US Election Digest: Obama’s “feisty counterpunch”, Romney’s Libya fail and more

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


US Campaign Briefing 18/10/12

Second Presidential Debate

Campaigns spar over women after Obama wins testy encounter

The Obama and Romney camps have attacked one another over women’s issues following an acrimonious debate on Tuesday night which was widely seen as a victory for the President.

Addressing a rally in Virginia yesterday, Romney blasted Obama for “failing America’s women”, arguing they had “suffered in terms of getting jobs” since he came to power. The GOP nominee’s campaign had earlier released an ad which portrayed him as moderate on reproductive rights and refuted accusations about his stance on abortion.

Team Romney’s interventions came as Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, trashed the former governor for having claimed during the debate he sought “binders” of female applicants while Governor of Massachusetts.

During the town hall-style debate, which was watched by 65.7 million people, Obama knocked Romney aggressively over policy areas important to women, challenging him on contraception, women’s health services and the “middle-class” issue of equal pay.

He also criticised Romney for suggesting his administration misled Americans about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, sparring with the former governor on whether he initially described the incident as an “act of terror”. Romney’s position on this earned him a rebuke from moderator Candy Crowley, as well the opprobrium of several conservative pundits who accused him of focusing excessively on Obama’s words.

There were further disputes over Romney’s financial affairs, immigration, the auto bailout and energy policy. The Republican was thought to have turned in an effective performance overall, although he was faulted by some for adopting a petulant tone and stonewalled on his tax plan. Obama, meanwhile, won praise for having significantly upped his game, and was credited with launching an effective attack on Romney’s “47%” gaffe.

Five separate polls taken in the aftermath of the debate showed voters rating Obama the winner.

Commentators hail Prez’s comeback

Most political journalists and pundits were quick to pronounce President Obama the clear winner of Tuesday’s debate.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza conceded Romney “absolutely had his moments”, but argued Obama had struck the right balance of seriousness and force during their encounter. Politico’s Glenn Thursh agreed, suggesting the Democrat’s “feisty counterpunch” could revive enthusiasm among his deflated base. Reuters’s Patricia Zengerle noted Obama had backed Romney into a corner with an “aggressive pitch” to women voters, and caused the Republican to stumble badly on the issue of equal pay.

Supporters of the President were relieved their man had finally found his voice: Newsweek’s Andrew Sullivan said Obama had been “lethal but restrained”; The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent praised him for conveying a much clearer economic message; and The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn welcomed the “coherent, compelling arguments” he made on policy.

Some conservatives concurred Obama had emerged victorious – Charles Krauthammer told Fox News the incumbent had won “on points”, while George Will acknowledge  his “effective, tactical” performance had carried the day. There was broad agreement among commentators the debate had been one of the liveliest in living memory, although the Daily Beast’s David Frum argued the candidates used their duel to skirt difficult economic truths.

Presidential Race – Other News

Clinton takes blame for Libya attack

In the run-up to Tuesday’s debate, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly took responsibility for the security breach at the US consulate in Benghazi which resulted in the death of American Ambassador Chris Stevens. Speaking to CNN on Monday, Clinton pointed out she was in charge of the State Department’s missions and personnel, and said neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden would have known about “specific decisions that are made by security professionals”.

She also dismissed suggestions the administration characterised the attack as a backlash against an anti-Islam film even as evidence emerged that armed radicals had been involved. The Secretary’s intervention was seen as an attempt to absolve President Obama of blame before the debate, though he accepted responsibility for events during his faceoff with Romney.

Earlier, President Obama’s senior campaign adviser David Axelrod repeated accusations Romney had politicised the attack, and Stevens’s father gave an interview saying it would be “abhorrent” to use his son’s death as a campaign issue.

Meanwhile, the White House is reported to have put special forces on standby in case investigators find the group that carried out the assault.

The New York Times has spoken to Libyans connected to the attackers who claim they launched the assault as retaliation for the anti-Muslim video, Innocence of the Muslims.

Romney raised $170 million in September

The former governor’s campaign and the Republican National Committee pulled in $170.5m through September, losing out to President Obama and the Democrats in the fundraising stakes for the second consecutive month. The Republicans also reported having $191.2m on hand heading into October.

A separate account jointly held by the Romney campaign and the RNC, the Romney Victory Fund, garnered $235.2m in the third quarter of 2012. Most of this will go towards state Republican parties and congressional committees.

SCOTUS rebuffs OH early voting challenge

The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Ohio’s Secretary of State to reinstate restrictions he imposed on early voting, in a move that likely favours President Obama and his party. In a one-line judgement, the high court dismissed Republican Jon Husted’s challenge to a lower court ruling which blocked his attempt to limit early voting the weekend before the election to military voters.

The decision means around 100,000 people in the Buckeye State – many of them Democratic voters – can still vote in the three days preceding November 7th. In a bid to encourage his core support to turn out in advance of election day, both Obama and his wife Michelle have revealed they too will be voting early.

Rubio parts from GOP ticket on China

Divisions within the Republican Party over China are widening after Florida Senator Marco Rubio said he disagreed with Romney’s pledge to declare the country a currency manipulator. Speaking off-the-cuff with Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter, the rising conservative star warned the policy could prompt a trade war and added “I agree with Obama on that one”.

The former governor’s recent remarks on currency manipulation have resulted in a stern rebuttal from the Chinese government, and prompted the President to accuse Romney of hypocrisy over his investments in China during their debate.

Study assesses impact of Romney-style Medicare plan:

The non-partisan Kaiser Health Foundation has modelled Medicare reforms similar to those proposed by the Republican ticket, and found many elderly people would be paying more now had the changes had been introduced in 2010. Kaiser’s model, which included premium support payments seniors would use to buy private health insurance rather than traditional ‘fee-for-service’ Medicare, suggested 59% of current enrollees would have faced higher out-of-pocket costs.

President Obama’s campaign has jumped on the study, citing it as evidence the GOP nominee’s “irresponsible” blueprint could have “devastating” consequences for retirees. The Romney camp has insisted there will be “no increase” in out-of-pocket costs under his reforms. Analysts have noted Kaiser’s modelling does reflect the essence of the GOP plan, but also pointed out Romney favours bringing in a premium support system gradually.

Pre-debate polls: [ABC/WaPo]; [Gallup]; [IBD/TIPP]; [USA Today/Gallup – battlegrounds]; [Politico/GWU – battlegrounds]; [Quinnipiac – PA]; [Morning Call – PA]; [PPP – PA]; [PPP – NC]; [PPP – WA]; [Survey USA – OH]; [Marquette – WI]; [ARG – VA]; [WAM – CO]; [WAM – IA]; [LVSJ/Survey USA – NV]; [Suffolk – NH]; [YouGov – AZ].

Congressional and State Races

McCaskill hits fundraising pedal

Missouri’s Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill raised nearly $6m in the third quarter of this year, with $2.1m still in the bank for her bout with Republican rival Todd Akin. The numbers represent a daunting challenge to the Congressman, who has declined to voluntarily release his own quarterly disclosure report.

Akin, who recently courted fresh controversy by claiming evolution was “not a matter of science”, has continued to feud with national GOP groups that are refusing to support his bid. However, he has successfully persuaded some right-wing Republicans to campaign on his behalf. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has launched ads in the Show-Me State chiding McCaskill for backing foreign aid, and the conservative Duggar family – who star in popular reality TV show “19 Kids and Counting”- are in the state rallying for Akin.

Internal polls conducted for the McCaskill and Akin campaigns have painted very different pictures of the Senate contest.

Carmona rebuts character jibes:

Arizona’s Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona has attempted to show a softer side after his Republican opponent claimed he once behaved abusively towards a female boss. A new ad, ‘Mom’, sees the ex-surgeon general speak directly into camera about his mother and the lessons she taught him in life.

A negative commercial from GOP contender Jeff Flake had spotlighted claims from Carmona’s superior at the Department for Health and Human Services, Cristina Beato, that the Democrat came to her house late one night and shouted insults. Carmona’s campaign has hit back strongly against Beato, accusing her of having tried to “politicise science” while at the DHS.

Emergency contraception stance hobbles McMahon:

Pro-choice advocates in Connecticut have attacked Republican Senate contender Linda McMahon after she publicly opposed requiring religious hospitals to offer emergency contraception to victims of rape. McMahon, who supports a woman’s right to choose, told a meeting with the Hartford Courant last week the issue related to separation of church and state and that a religious institution “has the right to decide” what its policies are.

McMahon backtracked when debating Democratic rival Chris Murphy on Monday, claiming she thought that churches were being forced to administer contraception. A Siena poll has found Murphy ahead of McMahon by a statistically irrelevant 2%.

Brown vs Warren could smash cash records

The race for Senate in Massachusetts could soon become the most expensive ever, as Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren close in on the record set by Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio in 2000. The two candidates raked in $20m between them in the third quarter of 2012, taking their joint total to over $63m. Warren’s overall contributions now stand at an eyewatering $36.3m.

The Democratic candidate has enjoyed a triple endorsement boost this week, winning the backing of President Obama, Bruce Springsteen and Shelia Bair, a former Republican regulator. A Public Policy Polling survey for the League of Conservation Voters has shown Warren expanding her advantage over Brown to 9%.

Son’s birther gaffes embarrass Thompson:

The son of Wisconsin’s GOP Senate contender Tommy Thompson has apologised for publicly joking President Obama should be sent “back to Kenya”. Jason Thompson was caught making the remarks at two separate events this month, one of which was attended by National Republican Committee Chair Reince Priebus.

A new poll from Marquette University has shown Thompson retaking pole position in the Badger State.

PA Senate race tightening up: A Quinnipiac survey of Pennsylvania has suggested Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith is benefitting from a surge in support for Mitt Romney, with the coal mining executive now just 3% behind incumbent Democrat Bob Casey. Two other polls released in recent days have offered a conflicting picture of the contest: Morning Call slashed Casey’s advantage to just 2%, while Public Policy Polling found him 11% in front of Smith.

The GOP contender has donated $10m to his campaign in a renewed bid to topple his rival.

King stays mum on party affiliation despite conservative assault: Maine’s independent Senate frontrunner Angus King has again refused to divulge which party he will caucus with if he wins election, even as a prominent conservative group launches an all-out ad war against his candidacy.

A new commercial from Karl Rove’s Crossroads released this week blasts King’s record as governor of the state, accusing him of hurting small businesses with tax rises and gutting education spending. It also casts him as  King Angus , a man who “seems to have let down his subjects”.

Further Senate polls: [YouGov – IN]; [PPP – MT]; [UNF – FL]; [PPP – FL]; [PPP – OH]; [Survey USA – OH]; [ABQ Journal – NM].

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