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23 October, 2012

Obama-Romney play-out

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney move into the last leg of the election campaign, putting behind them the scheduled slanging matches before television cameras, supporters of both candidates appear to be convinced that their man is poised to win even though opinion polls place them too close for comfort.

Time was when an incumbent could confidently look forward to re-election as US presidents do not usually suffer from anti-incumbency the way prime ministers do in parliamentary democracies. Refusal of a second term to Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr in the recent past shows voters can no longer be taken for granted. So Obama has been running just as fast as on the last occasion when he coasted home, overcoming hurdles a less doughty fighter would have found insurmountable.

Money has always been a critical input in the US elections. The way cash-strapped Obama raised funds for his 2008 campaign using the Internet is a part of the evolving New World mythology. This time he is pitted against a candidate who is not only far more resourceful than his earlier rival but also an unabashed champion of the filthy rich one per cent that reputedly calls the shots.

Reports this time say Obama got a little more than $2.5 million from a single donor, a film producer. Romney had five backers who donated more than that. Topping the list was a casino owner who put in more than $34 million. However, Federal Election Commission returns indicate that overall Obama’s fund-raisers hauled in more than Romney’s.

America’s immense power gives the whole world a stake in these elections but the thoughts uppermost in the minds of the voters as they walk into the booths on November 6 will be their own future, and possibly the country’s too, but not the world’s. The US economy has been under severe strain since Obama’s second year in office and the unemployment rate has been hovering at fairly high levels, giving Mitt Romney ample opportunity to damn his presidency and pose as the man who has all the right answers.

After the economy, the main bone of contention is healthcare. US per capita spending on healthcare is higher than that of any other country. Yet six out of 10 Americans filing for bankruptcy cite exorbitant medical expenses as a reason. Obama had highlighted an affordable healthcare plan in his first campaign and managed to put it into effect in some form overcoming strong objections from political opponents. Romney wants a rollback.

The two-party system is so entrenched and pervasive that about 80 per cent of the voters are believed to be firmly aligned with one or the other of the two. The candidates’ performances in the television debates are unlikely to produce any changes in the attitude of the committed voters, who are evenly balanced. Consequently the outcome of the election is determined essentially by the independent voters, and all the well rehearsed small screen performances were actually aimed at winning them over.

A dozen states with a reputation for swinging have decided the fate of candidates in recent elections, and quite naturally they have received special attention in the long-drawn-out campaign. This year the two parties have reportedly spent a whopping $600 million in television advertising in these states. Some of these states are among those worst hit by the current downturn, and voters there are sure to have followed the economic arguments of the campaign with keen interest.

Close as the race is the Obama camp has some cause for cheer. All Democratic presidents were swept up to the winning stand by a surge of support from women voters, and indications are that Barack Obama retains a respectable lead among them. Also, as in 2008, Obama remains the hot favourite of first-time voters – both native born and newly naturalised Americans.

Another factor in Obama’s favour is a small increase in the level of consumer confidence and a slight improvement in employment rates in 41 states, including at least eight of the swing states, reported last week. The Romney camp believes the new statistical data may not help Obama as most of the floating voters must have made up their minds already.

Romney left no stone unturned in his all-out effort but his ability to exploit Obama’s failings fully seems to have been circumscribed by the frighteningly archaic brand of conservatism he espouses. But, then, polling is still two weeks away, and that is not too short a period in a keenly contested election. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 23, 2012.

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