanded his lead in most new nationwide surveys. AP and UConn have estimated Obama is between one and three points in front, with Heartland Monitor, Reason and the Pew Research Centre putting him around seven or eight points ahead of Romney.

There has been more good news for Obama on the economy: AP had the president beating Romney on who is best to handle the issue; Pew showed voters trust both candidates about equally to make the right economic decisions; and Purple Strategies found the proportion of swing state voters expressing confidence about the direction of the economy on the increase.

Further polls: [Reuters/Ipsos]; [Fox News – FL, OH, VA]; [YouGov – swing states]; [WAA – FL, PA]; [WAA – VA]; [Tampa Bay Times – FL]; [CNN – NV]; [High Point – NC]; [CNN – MI]; [Detroit News – MI].

Republicans fret over lack of Romney coattails:

Politico quotes GOP strategists worried that the lack of a ‘robust’ presidential ticket will complicate their party’s efforts to take control of the Senate this autumn. One former state party chair has said the former governor’s campaign is ‘stalled’ in critical battlegrounds, impeding Republicans who are seeking to oust Democratic senators in places like Florida and Ohio.

Another leading voice, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola, has conceded the presidential race is having a “big impact” down the ballot. Although other operatives are more bullish, there is a growing sense that Romney will not be able to push swing state Senate candidates past the finishing post. Party officials are now eying states unlikely to be competitive nationally – Montana, North Dakota and Connecticut – as more plausible pickup opportunities.

Surveys taken all over the country this week have shown Democratic contenders gaining as President Obama moves further into the lead, and Republican candidates in Democratic-leaning states have moved to distance themselves from the Republican nominee. Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson publicly blamed Romney for his slump, while Nevada’s Dean Heller piled on the ex-governor for his remarks about voters who receive government assistance.

Massachusetts’s Scott Brown has been noticeably reluctant to restate his support for Romney in recent days, and was pressed over his ties to the Republican nominee during a debate with rival Elizabeth Warren.

Candidates quizzed over immigration:

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney were forced to justify their positions on immigration when they were interviewed separately at forums hosted by Spanish-language channel Univision.

During his appearance on Thursday, the Democrat endured tough questioning from moderator Jorge Ramos regarding comprehensive reform of America’s immigration system, and said he had not been able to deliver because of America’s divided government. Obama was also pressed over the record number of deportations that have taken place since he assumed office, something he blamed on Congress’s budget priorities.

Romney for his part sought to strike a softer note than he has done in the past, promising not to aggressively round up undocumented aliens and to institute “an immigration reform system that resolves this issue”. However, he did not reveal how he would handle over one million illegal immigrants now able to apply for temporary reprieves offered by the Obama administration.

Commentators noted the president ‘got hammered’ on a range of issues important to Hispanic voters when appearing at Univision’s forum, although polls have shown him extending his lead among the demographic to new highs.

It has emerged Romney’s team pressed Univision to allow its supporters into his forum and that the candidate himself demanded a walk-in be retaped.

Prez grabs cash advantage:

New campaign finance data hasrevealed the Obama campaign has a significant financial advantage over Team Romney as the election approaches.

Information handed to the Federal Election Commission on Thursday showed the President’s camp with $88m to spend on ads and staff during the last few weeks of campaigning, with their Republican opposition having just $35m on hand. The incumbent is also besting Romney in total funds raised, having pulled in $774m to the former governor’s $736m.

The main Super PAC supporting Romney, Restore Our Future, has published paperwork indicating it spent $21.7m in August, which was three times as much at it raised last month. Further coverage: [Politico].

Admin shifts position on Libya attack:

The Obama administration has come under pressure after changing its initial view of what happened during the assault on its consulate in Benghazi. Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday, press secretary Jay Carney contradicted previous assertions by officials and said it was “self-evident” the attack that killed Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens constituted a terrorist incident.

Quizzed about the admission during his Univision interview, President Obama said the matter was still under investigation but did not rule out the possibility that militants linked to Al-Qaeda had used demonstrations over an anti-Islam film to strike the mission. Republicans in Congress have expressed frustration with the White House’s confused response to the issue.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said it looked like Obama had “purposely mislead” the American public, while former presidential candidate John McCain argued his onetime rival should scale back campaigning to address the matter. The US government’s failure to respond to violent attacks on western outposts in Libya before the tragedy is now under scrutiny, as is the State Department’s slowness in deploying Marine guards to America’s embassy in Tripoli.

Further coverage: [Daily Beast]

No deal on taxes if Obama wins, GOP leaders say:

Senior Republicans on Capitol Hill have insisted they will not compromise on tax increases as part of efforts to reduce the national deficit should President Obama be re-elected this November. Democratic legislators had claimed an impasse over tax and spending issues could be nearing an end after a Tea Party-aligned Senator, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, told Bloomberg Republicans were “going to have to give tax increases to Obama” in order to protect the defence budget.

However, the right-wing stalwart later clarified that he would “never” agree to higher tax revenues and dismissed the merits of holding a lame-duck session of Congress following the election. House Speaker John Boehner has also dismissed the possibility of concessions in this area, warning tax increases would endanger jobs.

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Stumps in WI [Businessweek];

• Justice officials rapped over Fast and Furious conduct [Financial Times] ; Prez fibs about operation’s origin [Daily Caller];

• Aides shower praise on Romney debating skills [WSJ];
• Clinton to keep up campaigning schedule [RealClearPolitics]; lends a hand with debate expectations [Politico];

• Letterman deficit answer panned [Business Insider];

• Morsi issues tart rejoinder to ally comments [NYT];

• Biden misstates Afghanistan troop number [ABC News];

• Troika’s Greece report delayed following admin pressure [Reuters];

• Ex-CoS held secret meeting with Ehud Barak [Ynet]; Netanyahu clip features in opposition commercial [Jewish Chronicle];

• IA early ballot requests easily favour [National Journal];

• PA Dems look to exploit voter ID loophole [Political Wire];

• Disgraced NC party official prompts further embarrassment [News Observer];

• VP’s wife cracks up after accidental penis gag [BuzzFeed].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Unveils new housing agenda [WSJ]; knocked for lack of substance [Business Insider];

• Ryan booed at pensioner conference [ABC News] ; Dems seize on heckling in ad [YouTube];

• Pawlenty resigns as chair to take up finance role [Financial Times];

• Fundraises in CA while Obama in WI [ABC News];

• Changes Iran nuclear stance again; wants Ahmadinejad indicted for genocide [Foreign Policy];

• Rubio stars in Medicare commercial [CNN];

• Ann angry at backbiting [Radio Iowa]; plane makes emergency landing after fire [Daily Mail];

• Coal ad features miners forced to attend rally [Chicago Tribune];

• Club for Growth chief says conservatism still not proven [BuzzFeed];

• Scott Walker wants to see Ryan used more effectively [TPM];

• Energy adviser sought Keystone rerouting to safeguard business interests [Reuters];

• Doctor’s letter attests to fitness [LA Times];

• Finally sees axed convention bio vid [Political Wire];

• Wins coveted Homer Simpson vote [YouTube].

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