Politics

Swing State Report: Weekly Briefing

Swing State Report: Weekly Briefing

In the prior seven days, President Barack Obama has strengthened his hold in Pennsylvania and Virginia, but rival Mitt Romney is ahead and gaining in North Carolina and is squeaking out a kernel of a lead in Iowa. An interesting story is developing in Ohio regarding how non-union employees of GM supplier Delphi were squeezed out of much of their pension benefits – unlike their unionized counterparts.

The briefing is gathered from reporters in each state who work for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, publisher of Watchdog.org.

Colorado

Polls show virtual tie as presidential candidates court Mountain State voters

Last week, President Barack Obama attended a rally of 8,400 people in Golden, a solidly middle-class Denver suburb seen as critical to the state that is itself a key bridge to the presidency.

It marked the first time since Ulysses S. Grant was in office that a sitting president visited the former mining town, headquarters of Coors Brewing Co. Obama spent much of his speech focusing on health-care costs and college tuition as well as his fight to limit taxes for the middle class — a mantra that seemed to resonate with this crowd.

It was Obama’s ninth trip to Colorado this year; his most recent visit was to Boulder, on Sept. 2.

Not to be outdone, GOP candidate Mitt Romney was supposed to be in Pueblo on Sunday, his first campaign stop since the Republican convention. The trip was canceled when a plane crash closed part of the airport. Pueblo would have been a tough crowd, but the planned visit may reveal that like Obama, Romney feels ready to attack his opponent in geographic areas of electoral strength: Pueblo is mostly Democratic with a large population of Hispanics and blue-collar workers.

A Denver Post poll shows Obama and Romney almost tied in Colorado voter support, and both have made it a priority to make campaign stops in this swing state, where the voters and delegates are up for grabs.

Obama leads Romney by a single percentage point — 47 percent to 46 percent. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has 3 percentage points, according to the Denver Post poll released Friday.

Poll watch: The Post surveyed 750 Colorado adults. The political party breakdown of the participants was 34 percent Republican, 34 percent Democrat and 30 percent unaffiliated.

— Tori Richards

Florida

Campaigns speed through Sunshine State in race for its 29 electoral votes

The U.S. Justice Department decided to drop its lawsuit over Florida’s early voting reductions–reducing the number of early voting days to 8 from 14–the same week the state vowed to stop ridding its rolls of ineligible voters.

The changes in voting laws worried many voter advocate organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which warned that changes would affect minority groups disproportionately and could tilt the scales in the November election.

In a candid moment on the campaign trail in Fort Pierce, pizza parlor owner Scott Van Duzer gave President Barack Obama a sweeping bear hug, landing Duzer on the front pages of newspapers and at the bottom of Republicans’ most-favored lists.

Hundreds of Romney supporters took to rating websites to blast the pizza parlor owner, disapproving of his seemingly innocent show of affection for the president.

“People are saying a lot of bad things and boycotting my restaurant,” Van Duzer said. “There’s no middle line anymore, and that’s exactly what’s wrong with our country right now.”

As the campaigns vie for Florida’s 29 electoral votes, every major city in the state has played host to dozens of candidate stops in the past few months.

On Sept. 11 and 12, Obama headlined grassroots rallies in Miami and Orlando with former President Bill Clinton, capitalizing on his charismatic performance at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this month.

GOP candidate Mitt Romney beat Clinton-Obama to the Miami punch by showing up a day earlier, hoping to convert Hispanics to his cause.

GOP vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan has been comfortable playing to the older crowds in the Sunshine State, stopping by retirement communities near Orlando with his mother to sell his Medicare plan.

Poll Watch: The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Sept. 13 gives Obama a 5-point advantage among likely voters, leading Romney 49 percent to 44 percent.

— Yaël Ossowski

Iowa

Obama holds infinitesimal lead over Romney in Hawkeye State, polls show

A lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who wants to remove noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls, will proceed.

A District Court judge last week denied Schultz’s request to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Hispanic advocacy groups. The groups asked for the injunction to stop Schultz from using a federal immigration database to vet the state’s voter registration list. The judge granted the injunction, blocking Schultz from taking any action until the court rules on the case.

Schultz adopted emergency rules in July without public input to allow his office to use the database. Officials identified more than 3,500 potential noncitizens on voter rolls. The decision — which came after visits by President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney — could affect the outcome of the November election.

Poll Watch: Obama holds an infinitesimal lead over Romney, according to RealClearPolitics.org, a nonpartisan group that provides rolling averages of polls. The site showed Obama with 45 percent and Romney with 44.8 percent.

The polls are in contrast to those in 2008, when Iowa voters catapulted Obama’s campaign during the first-in-the nation caucuses. He went on to win the state by a healthy margin in the general election.

Voter numbers also reflect a shift in Iowans’ support. For the first time since 2006, more residents are registered as Republicans than as Democrats, according to newly released numbers by Schultz’s office. More than 602,000 voters are registered as Democrats, compared with 620,868 registered Republicans. Another 666,279 voters are undecided.

The two camps aggressively have pursued Iowa voters, with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visiting the state 17 times since January. Romney and his Republican running mate Paul Ryan have travel to the state 13 times. Biden and Ryan were scheduled to be Iowa in Monday.

— Sheena Dooley

Michigan

If Romney is conceding the Mitten State, then so is Obama

It made for a great headline: “Mitt giving up on Michigan.”

National and local media outlets blasted out that message last week. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, they said, was conceding Michigan to President Barack Obama, because the challenger isn’t advertising in the Great Lakes State.

In fact, neither candidate is advertising in Michigan. Not now, anyway.

Top Michigan GOP officials disputed the reports, pointing to 22 campaign offices in the state as evidence of Romney’s commitment. Additionally, thousands of volunteers hit the ground Saturday statewide to get out the vote.

Poll Watch: But the “Romney ditching Michigan” notion seemed too good to discount. The Detroit Free Press used the absence of advertising as a reason Romney lagged Obama by 10 percentage points, according to a poll of 600 likely voters it coordinated with EPIC-MRA and WXYZ-TV.

“Romney’s best chance at making Michigan competitive again — especially since neither he nor his independent supporters are running TV ads in the state — may be the three debates,” the Free Press reported.

Obama supporters, obviously giddy with the poll numbers, were still pushing the story that Obama saved the auto industry. One million jobs were saved and General Motors is alive, etc., etc.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm led those cheers at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and Obama supporters have kept them going. Expect that to continue and for mainstream media to continue to ignore the facts behind the numbers — the Italians now own Chrysler, and U.S. taxpayers could lose $25 billion because of GM’s stagnant stock price.

Even with all that buzz, the best political story of the week came to us via the “Dating Game.” Yes, the television show from the 1970s with uncomfortable questions, polyester and bell-bottoms. Enter Granholm, whose 1978 appearance on the show carried luminescent shades of her convention speech, only with bigger hair.

— Manny Lopez

Nevada

Economy could keep voters in their ‘underwater’ homes, away from polls on Election Day

President Barack Obama last Wednesday visited Las Vegas, the day after GOP challenger Mitt Romney spoke in Reno at a National Guard convention and the day after the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya.

News reports estimate 8,000 people attended the 30-minute rally at the Cashman Center, about 3,000 fewer than a similar outdoor rally for Obama in Las Vegas four years ago. The event tied up traffic in and around the downtown area, frustrating residents with unexpected “rolling roadblocks.”

Obama, who won Nevada four years ago, acknowledged in his remarks that the Great Recession hit this state hardest, but said he inherited the situation from President George W. Bush and warned against buying into the “old sales pitches” for alternative policies “the other side is trying to sell.”

Conversely, Romney supporters noted Obama is quoted in Bob Woodward’s new book, “The Price of Politics,” as deciding not to “roll out an aggressive housing plan”

as part of his 2008 stimulus program. That issue is of particular interest in Las Vegas, which has had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation and where two out of three houses are worth much less than what the owners paid for them.

The president also forcefully declared that he “will never turn Medicare into a voucher,” an oft-used scare tactic aimed at Las Vegas’ large bloc of retirees and senior citizens and a clear shot at Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s reform plan.

A danger sign for the Obama campaign: One attendee at the campaign rally who voted for Obama in 2008 told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she doesn’t plan to vote at all this year. “I just came to get out of the house.”

A lower turnout than 2008 is generally believed to favor Romney in the Silver State.

— Chuck Muth

New Hampshire

Voter registration trends, anti-tax amendment complicating president’s efforts

If the trends continue, New Hampshire’s four electoral votes could provide President Barack Obama with a narrow margin of victory on Election Day.

Pollster John Zogby, for instance, has drawn up a scenario that has the Granite State sealing the deal for the Obama-Biden ticket, assuming the Democrats also win Florida.

Obama carried New Hampshire by almost 10 points in 2008, but his lead appears tenuous in a state where ballot integrity efforts and a proposed anti-tax amendment complicate the electoral terrain for Democrats. Moreover, a highly successful conservative insurrection that took down several liberal-leaning statehouse Republicans during the Sept. 11 primary could be indicative of an energized base that makes the difference for Mitt Romney.

Poll Watch: The RealClearPolitics.org average has Obama up by just 4 percentage points over Romney in New Hampshire, which narrowly voted for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, and George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, in 2000.

“New Hampshire is very isolationist, and very anti-war,” Sam Pimm, a field coordinator with the Reagan Coalition, said. “That would help to explain the vote in 2008, but the Republicans came back strong in 2010, and I think the momentum is still on their side with the public now focused on taxes and a poor economy. Romney has every chance to win here, but it will be close.”

Secretary of State William Gardner, a Democrat, purged the voter rolls of dead and ineligible voters in August 2011 — 163,221 voters were dropped from the rolls statewide, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

“There was a very substantial shift to the Republicans after the January presidential primary earlier this year,” Anthony Stevens, the assistant secretary of state, said. “But this does not have anything to do with the purge. There was more interest in the Republican primary, and undeclared voters who vote in the primary become Republican. New voters may not know this. But it’s possible that many voters do want to become identified as Republicans. There are many factors at work.”

Since Obama settled on Portsmouth to make his first campaign stop after the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., it’s reasonable to conclude that the Democrats aren’t overflowing with confidence in a state that was an easy win a few years ago. Romney held a campaign rally at Holman Stadium in Nashua, N.H., the same day as Obama’s appearance. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to make multiple stops in New Hampshire this coming weekend. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, was scheduled to make an appearance on behalf of Romney on Monday, Sept. 17, in Portsmouth, where he remains popular. Romney’s No. 2, Paul Ryan, is scheduled to be in Dover on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

— Kevin Mooney

North Carolina

GOP will take governor’s mansion; another Obama win unlikely

Polls suggest North Carolina will get another Republican governor in November, only its fourth Republican governor since 1874. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory is trouncing Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, his Democratic challenger, in surveys of North Carolina voters.

Despite its track record of sending Democrats to the governor’s mansion, North Carolina is decidedly conservative. In 2008, the state gave its 15 electoral votes to Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president. As for Obama the president, voters will probably choose otherwise.

Poll Watch: An Elon University poll taken days before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., showed 47 percent of likely voters would cast their ballots for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, while 43 percent would support Obama. The latest aggregation of polls by RealClearPolitics.org shows Romney with a lead of 4.8 percentage points in North Carolina.

A Gallup poll taken after the Democratic National Convention showed Obama received a slight bump, but pundits and observers say it amounts to a temporary enthusiasm and is mostly unsustainable.

But he’ll keep trying in the Tar Heel State. His wife will, anyway.

First lady Michelle Obama will be in North Carolina next week for campaign events in Greenville and Durham, The Associated Press reported Monday.

But can Obama win North Carolina again, considering he won by just 14,000 votes in 2008?

“North Carolina is the one hotly contested battleground state where Romney has tended to outpoll Obama over the past few months,” says John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a nonprofit think tank that promotes liberty and a constitutional government. “By no means is the contest over, but the Republicans enjoy a small lead. Let me put it this way: If the Republican ticket is still fighting to keep North Carolina in its column in October, that probably means President Obama will be re-elected. But if by October Republicans aren’t spending much money here, that means they are playing in harder-to-win states such as Virginia, Florida and Ohio, and the president could still lose.”

— John Trump

Ohio

Delphi workers show up, blast Obama administration for vanishing pensions

Vice President Joe Biden spoke last week at Wright State University in Dayton, greeted by a few dozen protesters who blame the Obama administration for their vanishing pensions.

More than 20,000 retirees from Delphi, a supplier of General Motors in Dayton, lost part of their pensions in the government-directed GM bankruptcy.

The pensions of non-union Delphi employees — the plans were 85 percent funded —were seized. These workers were left with pensions cut by up to 70 percent, while union employees saw their pension fund topped off by GM.

The issue hasn’t made much of an impression on the national media during the past three years, but it’s part of the campaign in Ohio. An independent group called Let Freedom Ring featured several of the Delphi retirees in a recent campaign ad.

Last month, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel tried to blame the Delphi pension cuts on his opponent, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, calling him “un-American” for voting for the Wall Street bailout, which led to the auto industry bailout, which led to the Delphi scandal.

It was a stretch, and Brown turned it into evidence that Mandel would have opposed the bailout. Local reporting on the issue has been about as probing as the Clint Eastwood Super Bowl commercial, so bailout opposition remains a political liability around here.

The Ohio media doesn’t mention that taxpayers are facing losses of $25 billion on depressed GM stock prices and losing another $15 billion-plus in tax breaks for GM.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-3rd District, has held a series of hearings on Delphi, but blame for the decision hasn’t been fully established. One reason is three Treasury Department officials have refused to talk to a special investigator about Delphi for more than a year.

The Daily Caller published emails last month that showed why. Contrary to the official explanation that the independent Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. made the decision, the email record showed that PBGC staffers were specifically disinvited from the meeting, during which Treasury officials hammered out what to do about Delphi.

— Jon Cassidy

Pennsylvania

Campaigns take big guns elsewhere as Keystone State leans toward Obama

A cease-fire has been declared in the battle for the airwaves in Pennsylvania, as both sides turn their big guns to other targets.

Priorities Action USA, a major Obama-supporting super PAC, pulled its ads last week, the first time since May that neither presidential campaign nor their supporting super PACs are advertising in the Keystone State.

Two key Republican super PACs and the Romney campaign stopped advertising in Pennsylvania during the first week of September.

Political observers said the withdrawal of the advertising blitz is another sign that Pennsylvania — which has enjoyed the national spotlight as a toss-up state in recent presidential contests — is on the outside looking in this November. Most projections have the state comfortably in President Barack Obama’s grasp and polls show U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, one of 21 Democratic senators trying to hold off Republican challenges this November, well ahead of Tom Smith, the Republican candidate.

Obama won the state by more than 10 points and more than 600,000 votes in 2008.

Campaigns and super PACs had spent more than $12 million on television advertising in Pennsylvania markets since November, according to the Washington Post’s ad tracker.

But both campaigns are working hard to build their ground game and keep voters engaged — largely by telling supporters the race is closer than it appears.

Last week, while addressing the Pennsylvania delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell suggested Republicans may be “setting a trap” in the Keystone State.

“If they decide to come in and blitz the last six or seven weeks, they can do it if they want,” Rendell said, encouraging Democrats to take nothing for granted.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, delivered the same message to reporters this week, saying he questioned the accuracy of recent polls showing Obama with a lead of more than 5 points over GOP candidate Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania. Toomey said the strength of a Republican grassroots effort would keep the state in play until Election Day.

— Eric Boehm

Virginia

In convention afterglow, Romney fades in Virginia

GOP candidate Mitt Romney and first lady Michelle Obama agreed on one thing this week: Virginia is crucial to deciding the 2012 presidential election.

Campaigning Thursday in the Old Dominion — while keeping a discreet distance from each other — Romney and the first lady drew excited crowds.

In blue Fairfax County, Romney told a cheering, flag-waving throng: “This is the day we’ve got to come together. I’m counting on you, Virginia. We have to win this.”

At appearances in Fredericksburg and Richmond, Obama exhorted supporters to stay the course. “All the hard work, all the progress we’ve made, it’s all on the line,” she told several hundred people at a downtown Richmond theater.

But the first lady didn’t get to go everywhere she wanted. Citing a policy against politicking on campus, Chesterfield School District, outside of Richmond, denied her request to speak at an elementary school there.

Poll Watch: The latest NBC/WSJ/Marist poll showed Romney’s support in Virginia faded a bit after the party conventions.

The Sept. 9 to 11 survey has President Barack Obama leading the Republican 49 percent to 44 percent among likely voters. Previous polls showed the two tied, or Romney slightly ahead. Two percent support another candidate in the Marist poll, while 5 percent are undecided.

Among Obama’s supporters likely to vote, 87 percent say they will not waver. This compares with 80 percent of Romney’s backers who say they strongly support the former Massachusetts governor, Marist reported.

Romney’s somewhat softer backing could reflect the fact that two ex-Republicans — Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, a former six-term congressman from Southside Virginia — made the state’s presidential ballot this month.

— Kenric Ward

Wisconsin

Biden, Ryan take lead in trying to secure Badger State votes

The battle for the battleground Badger State heated up last week with visits from the presidential ticket’s No. 2s.

Vice President Joe Biden stumped Thursday at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, preaching to the choir of college students and blasting Republican presidential contestant Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan on education.

“The president and I know neither one of us would be standing where we are today were it not for help we received in scholarships and loans,” Biden said.

“Our plan focuses first on education — 100,000 new science and math teachers in the next 10 years. The Romney-Ryan budget calls for massive cuts in elementary and secondary education.”

Biden’s been humming the same tune since Romney tapped Ryan as his running mate. It’s a flat, according to Factcheck.org, which notes the “Ryan plan doesn’t say what (domestic) programs would be cut … and Romney has said he would not apply cuts evenly.”

Meanwhile, the GOP would-be VP stopped Wednesday in De Pere, asking a friendly crowd to take a moment of silence in honor of the four Americans killed in attacks in Libya.

The Wisconsin congressman and Republican star of fiscal reform lobbed criticism at President Barack Obama for the president’s approach to foreign policy and for proposing cuts to the military budget.

“Peace through strength works,” Ryan said. “I believe the president’s devastating defense cuts breed weakness.”

Obama and his party did push “security” and “nonsecurity” cuts approaching $1 trillion. Ryan voted for it, he said, to find compromise and end the impasse over raising the debt ceiling last year.

Strangely absent from the campaign trail in this arguably most divided swing state was the incumbent.

Poll Watch: The president has yet to campaign in Wisconsin, despite the latest RealClearPolitics.org average of polls has Obama up by just 1.4 percentage points over Romney in the Badger State.

Word came down late Thursday that Obama does plan to be in Milwaukee on Saturday for a fundraiser, but you’ve got to pay to be anywhere close to the president — between $250 and $25,000 per donor.

— M.D. Kittle

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