US Election Digest: Last day of campaigning, Obama gets Sandy boost and more

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


US Campaign Briefing 05/11/12

Presidential Race

Candidates blitz swing states; closely-fought election reaches climax

Today marks the last full day of campaigning in America’s presidential election, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney embark on one final tour of key states that will determine who occupies the White House.

Both men, their running mates, and top surrogates criss-crossed the country over the weekend in search of vital electoral votes, with the Midwestern state of Ohio once again ground zero in the battle for the Oval Office.

Addressing a large crowd in the Buckeye State on Sunday afternoon, the Republican nominee said there were two days left before Americans could “start rebuilding” their country, and pledged he would “reach across the aisle” to Democrats if elected. He also argued voters should back him “not for revenge but for love of country”, a thinly-veiled reference to a comment Obama made when visiting Ohio on Friday. The former governor earlier appeared in Iowa and Wisconsin, where he delivered a passionate call for a “bigger, better” United States.

Obama spent his Sunday in Ohio, Florida, Colorado and New Hampshire, firing up a crowd of thousands in the small New England state. Speaking in Concord, the Democrat said he was “not ready to give up the fight”, adding America had “come too far to turn back now”. He was introduced by former President Bill Clinton, who had joined him for a lively rally in Virginia the night before.

The President’s re-election bid was buoyed on Friday by a positive jobs report which showed new hires surpassing analyst expectations and more people entering the labour force through October. The only disappointment was another decline in wages, something Romney seized on during one of his appearances yesterday.

The latest opinion polls (see below) have President Obama inching ahead nationally and maintaining narrow-to-middling advantages over Romney in most of the swing states. According to RealClearPolitics, the Democrat is averaging a lead in Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada. Romney holds the initiative in Florida and North Carolina, while Virginia is on a knife-edge. The Republican has failed to trouble Obama much in Minnesota or Michigan but does appear to have gained a little momentum in Pennsylvania, which he visited late on Sunday along with the Old Dominion.

Romney will today stop in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire. President Obama will make last-minute trips to Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa before heading home to Chicago.

Obama wins plaudits for storm response

Polls taken in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy have shown large majorities awarding President Obama high marks for his handling of the disaster. A survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News found 68% rating Obama’s response to Sandy positively, with just 15% disapproving. Findings from The Washington Post and ABC News released on Thursday found voters even happier with Obama’s conduct, although he remained level in the polls with Romney nationally.

The Democrat has reaped other political benefits from the storm, including more kind words from New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie and the surprise endorsement of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The independent billionaire abandoned his neutrality in the presidential race with an op-ed that linked Sandy to climate change and chided Romney for no longer believing the issue was an “urgent problem”.

Several pundits have argued Obama’s response could prove a decisive factor in tomorrow’s election. In the most notable intervention, former Bush adviser Karl Rove said Obama’s chances would be helped by his stint as “comforter-in-chief”, adding the storm had constricted Romney’s ability to talk about the economy.

Disruption to voting is mostly confined to New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, where those displaced by the storm will be permitted to cast provisional ballots outside their district or vote via electronic communication.

Dems have lead in early voting

President Obama’s party has an edge in early voting across the battleground states, although the GOP has improved on its poor performance four years ago.

In Iowa, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 43% to 32% on an expanded turnout of 614,000, while in Nevada they are up by 44% to 37% on a turnout of 628,000. In Ohio, Democrats lead by 29% to 23% with 1.6m having voted, but data is incomplete and not necessarily representative of the wider electorate. Republicans have the upper hand in Colorado, leading by 2% in a state where early votes are expected to account for 80% of all ballots.

Democrats are in front in Florida, but must perform better on election day if they are to hold its 29 electoral votes. There have been angry scenes in the Sunshine State over the past 24 hours as Democrats and people attempting to vote contest the closure of polling stations.

CIA faulted for Benghazi errors

The CIA and its director, former General David Petraeus, have come under pressure following suggestions the agency’s covert presence in Benghazi created confusion during the attack on America’s consulate there. The WSJ reports the CIA benefitted from diplomatic cover at the mission, but did not understand security responsibilities it had under a joint agreement with the State Department. There has also been criticism of the CIA’s conduct in the wake of the assault and Mr Petraeus’s decision to attend a movie premiere on the day administration officials were grilled by Congress.

The Washington Post’s veteran international correspondent David Ignatius, meanwhile, received a timeline of the tragedy which implies the CIA was wrong to rely on Libyan militias but did not deliberately impede a rescue operation. Republicans have largely avoided the Libyan issue during the closing stages of the campaign, save for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani directly linking Obama’s “incompetence” to the tragedy.

Progressives fret over fiscal cliff concessions

Politico has spoken to liberal groups working for President Obama’s re-election who fear he will sacrifice their interests to strike a grand bargain with Republicans over the looming fiscal cliff. A number of progressive organisations, including, have indicated they will activate supporter networks and keep their operatives in the field to ensure the President and Congress avoid “job-killing cuts”.

The advocacy groups and unions are particularly concerned the incumbent could revive an offer he made to House Speaker John Boehner during negotiations over the debt ceiling which included reductions in entitlements. Obama floated this option again in a recent interview with The Des Moines Register, saying he was “absolutely confident” the White House and Congress could achieve “the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time”.

Nationwide polls: [Pew: Obama +3]; [NBC/WSJ: Obama +1]; [ABC/WaPo: Obama +1]; [CNN: Tie]; [PPP: Obama +2]; [Reuters: Obama +1]; [Purple Strategies: Obama +1]; [Fox News: Tie]; [National Journal: Obama +5]; [Politico/GWU battlegrounds: Tie]; [USA Today/Gallup battlegrounds: Tie]; [YouGov: various states].

Statewide polls:

[PPP: OH Obama +5]; [Columbus Dispatch: OH Obama +2]; [Reuters: OH Obama +4]; [Uni of Cin: OH Obama +2]; [CNN: OH Obama +3]; [Pulse Opinion Research: OH Obama +2]; [WAM: OH Obama +4].

[PPP: FL Obama +1]; [Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald: FL Romney +6]; [NBC/WSJ: FL Obama +2]; [Reuters: FL Obama +2]; [Pulse Opinion Research: FL Romney +2]; [WAM: FL Romney +1].

[NBC/WSJ: VA Obama +1]; [Reuters: VA Obama +3]; [PPP: VA Obama +4]; [WAM: VA Obama +1]; [Roanoke College: VA Romney +5].

[Denver Post: CO Obama +2]; [Reuters: CO Romney + 2]; [CNN: CO Obama +2]; [Callfire: CO Obama +1]; [WAM: CO Obama +3].

[Des Moines Register: IA Obama +5]; [PPP: IA Obama +2]; [Callfire: IA Obama +3]; [Hawkeye: IA Obama +2].

[PPP: WI Obama +3]; [NBC/WSJ: WI Obama +3]; [WPR: WI Obama +9]; [WAM – WI Obama +7].

[LVRJ/Survey USA: NV Obama +4].

[UNH: NH Tie]; [New England College: NH Obama +5]; [NBC/WSJ: NH Obama +2].

[PPP: PA Obama +6]; [Morning Call: PA Obama +3]; [Susquehanna – PA Tie].

[PPP: NC Tie]; [PPP: MI Obama +6]; [EPIC/MRA: MI Obama +6]; [Detroit News: MI Obama +3]; [PPP: MN Obama +8]; [Survey USA: MN Obama +11].

Obama Campaign – Other News:

• Outlines second term agenda in op-eds [WSJ], [CNN];

• Goes hard on Romney Jeep claims [YouTube];

• Ads recap Romney gaffes [Politico], and imagine GOP nominee’s first days in office [BuzzFeed];

• Campaign repackages video of Powell testimonial [YouTube];

• Axelrod promises to shave moustache if Romney wins Midwestern longshot [Washington Times];

• Admin sitting on key regulations until after election [National Journal];

• Endorsed by centre-left Israeli paper [Haaretz], right-wing group assails over poor Netanyahu ties [WaPo];

• Wins in voter contact stakes [Politico];

• Michelle Obama in NC today [WRAL];

• Whacked over gay marriage stance in OH [Slate];

• Economist, FT offer tepid support [The Economist], [Financial Times];

• Well ahead among Asian-Americans [Politico];

• OBL film crew deny aiding Prez [Daily Caller];

• Starbucks CEO throws support [Business Insider];

• Biden in ‘proud’ gaffe [BuzzFeed].

Romney Campaign – Other News:

• Reid dismisses prospect of compromise [The Hill];

• Christie may have been first pick for VP [TPM];

• Dusts down jobs council attack [Politico];

• Son reassured Putin on future relations [NYT];

• Ryan warns second Obama term would threaten Judeo-Christian values [Political Wire];

• Post says campaign insulted voters [WaPo];

• Conservative groups still playing in MN [YouTube];

• Dem Super PAC ties to FL’s unpopular governor [YouTube];

• Backed by more NYC papers [NY Daily News], [Newsday];

• Rice dropped out of mega rally in OH [AP];

• Palin writes cheque [WSJ];

• Glenn Beck spotted at rally [WaPo];

• Winning by landslide among American Jews in Israel [Breitbart];

• Dems push back against Castro attack ad [Miami Herald];

• NOM chief says opposition to marriage equality runs deep [BuzzFeed];

• Mr Burns attempts to put Seamus issue to bed [Salt Lake Tribune].

Statewide Races

In Massachusetts, consumer advocate and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren is forecast to eject Republican Senator Scott Brown. The Democrat, who would become the first woman ever elected to represent the liberal bastion, held a six-point lead over her GOP rival in a final Public Policy Polling survey, was four points up in a poll by WNEU and had narrowed the gap to 1% in findings from the University of Massachusetts.

PPP’s poll showed Warren cutting into Brown’s advantage with independent voters and scoring highly with women, a demographic the Republican courted intensely in the closing days of the campaign. The same firm also found Warren’s Democratic counterpart in neighbouring Connecticut, Chris Murphy, heading for a win over former wrestling executive Linda McMahon.

Richard Mourdock’s controversial remarks about rape pregnancies have handed Democrats control of Indiana’s Senate seat, according to an independent poll released on Friday. A survey from bipartisan firm Howey/Depauw showed the Hoosier State Treasurer falling 11% behind Congressman Joe Donnelly following his suggestion God “intended” victims of the crime to become pregnant. Polling experts and journalists are writing off Mourdock’s chances, even as Republicans spend heavily in a last-ditch effort to save his candidacy.

The issue of abortion continues to hang over Missouri Republican Senate contender Todd Akin, who it emerged on Saturday did not disclose multiple arrests at reproductive health clinics during the 1980s. Information passed to The Huffington Post showed the Congressman was detained at medical centres on eight separate occasions, four more times than he previously acknowledged.

Akin’s campaign has attracted support from outside groups in the wake of polls showing him still competitive with Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, and has launched a last-minute advertising blitz in concert with the Show Me State’s Republican Party. National GOP leaders are still refusing to come to Akin’s aid, something noted by McCaskill in one of her closing commercials.

The battle to succeed Wisconsin’s departing Senator Herb Kohl seems destined to go down to the wire, although Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has narrowly led former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in most of the nonpartisan polls conducted since Wednesday.

Democrat Shelley Berkley is struggling to draw level with Nevada’s Republican Senator Dean Heller, who has led for most of this cycle despite President Obama’s popularity in the Silver State. The dean of Nevada’s political correspondents, Jon Ralston, predicts Heller will just overcome a fearsome Democratic turnout operation and ‘squeak by’ the Las Vegas Congresswoman. In nearby Arizona, Heller’s GOP counterpart Jeff Flake looks set to prevail in the contest to assume Republican Senator Jon Kyl’s seat.

Montana’s populist Democratic Senator Jon Tester and his GOP rival, Representative Denny Rehberg, are virtually tied in the polls as election day approaches. The two men heralded the end of their bout with another row over Medicare, as well as an argument about cuts to the programme which are contained within President Obama’s reform of healthcare. A report into a 2009 boating accident involving Rehberg which was released by a court on Thursday did not damage the Congressman’s reputation.

Most surveys of Virginia have suggested that former Democratic Governor Tim Kaine will overcome a challenge from Republican George Allen and become the Old Dominion’s junior senator. Allen appeared with Mitt Romney last week in a bid to woo voters planning to lend their support to both Kaine and the GOP presidential nominee.

Republican Congressman Rick Berg is favoured to seize North Dakota’s open Senate seat from the Democrats, despite a spirited showing from ex-state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp and speculation about a recount.

The Democratic Senators of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania are all on course to turn back challenges from lacklustre Republican opponents.

A final Public Policy Polling survey of Maine’s Senate race has found independent frontrunner Angus King re-establishing an imposing lead over the Republican Party’s candidate Charlie Summers. The official Democratic contender, Cynthia Dill, trailed with just 12% of the vote.

Nebraska’s Democratic Senate hopeful Bob Kerrey has won the support of the state’s former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, who used a news conference at the end of last week to praise his onetime colleague for eschewing “partisan ideology”. The endorsement, which has rankled local Republicans, came as a fresh poll showed Kerrey’s Republican opponent Deb Fischer leading him by double digits.

Two potential candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar will saunter to re-election against unfancied Republican opponents.

There are a number of ballot propositions up for decision tomorrow, with four states passing judgement on same-sex marriage and Washington, Colorado and Oregon considering the legalisation of marijuana. Californians could opt to abolish the death penalty while Montanans are likely to rebuke the Supreme Court’s decision to relax laws governing campaign finance.

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