Critical clash looming in race too close to call
TONIGHT’S vice-presidential debate in this small town in central Kentucky comes at a critical juncture. Following President Barack Obama’s defeat in his debate with Mitt Romney last week, Romney is leading for the first time in a year in the Real Clear Politics poll average, by a slim margin of 0.7 per cent.
As the race entered its final month yesterday, Gallup switched its polling method from registered voters to those most likely to show up on November 6th – a measure that favours Republicans. In a Pew poll published Monday, Romney led Obama by four points among likely voters.
“One night in Denver undid most of the advantage Mr Obama had appeared to gain in September,” writes Nate Silver, of the New York Times’s 538 (after the number of electoral college votes) blog. Silver calculates that Romney has a 28.8 per cent chance of taking the 270 votes needed to win the electoral college. Obama’s lead in the crucial swing state of Ohio has narrowed from 10 to four points.
In shop windows in Danville, population 17,000, tonight’s debate is billed as a boxing match, with the words “Thrill in the Ville” emblazoned above the vice-presidential candidates’ photos.
“Joe’s gonna take out the old meat-axe and go to work,” Dick Harpootlian, a member of Obama’s national finance committee told website Politico. “They’ll have to call the humane society.”
“We should expect to see what we saw with Governor Romney and President Obama in Denver,” predicts Steve Robertson, the chairman of the state’s Republican party.
Kentucky is a strange political animal, voting Republican in national contests but Democratic in local and state elections. President Obama is unpopular, even in his own party.
“We are trying to distinguish ourselves from the national party, mainly on social issues,” says Dan Logsdon, the chairman of the state Democratic party. “The president’s healthcare plan is not popular here.”
Like anxious Democrats across the country after Denver, Logsdon laments Obama’s poor communications skills.
John McCain defeated Obama by 60 to 40 per cent in Kentucky in 2008. “It’ll probably be worse this time,” Logsdon sighs. “In 2008, Hillary Clinton campaigned very hard here. The claims she made resonated and festered. You add coal. You add gay marriage – which is incredibly unpopular here – and the rise of the Tea Party, which has a strong history here – you combine all these things and it’s really an uphill battle.”
Eastern Appalachian Kentucky relies on coal for a living. Under Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped issuing permits for surface mining. Andy Barr, a Republican Congressional candidate in central Kentucky, promises he will roll back “oppressive regulation” by the agency. Even the state’s Democratic governor is at odds with Obama on coal. Mitt Romney has emphasised Obama’s “war on coal” in coal-producing states.
Obama was unchallenged in the Democratic primary, but in Kentucky, 42 per cent of Democrats ticked “uncommitted” on their ballot papers, a terrible disavowal.