US Election Digest: Candidates prep for final debate, Iran talks denied and more

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


US Campaign Briefing 21/10/12

Presidential Race

Rivals prepare for final debate after ‘Romnesia’ row

The presidential contenders have temporarily left the campaign trail to rehearse for Monday’s third and final debate.

Barack Obama has retreated to the presidential resort of Camp David for his prep sessions, while Mitt Romney is with his aides down in Florida. The last encounter between the two men will focus on foreign policy, with topics for discussion set to include the war in Afghanistan, Iran, America’s role in the Middle East, terrorism and China.

Ahead of the clash, Obama and Romney have looked to score points on domestic issues.

Speaking at a rally in Virginia, the Democrat derided his opponent’s attempts to pivot to the centre, accusing him of “Romnesia” when it came to equal pay, contraception, abortion and tax. This provoked a dismissive response from the GOP nominee, who told a large crowd of supporters in Florida Obama had been reduced to “petty attacks” and lacked a meaningful second-term agenda.

The candidates and their running mates have been criss-crossing the country since their feisty Town Hall debate on Tuesday, pausing only for a light-hearted rendezvous at the Al Smith charity dinner. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have between them made stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and the Sunshine State; Romney and Paul Ryan have stumped in the Old Dominion, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Former President Bill Clinton has also been a visible presence, playing defence for Democrats in Wisconsin and launching a blistering attack on Romney at a concert held for Obama by Bruce Springsteen.

Surveys taken since Tuesday’s debate have shown a mixed picture in the battleground states. Obama has been up by small or middling margins in Colorado, Wisconsin and Michigan, but Romney has pulled closer in Ohio and averaged a lead in Florida. Both men have been ahead in Virginia, New Hampshire and Iowa, where the Democrat appears to have built a strong advantage in early voting. The majority of daily trackers now give Obama a small advantage or find the race tied nationally, except for Gallup, which has put Romney in front by around six or seven points.

The President’s camp has announced he will undertake an intensive two-day tour of six swing states in the wake of Monday’s debate.

Iran nuclear talks denied

The White House has refuted reports in The New York Times the US and Iran recently agreed to one-on-one negotiations over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme. The Times had suggested Iran was prepared to engage in discussions but only once the winner of the American presidential election was known.

A spokesman for the National Security Council said it was “not true” direct talks had been approved and insisted the US would continue to work with other world powers on the issue. He added America was prepared to hold bilateral meetings, but the “onus” was on Iran to honour its obligations. Israeli sources initially said they had been open to such a plan, but the country’s envoy to the US, Michael Oren, later insisted Iran “should not be rewarded with direct talks”.

NBC spoke with another administration official who claimed there have been back-channel discussions between America and Iran on the nuclear issue, but no formal meetings finalised. Mitt Romney deflected a question about the news when quizzed at a football game on Sunday.

Republicans continue to hammer Prez on Libya

The GOP ticket and Republicans in Congress have kept up pressure on President Obama over the attack on America’s consulate in Benghazi after it emerged local CIA operatives told his administration less than 24 hours after the incident they had witness reports of armed radicals being involved.

Discussing revelations from AP that suggested the White House had the information even as it insisted the assault was the result of a violent demonstration, Vice Presidential contender Paul Ryan said Obama’s response had been “inconsistent” and “misleading”. He also said the administration’s story “continues to shift”.

Meanwhile the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, Peter King, has written to Obama requesting all intelligence community reporting which led his government to designate the incident as “spontaneous reaction” to an anti-Muslim film. However, the most recent reports from US intelligence officials have found no evidence of Al-Qaeda collusion and suggest those involved did not extensively pre-plan their assault.

In a related development, some leading Republicans have hit out at Obama for describing the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans as “not optimal” during an appearance on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.

A new poll from Pew has found a small plurality of voters disapproving of Obama’s handling of the Libya situation, with a majority of those following events closely rating his response poorly.

Doubts about GOP nominee’s record on women

Romney has been attacked over his equal opportunities record following a claim during Tuesday’s debate he sought “binders” of women from advocacy groups when he became Governor of Massachusetts. A nonpartisan alliance of women’s organisations in the Bay State, MassGAP, has said it offered a list of female applicants to both Romney and his Democratic rival Shannon O’Brien before the 2002 gubernatorial election. It claimed this “didn’t really have anything to do with Romney asking women to give him names”, and stated the proportion of women serving in Romney’s administration fell from 42% in 2002 to 25% when he left office.

In response, the Romney campaign insisted he worked with MassGAP to find “the best qualified women” for state jobs. It additionally put out an ad featuring former female cabinet members testifying to Romney’s “humanity”. The GOP nominee has also faced questions about his shifting stance on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, legislation he now has “no intention of changing” but which running mate Paul Ryan believes will “open up the lawsuits”.

In further fallout from Tuesday’s encounter, pundits have discussed whether Romney’s plan to fund a blanket 20% income tax cut through a $25,000 cap on tax deductions is feasible. Gallup’s post-debate survey found a clear majority of voters judging Obama the winner.

GOP has more cash on hand for home straight

Official campaign finance filings have shown the Romney campaign and the national Republican party ending last month with more money in the bank than President Obama and his allies. Team Romney, the Republican National Committee and their joint fundraising committee had $183m on hand at the end of September. By contrast, President Obama’s camp, the Democratic National Committee and their own joint fundraising outfit had $149m in reserve.

Unemployment dips across battlegrounds

Unemployment has dropped in key battleground states over the last year, according to new figures released by the federal government. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the proportion of people out of work in Nevada, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina falling by more than one per cent in the twelve months leading up to September.

Joblessness was also down in Iowa, Virginia, Colorado and Wisconsin. New Hampshire posted a slight rise, although its overall unemployment rate is still relatively low at 5.7%. The improving economic picture has helped several under-fire GOP governors improve their poll standing over the past month, with Florida’s Rick Scott, Iowa’s Terry Branstad and Ohio’s John Kaisch all witnessing an uptick in their fortunes.

National jobless claims rose back up by 46,000 last week.

Papers reveal candidate preferences

America’s leading newspapers have begun announcing their respective choices for president this November. In one of most notable endorsements, Florida’s Orlando Sentinel swung behind Mitt Romney’s candidacy, expressing “little confidence” in President Obama’s handling of the economy and hailing Romney’s “strong record of leadership”. The Sentinel, which backed Obama in 2008, has given the Republican a vital boost in one of the most important parts of the Sunshine State.

Florida’s largest paper, The Tampa Bay Times, opted to stick with Obama for a second term, praising the way he has steered America through an “incredibly difficult period”. The Democrat has also won the support of Ohio’s Plain Dealer, Colorado’s Denver Post, Nevada’s Las Vegas Sun, North Carolina’s Charlotte Observer and Utah’s Salt Lake Tribune, which blasted the “shape-shifting” former governor in spite of the huge support he enjoys in the heavily Mormon state.

Romney additionally gained the backing of The Tampa Tribune, The Columbus Dispatch, The Arizona Republic and The Tennessean, a traditionally Democratic paper, which argued he best understood the needs of “real job creators”.

Fiscal cliff plans take shape

Both President Obama and his Republican challenger are drawing up strategies to deal with the contentious tax and spending issues likely to dominate the aftermath of the election. The Washington Post has spoken to officials who say Obama is ready to veto legislation that would halt automatic reductions in public spending and the expiry of the Bush tax cuts unless congressional Republicans consent to increasing tax rates on the wealthy.

It is unclear whether this threat would stand if the President failed in his bid for re-election, although it would be difficult politically and economically for an incoming Republican administration to restore all of the Bush tax cuts after they had ended.

Romney’s transition team has also been focusing heavily on the ‘fiscal cliff’: economic policy planning is at the heart of a “Readiness Project” underway within the campaign, and aides have commenced talks with Republican leaders about how to move forward. Romney previously said he would like his predecessor and Congress to defer a solution until after inauguration.

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Super PAC plans one last Bain assault [CBS];

• Faulted by RNC for manufacturing jobs comment [YouTube];

• OH ad says Romney ‘not one of us’ [YouTube];

• Talks housing efforts during weekly address [Politico];

• Will hold election night party at Chicago convention centre [Chicago Tribune];

• NV registration lead narrows slightly [Politico];

• Bloomberg declines to back [NYT];

• Race for cabinet posts heats up [NYT];

• Backed by most LGBT voters [Gallup]; favoured by Catholics [Pew];

• Dem convention relied on corporate money [WaPo];

• Campaign accused of accepting foreign donation online [NY Post];

• 2016 hopeful Cuomo to act as surrogate [WSJ];

• Daughters’ school evacuated over package fears [NY Daily News].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Knocks Obama over Medicare cuts again [WaPo];

• Aide denies move to centre on same-sex marriage [BuzzFeed];

• NC drawdown plans denied [Huffington Post]; 60 staffers now in PA [Huffington Post];

• Leads on dealing with China [Pew];

• Urges businesspeople to lean on employees [Guardian];

• Could win whites by historic margin [WaPo];

• Aides got more bonus cash last month [BuzzFeed];

• Son wanted to take ‘swing’ at Obama during debate [Telegraph];

• Ann says no more campaigns if defeated [Sacramento Bee];

• Election night rally to be in Boston [NBC News];

• Cautious managerial instincts discussed [NYT];

• Santorum faults advisers for abortion movement [CAP];

• Former Iraq general advising on military [Mother Jones];

• GOP poll worker charged with improprieties [NYT].

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