US 2012

Abortion, Libya and... Sesame Street? Flashpoints in the US 2012 presidential race

From comments about the ’47 per cent’ to loving Big Bird, we look at some of the flashpoints in the race between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

THERE ARE JUST days to go before Americans take to the polls and decide who they want to lead their country. Will the incumbent President, Barack Obama, get to keep his title? Or will Republican governor Mitt Romney be named the next President of the United States of America?

As voting day dawns nearer, we take a look back at the flashpoints in the campaign so far – from gaffes to lacklustre debate performances.

The 47 per cent

Who is going to vote for Obama, and what kind of people are they? According to Mitt Romney at one point, 47 per cent people are going to vote to keep the President in office, but these people are “dependent on government… believe that they are victims”, believe they are entitled to health care, to food, and to housing – and they don’t pay income tax. He made the comments in front of donors, and they inevitably made their way online.


Romney appeared to backtrack on his comments during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, saying, “In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong.”

Unsurprisingly, President Obama’s team were quick to pull no punches in criticising him, but people were surprised that he didn’t attack the comment during the first debate.


The first debate

The first presidential debate was a chance for both candidates to come out with all guns blazing – but for Obama, it was more of a fizzling performance. He was roundly criticised for a lacklustre appearance, which proved to boost Romney’s poll rating. It showed that President Obama couldn’t coast along during his campaign, and Romney was declared the victor in viewer polls.

It was a firm boost for Romney’s campaign at a pivotal point for him, with poll figures from Gallup at the time showing that the Republican was just four points behind Obama, at 45 to his 49.


‘Legitimate Rape’

The phrase ‘legitimate rape’ was one that was never used until Republican Congressman Todd Akin claimed that womens’ bodies could prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape” in August. The comment immediately threw Akin into a firestorm of controversy, particularly as he is running for Senate. Romney called for Akin to drop out of the Senate race, and Akin apologised and asked for forgiveness for his remarks.

The comment brought the issue of rape, and Republican politicians’ approach to it, to the forefront of voter minds. That point was rammed home when another US Senate candidate, Richard Mourdock, also a Republican, said that pregnancies by rape are something God meant to happen.


Libya consulate attack

A September 11 attack on the American consulate office in Libya, which led to the death of the US ambassador to the country,  became a hot topic during the second presidential debate between the two candidates.  Obama called it an “act of terror” in the days after the attack, and said that it came following the uploading of an offensive video online, while Vice President Joe Biden, in his debate with GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, said that the US wasn’t told that the Libyan consulate wanted more security there.

In their second debate, Romney said that it took two weeks to identify the attack as a terrorist one – Obama said it took a day. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, said she took responsibility for the security issue.


Are abortion rights at risk depending on who becomes the next president? Obama remains pro-choice, while Romney currently says he is opposed to abortion except in some cases (such as incest, rape and if the mother’s life is endangered).

The issue of abortion remains an important one, particularly for female voters. Research by the Pew Research Centre found that more than half the women registered with them say the issue of abortion will be a “very important” factor in their voting behaviour – compared to 36 per cent of men.

In the vice presidential debate, Ryan and Biden were asked what role religion played a part in their decision of abortion:


Loving Big Bird

Sesame Street fans were unimpressed when Romney pledged that if he is elected he would defund PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, which is home to the much-loved children’s show. They even held some colourful protests:

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund members dressed in Sesame Street costumes protest outside a campaign stop for Romney (Charlie Neibergall/AP/Press Association Images)

During the second presidential debate, he did say: “I love Big Bird”. But he said he would keep to his promise and not subsidise public broadcasting. However, when the Obama campaign made an ad mocking Romney over his Big Bird comment, Sesame Street weren’t happy with them, either.

Read: Both White House campaigns: We’re winning>

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