US Election campaign digest: Romney’s gaffes, disagreement with China and more

Fundraiser gaffes scuttle Romney relaunch

Efforts by the Republican nominee to reboot his flagging campaign have been thrown off course after it emerged he made disparaging comments about Obama voters to a gathering of fundraisers. A video clip obtained by liberal magazine Mother Jones showed Romney telling a group of wealthy supporters in Florida earlier this year that 47% of Americans would “vote for the president no matter what” because they were “dependent upon government”.  He went on to say this group “believe they are victims”, “pay no income tax” and were not his responsibility.

The leaked clip – which was followed by video of the entire event, including footage of Romney dismissing the prospect of a two-state solution in the Middle East – has sparked widespread condemnation. President Obama’s camp quickly blasted the GOP nominee for “disdainfully writing off half the nation”, with the Democrat himself later telling David Letterman there are “not a lot of people out there who think they are victims”.

GOP Senate candidates and governors rushed to distance themselves from Romney’s sentiments, as prominent conservative commentators faulted the logic behind his remarks. The New York Times’s David Brooks rejected Romney’s view of Americans as ‘childlike worshipers of big government’; The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan said he had spoken like ‘a shallow campaign operative’; and The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol accused him of showing contempt for core Republican voters who do not pay income tax, including seniors and active military personnel.

In an attempt to defuse the row, Romney initially said the video had not fully captured the essence of his views, but added he could have phrased them more elegantly. He subsequently gave a combative interview to Fox News in which he defended his faith in “free people and free enterprise” and hit out President Obama for once having advocated redistribution.

The leak could hardly have come at a worse time for the former governor, who has been deflecting reports of discord within his campaign and was hoping to reset his presidential bid with a high-profile speech to Latino business leaders on Monday. Although a few pundits have argued Romney remains in a comparatively strong position, there is a consensus he must address the furore decisively to keep his candidacy afloat. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has described the misstep as the Republican’s ‘darkest hour’, warning that his views, if not corrected, could ‘cost him the election’.

Obama widens China spat

The political debate over China’s trading practices has intensified after President Obama announced the filing of a complaint over export subsidies with the World Trade Organisation and hammered his Republican rival for profiting from firms that outsourced jobs to the People’s Republic.

During a campaign stop in Ohio, the President revealed his administration had formally complained to the WTO regarding $1bn China allegedly gave to its auto exporters, adding these payments were harmful to Midwestern workers. He went on to hit Romney again for talking tough on China, gloating at his ownership of companies that were ‘pioneers’ in shipping business to Asia.

For his part, the former governor dismissed moves that had come “too little, too late”, and pledged a “comprehensive strategy” to level the playing field on trade. In related news, the Romney campaign has faced questions about further leaked video from the Florida fundraiser during which the former governor recounts terrible labour conditions at a Chinese factory he toured whilst head of Bain Capital. Aides to the Republican nominee have not refuted suggestions the private equity firm invested in the plant, although a source familiar with Bain’s interests has said the company did not purchase it. Related polling: [Pew]

Voters pass judgement on Libya responses

A nationwide survey by Pew has revealed many Americans closely followed last week’s assaults on US embassies in the Middle East, and preferred the way President Obama responded to the incidents. Of the four in ten voters who followed developments, 45% approved of Obama’s handling of the situation compared to just 26% who rated Romney’s statements positively.

Those not paying much attention to the story were more likely to rate Obama’s handling of events (44%-17%). Polling from Monmouth has also shown the incumbent winning higher marks for his response, though an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey has suggested his well-established lead on foreign policy is slipping. In related news, the Obama administration has contradictedLibyan government claims that the assault on its consulate in Benghazi was pre-planned by militias and foreign terrorists. UN Ambassador Susan Rice said people with extremist ties and heavy weaponry joined a protest over an anti-Islam film and added the US has not yet seen evidence of a “co-ordinated plan”.

Netanyahu repeats call for red lines

Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has used an interview with an American Sunday talk show to renew his calls for a US ultimatum over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In a sit-down with NBC’s Meet the Press, the Prime Minister said “you have to place that red line before them now, before it’s too late”, while warning Tehran was six months away from having nearly all the enriched uranium required for an atomic bomb. He also said he was not intervening on the basis of the US election calendar. The comments have prompted some debate about the status of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme, even as parts of the Israeli press scold Netanyahu for becoming “Obama’s opponent” and one former Israeli security chief publicly doubts the wisdom of confrontation with Iran.

Wisconsin still too close to call

The battle for the Badger State’s ten electoral votes remains tight, with a Public Policy Polling survey showing President Obama one point ahead of the Republican nominee. The same poll found Wisconsin’s Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin pulling into the lead over her GOP rival (see below), suggesting local boy Paul Ryan has handed Romney a shot at his home turf. The President is to campaign in Milwaukee this Saturday, a further sign that the traditionally blue state is in play this November. Obama continues to lead by modest margins nationally: findings from PPP put the President 4% ahead, NBC and The Wall Street Journal have given him a 5% lead, and Gallup’s latest Daily Tracker has him clinging to a 1% advantage. At state level, the incumbent has the upper hand in VirginiaNew HampshireMichiganPennsylvania and Oregon.

Chicago teacher strike halted

Teachers in President Obama’s home city have voted to suspend their strike and return to their classrooms, ending over a week’s worth of industrial action that drew nationwide attention. Members of the local teaching union agreed to end their walkout following a deal between top labour representatives and Chicago’s school board. Earlier, officials from the Obama campaign and the White House played down links between the walkout and arguments about education across the US. Questioned by reporters on Monday, campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki insisted the”local political dispute” was not representative of a nationwide debate over school standards, and dismissed efforts by Romney to link the President to the standoff. Psaki’s replacement as White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest meanwhile cooled speculation Obama intervened in a bid to end the row, saying he had merely hoped both sides would put Chicago’s students at “the top of the priority list”.

Obama Campaign – Other News

Romney Campaign  – Other News

  • Slims down economic plan [LA Times]
  • Releases hard-hitting women’s ad []
  • Steps up debt warnings [YouTube]
  • Voters sour on Bain experience again [PPP]
  • Ryan begs to be unleashed on policy [BuzzFeed]; says tax loopholes will be left to Congress [Political Wire]
  • Spending restrictions forced campaign to borrow $20m in August [NRO]
  • Claims no meeting with anti-immigration adviser Kobach [CNN]; campaign contradicts [TPM]
  • Chicago billionaire Ricketts sinks more money into supportive Super PAC [The Hill]
  • Restore Our Future advertising in MI [Politico]
  • Getting crushed in home state [Political Wire]
  • Cameron badmouthed to Hollywood mogul [Daily Mail]; British Tories forecasting defeat [The Guardian]

Congressional and State Races

Momentum shifts towards Warren in MA

Three new polls of the Massachusetts Senate race have shown Elizabeth Warren re-establishing a lead over Republican Scott Brown in the wake of her appearance at the Democratic National Convention. A survey by Western New England University’s Polling Institute had the Democrat defeating Brown by 6%, up from a statistically irrelevant 2% in June. Meanwhile a poll for 7News and Suffolk University put Warren in front by 4% and Public Policy Polling’s latest read of the Bay State has found the academic leading by 2%. PPP’s findings reveal Brown’s popularity has risen in recent weeks, but that many in the overwhelmingly Democratic state are concerned about the prospect of a GOP-run Senate. The change in fortunes follows news Warren has recalibrated her ad strategy to woo working-class voters and draw sharper contrasts with Brown. A boxing-themed commercialreleased by the Democrat’s campaign towards the end of last week cast her as a “fighter”, while slamming the Republican for “siding with the big-money guys.”

Baldwin erases Thompson’s advantage

A Public Policy Polling survey of Wisconsin has found Democratic Senate nominee Tammy Baldwin overhauling Republican rival Tommy Thompson, with the Congresswoman now three points in front of her opponent. Baldwin, who PPP shows turned a five point deficit into a three point lead, was also up in an internal poll she released earlier this week. Her strength is being attributed to a series of negative ads she ran against Thompson, as well a feisty address she gave to the DNC at the start of the month.

Akin back on stump

Missouri’s GOP Senate contender Todd Akin has hit the campaign trail for the first time since making controversial remarks about rape and abortion. The Congressman, who temporarily abandoned his public appearances after the now-notorious comments, has swung through several different regions of the Show-Me State but avoided visiting its second largest city, heavily Democratic St Louis. Akin has also kept up his attacks on national Republican ‘bosses’, accusing former RNC Chairman and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour of “trying to advance his own personal brand” by paying to advertise against him on Google. In other news, Akin’s wife Lulli has raised eyebrows with a rape-related gaffe of her own, and the Republican’s campaign temporarily took down a “Women for Akin” website which featureda picture of a tracker who worked for his opponent, Claire McCaskill.

National parties step into IN fight

Both Democratic and Republican National Senatorial Committees have purchased over $500,000 worth of ad buys in Indiana, another sign that GOP candidate Richard Mourdock is lagging behind Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the Hoosier State. Republican leaders including Ryan, Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Texas Republican John Cornyn have also looked to bolster Mourdock’s candidacy, although the Republican’s defeated primary rival and incumbent Senator Dick Lugar has ruled out actively campaigning on his behalf. An internal poll released by Democratic contender Joe Donnelly on Monday had him leading Mourdock by three points. 

Nelson running away from Mack

Fresh surveys of Florida have found Democratic Senator Bill Nelson accumulating sizable leads over his Republican challenger Connie Mack IV. A Rasmussen poll showed the incumbent holding on to a seven point advantage, while Marist’s findings from the Sunshine State towards the end of last week had him up 51% to 37%. Some commentators have suggestedthe Democrat is benefitting from President Obama’s relatively strong performance across Florida, and wondered whether Mack might now be too closely tied to his party’s presidential nominee after giving a speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Kaine seizes on abortion clinic regulation

Virginia’s Democratic Senate contender Tim Kaine has sought to put his Republican rival George Allen on the defensive over reproductive rights, criticising a state health board for serving existing abortion clinics with new hospital-style building regulations. Kaine, a devout Catholic who is personally pro-life, described the Virginia Board of Health’s decision as “unacceptable”, and implicitly linked it a law passed by Republicans in the Old Dominion which requires women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. Allen has declined to comment on the health board’s decision. Polls: [PPP] [Marist]



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