Campaigns hit fever pitch in final days
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have stoked their campaigns to a crescendo, writes CARL O’BRIENin Ohio
ONE STORM ends and another begins. The presidential race roared back to life yesterday as the atmosphere on both campaign trails reached a frenzied crescendo of excitement and tension.
Following a storm-imposed hiatus, president Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney’s election rallies criss- crossed the vital battleground state of Ohio yesterday, almost crossing paths at one point outside the city of Columbus.
Obama’s campaign was first to roll into town, as almost 3,000 people gathered at the Franklin county fairgrounds, a cavernous cattle mart to the north of the city. Looking fresh but with his voice slightly hoarse, Obama took to the stage to tell the audience he was the real candidate of change – and that a vote for Republicans would be a return to the status quo.
The temporary cessation of hostilities during superstorm Sandy was well and truly over: the language here was full-throated, direct and aggressive.
Obama accused his opponents and Republicans in Congress of trying to stall any kind of of progress, and accused Romney of repackaging the failed policies of the George W Bush and calling it “change”. “That’s not change!” Obama said.
He accused the Republican candidate of running dishonest commercials – claiming auto jobs are being outsourced to China – to try to scare voters in Ohio.
“Trying to massage the facts, that’s not change, that’s just . . .” The crowd responded: “It’s lies! It lies!”
“This isn’t a game. These are people’s jobs,” Obama said. “It’s not true. Everybody knows it’s not true. The car companies themselves have told governor Romney to knock it off.”
There was also a glimmer of good news for the campaign: new figures showed companies had hired more workers in October than any time in the past eight months, though the overall unemployment rate rose slightly.
“We’re making progress,” he said, to cheers, “but we’ve a lot more work to do.”
The crowd was more pumped up than audiences have been in recent days, stoked by the warm-up speakers’ rhetoric that soared even higher than normal.
“I can tell this is a rowdy crowd!” Obama said, as women in tiered seating behind him yelled her support. The crowd burst into spontaneous chants: “Four more years! Four more years!” One excited middle-aged man yelled out an incoherent jumble of words about the president and Romney.
“This guy has had a lot of coffee this morning,” Obama responded. “You’re fired up!”
For most supporters, there was a sense of renewed optimism following the president’s performance in managing the federal response to the storms, but also tension at a race that is going down to the wire.
Across town in the suburb of Etna, Romney appeared on stage in a giant warehouse against the backdrop of a US flag, coal-mining machinery and a large sign that said “Jobs”.
“Four more days!”, chanted the crowd – this time slightly older and whiter – in spontaneous bursts. To deafening roars, Romney took to the stage to give what he said was the “closing argument” of the campaign, arguing that economy was hopelessly mired in stagnation.
“The question of this election comes down to this: do you want more of the same or do you want real change?” Romney asked.
“Noooo!” yelled the crowd.
“President Obama promised change but he could not deliver it. I promise change and I have a record of achieving it.”
Keen to appeal to moderates, he pledged to be a non-partisan president who would work with all party members.
“If I’m – when I’m – elected president,” he said as the crowd cheered, “I’ll reach across the aisle and I’ll work with Republicans and Democrats who care more about the country than about partisan politics.”
In a sweeping closing argument, Romney said believed the country’s best days lay ahead of it, as long as it was provided with the right kind of leadership.
“Together we can build a stronger nation with a brighter future,” he said.
A buoyant crowd streamed out of the venue. Mary Crawford (46), from Granville, said she was worried about the future of country — but Romney was the best person to tackle issues such as the massive spending deficit.
“When he was governor of Massachusetts, he balanced the budget,” she said. “I distrust the president – and I’m pretty confident most of the country feels the same way.”
As the race barrels towards its conclusion, the atmosphere looks set to ratchet up even further. And with polls showing the election is still too close to call, the best barometer of all comes in just three days’ time.