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Too close to call

Peter Simmons

Too close to call

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Next week Tuesday the people of the United States will go to the polls to elect their president. At this stage, it looks like an extremely close election.
A week is famously said to be a long time in politics. The Romney campaign seems to have gathered momentum since the first presidential debate which he won. The Obama campaign, up to that time in a clear lead, has fallen behind and even after decisively winning the second and third debates, has not got a consequential bounce in the polls.
There has been a spectacular swing in the female vote to Romney. Before the first debate, Obama had an 18 per cent lead. After that, the lead evaporated and the polls now show them neck and neck. It is said the debates play a minor role in the electorate’s choice, but this turnaround challenges this thesis, at least for female voters.
I was horrified to hear Romney say in the second debate that looking for women to fill posts in his administration when governor of Massachusetts, he had called for “binders full of women”. It rebounded in his face when the record revealed that of 50 seniors selected, only three were women. Equally distressing to women was his antediluvian statement that employers should permit women time to be home to cook dinner.     
With the global recession, throughout the campaign the economy has been everyone’s central concern and blaming Obama for failing to turn it around resonated across the nation. It was grist for Romney who consistently stressed that the president failed to help women find jobs as they slipped further and further into dependency and poverty.    
It is not surprising there is said to be a great divide in some families between husbands and wives over which candidate will get their vote. Whereas the husbands are saying Obama should be given another term to complete what he has started, the wives want to give Romney a chance to bring some of his self-acclaimed economic expertise to the federal government.
The female vote is crucial to who wins and a Gallup Poll listed abortion as a major issue for women. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that campaign advertisements on contraception and abortion have taken more time, space and money (of which there is no shortage) than any other issue this campaign.
Not surprisingly, Romney, one of the greatest political flip-floppers ever to seek the highest office, has abandoned the official Republican position banning all abortions. He now says he does not oppose contraception and the legalization of abortion in cases of rape and incest. He had previously said he was against all abortions.  
The constant changing of position on fundamental issues led Obama to christen the condition “Romnesia”, saying he is all over the map. The Reverend Al Sharpton, the acerbic public commentator, described him as an “impressive liar”. Too often during the debates the president refuted his comments saying, “That is simply not true”, a point reiterated by one debate moderator.
Former distinguished Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell says he will not vote for Romney who has not thought through the issues. A candidate pursuing the world’s most powerful post should be well briefed, armed with accurate facts and figures. Offering inaccuracies to a national 70 million TV audience betrays the fact that paramount is getting into the White House by any means necessary.
For the second time during this campaign, a Republican office-seeker made an outrageous and highly inflammatory statement on rape. An Indiana Senate candidate said when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape, “that is something that God intended”. He said this toxic malarkey was from his heart. Romney has not repudiated him.
As the campaign moves into the final week, the candidates are tied in the polls. In this deeply polarized election, the votes of females are crucial, like those of minority groups African Americans and Hispanics. Obama won both groups overwhelmingly last time and the polls show no fall-off in support.
There is clearly no love lost between the candidates as was evident during the second debate when at times it seemed the aggressive animosity would translate into fisticuffs. Into the fray jumped shameless, boorish bigot Donald Trump looking for his place in the political sun with an obnoxious and offensive proposal.
Some diehards who think they are helping Romney are doing him great damage, leaving the indelible impression that they are unhappy having a black man in the White House and he must go at all cost.
I am rooting for Obama but the election is so close that the winner of the Electoral College may not win the national vote like in 2000 when George W. Bush won the presidency despite getting half-million fewer national votes. Hope springs eternal!
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]

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