US election digest: Rioting extremists, Romney’s taxes and more

Larry Smith reports on the week's events of the Presidential election campaign, as Islamic protests continue and Mitt Romney's tax return is criticised.


US Campaign Briefing 26/09/12

Presidential Race

Obama responds to protests amid criticism of Libya death remark

President Obama has used a speech to the UN to condemn unrest across the Muslim world which saw the US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens lose his life.

Addressing the organisation’s annual general assembly in New York, Obama paid tribute to Stevens before urging other world leaders present to speak out against violence and extremism. While condemning the “disgusting” anti-Muslim film that sparked anger, he added it was time to “marginalise” those who made hatred of the west a central part of their politics.

There was also tough talk on Syria, and a pledge the US would “do what it must” to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Obama’s appearance, which he followed with a speech to Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative, came as his Republican challenger Mitt Romney criticised him for having described Stevens’s murder and other instances of turmoil in the Middle East as “bumps in the road”.

Speaking to ABC News, the GOP nominee said Obama’s remarks during an interview with CBS were “quite revealing”, and set Stevens’s killing alongside the conflict in Syria, Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendancy in Egypt. Romney repeated his concerns about Egypt during his own appearance at the Clinton Global Initiative, where he again signalled his scepticism about engagement with newly-powerful Islamist parties.

Meanwhile the White House remains under pressure over its handling of events in Libya. The President conceded on Tuesday the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi “wasn’t just a mob action”, and it has been revealed the mission in question was operating below normal security standards at the time of the attack.

Republicans have additionally stepped up criticism of the administration for denouncing the anti-Islam video, with House Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers deploring adverts run by the State Department in Pakistan which he said “gave a permission slip” to Islamic extremists.

Dems seize on tax return release

The Obama campaign has moved to exploit Romney’s 2011 tax return, unveiling a new commercial that links the filing to the former governor’s derisive remarks about Americans who do not pay income tax.

In an ad released on Monday, the President’s team accused Romney of having “callously written off” a large segment of Americans and of “attacking others” before clarifying his own tax affairs. Prominent Democratic figures have also knocked the Republican over his financial status, with Vice President Joe Biden accusing him of hypocrisy and both Bill and Hillary Clinton raising objections to the effective tax rate he pays.

The media has continued to focus on the fine detail of Romney’s 2011 return, including a big gain he and his wife posted in overseas income, their investments in Russia and their designation of the US as a “foreign country” on one form.

Significant majorities of swing state voters still want Romney to publish a sizable amount of his tax history, despite the summary of returns he released last Friday.

Republicans gripe over lack of Ryan role

Supporters of GOP vice presidential contender Paul Ryan have expressed frustration the Wisconsin Congressman is not playing a bigger part in Mitt Romney’s campaign, as the former governor fends off accusations he has not been hitting the trail hard enough.

An article for Monday’s Washington Post featured a number of conservative pundits disappointed the GOP nominee had not “grasped the Ryan magic” or made his presidential bid about “big issues”. Their complaints follow similar interventions from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, who said Romney was back to a “pre-Ryan” mindset.

The House budget chair himself has dismissed the growing criticism, saying his selection had shown his partner was “not afraid of making big decisions”. Elsewhere, the Republican nominee’s camp have sought to counter claims they are spending too much time fundraising and not enough time on the stump. Romney told ABC News he and Ryan “hit the road pretty damn hard”, while senior adviser Ed Gillespie emphasised the campaign was eager to finish raising the funds required to carry it through election day.

OH slipping from Romney’s grasp

A new poll for The Washington Post has found the GOP nominee falling far behind in Ohio, with some outlets now placing the Buckeye State firmly in President Obama’s column. The survey, which was released as Romney prepared to embark on a bus tour of the state, showed the Democrat eight points ahead and crushing his rival on economic issues.

Another survey of Ohio over the weekend conducted by The University of Cincinnati had Obama five points in front. Team Romney has brushed off the trend, claiming its internal numbers show their candidate competing within the margin of error.

Other findings have given Obama the advantage in Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Romney is still holding up well in Republican-leaning states such as Montana, implying there is a limit to how far Obama’s ratings can rise.

Further polls: [Gallup]; [Politico/GWU]; [Reuters]; [Bloomberg News].

More Jewish Dems get tough with Netanyahu

A number of leading Jewish Democrats have rallied to President Obama’s side over ongoing tension with Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Democrat shrugs off intensifying pressure from the Israeli Premier regarding Iran’s nuclear programme.

In interviews with The Hill, several prominent Jewish lawmakers, including Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and House energy committee ranking member Henry Waxman rebuked Netanyahu for inserting himself into the presidential election, saying it was a mistake for the Israeli leader to intervene in a political way.

During his CBS interview on Sunday, President Obama dismissed complaints from Romney and other Republicans about his handling of Israel, while pledging to “block out any noise that’s out there” when it comes to major national security decisions. The ex-governor used his own appearance on CBS to blast Obama for not meeting with Netanyahu during the UN assembly and for sending a message through the Middle East that “somehow we distance ourselves from our friends”.

Consumer confidence in dramatic rebound

The main benchmark of consumer confidence has climbed sharply during the course of September, a fresh sign of economic optimism that may have boosted President Obama’s re-election prospects.

The Conference Board index showed the measure of consumer confidence rising from 61.3 in August to 70.5 this month, well above the 65.4 recorded in July. Business Insider’s respected deputy editor Joe Weisenthal has opined that the Republican nominee is as good as ‘buried’ if the index holds up over the coming weeks.

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Clinton raises debate stakes for Romney again [TPM];

• Prez pushes back on change comments [TPM];

• Regretted cautious stance on Iran protests [NRO];

• Hints at return to teaching after WH [BBC News];

• WH played up partnership with China firm that Romney invested in [BuzzFeed];

• Axelrod says now not time to have social security reform plan [Hot Air];

• Way behind with veterans [Politico];

• Pelosi takes issue with GOP ‘mute’ commercial [Politico];

• Lieberman still undecided [YouTube];

• NC paper calls for Sebelius to face music over political activity [Daily Caller];

• Madonna offers perplexing endorsement [Huffington Post].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Tax plan becomes even more vague [Huffington Post]; WJC says reticence should be ‘red flag’ for voters [Politico];

• Says Obama did not raise taxes [ABC News];

• Faulted for CBS interview comments on ER rooms [TNR];

• Pushes parent-friendly education policy [WSJ]; Obama camp slams MA record [Boston Globe];

• Jokes about Portman’s tough debate prep [BuzzFeed];

• Reid accuses of having ‘sullied’ Mormonism [Politico];

• Adviser slams Simpson-Bowles [WaPo];

• Raises $2m in Vegas [Ralston Reports]; plots fresh Hollywood funder [Deadline];

• Bain success story Staples to close outlets [Reuters];

• Ryan says DADT a done deal [Huffington Post]; likens Obama to bad NFL refs [NBC];

• Plane windows ‘gaffe’ was actually joke [NY Mag].

Congressional and State Races

Brown staffers faulted for Indian slurs

Aides to Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown have caused a stir after footage emerged of them making ‘war whoops’ and ‘tomahawk chops’ at a rally for him earlier this week.

The behaviour was an obvious reference to the disputed Native American ancestry of Brown’s challenger Elizabeth Warren, and has prompted strong criticism from the Democrat’s camp. Brown has distanced himself from the actions of his staff, although he said the “real offence” was his rival’s decision to falsely claim Cherokee heritage during the course of her academic career.

The spat over Warren’s lineage has escalated in recent days, as Brown launched ads questioning her genealogical claims and the Democratic contender hit back with a snappy rebuttal. Warren has also faced heat from Brown over allegations she did legal work for an insurance company that refused to pay workers compensation for asbestos.

In another development, Boston’s powerful Democratic Mayor Tom Menino endorsed Warren’s candidacy despite a good personal relationship with Brown.

Gloves off as deadline for Akin to quit passes

Missouri’s Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill has put out her first commercial attacking challenger Todd Akin after a deadline for the Republican to remove himself from the ballot passed.

The new ad features several controversial comments made by Akin over the past two years, including his remarks about rape pregnancies, and asks:

“What will he say next?”

McCaskill signalled her readiness to hit Akin last week, claiming in a debate with her rival that his rape comments had “opened the window” onto extreme positions he held. Akin responded by saying his now-notorious words were “talk”, and not as important as “two different voting records”.

In other news, Republican leaders have reluctantly fallen in line behind Akin’s campaign and the GOP challenger is abandoning his past support for federal earmarks in return for possible financial backing from South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s political action committee.

Kaine under fire over tax remark:

Virginia’s Republican Senate contender George Allen has pounced after his Democratic opponent Tim Kaine said he was open to every American paying a certain amount of federal income tax.

Kaine, who made the comment in a debate with Allen last Thursday, was accused by the former GOP Senator of wanting to revive high tax policies he instituted while governor of the Old Dominion. The Democrat’s words have been widely panned by national commentators, and overshadowed a poll which suggested he has finally opened up a significant lead over Allen.

Further coverage: [NYT].

Thompson makes unguarded Medicare comments

Secret video footage has emerged of Wisconsin GOP Senate hopeful Tommy Thompson telling a local Tea Party group he could “do away” with Medicare and Medicaid. Thompson, who made the remarks in June before winning his party’s nomination, was suggesting he could reform the social security programmes like he did welfare.

The clip also shows him arguing in favour of block-granting Medicaid to the states, as well as allowing seniors to opt out of Medicare.

Obama pulling Berkley up in NV

A Public Policy Polling survey of Nevada for the left-leaning League of Conservation Voters has found Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Berkley overturning Republican incumbent Dean Heller’s long-standing poll advantage.

The findings, which put the Las Vegas Congresswoman four points ahead of Heller, also show President Obama trouncing Romney by nine percentage points. A separate poll by top GOP pollster Glen Bolger has shown Heller up five.

Berkley and Heller will face off in a debate for the first time this Thursday.

Poll shows tight battle in MT

A new poll of Montana voters by Mason-Dixon has shown the state’s GOP Congressman Denny Rehberg taking a slight lead over sitting Democratic Senator Jon Tester. Rehberg bests Tester by three points overall, and wins independent voters by 47% to 38%.

GOP wind attack riles ME’s King

A negative commercial concerning independent Senate contender Angus King’s wind energy business is causing a ruckus in Maine, with the former governor calling on the state’s TV stations to remove the Republican advert from circulation. The spot, which went live for the first time over the weekend, features actors branding King a “smooth operator” who profited from the destruction of local beauty spots.

The Maine Senate race has grown more competitive in the past few weeks, with two polls showing GOP candidate Charlie Summers slashing King’s once-overwhelming advantage.

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