US Election Digest: Mega-storm threatens campaigning, candidates spar on economy and more

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


US Campaign Briefing 29/10/12

Presidential Race

‘Frankenstorm’ wreaks havoc on election plans

A major storm is forecast to hit the northeastern United States over the next 24 hours, forcing several states in the region to declare federal emergencies and curtailing normal electioneering. Hurricane Sandy, which is tipped to become a ‘frankenstorm’ when it combines with winter weather systems inland, should hit southern New Jersey, Delaware and the Washington metro area from Monday onwards.

From there it is likely to move up through Pennsylvania and New York before heading into New England. Governors in the region have ordered a number of evacuations, with federal government workers told to remain at home. The New York Stock Exchange is to be fully closed on Monday.

The Obama and Romney camps have already amended their schedules in anticipation of the storm: the President has cancelled stops in Ohio, Virginia and Colorado so he can monitor events, while Romney abandoned a planned visit to the Old Dominion on Sunday in favour of a trip to the Buckeye State. Following a meeting with emergency management officials yesterday, the President pledged federal assistance for local authorities and warned damage from the storm could take “a long time” to clear. The Republican nominee sent his thoughts and prayers to those in the storm’s path.

There are fears wall-to-wall news coverage of the disaster and sustained power outages could force election advertising off the air, and structural damage or outages could prevent polling stations from opening. Early voting has temporarily been suspended in Maryland but will continue in Virginia unless weather conditions render the process unsafe.

Both parties are thought to be considering how disruption might affect voter turnout, either before election day or on November 6th itself. Senior Obama aide David Axelrod has said the political implications of Sandy are hard to read but added the Democrat’s campaign was concerned its voters might not have “unfettered access to the polls”.

A political row is brewing over Romney’s past support for closing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and handing its responsibilities to individual states.

Rivals clash on economy as growth figures released

President Obama and Mitt Romney have delivered their closing pitches on the economy, as new figures pointed to an uptick in growth during the third quarter of 2012.

In a setpiece address in Iowa on Friday, the Republican nominee claimed his opponent could not meet “the challenges of these times”, and cast himself as the one to bring change to the economy. He went on to describe a 2% rise in GDP announced just hours earlier as disappointing, adding President Obama’s actions had “slowed the recovery”. The President’s campaign responded by dismissing the speech as light on policy, blasting Romney for “empty promises”.

A day later the incumbent told supporters in New Hampshire about his economic alternative, including plans to boost manufacturing at home, increase renewable energy and cut college costs.

The row over the economic future of the US has been accompanied by an even fiercer debate over outsourcing. Democratic groups have launched ads across the Midwest which label Romney an “economic traitor” for overseeing a shift in jobs to China while head of Bain Capital, and Romney has controversially warned voters in Ohio the makers of Jeeps could soon relocate to the People’s Republic.

Polls taken since Wednesday have shown the President mostly clinging on to his Midwestern firewall, holding advantages in the Buckeye State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania although slipping back in previously uncompetitive Minnesota.

There is good news for the former governor, meanwhile, in nationwide surveys and other key swing states, especially Florida where he leads along the all-important I-4 corridor and is keeping Obama’s lead down in traditionally Democratic Miami-Dade. Early voting still appears to favour the President, with the GOP behind in battlegrounds such as Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada.

Obama himself cast an early vote in Chicago on Thursday; Romney visited the Sunshine State this weekend to mark the first full day of early voting there.

Admin quizzed again over Libya security requests

The Obama administration is facing renewed questions over the level of security provided to its consulate in Benghazi following claims the local CIA unit was rebuffed when it sought assistance during the assault on the mission.

Reports from Fox News suggested CIA personnel in the city heard the attack on the consulate but were told to wait before responding and had requests for air support turned down. The revelations sparked an angry response from the father of one of the four men killed in the incident, who said the officials who refused the requests were “murderers”.

A spokesperson for the CIA insisted it had “reacted quickly” to events on the ground and refuted allegations operatives were prevented from helping those under attack. Asked about the matter on the campaign trail, President Obama said he had not been “personally aware” of any requests for security, noting there was “infrastructure” in place to deal with such appeals.

In related news, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and regional experts have downplayed a claim of responsibility made by Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia, which email records show was discussed by the White House on the day of the attack. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has declined to join other Republicans in criticising the administration over its handling of the tragedy, arguing Americans should wait for the results of an official investigation before passing judgement.

Dems press Romney over backing for beleaguered Senate candidate

President Obama and his Democratic allies have lambasted the Republican presidential nominee over his support for Indiana’s GOP Senate contender Richard Mourdock, who sparked outrage last week when he referred to pregnancies from rape as “something that God intended to happen”.

Commenting on the matter during a televised interview with comedian Jay Leno, Obama reiterated that “rape is rape”, and added Mourdock’s words underscored why male politicians should not make decisions about a woman’s health. Earlier, the Democratic National Committee released a commercial reminding voters of the former governor’s continuing support for Mourdock, including the ad he cut on the State Treasurer’s behalf just a day before the offensive comments were made.

The Republican Party’s national senatorial campaign has stood by Mourdock and purchased airtime in Indiana for the final week of campaigning, even as senior GOP leaders publicly distance themselves from him. At a press conference held on Thursday, the Senate hopeful said he was sorry if anyone had been offended by his remarks but stopped short of offering a full apology.

Mourdock’s words were front page news across Indiana, with one paper in the south of the state branding him a “Tea Party extremist” and endorsing his Democratic opponent Joe Donnelly as the “only rational choice”. Donnelly has criticised Mourdock for remarks that were “hurtful” to rape victims, but avoided a wider assault on his rival’s abortion stance given his own pro-life voting record.

More newspapers endorse

America’s papers have continued to announce their choices for president, with several of the country’s leading news outlets now declared for a candidate.

In a lengthy editorial published Thursday, The Washington Post swung behind President Obama, describing him as the man to handle the impending fiscal cliff despite his failure to end America’s “chronic avoidance of tough decisions” on budget matters. The right-of-centre Chicago Tribune, which supported Obama in his previous election bids, also backed the Illinoisan, although it criticised both contenders for failing to discuss “the urgency for a bipartisan deficits-and-debt deal”. The New York Times expressed fewer reservations, “enthusiastically” supporting the President for another term in office.

In the swing states, Iowa’s influential Des Moines Register urged voters to give Romney a chance to “implode” partisan grindlock, offering its first endorsement of a Republican in 40 years. The Miami Herald preferred Obama’s “more generous” policy agenda, while The South Florida Sun Sentinel argued the GOP nominee was best equipped to “get America back working again”. Elsewhere, the liberal New Yorker went for the President and the conservative New York Post branded Romney America’s “only hope”.

Candidates set to smash $2bn barrier

New campaign finance filings suggest both President Obama and Romney will have raised over $1bn each by the time the election is over. Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission reveal Democrats pulled in around $1.06bn for Obama from the beginning of 2011 to October 17th this year. Republicans garnered $954m for their nominee, who outraised Obama in the first half of this month.

Powell sticking with Prez for second term

Former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell has endorsed President Obama for re-election, praising his economic stewardship and foreign policy over the past four years. The first African-American to become chair of the Joint Chiefs told CBS News the US had “come out of the dive” since 2008 and credited Obama with keeping the country out of any new wars. He also hit out at Romney’s economic agenda, as well as the way the Republican had shifted his positions on international affairs. Obama, who was said to have been surprised by Powell’s move, said he was “proud” to have the veteran soldier’s backing again.

Some Republican leaders have reacted angrily to Powell’s intervention. Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu controversially suggested Powell was supporting Obama because of his race, and Arizona Senator John McCain made a disparaging reference to the former secretary’s infamous testimony before the UN on Iraq.

OH voting change could delay election result

There are fears a new rule governing provisional ballots in Ohio could prevent the state from declaring a winner in the presidential race for weeks. As part of a measure introduced by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, Buckeye State residents who have requested but not returned absentee ballots will be required to fill in a provisional ballot if they opt to vote on polling day itself. These provisional ballots will not be verified until at least November 17th, something that could mean the winner of Ohio’s electoral votes remains unknown for some time.

Nationwide polls: [Gallup: Romney +4]; [ABC/WaPo: Romney +1]; [PPP: Romney +1]; [Reuters: Obama +3]; [AP/GfK: Romney +2]; [IBD/TIPP: Obama +1]; [RAND : Obama +6].

Statewide polls (excluding Ohio): [VSS: FL Romney +5]; [PPP: FL Obama +1]; [Pharos: FL Tie]; [ABC/WaPo: VA Obama +4]; [PPP: VA Obama +5]; [Fox News: VA Romney +2]; [PPP: IA Obama +2]; [PPP: WI Obama +6]; [PPP: CO Obama +4]; [NBC/WSJ/Marist: CO Tie]; [Purple Strategies: CO Obama +1]; [PPP: NV Obama +4]; [NBC/WSJ/Marist: NV Obama +3]; [PPP: NH Obama +3]; [First New England College: NH Obama +3]; [PPP: NC Tie]; [Philly Inquirer: PA Obama +6]; [Pharos: PA Obama +4]; [Star Tribune Minnesota: MN Obama +3].

Ohio polls: [PPP: Obama +4]; [Ohio News Organisation: Tie]; [CNN/Opinion Research: Obama +4]; [Time: Obama +5]; [Survey USA: Obama +3]; [Purple Strategies: Obama +2]; [ARG: Obama +2].

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Calls Romney ‘bulls**tter’ [Rolling Stone];

• Claimed GOP failure to woo Latinos would aid re-election [DMR];

• New ad savages GOP ticket on tax, Medicare [WaPo];

• Backs marriage equality initiatives across country [NPR]; says courts will decide on
DOMA [BuzzFeed];

• Netanyahu demands silence from officials on US-Iran talks [NYT];

• Lena Dunham ‘first time’ commercial riles conservatives [WaPo];

• Row over OBL film rumbles on [Evening Standard];

• Ex-auto czar to stump in OH [Politico];

• Poll shows racial attitudes have not improved [NBC News];

• Clinton could stay at State beyond inauguration day [NYT];

• WH considering payroll tax cut replacement [WaPo];

• May fire housing agency chief [Business Insider];

• Laughs off Trump cash offer [Politico];

• Katy Perry headlines Vegas concert [Examiner]; Springsteen to rally in PA [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Little emerges from Staples founder divorce testimony [Chicago Tribune];

• Summers criticises auto bailout arguments [TPM];

• Knocks Obama on US Navy in VA [];

• Eastwood stars in commercial [LA Times];

• Makes small ad move in MN [CNN]; launches bid to expand electoral map [Politico];

• Ann to make Michigan appearance [BuzzFeed];

• OH strategist despairs at field team [Political Wire];

• CEO warns employees of “personal consequences” if Romney loses [Huffington Post];

• Ryan may have misused congressional campaign funds [Politicker];

• Raising cash in south [ABC News];

• Accused of distorting NV rally image [BuzzFeed];

• Convicted tax evader came to Boca funder [Mother Jones];

• Had harsh policy on gay parenting in MA [Boston Globe];

• Bain founder gives rare interview [Daily Beast];

• Meat Loaf offers full-throated backing [CNN].

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