US election

Today’s serving of news stories, blogs and opinion pieces to chew on:

Welcome to the US Election 2012 round-up and with 35 days to go until polling day, there is a sudden lull in events. That isn’t because everyone just got bored of 24-hour-a-day politics – although perhaps we shouldn’t rule that out – but because tomorrow is the first presidential debate.

Say what you will about the US general election system, but it consistently throws up contests between two men whose camps are certain that the debate will change everything in favour of their guy (or, very occasionally, gal). Many US papers have pointed out in their Tuesday editions that there is little evidence that debates do actually make a difference, but to campaign teams that spend millions on advice, polls and statistical microscopy, that doesn’t seem to make a penny’s worth of difference to the amount of effort they put in.

So, today, neither candidate is on the road, but locked away with advisers, preparing their devastating one-liners and their most sincere looks into camera. Meanwhile, as Politico’s campaign calendar reveals, the vice-presidential candidates are in swing states, with Vice President Joe Biden in North Carolina and Paul Ryan, the man picked by Mitt Romney to oust Mr Biden, in Iowa.

With the poll average showing President Barack Obama’s lead slipping slightly to 3.5 points across all 50 states, the New York Times’ specialist polling site FiveThirtyEight says it has run computer simulations which have in some models shown a statistical tie in the electoral college vote is possible at 269 for each candidate — but fortunately it is only a 0.6 per cent probability.

Those stories not concentrating on the debates look at the state of that race in the so-called battleground states. The National Journal has done some interesting burrowing on where the Democrats are having successRead more

Notes from the Heartland

In Denver tomorrow, the first presidential debate will see the candidates discuss the role of government in the economy. Some Republican commentators argue that Barack Obama’s healthcare and tax policies make him a “socialist”. About half of Americans believe the term “socialist” applies well or very well to Barack Obama.

Obama meets campaign staff in Nevada. Photo AFP

In the primaries Mitt Romney admirably declined to play this game. Obama may be a “big government liberal” (a phrase oxymoronic to British observers) but he isn’t a socialist. But don’t take Romney’s word for it. The US branch of the Workers International League agrees with him. Read more

Welcome to the FT’s morning summary of US election news


The crowd at a Romney rally on Tuesday. Photo AP

If it’s Wednesday, it must be Ohio…again.

On a day the Washington Post published a poll showing him eight points ahead in the critical state, President Barack Obama made his 29th visit to Ohio since the 2008 election. Citizens may or may not be weary of his visits, but there are benefits, the Post reports, as presidential boons are raining down on their state.

It cites one example of this downpour of federal grants and business loans, which the president himself mentioned on Tuesday, after he turned his back on the opportunity to hob-nob with world leaders at the UN general assembly in order to shake hands with Buckeye State voters: Read more

Welcome to a new round-up of US coverage of the 2012 presidential election.

With just 41 days of campaigning left – and no new national polls to set the campaigns into nail-biting mode – foreign policy is set to make an impact on the campaign on Tuesday as President Barack Obama addresses the UN general assembly on the Middle East and Mitt Romney is expected to hit back with accusations that the incumbent has failed in his policies there.

Most papers report that the White House is presenting this as a “real moment for the US to assert its values and leadership in this period of transition”.

But CBS News queries why, after making the trip to New York, the president is spending little time at UN headquarters. Unlike last year, he has scheduled no bilateral meetings with world leaders.

Simply put, the White House is prioritizing the president’s reelection effort. Most heads of state will be here all week, but the president will be in New York less than 24 hours, and even then will spend most of his time away from this conference.

 Read more

It has been a fun ride for journalists covering Mitt Romney’s US presidential campaign. They have been treated to a smorgasbord of gaffes from the Republican nominee – about-turns on policy, questionable facts to base his arguments on, ill-received comments such as his response to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya last week or his scepticism over London’s readiness to host the Olympics. Read more

Here’s what we’ve been chatting about after the weekend:

By Ruona Agbroko

Today’s selection of interesting articles from around the web:

Under normal circumstances, an American president running for re-election would do his utmost to avoid a row with the Israeli prime minister. But I wonder whether President Obama really will be damaged by his semi-public clash with Benjamin Netanyahu?

The conventional argument is that the Jewish vote is very important in two vital swing states, Florida and Ohio. The major American-Jewish organisations are passionate in their support for Israel and their concerns about Iran. So being perceived to be tough on Israel and weak on Iran is dangerous for Obama. Read more

If Twitter is any guide then Barack Obama may have extracted from Charlotte what Mitt Romney singularly failed to get last week from Tampa – momentum, or what George H. W. Bush once called “the big Mo”. Partly because of what the New York Times described as Michelle Obama’s “high definition” fashion power, the first night of the Democratic convention garnered 3m tweets against 4m for the entire three days in Tampa.

It went off the charts for Bill Clinton’s epic – some would say Fidel Castro-esque – 48-minute primetime address on Wednesday. If Tampa was “good enough” for Mr Romney, but nothing more, Charlotte looks likely to qualify as a boost for Mr Obama’s re-election chances.

But momentum, like many things in life, is not what it used to be. Even if Mr Obama does emerge from Charlotte with “small Mo”, the chances are that it will evaporate pretty quickly. His first hurdle comes on Friday morning with the publication of the jobs numbers for AugustRead more

There is no name for people whose job it is dissect the choreography of US conventions. It involves the kinds of skill Kremlinologists used to deploy.

Take the Democratic show in Charlotte this week. Any hardcore politico watching before prime time (between 10pm and 11pm eastern standard time), would see an unabashed celebration of liberal values.

Speaker after speaker defended gay marriage and abortion among other themes guaranteed to get an ovation. They even boasted about Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill – a reform rarely highlighted in campaign events. Every time Mitt Romney’s name was cited, it seemed to be followed by “Swiss bank account”. According to Ted Strickland, the former governor of Ohio: “If Mitt was Santa Claus he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.” Read more

In the interests of fairness, having looked at how the Republican platform addresses trade and globalisation (fizzy rhetoric but not many hostages to fortune), here’s how the Democratic platform measures up.

In summary: it doesn’t say much, and it doesn’t say much new. The overall tone is boilerplate mercantilist with a soupcon of social concern:

We have taken steps to open new markets to American products, while ensuring that other countries play by the same rules. President Obama signed into law new trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama … but not before he strengthened these agreements on behalf of American workers and businesses. We remain committed to finding more markets for American-made goods—including using the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and eight countries in the Asia-Pacific, one of the most dynamic regions in the world—while ensuring that workers’ rights and environmental standards are upheld, and fighting against unfair trade practices.

 Read more

A man sells Barack Obama car air fresheners in Charlotte, North Carolina (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Every four years, Americans ask themselves: “Are you better off than you were before the presidential conventions?” To judge by the falling television ratings, the answer is not good.

This week in Charlotte, Barack Obama and his surrogates will be trying to fend off the Republican line that voters are worse off economically than when he took office. For most Americans, the answer is unfortunately “no” (median incomes have dropped almost five per cent since the recovery began in mid-2009).

The fault may lie more in the stars than with Mr Obama, who can plausibly argue that without his 2009 stimulus people would be far worse off. But his team will continue to respond with an unequivocal “yes” because in the game of politics if you admit any vulnerabilities then nobody – least of all the media – will let you change the subject. The formula is prebaked. Most voters feel worse off than they were four years ago. Yet Democrats are responding with a version of Groucho Marx’s: “Who do you believe? Me or your own lying eyes?” Little wonder the electorate is tuning out. Read more

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan (R-WI) with their families on the final day of the Republican National Convention (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

After three hours of the Republican convention on Thursday night in Tampa, I was all but convinced that the party is on course for victory in the presidential election. And then Mitt Romney gave his speech. The Republicans have some powerful themes to hammer away at. But the fact is, they are stuck with a wooden, dull and charmless candidate. In fact, it seems almost incredible that the anti-charismatic Romney is the best they could come up with – until you remember the motley crew that he ended up running against: Gingrich, Cain, Bachmann, Santorum.  Read more

Condoleezza Rice at the Republican National Convention (Stan Honda/AFP/GettyImages)

Every few years someone takes a convention by storm. At Bill Clinton’s convention in 1992 it was Mario Cuomo, the Hamlet-like governor of New York, who gave delegates a taste of what could have been. In 2004 it was the unknown Barack Obama, who comfortably outclassed John Kerry.

In Tampa in 2012, that moment was expected from Chris Christie, the generously-girthed New Jersey governor. Alas, Mr Christie belly-flopped. Instead, it was Condoleezza Rice, the only prominent former Bush official to be given a speaking slot, who delivered the best speech of the convention – and probably of her career. It was all the more impressive because it was unexpected.

Most people assumed that Ms Rice was invited for two reasons – she isn’t white (a big plus for a Republican nominee who recently got zero – yes zero – per cent rating among African Americans), and because her presence would “validate” Mr Romney. The content of her speech would be neither here nor there. In her short address, Ms Rice pretty much inverted expectations. Read more

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If there was a word observers most repeated about Barack Obama’s convention in Denver four years ago, it was “soaring”. For Mitt Romney in 2012 it would be “humanising” – making him seem like he is flesh and blood is the key deliverable from the Tampa convention.

By that yardstick there is still some way to go.

On Tuesday night, Ann Romney cleared the low bar the media sets for political spouses by bringing to life a husband who, after 43 years of marriage, “still makes me laugh”. She gave a plausible description of a man who would outwork any other applicant for the job. “He will not fail,” she said to the biggest applause line of the night.

Most tellingly, she described a generous philanthropist who did not like people to know about how generous he is: “This is important. I want you to hear what I am going to say,” she said, lowering her voice. “Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he helps others, because he sees it as a privilege, not as a political talking point.”

Leaving aside the fact that Mr Romney has authorised others to talk about his charitable record (from whom we will hear during the rest of the convention), his wife’s words are not as straightforward as they seem. They contain two messages that Mr Romney will be hoping avoid further scrutiny. Read more

The FT’s Anna Fifield took this photo in Tampa yesterday, of delegate Todd Tiahrt, a former congressman who attended the Republican convention dressed as Wyatt Earp. Apparently, fancy dress is not all that unusual at US political conventions. Check out our slideshow which includes a few other snaps of costumed delegates, as well as some general scenes from this week’s Florida shindig, as photographed by Anna and Stephanie Kirchgaessner.

Ann Romney on stage during the Republican National Convention on August 28 (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The convention speech by the candidate’s wife is a strange – and not altogether savoury – American political tradition. I come from Britain, where all that is expected of a leader’s wife at the party conference is to not look too bored and to clap in the right places. But here in the US, the candidate’s wife has to take to the rostrum at the party convention.

She has two jobs. First, she is auditioning for the role of first lady. Second, she has to persuade voters that her husband is not just a suitable president – but a marvellous human-being.

Ann Romney’s task last night was particularly onerous. She is not in perfect health: she has multiple sclerosis and has had breast cancer. And Mitt Romney is a tough sell: remote, robotic, chilly. Read more

Back in the golden age of the convention, Walter Cronkite may have been the American public’s principal source of news about their candidates. Today, everyone is Walter Cronkite. Read more

This is the time on the political calendar when pundits, strategists and soothsayers pore over charts and crunch numbers to discern how the smallest demographic slivers of the US electorate are feeling as the presidential election approaches.

White working-class men on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border? Check. African-Americans in midwestern urban centres? Check. Hispanic Republican lesbians? Well, not quite.

But amid the plethora of graphs and tables that tell us what the electorate is thinking, Amazon has come up with a new measure – the Amazon Election Heat Map 2012, which measures what Americans are reading. Read more