US Election Digest: Campaigning scaled back as Sandy strikes, Romney attacked over Jeeps and more

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


US Campaign Briefing 31/10/12

Presidential Race

Politics takes backseat as Sandy rocks East Coast

Normal campaigning has been scaled back after Superstorm Sandy wrought chaos across the Northeast of the United States.

The storm, which is now dissipating overland, hit New York and New Jersey on Monday night, with the Washington metro area and parts of New England also affected. At least 40 people are reported to have been killed, around 8 million have been left without power and extensive flooding forced the closure of the region’s transportation networks. It is estimated the storm could cost the US up to $45 billion – making it one of the most economically devastating disasters in the country’s history.

President Obama has been completely absent from the election trail since Monday, abandoning planned visits to key battlegrounds to oversee his administration’s disaster response efforts. Vice President Biden and President Bill Clinton have been stumping on his behalf. Mitt Romney has continued to tour the country but held collections for storm victims and has toned down his rhetoric. Both presidential campaigns have cancelled a range of events and used their mailing lists to solicit humanitarian aid for those caught up in the storm.

There were fears Sandy could seriously impair the ability of states to hold elections next week, although disruption to early voting in Virginia and Maryland was fairly minor and New York’s election board is considering whether to open alternate polling stations next Tuesday.

The political ramifications of Sandy are not yet fully clear. Obama has earned praise from one of the most senior Republicans in the Northeast for his handling of the storm, and Romney is effectively bound to the President’s timetable in the coming days. But the spotlight will shine heavily on the incumbent as relief efforts progress. Romney’s position on disaster management, the inclusion of FEMA in the forthcoming sequester and the Ryan’s budget reductions in storm relief funding are likely to command attention during the closing stages of the campaign.

President Obama is due to meet residents and first responders in New Jersey with Governor Chris Christie later today. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reportedly turned down his request to visit New York City.

BLS rejects talk of jobs report delay

The government agency responsible for producing the monthly jobs report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has insisted it will get its October findings out at the end of this week despite reports Sandy could force them to postpone the release. The Wall Street Journal had spoken to Labor Department officials who indicated the “weather emergency” would determine whether or not the numbers were published on time. A BLS source later told CBS News there should be no delay in proceedings. Both right-wing and moderate Republicans expressed concern over the possibility of a hold-up at such a sensitive moment in the political calendar.

Row over jeep production rolls on

The presidential campaigns have continued to quarrel over suggestions the makers of Jeep could shift production of the vehicle to China, with Romney doubling down on a much-criticised claim he made last week.

A new commercial aired by the Republican on TV stations in Ohio argues President Obama took auto companies “into bankruptcy” and “sold Chrysler to Italians” who are “going to build Jeeps in China”. A similar radio ad was aired in the town of Toledo, which is home to a Jeep plant. Democrats have hit back angrily at the allegation: Bill Clinton said the China report was “the biggest load of bull in the world”, and President Obama’s camp aired a rebuttal which accused the former governor of dishonesty. The head of the company that makes Jeeps, Chrysler, and a spokesperson for General Motors have also upbraided Romney for his intervention.

Republican leaders have in recent days been attempting to neutralise the resurgence of the American auto industry as an election issue. Ohio’s Governor John Kasich downplayed the number of jobs created by the car industry in his state since early last year, while Senator Rob Portman argued Obama had not told the truth about Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout. Liberal commentators and fact checkers have greeted the GOP’s latest strategy with scepticism.

GOP seeks to expand playing field across Midwest

The Romney camp and its allies have looked to weaken President Obama’s hold on Midwestern states previously thought to be a lock for the Democrats. Both the GOP nominee and an outside group backing his candidacy have reserved a small amount of airtime in Minnesota, which one poll showed coming into play over the weekend. Vice presidential contender Paul Ryan also made a brief stopover in the state on Tuesday before heading to an event next door in Wisconsin. The President’s team are taking the threat seriously, deploying former President Bill Clinton to rally supporters in Minneapolis and purchasing limited airtime in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Both the Obama and Romney camps have additionally stepped up their activity in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where the Republicans are claiming a lead in absentee voting. Team Obama and a number of commentators have dismissed the prospect of the GOP winning these traditionally blue states.

Poll shows candidates close in early voting

A nationwide survey by Gallup has found neither President Obama nor Governor Romney holding an overwhelming lead among those who have already voted in the presidential election. The poll revealed 17% of Romney backers have cast their ballots so far, compared with 15% of Obama supporters. Romney was ahead among early voters overall by 52% to 45%; 34% of those intending to back the GOP nominee say they will vote early, as do a third of people planning to support the incumbent. Revised vote tallies from the swing states have shown Democrats overtaking the GOP in Florida and maintaining a lead in Nevada.

Admin knew of deteriorating security situation in Libya

The New York Times has revealed the Obama administration received general intelligence warnings about growing lawlessness near Benghazi in the run-up to the attack on its consulate there. Reports sent to Washington before September 11th 2012 suggested extremist groups had set up training camps in mountains around the city and some of the fighters based there were “Al-Qaeda-leaning”.

Now-deceased Ambassador Chris Stevens also emailed officials back home flagging up a “security vacuum” in Benghazi. The State Department responded to a spate of attacks against Western interests in June by erecting new defences around its consulate. However, it declined to deviate from a security strategy drawn up after Colonel Gaddafi’s death last year.

Libya has featured less as a campaign issue since the end of the presidential debates, although congressional Republicans continue to press the President over it. Maine Senator Susan Collins said it was “inexplicable” security had not been stepped up, while Arizona Senator John McCain stated Obama had been guilty of the “worst cover-up or incompetence” he had ever seen.

Further coverage: [David Ignatius].

National polls: [Gallup: SUSPENDED]; [Pew: Tie]; [CBS/NYT: Obama +1]; [ABC/WaPo: Romney +1]; [PPP/Daily Kos: Tie]; [Reuters: Obama +1]; [NPR: Romney +1]; [RAND: Obama +5]; [Politico/GWU Battlegrounds: Obama +1]; [PPP: Halloween].

Statewide polls: [Quinnipiac: OH Obama +5]; [Survey USA: OH Obama +3]; [Quinnipiac: FL Obama +1]; [Pharos Research: OH Obama +3]; [Survey USA: FL Tie]; [CNN: FL Romney +1]; [Quinnipiac: VA Obama +2]; [ARG: CO Obama +1]; [Callfire: NV Obama +4]; [Survey USA: NC Romney +5]; [Elon University: NC Tie]; [Glengariff Group: MI Obama +3]; [Elway Research: OR Obama +6].

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Standing among young voters dips [TPM];

• No states seek welfare waivers [WSJ];

• Celebs star in supportive Planned Parenthood commercial [YouTube];

• Biden emphasises immigration reform commitment [Politico];

• FL campaign chiefs underline Hispanic backing [CNN];

• NH paper abandons [Nashua Telegraph];

• Health policy aide found Obamacare would send premiums up in WI [Avik Roy];

• Eisenhower granddaughter backs again [Daily Beast];

• Huge majority of British voters would pick over Romney [YouGov].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Another tax shelter thrust into spotlight [Bloomberg];

• Surrogate says Roe vs Wade safe [TPM];

• GOP grumblings over Iran statements [Bloomberg];

• Rallies with Gov. Branstad in IA [Sioux City Journal];

• GOP accused of planning to mislead voters in WI [CAP];

• More unguarded fundraiser remarks emerge [Mother Jones];

• Names waterboarding opponent to head intel transition team [Foreign Policy];

• Eschewing late night shows [Political Wire];

• Dem group likens to Mr Moneybags [American Bridge];

• Billy Graham and son woo doubtful evangelicals [Slate].

Congressional and State Races

Storm nixes final MA Senate debate

The storm sweeping through the Northeast has scrambled campaigning in Massachusetts, with incumbent Senator Scott Brown pulling out of a final televised encounter with challenger Elizabeth Warren. The Republican subsequently refused to reschedule the event, prompting accusations he was “ducking” another debate with the Democrat. Both Brown and Warren have been touring areas of the Bay State hit by the storm, as polls paint a conflicting picture of their matchup.

Findings from The Boston Globe imply Brown is staging a last-minute comeback after falling behind Warren in recent weeks, while a survey by Suffolk University has the Democrat retaining a clear advantage over him.

Negative ads dominate MO airwaves

The rivals for Missouri’s Senate seat have strongly attacked one other in new campaign commercials released over the past few days. A spot aired by Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s team features local women describing Republican Todd Akin as “scary”, and reminds voters of his notorious remarks about abortion and “legitimate rape”. The Congressman, meanwhile, unveiled an advert which accuses McCaskill of diverting $20m in stimulus funds to her husband’s business.

A survey of the Show-Me State by Mason Dixon hasfound the Democrat leading Akin by just 2%. McCaskill’s mother passed away following a long illness on Monday.

Carmona bickers with outgoing Senator over phonecall

Arizona’s Democratic Senate contender Richard Carmona has dismissed accusations from departing Republican Jon Kyl that he is seeking higher office simply because of the benefits it entails. The former surgeon general rejected claims from Kyl he had been “more concerned about the perks” when the two discussed the possibility of him running as a GOP congressional candidate back in 2006.

The Democrat’s advisers also produced evidence undercutting Kyl’s insistence he only ever had “one phone conversation” with Carmona. Kyl and his colleague John McCain reacted furiously to a Carmona campaign ad which featured footage of them praising him at a 2002 confirmation hearing.

Kerrey staging comeback in NE

Former Governor Bob Kerrey could still spring a surprise in Nebraska’s Senate election, according to a new poll from The Omaha World-Herald. The findings put the Democrat only 3% behind Republican Deb Fischer, who has until now been leading by double digits. Kerrey has attempted to capitalise on his momentum with aggressive new ads targeting Fischer and a call for another televised debate. At least one Republican group has decided to spend money in Nebraska in light of the poll, despite internals released by Fischer’s camp which show her still well in front of Kerrey.

Clinton rallies with ND’s Heitkamp

North Dakota Senate hopeful Heidi Heitkamp is the latest Democrat to enjoy the backing of Bill Clinton, who appeared with her at a campaign event on Monday. Speaking before a crowd in Fargo, Clinton urged supporters of the ex-state attorney general to send someone “who will have credibility” to Washington, and highlighted Heitkamp’s willingness to challenge his administration as proof of her independence.

The Arkansan earlier cut a radio ad on behalf of Heitkamp playing up her support for coal and oil, an energy resource that is of growing importance in North Dakota politics. A new poll by Pharos Research has found Heitkamp virtually tied with Republican Congressman Rick Berg.

Clinton has also starred in a commercial for Wisconsin’s Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin.

Kaine on cruise control despite Biden flub

Former Governor and ex-DNC Chair Tim Kaine is odds-on-favourite to be Virginia’s next Senator, according to a new survey from ABC News and The Washington Post. The poll, which was taken last week, showed the Democrat seven points up on Republican rival George Allen and enjoying a net approval rating of +24%. Kaine found himself at the centre of national amusement on Saturday when Vice President Joe Biden forgot his first name at a rally in Lynchburg.

Other Senate polls: [Pharos Research: IN Mourdock +1]; [Pharos Research: MT Tester +2]; [Pharos Research: OH Brown +7]; [Survey USA: OH Brown +5]; [Survey USA: FL Nelson +8]; [VSS: FL Nelson +5]; [Philly Inquirer: PA Casey +7].

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