Obama has bounce in his step but race is close, says adviser


Cheers, chants and confetti as Barack Obama accepts White House nomination

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama and Mitt Romney shadowed each other on the campaign trail in the swing states of New Hampshire and Iowa yesterday, following Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention on Thursday night.

Romney did not receive the expected “bounce” coming out of the Republican convention last week. Most commentators agreed that the Democratic convention was more successful, but Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, played down expectations of significant movement in opinion polls. “I think it’s going to be close; there’s never going to be a huge gap” because “the movable part of the electorate” was small, he said.

Obama’s appeal for another term came amid mixed economic news. Hours before his speech, the three US stock indices closed at their highest levels for years, following the announcement of the ECB plan to purchase bonds from heavily indebted countries.

However, the August jobs report, released yesterday morning, was disappointing. Unemployment fell from 8.3 to 8.1 per cent, but only because 250,000 people stopped looking for jobs. The labour force comprises only 63.5 per cent of the US population, the lowest proportion since the start of the Reagan administration in 1981.

The split recovery, where US companies do well while employment stagnates, is attributed to reluctance on the part of business to hire in the face of uncertainty about European debt, the looming “fiscal cliff” and future tax rates.

“This is not even close to what a recovery looks like,” the Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said, calling the poor economy “the result of failed leadership in Washington”.

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have,” Obama told a packed audience at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte and an audience of up to 40 million television viewers on Thursday night. “You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear, you elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

Obama revisited hope and change, the themes of his 2008 campaign. “You were the change,” he said, saying that without the support of American voters, none of his accomplishments in office – healthcare legislation, grants for education, clemency for some illegal immigrants and the end of discrimination against gays in the military – would have happened.

“I am hopeful because of you,” he said.

When the president said “Madam chairwoman, delegates, I accept your nomination for president of the United States,” the crowd broke into wild cheers of “Four more years. Four more years”.

The tone was dignified and presidential, more like a State of the Union address than a campaign speech. It was nonetheless hard-edged, attacking Romney as a foreign policy novice who is chummy with petroleum companies and seeks tax cuts for millionaires. Government, the president said, was neither the solution to nor the source of all America’s problems. He vaunted his bailout of the motor industry and the creation of a half million manufacturing jobs, but barely mentioned the 2010 Affordable Care Act, whose repeal is a major rallying cry for Republicans.

Obama cast the election as a choice between “two different paths for America . . . between two fundamentally different visions for the future”. It was the most important choice in a generation because “over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs, the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace”.

Shifting tone, Obama referred sarcastically to “our friends down in Tampa at the Republican convention” who “want your vote, but . . . don’t want you to know their plan”.

He added: “I don’t believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand or the laid-off construction worker keep his home. We have been there, we’ve tried that and we’re not going back. We are moving forward, America.”

“Forward” is Obama’s campaign slogan.

In a signal to independent voters who might be tempted by Republican ideology, he said that Democrats “should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government programme or dictated from Washington”. He nonetheless expressed optimism that “our problems can be solved, our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place.”

When Obama said he had kept his promise to kill Osama bin Laden, the crowd chanted, “USA, USA, USA”. Like Romney, he promised to “sustain the strongest military the world has ever known”.

Romney and Ryan were “new” to foreign policy, “but from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly”.

He said Romney was “stuck in a Cold War time warp” for calling Russia – rather than al-Qaeda – the number one enemy. He asked how Romney could be trusted to conduct diplomacy when he’d insulted “our closest ally” [Britain] during the Olympic Games.

Contrasting his own policies with Romney’s plans to “gut education”, Obama promised to recruit 100,000 new maths and science teachers in a decade and cut university fees. Obama said he wanted to raise taxes on households earning over $250,000 – “the same rate we had when Bill Clinton was president”.

If Americans turned away now, “change will not happen . . . Only you have the power to move us forward,” Obama said. If Americans “reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few . . . the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election”.

As Bruce Springsteen’s We Take Care of Our Own played over the loudspeakers, the first lady and daughters Sasha and Malia joined the president onstage, followed by the vice-president and his wife, in a storm of confetti.

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