Obama tied with Romney
Cliffhanger election looms as debates endAgence France-Presse
WASHINGTON—With the debate season now over, the US presidential race is neck-and-neck and could boil down to the “ground game” effort to get out the vote in just a clutch of swing states, experts say.
US President Barack Obama laid into Mitt Romney’s foreign policy as “wrong and reckless” in Monday night’s final debate, but the Republican challenger did nothing to disqualify himself as a plausible commander in chief.
The rivals are neck-and-neck in national polls after Romney surged following his first debate win in early October and started chipping away at Obama’s foundation in the swing states that will decide the election.
But new polls released after the third and final presidential debate on Monday had the race a cliffhanger with two weeks to go.
Political analysts agreed that with the more pressing issue being the state of the US economy and their rival plans to revive it, the slugging match on national security probably did little to budge the election needle.
Romney’s play-it-safe debate strategy of toeing more to Obama’s line than he had on the campaign trail reinforced this, Charles Franklin, cofounder of Pollster.com and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Agence France-Presse.
“I don’t think you heard much tonight that suggests fundamental differences in either military strategy or policy,” Franklin said. “And so, in matching positions there, you take the foreign policy issues off the table.”
10 swing states
All eyes are now on nine or 10 swing states, particularly Florida, Ohio and Virginia, which offer the largest number of electoral college votes in the quest for the magic number of 270 that guarantees victory.
Since trouncing Obama in the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, polls show that Romney has surged into the lead in Florida and caught up with the President in Virginia, but he still trails in all-important Ohio.
“I think we are, at the moment, close enough that you could imagine a cliffhanger that comes down to a single state’s electoral votes,” Franklin said.
Obama had the best lines of the night and sharply cross-examined Romney on his approach to Syria, Iran and trade rows with China, accusing him of “airbrushing history” by dumping earlier hawkish conservative positions.
Romney, often wresting the debate from its topic, foreign policy, to the struggling domestic economy, landed his share of blows on creating jobs but differed more on tone than substance with Obama on national security.
The Republican, who has spent months savaging Obama as weak and an appeaser, actually backed much of the substance of the President’s global strategy, courting wavering voters who hold the key to the Nov. 6 election.
He endorsed Obama’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, supported the President’s lethal drone war against terror suspects and congratulated him for hunting down Osama bin Laden, in a clear bid to moderate his image.
But he renewed charges that Obama’s tone in international affairs was at fault, accusing him again of mounting “apology tours” abroad, drawing a furious riposte from Obama that the charges were a “whopper.”
Romney, 65, a multimillionaire businessman, set out to avoid mistakes that could undermine his credibility as a potential commander in chief and appeared to avoid any disqualifying mistakes, leaving the election a toss-up.
An instant poll by CBS News found that Obama won the debate by 53 percent to 23 percent, after a clash that appeared to polish his leadership credentials and saw him showing the passion missing in his disastrous first debate.
CNN’s poll found Obama beat Romney 48 to 40 percent.
But foreign policy is seen as unlikely to decide the election, with voters preoccupied by the sluggish economy, and it will take several days to gauge whether the clash had any impact in the tied-up polls.
Dotty Lynch, professor of public communication at American University, said that an already exhaustive ad blitz in the crucial battlegrounds could be expected to intensify in the final two weeks of campaigning.
“The advertising is going to be extremely heavy and very targeted toward specific groups, women voters, blue-collar (working class) voters,” Lynch said.
But the emphasis will also turn to the “ground game” as Obama’s Democrats and Romney’s Republicans focus greater attention on their street-by-street drive to get supporters to the polls on Nov. 6.
“We’re really down to both sides mobilizing whatever resources they have to get their voters to the polls, to go as much as they still can in the last two weeks door-to-door,” said Christopher Arterton, a professor of George Washington University.
“Oftentimes, it is the person talking to somebody that they know, or somebody in their neighborhood or somebody very similarly situated who can have a decisive influence on whether that person votes in the first place, and how that person votes,” Arterton said.
Both parties have invested tremendous resources over the last four years in building up voter contacts and identification efforts so they know who their supporters are and can boost turnout in crucial areas.
“We’re looking at a battle of ground forces,” Franklin said, adding that deciphering what is really going on in the swing states between now and election day will be hard.
“We’ve seen a great deal of spin from both campaigns in the last week, talking up their early voting efforts,” he said.
“We see the advertising, we see where the candidates go and visit, but it’s much harder to monitor the number of home calls that are made.”
Lynch said that by agreeing with Obama on foreign policy, the incumbent’s strong suit, Romney had tried to maneuver the economy onto more favorable ground.
All over the map
Obama looked bemused, puzzled and exasperated by Romney’s tactics, staring intently at him as he spoke, apparently trying to keep frustration in check, as he nodded to debate moderator Bob Schieffer that he wanted rebuttal.
“On the whole range of issues, whether it is in the Middle East, Afghanistan, whether it is in Iraq, whether it is in Iran, you have been all over the map,” he told his challenger as they sat side by side on a semicircular table.
Obama, with wry humor, dismissed Romney’s claims that he had run down the armed forces to levels not seen since early in the 20th century.
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed,” he said, to laughter from the audience.
“We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, warned Islamic extremism was rampant in post-Arab Spring societies and blamed a lack of US leadership over the last four years, and cautioned “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.”
Romney also called on Obama to do more to end violence in Syria and demanded tightened sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
“I thought they saw weakness where they had been expected to find American strength,” Romney said of leaders in Tehran.
Obama also launched a scathing attack on Romney’s foreign tour as a candidate earlier this year, saying when he had been running for the White House he visited US troops and Israel to reflect on the Holocaust.
“I didn’t take donors,” Obama charged, noting the fact that Romney carried out a political fundraiser with wealthy Jewish supporters in Israel.
The President, who withdrew troops from Iraq, pointed to Romney’s past statements in support of keeping a US military presence in the country invaded in 2003 under former Republican President George W. Bush.
Behind the times
And Obama mocked Romney’s previous statement that Russia was America’s top geopolitical foe.
“Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s,” Obama said.
Romney offered a dismal assessment of the President’s strategy, pointing to bloodshed in Syria and in Libya, where four Americans, including the US ambassador, were killed last month, and twice mentioning al-Qaida gains in Mali.