US Election Digest: Candidates race to finish line, new Libya revelations and more

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

 

US Campaign Briefing 24/10/12

Third Presidential Debate

Candidates head for finish line after foreign policy knockabout

The presidential race has entered its final phase after Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debated one another for the third and last time on Monday night.

At rallies in Florida and Ohio yesterday, the President launched fresh assaults on Romney’s inconsistency, accusing him of having displayed “stage 3 Romnesia” during their head-to-head. He went on to rebut claims he lacked plans for a second term, pointing to a blueprint of policies which had earlier been released by his campaign.

The Republican responded dismissively, telling supporters in Nevada and Colorado Obama’s re-election effort was “taking on water” and had become “the incredible shrinking campaign”.

The final debate – watched by some 59 million people – saw the two men argue over individual foreign policy concerns and America’s relationship with the world. Obama hit Romney for being “all over the map” when it came to the Middle East, and sneered at the former governor for adopting a cold war mentality towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Romney upbraided the President for letting Iran get “closer to a bomb”, while blasting him for once having stated America dictated to other nations.

The GOP nominee also pointed out Obama’s defence policies had left the US Navy with fewer ships than it had in 1917, something which prompted the President to reply “we also have fewer horses and bayonets”. This line subsequently became an internet sensation. Other topics raised included Pakistan, the situation in Syria and the Islamist takeover of Northern Mali. Domestic matters, such as the auto bailout, the fiscal cliff and the impact of China’s trading practices on the US economy also found their way into conversation.

Polls taken after the debate showed viewers judging Obama the winner, with a Public Policy Polling survey finding a small plurality of battleground state voters more inclined to back him as a result of his performance.

Pundits argue over debate fallout

Most commentators pronounced President Obama victorious following Monday night’s encounter, although a sizeable number thought Romney had not done his candidacy any serious harm.

The New York Times’s editorial board said there had been no sign of the “oddly disconnected” Obama who comprehensively lost his first debate with Romney, and savaged the Republican for sounding “completely lost” on foreign affairs. Other liberal-minded writers agreed: Time’s Joe Klein believed Obama secured a win comparable to Romney’s initial triumph, while The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent praised the President for landing “hard blows” on his opponent.

This view was not entirely shared across the political spectrum. The National Review’s Rick Lowry called Romney’s performance a ‘capstone’, with fellow conservative Philip Klein arguing the former governor successfully prevented Obama from casting him as “Bush on Steroids”. Several observers, including The Des Moines Register’s Kathy Obradovich and The Hill’s Christian Heinze recognised the Republican’s efforts to shed his party’s neoconservative mantel, and there was discussion of Romney’s attempt to present himself as the ‘peacenik’ candidate.

Who gains as a result of the debate is disputed. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has suggested Obama could garner critical momentum as the end of the campaign approaches, but others, including Politico’s Maggie Haberman, argue the encounter might turn out to be a “wash” that does not alter the course of the race.

Obama still global favourite

As Left Foot Forward reported earlier this morning, a survey of 21 nations has found a majority of people around the world would like to see President Obama re-elected.

The poll, which was conducted for the BBC World Service between July 3rd and September 3rd this year, showed the Democrat besting his rival 50% to 9% across the countries in question. Obama led Romney in 20 of the 21 nations, with only Pakistanis preferring Romney (14%-11%). The Democrat was the overwhelming choice of voters in France (72%), Australia (67%), Canada (66%), Kenya (66%) and the United Kingdom (65%).

National polls: [Gallup: Romney +5]; [Reuters/Ipsos: Obama +1]; [PPP: Romney +2]; [ABC/WaPo: Romney +1]; [NBC/WSJ: Tie]; [CBS: Obama +2]; [Monmouth/Survey USA: Romney +3]; [YouGov: Obama+2]; [IBD/TIPP: Obama +2]; [Politico/GW battlegrounds: Romney +2]; [NBC/WSJ: Latinos Obama +45%].

Statewide polls: [Quinnipiac: OH Obama +5]; [Suffolk: OH Tie]; [UNH: NH Obama +9]; [ARG: NH Romney +2]; [ARG: NV Obama +2]; [Morning Call: PA Obama +5].

Presidential Race – Other News

Emails reveal WH knew of Benghazi terror claim

Emails obtained by Reuters have shown officials at the White House and State Department were informed a militant group had claimed credit for the attack on America’s consulate in Benghazi less than two hours after the incident took place. The correspondence, which was given to the news outlet by government sources unconnected with US intelligence agencies or the State Department, specifically mentioned radical Libyan group Ansar al-Sharia had admitted responsibility.

In related news, The Wall Street Journal has discovered President Obama’s daily intelligence briefing included an assessment the attack on the consulate was linked to a spontaneous protest until the 22nd of last month. The paper claims the Central Intelligence Agency did not alter its view until eleven days after the assault had taken place, despite contradictory eyewitness accounts and other information to hand.

CIA officials have voiced frustration the White House is unduly blaming them for confusion about the tragedy, with one telling the WSJ the agency has become a “whipping boy”.

GOP closes gap in early voting

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported on Monday Republicans were regaining momentum in absentee and early voting after Democrats took a clear lead in early October. The most recent tallies showed Republicans closing the gap with Democrats to 17% in Iowa, down from 38% on October 5th. In Ohio, the number of early votes cast in precincts won by Obama in 2008 was still greater than those cast in precincts won by John McCain, but the difference had narrowed from 56,000 to 40,000.

The President’s party will take heart from good returns in Nevada and Florida.

Senior Dem says Obama conceding NC

President Obama has given up trying to win the swing state of North Carolina, according to a Democratic strategist affiliated with the Priorities USA Super PAC. Paul Begala, who is also a close confidant of Bill and Hillary Clinton, told CNN Obama’s decision to spend money elsewhere indicated Romney was “likely” to carry the Tar Heel State. Both Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina and senior adviser David Axelrod have refuted the suggestion.

IA newspaper unhappy with Prez over interview

Iowa’s influential Des Moines Register has reproached President Obama over his refusal to go on-the-record when he recently sought the paper’s endorsement. The DMR’s editor-in-chief Rick Green said the condition was a “disservice” to Obama’s candidacy but denied it would have any bearing on who his paper ultimately backed.

Speculation grows over Romney admin picks

There is increasing discussion about who the Republican nominee might appoint to his cabinet were he to win next month’s election.

The New York Times’s Dealbook column reports some supporters of Romney have urged him to appoint former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskin Bowles as Treasury Secretary, a move that could please business and revive the deficit reduction plan that bears his name. Also said to be in the mix for this post are Ohio Senator Rob Portman, ex-World Bank President Robert Zoellick and campaign economic adviser Glenn Hubbard. Hubbard is thought a shoo-in for either Treasury or the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve, which will fall vacant when Ben Bernanke departs in early 2014.

The National Journal has meanwhile drawn up its own list of people who might serve in a Romney administration. In a lengthy article, the outlet floats the possibility of longtime aide Beth Myers or former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt becoming Chief of Staff; Portman, Zoellick or adviser Richard Williamson serving as Secretary of State; and ex-Missouri Senator Jim Talent running the Pentagon.

Further commentary: [Felix Salmon]; [Matthew Yglesias].

Congressional and State Races

Another GOP Senate candidate in rape storm

Indiana’s Richard Mourdock is at the centre of a row about rape and abortion after he stated pregnancies resulting from the crime were “something God intended to happen”. The GOP Senate nominee, who referred to rape as a “horrible situation”, made the comment during a televised debate with Democratic rival Joe Donnelly last night. Donnelly has swiftly condemned his Republican opponent, accusing him of being “disrespectful” to survivors of rape.

The furore comes just days after Mitt Romney waded into Indiana’s Senate contest with an ad that praised his fellow Republican as a footsoldier in the fight against the “liberal Reid-Pelosi agenda”. The presidential nominee has already distanced himself from Mourdock’s opinion.

Akin sparks fresh outrage with dog jibe

Missouri’s Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin has prompted yet more controversy by likening his opponent Claire McCaskill to a dog. Addressing a fundraiser on Saturday night, the Congressman said McCaskill brought red tape and bureaucracy back from Washington like a dog playing “fetch”. One of Akin’s key aides subsequently repeated the line on Twitter, referring to the Democrat as a “bulls**tsu”.

The two candidates were relatively pleasant to one another during one last televised debate on Thursday, although the Democrat again stated Akin had an “extreme record” on women’s issues and the Congressman called McCaskill President Obama’s “strong right hand”. A fresh Public Policy Polling survey of the Show-Me State had McCaskill leading Akin by six points.

The Akin camp has also engaged in a spat with a local newspaper over the number of times he has been arrested at anti-abortion rallies.

Thompson targets Baldwin with 9/11 ad

The politics of September 11th have resurfaced in Wisconsin, where Republican Senate contender Tommy Thompson has released a new commercial that condemns his Democratic rival Tammy Baldwin for having voted against a bill in Congress marking the fifth anniversary of the terror atrocity. Thompson’s ad features retired servicemen who claim Baldwin’s opposition to the legislation constitutes a “slap in the face” to victims’ families and members of the military.

The Democrat’s aides have hit back aggressively, noting she objected to the bill because it praised measures such as the Patriot Act and that she supported many other commemorations of 9/11.

Moderator gaffe threatens to undermine Carmona

Arizona’s Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona is facing renewed questions about his attitude to women after telling a male debate moderator he was “prettier” than the female host of last week’s presidential Town Hall, Candy Crowley. Carmona has since apologised for the remark, which he made during a heated encounter with his Republican rival Jeff Flake.

Split ticket, McMahon tells voters

Connecticut’s Republican Senate contender Linda McMahon has released a new commercial which encourages voters to back her even if they cast their presidential ballots for Barack Obama. The ad, which was unveiled on Monday, features ordinary people who say they will back both the President and the former wrestling executive. Two polls released in the past week have shown McMahon trailing Murphy by single digits in the traditionally blue state.

Rehberg slammed for Medicare inconsistencies

Paul Ryan’s reforms of Medicare are once again at the forefront of Montana’s Senate race, with Democrat Jon Tester accusing his Republican challenger Denny Rehberg of flip-flopping on the proposals. During a fourth and final debate between the two men on Saturday, Tester criticised Rehberg for claiming he voted against the Ryan plan in the House of Representatives this year, raising his support for a similar programme Ryan advocated via budget amendment in 2009.

The GOP Congressman pushed back against the allegations, saying he would “never” vote to privatise social security. Rehberg’s hometown paper, the Billings Gazette, came out for Tester on Sunday.

Further coverage: [Roll Call].

Berg building a lead in ND

A new survey of North Dakota voters has found Republican Rick Berg besting Democratic rival Heidi Heitkamp by a clear margin in the race for the state’s open Senate seat. The Congressman was 10 points ahead in findings compiled by Iowa polling firm Essman/Research.

Heitkamp has released an internal survey which puts her three points in front of the GOP nominee.

Further Senate polls: [WBUR: MA Warren +6]; [Survey USA: OH Brown +1]; [PPP: FL Nelson +4].

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