US election digest: Biden and Ryan prepare for debate, Romney’s Mid East vision and more

Larry Smith's latest round-up of the US Presidential election campaign.


US Campaign Briefing 10/10/12

Presidential Race

Stakes high for VP contenders as debate approaches

Vice President Joe Biden and his opposite number Paul Ryan are preparing to meet for their first and only televised debate on Thursday, as both campaigns grapple with the fallout from Mitt Romney’s clear victory in last Wednesday’s presidential encounter.

In an interview with a Detroit radio station on Monday, the Wisconsin Congressman said his running mate had “raised the bar quite high”, and stated Biden would “come flying at us” in a bid to regain the initiative. Democratic sources have downplayed suggestions the Vice President is under pressure to make up for Obama’s weak performance, despite reports senior aide David Axelrod counselled Biden on how he could correct the President’s mistakes.

Obama and his team have continued to pressure Romney over statements he made during the Denver debate, revisiting the GOP nominee’s tax plan and launching an ad that lambasts him for being tougher on Sesame Street character Big Bird than Wall Street. Romney allies have responded strongly on both counts, hitting Obama for distorting their candidate’s tax cut agenda and reminding him of his disdain for candidates who make elections about ‘small things’. The Obama camp also faced calls from the PBS children’s show to pull its new commercial, and was eventually obliged to defendits focus on the Big Bird issue.

Discontent among the President’s supporters has mounted in the wake of his poor debate turn, with one prominent media backer accusing him of ‘throwing in the towel’ and many Democratic voters expressing puzzlement at what they witnessed. Obama aides are for their part said to be ‘dismayed’ at their candidate, who reportedly stepped off the stage thinking he had won his duel with Romney. Findings from Gallup have meanwhile shown the Republican candidate achieving the biggest debate win of modern times, one that even surpasses Bill Clinton’s legendary Town Hall triumph of 1992.

Romney gives foreign policy address

The Republican candidate has repeated his criticisms of President Obama’s foreign policy with an address heavily focussed on the Middle East.

Speaking in Virginia, Romney blasted the administration’s strategy in the region and tied it to the attack on America’s consulate in Benghazi, again faulting Obama officials for blaming the assault on an anti-Islam video. He went on to raise the spectre of Iran, warning the country has never been closer to nuclear weapons capability and pledging to impose new economic sanctions if Tehran did not rein in its ambitions. There was also talk of greater assistance to the Syrian rebels, a veiled threat for Egypt if it did not honour democracy or peace with Israel and a hint that “politically-timed retreat” in Afghanistan could be up for reassessment.

Romney’s speech sparked delight among many neoconservatives, although the President’s campaign described it as “free of substance” and riven with platitudes. Most international affairs experts have reacted with scepticism. Centre-right academic Dan Drezner argued Romney’s speech did not differ from many of his past offerings; Brookings’ Middle East analyst Shadi Hamid chided him for not saying how he would respond to the election of Islamist parties; and Foreign Policy’s influential managing editor Blake Hounshell mocked Romney’s pledge to lobby European nations over their defence commitments.

The GOP nominee’s intervention came amid fresh reports of factionalism among his foreign policy aides, and as renewed controversy erupted over the tragedy in Benghazi. The Obama campaign alleged Romney would cut back on security at American embassies around the world as Republican lawmakers knocked the administration for having denied requests for additional security at US missions in Libya. State Department officials will testify before a congressional panel about their response to the incident later today.

A new survey of US attitudes towards the Middle East can be found here.

Polls show election tightening

New national and statewide polls have found Romney erasing President Obama’s commanding advantage following last week’s debate. Much-discussed findings from Pew showed the Republican nominee dramatically reversing an 8% deficit to lead by 4% across the country, and making impressive strides among women, young voters and white non-Hispanics. Public Policy Polling’s latest nationwide survey and Politico/GWU’s latest battleground poll have also made happy viewing for the former governor, while Gallup’s daily tracker showed him up among likely voters but trailing among registered voters.

Romney enjoyed a swing state surge in the immediate aftermath of the debate, seizing the lead in Ohio, Florida and Virginia and bringing Wisconsin back into contention. Pollsters subsequently found him drawing close in Pennsylvania and Michigan, taking pole position in Colorado but still facing challenges in the Buckeye State.

Further polls: [IBD-TIPP]; [RAND]; [WMUR – NH]; [ABC/WaPo – favourability]; [Latino Decisions – Hispanics].

GOP nominee rejigs unemployment message

Romney has amended his attacks on President Obama’s handling of unemployment following last week’s job figures, tweaking a regular line that criticised his rival for failing to get the jobless rate below 8%. During a rally in Virginia, the Republican candidate noted unemployment had been over 8% for 43 months under Obama, but had hit the same level just 39 months in the 60 years prior to his presidency.

The former governor was earlier faulted by fact-checkers for claiming the real proportion of Americans out of work would stand at 11% if labour force trends were factored out.

Elsewhere, the head of General Electric Jack Welch prompted a media storm – and conspiracy theories among some conservatives – when he accused the Obama administration of manipulating Bureau of Labour Statistics data for September. The Romney campaign has distanced itself from these allegations.

Obama set to cross $1bn threshold

President Obama’s campaign is on course to be the first ever to raise $1bn during an election cycle after it reported $947m in total contributions at the end of September. Official figures show the Obama camp and national Democrats pulled in a combined $181m last month, over $30m more than numbers floated in the media at the end of last week. In other news, it has emerged that the Democratic National Committee had more debt than cash on hand at the start of September, something that may force it to take out loans before November.

Further coverage: [ABC News].

Republicans bullish on early voting

The Romney camp has said it will not allow President Obama to rack up the formidable advantage he enjoyed in early voting four years ago, as an independent survey found the GOP holding its own in some initial returns. Research by George Mason University showed more registered Republicans than Democrats had cast absentee ballots in North Carolina and Florida, although the samples in question were very small and not necessarily representative. Democrats have dominated proceedings in Iowa: 60% of the 127,100 voters who have so far filed absentee ballots in the Hawkeye State were supporters of the President’s party.

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Super PAC turns attention back to Romney’s 47% remark [WaPo];

• New ads zone in on Ryan social security cuts [TPM] [YouTube];

• Prepares for final funder [Political Wire];

• Honours late Hispanic labour icon [LA Times];

• OH official’s voter law appeal condemned [BuzzFeed];

• Swamping airwaves in FL [Tampa Bay Times] and NH [TNR];

• OBL film coming just before election [CBS News];

• Makes odd OJ Simpson joke during rally [Huffington Post];

• Doubts over 2020 college ambition [Politico];

• NBC angry over footage use [WaPo];

• Resort developer threatens to fire employees if Prez re-elected [Gawker].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Aides clarify abortion legislation claim [LA Times];

• MA bipartisanship questioned [NYT];

• Ramps up EPA attacks [];

• Shows more of compassionate side [NBC News]; says he met SEAL killed in Libya attack [NBC News];

• Denies use of notes before debate [Daily Mail];

• Wins endorsement from Nevada outlet [LVRJ];

• New ad woos Latinos [YouTube];•

Ryan interview cut after ‘strange’ question [NY Daily News];

• Resources shifted from PA to OH [Daily Caller];

• Tax idea could hit charitable giving [TPM];

• May not get Ron Paul’s vote [BuzzFeed];

• OH Dems knock for Michigan team support [BuzzFeed].

Congressional and State Races

Brown and Warren still locked in close battle

New surveys have suggested the Massachusetts Senate race remains wide open, with Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown both holding poll leads. The Western New England University Polling Institute had the Democrat five points in front of her Republican rival, while YouGov America put her 2% up and WBUR gave the incumbent Senator a 4% advantage. Both contenders have seen their negatives rise as the campaign descends into acrimony: Western New England University found the Democrat’s net favourability down from +20% to + 9%, and the Senator’s approval dipping from +22% to +16%.

In fresh mudslinging: Warren has hit back at Brown for implying she helped an insurance firm restrict compensation to asbestos victims, and a disgruntled former business partner has released a strange video of the Senator discussing whom he would most like to stalk.

McCaskill broadens attack on Akin rape stance

Missouri’s Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill has again blasted her Republican challenger Todd Akin for his positions on rape and reproductive issues, releasing a new commercial which brings up his opposition to emergency contraception for victims of rape and incest. The 30-second spot touts the role McCaskill played in combating sexual violence as a prosecutor, and features footage of Akin discussing his view of “legitimate rape”.

The Congressman has fought back with a negative attack of his own, jumping on an analysis from AP which suggested businesses run by McCaskill’s husband received $40m in federal handouts during her first five years in office. This controversy has attracted the interest of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which had previously refused to provide Akin with any sort of support.

McMahon, Murphy trade blows in testy encounter

The candidates bidding to succeed retiring Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman have met for their first televised debate, with both Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon throwing sharp punches during an ill-tempered head-to-head.

McMahon, who observers now believe has a chance of winning the heavily blue state, refuted claims that her economic plan lacked substance and knocked her rival over allegations he accepted a sweetheart mortgage deal from one of Connecticut’s banks.

Murphy dismissed the accusations and went after the Republican over her notorious bankruptcy and inconsistent position on the state’s gay marriage law. A poll for the conservative US Chamber of Commerce has shown McMahon leading Murphy by 3%, a number consistent with independent polls that show the race a virtual dead heat.

Dems pour more resources into AZ

The national Democratic Party has looked to capitalise on polls showing a nailbiting race for Arizona’s open Senate seat, upping ad buys in the state to $1m following an ad campaign by the right-wing Club for Growth which targeted their nominee Richard Carmona. The ex-surgeon general has continued to garner favourable reviews of his candidacy and will today rally with former President Bill Clinton, who is also inserting himself into Indiana’s increasingly tight Senate bout.

ND race a dead heat

The fight to succeed North Dakota’s retiring Democratic Senator Kent Conrad is too close to call, according to an independent pollster. Findings from Mason-Dixon have shown Republican Congressman Rick Berg and former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp each winning 47%, with 6% of voters undecided. The survey is the first nonpartisan read of the race for months, and supports widely-held assumptions that Heitkamp is defying gravity in the traditionally Republican state.

National Democratic groups have recently launched a series of attacks on Berg’s voting record and his ties to a controversial property management company, as their Republican counterparts imply Heitkamp would be a ‘stamp’ for President Obama.

Kaine wins Warner seal of approval

Virginia’s Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine has received the full-throated endorsement of his predecessor as governor and the Old Dominion’s most popular leader, Senator Mark Warner. The two men both appear together in a new campaign commercial, during which they tout their friendship and pledge to be “a great team” in Washington.

GOP hopeful George Allen has meanwhile looked to soften Kaine’s poll advantage with an attack on his support for the debt-ceiling deal that resulted in large defence spending reductions. A fourth televised debate between the two candidates on Monday saw neither man land a knockout punch.

Rehberg’s fire lawsuit in spotlight

Montana’s Republican Senate hopeful Denny Rehberg has been criticised by his Democratic rival Jon Tester for a costly legal dispute he had with a local fire department. The incumbent Senator raised the case during a debate with Rehberg on Monday, saying he had injured taxpayers in the city of Billings via a lawsuit that concerned a wildfire at his ranch. The GOP Congressman replied that Tester’s support for President Obama’s agenda was the real issue of the election.

Further coverage: [The Hill].

Further Senate polls: [PPP – WI]; [WAM – FL, OH]; [EPIC/MRA -MI]; [Siena – PA].

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