Local Politics

Debate stirs local energy in tight NC presidential race

Posted October 4, 2012 10:26 p.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2012 6:24 a.m. EDT

— A powerful debate showing by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney Wednesday night boosted local support for the candidate, who trails President Barack Obama in North Carolina by just two points, according to the latest WRAL News poll.

At state Republican Party headquarters in Raleigh, Romney supporters streamed in Thursday, picking up yard signs and bumper stickers, even volunteering to help with the campaign, said GOP spokesman Rob Lockwood.

"We had almost 100 new people walk it today and just sign up, and say, 'We want to help. How do we do it?'" Lockwood said. "People who may not have been involved in the process, but want to get involved after seeing last night's debates."

North Carolina State University student Coleman Wright, who recently began volunteering for the Romney campaign, said the debates showed that the former Massachusetts governor has an energy and command of the issues needed in the White House.

Still, Wright said, a strong debate doesn't mean it's quitting time.

"Obviously, it's a positive moment for the campaign, and I think hopefully we can harness it and keep moving forward," he said. 

At Obama's campaign headquarters, also in Raleigh, volunteers were busy Thursday keeping their campaign on track despite what was widely regarded as an "off night" for the president.

Still, Obama supporter Glenna Musante said enthusiasm hasn't waned in the campaign office.

"I just don't see any difference here today from last week or the week before or the week before that," Musante said. "I just don't."

She said she thought Obama's debate showing was measured and thoughtful and that Romney came off more confrontational than commanding.

"I don't think browbeating and bullying is good leadership," she said.

Not many Democrats are disputing that Romney was likely to benefit politically from the debate, in which he aggressively challenged Obama's stewardship of the economy and said his own plans would help pull the country out of a slow-growth rut. Still, there was no immediate indication that the race would expand beyond the nine battleground states where the rivals and their running mates spend nearly all of their campaign time and advertising dollars.

Debate host Colorado is one of them, and Virginia, where Romney headed for an evening speech, is another. So, too, Wisconsin, Obama's destination for a mid-day rally. Nevada, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and North Carolina are the others.

Among them, the nine states account for 110 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the White House, more than enough to tip the campaign to one man or the other.

Both Romney and Obama unleashed new attack ads in the battleground states in a race with little more than a month to run, Obama suggesting Romney couldn't be trusted with the presidency, and the Republican accusing the president of backing a large tax increase on the middle class.

"Victory is in sight," Romney exulted in an emailed request for donations to supporters. It was a show of confidence by a man hoping for a quick reversal in pre-debate public opinion polls that showed him trailing in battleground states as well as nationally.

Reprising a line from the debate, he told an audience of conservatives in Denver that Obama offers "trickle-down government." He added, "I don't think that's what America believes in. I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom."

Obama campaigned with the energy of a man determined to make up for a subpar debate showing. Speaking to a crowd not far from the debate hall, he said mockingly that a "very spirited fellow" who stood next to him onstage Wednesday night "does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney's positions" on taxes, education and other issues. "Governor Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president you owe the American people the truth," he said.

Later, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Madison, Wis., he said Romney wants to cut federal funding for Public Television while repealing legislation that regulates the banking industry "I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on Sesame Street," Obama said.

Taxes were a particular point of contention between the two men, although they were sharply divided as well on steps the cut the deficit, on government regulation, on education and Medicare.

Both in the debate and on the day after, Obama said repeatedly that his rival favors a $5 trillion tax cut that is tilted to the wealthy and would mean tax increases on the middle class or else result in a spike in federal deficits.

Romney said it wasn't so, and counterattacked in a new television commercial. It cited a report by the American Enterprise Institute that said Obama and "his liberal allies" want to raise taxes on middle class earners by $4,000 and that the Republican alternative would not raise the amount they owe to the IRS.

Romney repeated the claim at an evening rally in Fishersville, Va. "He's going to raise taxes on the middle class," Romney charged, citing the $4,000 figure. "I don't want to raise taxes on anybody."

Romney has refused so far to disclose many of the details to support his assertion that his proposal would not lead to a tax cut. His ad was an attempt to parry a report by the Tax Policy Center that Obama has frequently tried used to political advantage, as he did again during the day.

In a new ad by the president's campaign, Romney is quoted as saying that a $5 trillion tax cut "is not my plan." The ad then cites a study by the Tax Policy Center as saying it is, and asks why the Republican challenger "won't level with us about his tax plan which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks.

"Because if we can't trust him here" — a photo of the debate stage appears — "How could we ever trust him here," the narrator says as a photo of the Oval Office fills the screen.

The two men debate twice more this month, Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y. and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.