Defining moment for Obama and Romney in US presidential race
A DISAPPOINTING US jobs report was seized upon by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney yesterday in a bid to stifle any bounce in the polls president Barack Obama might have enjoyed from last week’s three-day Democratic National Convention.
Both men were seeking to define the campaign in their own terms, with Romney focused on the economy while Obama tried to portray himself as a champion of America’s middle classes.
Obama kicked off a two-day bus tour in Florida yesterday, a state with America’s highest elderly population and higher than average unemployment at 8.8 per cent.
Romney, meanwhile, was on his way to Virginia, where low unemployment and a Republican governor may help him make his case for change.
With only two months to the 6 November election, Romney is casting Obama as an inept steward of the post-recession recovery whose policies inhibit growth and job creation, as the US unemployment rate sticks stubbornly above 8 per cent.
Accepting his party’s nomination on Thursday, the last night of the convention, Obama promised to strive to return the recession-scared US to a path of economic fairness, robust growth and lower unemployment.
But a day later the White House reported that employers added just 96,000 jobs in August and that, aided by frustrated job hunters giving up, the jobless rate dropped from 8.3 per cent to 8.1 per cent.
No president has won re-election with unemployment over 8 per cent since Franklin D Roosevelt in 1936.
“He gave them no confidence whatsoever that he has any plan to make America’s economy start to create the jobs it ought to be creating,” Romney said, criticising Obama’s acceptance speech.
Obama is countering by repeatedly decrying Romney’s economic remedies as failed throwbacks to George W Bush’s administration that would endanger the recovery. Obama is also eager to turn the debate away from the economy and on to issues that favour Democrats. He repeatedly reminds audiences that Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, wants to overhaul Medicare, the federal health programme for older Americans, with a “voucher system” that could cost beneficiaries more from their own pockets.
Republicans say Romney has been able to parry the Medicare attacks, which distract from his economic case.
“If they want to have a discussion about who do you trust on Medicare for the next 60 days as their central argument, you know we ought to send them an in-kind contribution,” Obama senior adviser David Plouffe said.
“We’re happy to have that discussion. We think people trust the president more on Medicare.”
Obama’s team says the Medicare argument could help attract undecided voters approaching retirement, more so than elderly voters whose political views are already set.
Aiming at that group in New Hampshire on Friday, Obama said: “I won’t turn Medicare into a voucher system. You shouldn’t have to spend your golden years at the mercy of insurance companies after a lifetime of work. You should be able to retire with dignity and respect.”
Vice-president Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, and first lady Michelle Obama campaigned with the president in New Hampshire and Iowa, states Romney also visited on the same day. Biden campaigned alone in Ohio this weekend.
Overall, polls show the candidates are neck-and-neck in what is a close presidential contest. They show fewer than 10 per cent of voters are still undecided. Romney, with his record as a successful businessman, is viewed as the better candidate to solve America’s economic difficulties, while Obama holds a big lead as the most likeable candidate and the one most attuned to the needs of average citizens.
Both campaigns are honing in on about eight or so closely contested battlegrounds, or toss-up, states that do not reliably vote Republican or Democratic. The presidency is not decided by popular vote but in state-by-state contests.
The jobs report complicates the electoral calculation for Obama and increases the pressure on his campaign in battleground states with higher than average unemployment.
Nevada, for instance, has a 12 per cent jobless rate, North Carolina 9.6 per cent, Michigan 9 per cent, and Colorado 8.3 per cent. Those state figures are for July, the most recent month available. So far, Obama has held the edge in polls in most of those states. His visit to Florida is his first since the Republicans held their convention in Tampa last month. The state is pivotal in both men’s strategies for winning.
Eager to characterise Republicans as out of touch with ordinary Americans, Obama enlisted Florida’s former Republican governor Charlie Crist to campaign with him. Now an independent, Crist addressed the Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Romney and Obama are deadlocked in Virginia, where Obama is strong in the northern suburbs of Washington DC, and Romney does better in the south and rural areas.
Romney sees working-class white voters, who have at times voted for moderate Democrats, as ripe for the picking, with polls reflecting this. Romney plans to attend a NASCAR race in Richmond, in a nod to his target audience in Virginia as well as Ohio, Florida, Iowa and other battleground states. His aides say the Republican can win support by going after Obama for looming cuts in the military, that could be factors in Norfolk and Hampton Roads, set to kick in in January. Obama has opposed the depth of the cuts being pushed by Republicans in Congress opposed to his plans to pump prime the economy.
Romney faces similar challenges in northern Virginia, where his pledge to cut 10 per cent of the federal workforce affects local jobs.
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