New battlegrounds open up in US election

President Barack Obama at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio (4 Nov 2012) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Barack Obama has led in recent opinion polls in Ohio state

Up a flight of stairs, away from the organised shambles of the downstairs office, cigarette smoke and weariness hangs around the impressively rumpled figure of Caleb Faux.

On his office wall, posters for Truman, Kennedy and Johnson. On his television, the left-leaning news channel, MSNBC. On his desk, a choppy sea of reports and to-do lists.

Faux is the executive director of Hamilton County Democratic Party. Hamilton County takes in the city of Cincinnati, tucked deep into the south-west corner of Ohio.

In this bitterly fought-over state, that nearly everyone believes will decide the US election, Hamilton is one of five or so swing counties that will decide Ohio.

So, I ask him, if your boss were to call now and say, "have we got the county, have we got the state?", what would you say?

He smiles through what are, for an American, impressively crooked and stained teeth.

A quiet and fairly intense man, clearly not prone to overstatement, he replies, simply, "I'm pretty confident".

And then he explains; early voting turnout is good, the polls have consistently run in President Obama's favour, the bipartisan display during Storm Sandy, where the Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie heavily praised Barack Obama, has helped and, of course, there's the small matter of the auto-bailout.

Political payback

Eight hundred and fifty thousand jobs are related to automotive production in Ohio. The bailout of Chrysler and General Motors in 2009 by the Obama administration may have been an apolitical attempt to halt the meltdown of the entire automotive industry in the US.

But no-one doubts that it has brought a huge political payback. And few independent observers doubt the damage wrought by Mitt Romney's opposition to the bailout - and the infamous line, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" that headlined his plan to save the industry.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Republicans have poured resources into Pennsylvania, thought to be a safe Democratic state

Romnulans are articulate and detailed in their defence of his position. But however much time the Republicans spend explaining that the bankruptcy Romney suggested is not the same as closing down the industry (it is a different form of restructuring) it has wounded Romney - perhaps mortally - in a state that was always going to be tight.

Which is why, late on Sunday, thousands of people streamed into a field in the state of Pennsylvania, about 40 minutes from the city of Philadelphia. Just an hour before Mitt Romney arrived the crowds were 15 or 20 deep outside the security barriers, trying to get in to see the Republican standard bearer.

Pennsylvania is supposed to be firmly in the Democratic column; but the Republicans have been pouring resources in. They insist that the ground is shifting. And whilst scorning their opponent's maths, the Democrats have responded, sending former President Bill Clinton into the state on Monday to address four rallies.

If - and it seems an enormous if at this late stage - the Republicans could take Pennsylvania, it would turn the electoral arithmetic on its head, more than making up for the loss of Ohio.

The theme from Rocky boomed out as Mr Romney's coach pushed through the crowd at Stoney Brook Farm - and, deep in amongst the huge crowd, you could feel the excitement rippling around.

It was Romney's eighth rally of the weekend. He has over the past few months offered a preposterously easy target for the Democrats - a plutocratic asset-stripper, unable to connect, wooden on the stump. And his shape-shifting on policy has served him ill.

But he has given his all. And in the bitterly cold night air, as he climbed onto the stage to rally the faithful, and once again explained patiently and carefully how he would make things better, they whooped, and cheered, and chanted his name.