Choice emerges in US election

2012-09-09 13:11
US President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney. (AP)

US President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney. (AP)

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Orlando - The red, white and blue convention confetti has cleared to reveal a stark choice for American voters as they decide whether to fire President Barack Obama and hire Mitt Romney.

In a race defined by the economy, they must determine whether Obama gets credit for saving the United States from a second Great Depression and the chance to take the country forward.

Or does he get the blame for a recovery so slow that dawdling economic growth has left unemployment pegged above 8%?

While the just-ended Democratic and Republican national conventions were derided as a costly relic, they did serve to outline the political fork in the road on November 6.

Obama's claims

Obama took his case on Saturday to the most contested slither of the biggest swing state, Florida, and told 11 000 people in St Petersburg, "you've got a big choice to make".

The president claims credit for saving the economy, promises to lift the middle class, and vows to use government to make college affordable, secure health care for the elderly and end the war in Afghanistan.

He says Romney would push through tax cuts for the rich, land the less well off with the bill and return to policies that sparked the financial meltdown.

Using Bill Clinton as a witness, Obama says he could not have been expected to clear up the mess that Republicans left behind in just a few years.

"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or that it's going to be easy. I never have," Obama said on Saturday in a hard truth plea for more time.

One Achilles heel

The president, enjoying a small polling bounce from his convention, is seen by voters as more likeable than Romney, more empathetic to the middle class, and stronger on foreign affairs.

But he has one aching Achilles heel: the economy, which appears to offer Romney his sole chance of winning the White House.

The Republican charged in Virginia that Obama "had a lot of wonderful things to say... but he didn't say what he'd do to help people get jobs or come out of unemployment".

"He doesn't have any ideas," Romney said, a day after his case was bolstered by the release of dismal data showing the economy created only 96 000 jobs last month.

"This president can ask us to be patient... but this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office," Romney said in his convention address.

Getting to know Romney

The Obama campaign says it came out of its North Carolina convention with momentum, and helped its turnout operation.

"We think it is going to help really frame this election as a choice," said a senior Obama aide.

"We think it also puts in perspective the economy we inherited, where we are and where we need to go."

The Romney campaign counters by saying it believes voters got to know their candidate at a heavily biographical Republican convention.

"That's positioned us to really persuade a lot of these voters," Romney spokesperson Kevin Madden said on Saturday.

"That'll be what these next 60 days is about, talking directly to the issue that they care about most which is the economy."

US elections are not decided on the basis of a popular vote, but by 50 races for the electoral votes of each state.

A slight lead

In practice, the election turns on less than a dozen competitive battlegrounds, including Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

In pre-convention polls, Obama appeared to have a narrow lead in most swing states, according to the RealClearPolitics average of opinion surveys.

"Our belief is we entered the convention with a small but important lead in most of those battleground states," said top White House strategist David Plouffe.

"We will see where we are at the end of next week, but our suspicion is the race is going to be about where it was."

Privately, Obama strategists say their advantage, if it holds up, means Romney needs to win undecided voters in battleground states by an unlikely three or four to one margin.

That is a tall order given that Obama has more solidly Democratic states in his column, and more plausible routes to the necessary 270 electoral votes, than Romney who almost has to run the table of competitive states.

Big campaign spender

The Romney camp, however, says there are around 8% to 10% of voters in battleground states yet to decide, and that they are among the people most distressed with the state of the country.

"That's an incredible opportunity for us," said Madden, adding that as the economy struggles, Romney's message in the last 60 days will become ever more compelling.

Also compelling is Romney's cash advantage after the former Massachusetts governor significantly outraised the president in recent months.

Romney will also be boosted by a torrent of negative advertising by supportive outside groups knocking the president's record and character, could smudge the current "likeability" advantage Obama has over his foe.

One Obama aide said Romney and supportive groups were outspending the president by a two-to-one margin in some battleground states.

"They are going to outspend us everywhere," the official said.
Read more on:    democrats  |  republicans  |  barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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