US Election Digest: Romney slams Biden, campaigns feud over embassy attack and more

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


US Campaign Briefing 14/10/12

Presidential Race

Romney seizes on Biden Libya comments after VP debate

Mitt Romney has criticised Vice President Joe Biden for stating during his debate with Paul Ryan that “we weren’t told” about security requests made by America’s mission in Libya before the assault that claimed the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens. Stumping in Virginia on Friday, the GOP nominee accused the Democrat of “doubling down on denial” and of contradicting evidence given to Congress by State Department officials (see below).

He added Americans had a “right to find out what’s going on”, while comparing Biden unfavourably with the “steady and poised” Ryan. White House spokesman Jay Carney later clarified the Vice President’s assertion, saying Biden had only been referring to President Obama and himself.

The dispute overshadowed a combative encounter between the two running mates, during which Biden attempted to compensate for Obama’s underwhelming performance against Romney a week earlier. The Vice President went after the Republican candidates with gusto, blasting them for having “bet against America” and knocking the former governor for his remarks about Americans who do not pay income tax.

He also chided the Wisconsin Congressman for attacking the President’s foreign policy and adopted a sarcastic, mocking tone that appeared aimed at puncturing Ryan’s reputation for seriousness. Ryan proved mostly equal to Biden’s challenge, despite giving a notably dense answer on Afghanistan and restating his support for the privatisation of social security. Both men were judged to have given thoughtful responses to a question about their Catholicism and abortion.

A snap CBS poll showed undecided voters rating Biden the winner by a sizable margin, while Ryan came out narrowly ahead in a broader survey conducted by CNN. The Vice President’s assured showing puts the pressure back on his running mate, who has pledged to show “a little more activity” when he meets Romney this coming Tuesday. Team Obama is currently down in Virginia for three days of debate prep.

Embassy attack row rumbles on

The storm over Benghazi was dominating the news even before Thursday’s showdown, with the Republican presidential candidates reacting angrily to suggestions from an Obama campaign official they had politicised the attack. Both Romney and Ryan sharply rejected claims from Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter their criticism was “the entire reason” the assault was in the spotlight.

Earlier, a House of Representatives committee pressed administration officials and security officers who worked in Libya about events leading up to the incident. Deputy Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, Charlene Lamb, was identified by many lawmakers and witnesses as having turned down requests for enhanced protection, although she insisted during her own testimony the US had maintained “the correct number of assets” in Benghazi. Some outlets have since noted the demands for security related to America’s embassy in Tripoli, not the consulate in Benghazi.

In related news, both President Obama and his Republican challenger have been criticised by the mothers of two Americans who died in the assault. Obama has been faulted for not providing enough details about the death of information management officer Sean Smith, while Romney has been lambasted for discussing a meeting he had with ex-Navy SEAL Glen Doherty.

Obama’s grip on battlegrounds weakens

New polls have shown President Obama ceding ground to his Republican rival in the swing states, as Romney builds further on his strong debate performance. A Marist/NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found Romney moving into the lead in Virginia, gaining slightly in Ohio and keeping President Obama’s advantage in Florida to just 1%.

Other surveys implied the GOP nominee was doing even better in the Sunshine State, although Public Policy Polling had President Obama maintaining his advantage in the key Midwestern battleground. Findings from Quinnipiac showed little movement in the Old Dominion but had Romney advancing in Wisconsin and ahead in Colorado. The Republican has additionally shown strength in New Hampshire and Nevada, but is failing to challenge Obama in traditionally Democratic Michigan and Pennsylvania.

National polling continues to favour the former governor, with Fox News, Monmouth, Rasmussen and Gallup all putting him in front of Obama by small margins.

Further polls: [IBD-TIPP]; [Esquire/Yahoo News]; [High Point – NC]; [Rocky Mountain Poll – AZ]; [Pew – Hispanics]; [Latino Decisions – AZ Hispanics]; [ABC/WaPo – FLOTUS favourability].

Ryan denies Romney abortion switch

The GOP vice presidential nominee has dismissed claims his running mate altered their stance on abortion during an interview with an Iowa newspaper earlier this week. Quizzed on his way to Thursday’s debate, the Wisconsin Congressman said “no positions” had changed despite Romney telling The Des Moines Register “there’s no legislation with regards to abortion… that would become part of my agenda”.

Ryan, who has in the past faced questions about his absolutist stance on abortion, sparked anger among pro-choice groups after saying during the debate America’s courts should not make decisions about the issue. However, he reiterated the policy of a Romney administration would be to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Romney’s comments had prompted a stern response from one pro-life group, although other anti-abortion organisations were prepared to offer him support. One of Romney’s most trenchant primary opponents, Texas Governor Rick Perry, also came to his defence. The Obama campaign has used the flap to highlight Romney’s past promises on abortion, releasing an ad that references his plan to defund Planned Parenthood.

Republicans look to swamp Prez with ads

The Romney camp and its allies have dramatically stepped up ad buys in swing states heading into the last phase of the campaign, deploying resources held in reserve for much of the summer. Tracking data reveals the main Super PAC backing Romney, Restore Our Future, has alone booked $14m worth of time across nine states for the final week of October. Florida has seen some of the heaviest spending, with Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS putting one in every three of its dollars for broadcast advertising there.

Economy continues to show signs of life

Fresh data has shown the American economy picking up steam, as a key indicator of consumer confidence returned to pre-recession highs. Preliminary findings from the University of Michigan had consumer sentiment cresting from 78.3 in September to 83.1 in October, its highest level since September 2007. Meanwhile the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits sank to a four-and-a-half year low, and a small boost in growth helped narrow the federal deficit by $207 billion. The only fly in the ointment was a widening of the US trade deficit caused by a slump in exports.

Good news for both parties in latest absentee ballot tallies

Democrats and Republicans have reason to cheer the most recent early voting figures, with the President’s party performing surprisingly well in Florida and the Republicans up in Virginia. Democrats are holding the GOP’s lead in absentee ballot requests in the Sunshine State to 4%, a significant improvement on 2008. However, absentee voting in the Old Dominion has to date been strongest in traditionally conservative counties.

In other news, Democrats have touted new voter registration numbers which they claim bode well for Obama’s re-election prospects. Those signing up to vote in states such as Florida and Pennsylvania are overwhelmingly from demographics which backed Obama four years ago.

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Derides Romney’s moderate makeover [Miami Herald];

• Ad hits Romney over effective tax rate [Tampa Bay Times];

• Touts auto industry’s recovery in radio address [Politico];

• Over 4m said to have contributed to campaign [Huffington Post];

• Conservative group misleads on jobs record [WaPo];

• Financial disclosure reveals big JP Morgan account [Roll Call];

• Springsteen to rally with Prez and Clinton [Roll Call];

• First Lady to stump in NC [Durham Herald Sun];

• Adelson brings up Rev Wright in hostile op-ed [Politico];

• 94% of Turks back for re-election [Today’s Zaman];

• Shots fired at Denver office [Denver Post];

• Wins support of adult film industry [Politico].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Remarks about uninsured people raise eyebrows [Huffington Post] [WaPo];

• Renewed focus on China investments [NYT]; Ryan knocks admin on currency manipulation [BuzzFeed];

• Schedules speech on government spending [Fox News];

• Casts self as champion of Medicaid [CAP];

• Paul refuses to endorse [CNBC];

• Was often absent from MA [NYT];

• Son Tagg’s role profiled [BuzzFeed];

• Ryan requested more stimulus cash than first thought [Huffington Post]; shows off workout routine [Time];

• TV creator objects to use of line [Political Wire];

• Calls schoolgirl at centre of t-shirt storm [];

• Gets Lindsay Lohan endorsement [NY Post].

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