Romney Gaffes Give Obama The Lead


It’s going to be exceedingly close, but it appears likely that Barack Obama will be re-elected president of the United States. In doing so, he will become the first president since FDR to be re-elected with an unemployment rate over 7.2 per cent (it’s currently sitting at 7.8 per cent, but has been above 8 per cent for most of the year).

Anything could happen in a week, of course, but it appears unlikely that Romney’s campaign will be able to achieve the necessary wins in battleground states like Ohio and Nevada. Forcing the mood for change and translating it into actual votes is the challenge of running against incumbency. It’ll be close, and I believe that Romney could well win the popular vote, but I don’t think he’s done enough to compel turnaround wins where it matters.

Romney hasn’t been helped by the wider Republican campaign machine making a series of flubs that forced him weigh in on touchy issues like rape and race.

Last week was no exception. Romney campaign figure John Sununu implied that Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama was because he’s black, and Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock made some questionable remarks regarding pregnancy from rape just one day after receiving Romney’s endorsement.

"Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, it is something that God intended to happen," Mourdock said during a televised debate.

Poor Mitt. No one was much interested in talking about the economy after that one.

By contrast, the Democrats have been fairly well-disciplined. Based on the state of the economy, this should have been an unwinnable election for the Dems: unemployment, while falling, is still high; growth, while improving, is still slow. But this election hasn’t been about that nearly as much as the Republicans would have liked, and their inability to control the conversation and keep their house in order is largely to blame.

Prize endorsements

The news cycle over the weekend was largely dominated by the approach of Hurricane Sandy, but one election-related nugget to squeeze through was the Des Moines Register’s endorsement of Romney, the first time the publication has supported a Republican candidate in the swing state since Richard Nixon in 1972.

"The Register’s editorial board, as it should, had a vigorous debate over this endorsement. Our discussion repeatedly circled back to the nation’s single most important challenge: pulling the economy out of the doldrums, getting more Americans back in the workforce in meaningful jobs with promising futures, and getting the federal government on a track to balance the budget in a bipartisan manner that the country demands.

"Which candidate could forge the compromises in Congress to achieve these goals? When the question is framed in those terms, Mitt Romney emerges the stronger candidate."

Conversely, one of Utah’s foremost publications, the Salt Lake Tribune, endorsed Obama.

Acknowledging Romney’s popularity in the state as both a Mormon and the so-called "savior" of the 2002 Winter Olympics, the paper leveled a fairly damning character assessment at Romney, describing him as "the party’s shape-shifting nominee":

"Politicians routinely tailor their words to suit an audience. Romney, though, is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words, they would trade their votes to hear."

The final debate, finally

Last week’s debate (mercifully, the last of the campaign) provided probably the most interest for foreigners like myself, though probably not most Americans.

Romney spent most of the debate trying not to look foolish while treading Obama’s turf. He even voiced agreement with Obama’s policies on several occasions (notably with the use of drones), in what was widely regarded as an attempt to appeal to female voters by reducing the partisan squabbling (poor dears just can’t handle it, the commentators seem to think).

Obama landed some solid blows, the best of which came in response to Romney’s jab that the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than it had in 1916:

"Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships."

It was probably the only moment of all three debates where one of the candidates managed a concise, quotable and damaging line against their opponent and the inevitable memes surfaced.

Not everyone was crazy about the line, though.

Any Australians looking for an indication of how a Romney presidency or Obama second term would affect matters in our "sphere of influence" would have been disappointed. Even Mali got possibly its first mention in a US presidential debate ever, but it seems that China, Iran, Russia and Israel will continue to take the bulk of the focus for the next four years regardless of who ends up in the Oval Office.

Article of the week

The New Yorker’s endorsement of Obama was typically elegant.

Chart of the week

The Republicans’ have not done well out of this campaign with their various definitions of rape. Here’s a nifty chart to keep track of them all.

Video of the week

The incomparable Tina Fey weighs in.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.