October 19, 2012 7:48 pm

US campaigns gear up for final lap

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People cast their ballots for the US presidential election at an early voting center©AFP

In the early evening on Thursday, Barack Obama’s supporters in the small state of New Hampshire set out on the campaign’s version of the graveyard shift, a voter drive that would take them through to dawn the next day.

Volunteers interrupted students swotting in university libraries at midnight, talked to customers at a diner at 2am, then trekked on to a bakery, before greeting workers arriving before dawn for the first shift at Portsmouth Naval Yard.

“We need to persuade people that their vote counts,” said Katharine Daly, 65, a volunteer manning the phones at a bustling campaign office in Concord before the red-eye registration effort.

With Mr Romney closing fast on Mr Obama and few undecided voters left, the presidential poll has become a turnout election, one that will come down to whichever side is most successful at rallying its support base.

Mr Obama is trailing Mr Romney in national polls but clinging on to a fragile lead in the battleground states with under three weeks to polling day and only one face-to-face debate left, on foreign policy, on Monday.

Obama campaign officials are confident that they can hold the line in Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire and Iowa which, when combined with states the president is certain to win, will be enough to put him across the line.

Mr Obama’s efforts to sandbag these states from an increasingly confident Romney campaign have been helped at the margin by better economic news over the past month, with unemployment falling and housing showing signs of revival.

The jobless rate has dropped in seven out of nine battleground states, according to state-level labour department data for September.

In Ohio, the key swing state in the election, the unemployment rate fell from 7.2 per cent to 7 per cent, keeping it well below the national average of 7.8 per cent. If Mr Obama holds Ohio, he is almost certain to win.

Four other swing states, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin, also have healthier jobless rates than the US as a whole. Iowa, which has a strong rural economy, has the lowest rate of the battleground states at 5.2 per cent.

However, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada – which has the highest jobless rate at 11.8 per cent – are swing states that are faring worse than the rest of the country.

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But just as the drip of poor economic news for much of this year has not destroyed Mr Obama’s support in the electorate, the improving outlook is unlikely to transform the race in his favour.

Obama campaign officials have long prepared for a close election, and have ploughed far more funds than their Republican opponents into their ground game to make sure that they leave no voter behind.

“We don’t want to lose because 200 people are out doing their grocery shopping instead of voting,” said Ms Daly, who is putting in more than 40 hours a week volunteering.

But while the Obama campaign’s operation in New Hampshire is formidable, as it is throughout the battleground states, the Republicans have also stepped up from what was a poor showing in 2008.

At the Romney campaign’s headquarters in Bedford, Linda Paul, 58, says the atmosphere is “more positive” than four years ago when, she says, voters “were enamoured with Mr Obama”.

But volunteers such as Ms Paul have to roll with the punches, just as the national campaign does.

 

Mr Obama’s campaign has targeted comments made by Mr Romney in their debate on Tuesday, about how he favoured flexible work times so that women could get home by 5pm so they “could cook the dinner”.

“I have had lots of these women’s libber-types saying – why does he just single out women to get home early to cook,” she said, before adding in exasperation: “He was just explaining that people need to work according to their families’ needs.”

Ms Paul’s commitment is reflected on the white board at the Romney campaign office, where she is listed as number two in a list of top five volunteers.

“There are too many people who are not working who can work and who are taking money from the government,” she says, picking up the phone to make another call. “That is what gets me angry.”

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