News Column

Democrats, Republicans Agree on Debate

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The debates are over. The public has been informed. All that's left now is the vote.

On Monday night, the two major party candidates for President of the United States -- incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney -- held the final installment of a three-series debate (four if you include the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan held in Danville, Ky.) in Boca Raton, Fla.

Over the course of the debate season, Romney has gained considerable ground in the polls, going from several points behind Obama across the board to virtually neck-and-neck, and even ahead in some measures, including the high-profile Gallup Poll, where Romney now holds a five-point lead.

Of course, the popular vote doesn't determine the presidency -- the electoral vote does. And while most projections have had Romney gaining ground there too, he's still behind Obama in the number of states leaning or strongly going his way. (One exception is the popular website realclearpolitics.com, which has Romney with 206 solid electoral votes, Obama with 201, with 131 votes still up for grabs in key swing states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida).

In other words, the only thing voters know for sure is that their guy still has a good shot -- and that means both Republicans and Democrats are expressing confidence down the home stretch, while only one of them can be correct.

Cloyd Bumgardner, chairman of the Pulaski County Republican Party, echoed Congressman Hal Rogers' sentiments after the GOP Convention in August -- Romney's campaign is bringing to mind shades of the party's hero Ronald Reagan from 32 years earlier.

"I think back to the presidential race where Reagan ran against (sitting President Jimmy) Carter," said Bumgardner, referencing the 1980 race where an unpopular Democrat facing a poor economy was unseated by a substantial margin.

"There at the end, President Reagan really picked up speed and came on strong," he added. "I'm confident we'll see the same situation here."

Bumgardner saw Romney as the big winner of the debate season not just for the momentum he gained, but the manner in which he presented himself, gaining accolades in the press for his poise and focus in the face of Obama's increasing debate aggression.

"He seems to have maintained his cool and calm disposition in the face of what I think is a hard situation, debating with the president," said Bumgardner. "... At the end of the day, I really believe that people will take a step back and say to themselves, 'Which one of these candidates for president will protect America's status in the world and grow the economy?' and I think that it will be Romney."

The theme of the last debate targeted foreign policy issues, though as Romney has stressed the economy -- one area where he carries a substantial lead over Obama in public opinion polls -- as the key issue of the race, money matters snuck in. Then again, there's a good reason for that, suggested Bumgardner.

"I thought Romney did an excellent job of laying out his foreign policy strategy and how it ties into the economic situation," said Bumgardner. "The price of oil affects the economy, and a lot of foreign policy issues talked about were centered around the Middle East (from which America gets so much of its oil). I'm not sure you can separate the two."

On this point, at least, Bumgardner agrees with Halyn Roth, president of the Young Pulaski Democrats and former campaign organizer for Hal Rogers opponent Jim Holbert.

"As with any debate, a lot of things are interconnected; a lot of foreign policy is connected with domestic policy," said Roth. "Romney started talking about domestic (issues) first, and the president had to respond, but overall I think (Obama) stayed on topic, and I felt for his part, the moderator did a good job trying to keep it on topic too."

The two men did find accord on more than one occasion when it came to foreign policy. Each stressed unequivocal support for Israel when asked about a U.S. response if the Jewish state were attacked by Iran.

"If Israel is attacked, we have their back," said Romney -- moments after Obama vowed, "I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked."

Both also said they oppose direct U.S. military involvement in the efforts to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad.

"Mr. Romney seemed to agree with the president a lot but wanted to make it seem like he didn't," said Roth. "All he seemed to want to do was speak louder, and somehow that would make a difference.

"It was quite interesting how you can't really tell if Mr. Romney agrees with what Mr. Romney has said in the past," added Roth. "The president pointed out that (Romney) didn't support a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan in the past, but now he does. It's confusing to have a commander-in-chief who doesn't know what he stands for at all."

As far as Obama's stated support of Israel -- a position which Republicans have expressed skepticism about -- Roth said, "Israel is our strongest ally in the region where we have fewer and fewer allies. It's important to make the word aware of this in very strong terms."

Bumgardner said that Romney's strength was coming "through the debates with a good command of the facts and a willingness to discuss exactly where the U.S. is on the international scene with its allies."

Obama's strength, as per Roth, was in talking about his "refocusing the 'War on Terror' outside of Iraq and putting it back into Afghanistan where it was actually needed, and having a firm timetable to get out of Afghanistan by 2014 and letting the Afghans run their own country."

Though Romney is gaining ground in the polls, Roth is undaunted. "It doesn't concern me," he said. "I've learned that undecided people will get decided. ... The polling in the swing states doesn't seem very good for him, though it is improving, so I'm not shocked about it. I don't anticipate Romney to win."

The final debate behind them, both men are embarking on a home-stretch whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.

Obama appears on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes. The battlegrounds account for the remaining 110 electoral votes: Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



Distributed by MCT Information Services

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