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'Cliffhanger' US election awaits as debates wrap up

All eyes on the swing states.

Italian Nativity scenes designer Genny Di Virgilio puts the final touches on two statuettes depicting President Barack Obama, right, and Republican rival Mitt Romney in his shop in Naples, Italy,
Italian Nativity scenes designer Genny Di Virgilio puts the final touches on two statuettes depicting President Barack Obama, right, and Republican rival Mitt Romney in his shop in Naples, Italy,
Image: Salvatore Laporta/AP/Press Association Images

WITH THE DEBATE season now over, the US presidential race is neck-and-neck and could boil down to the “ground game” effort to get out the vote in just a clutch of swing states, experts say.

President Barack Obama laid into Mitt Romney’s foreign policy as “wrong and reckless” in last night’s final debate, but the Republican challenger did nothing to disqualify himself as a plausible commander-in-chief.

Political analysts agreed that with the more pressing issue being the state of the US economy and their rival plans to revive it, the slugging match on national security probably did little to budge the election needle.

Romney’s play-it-safe debate strategy of towing more to Obama’s line than he had on the campaign trail reinforced this, Charles Franklin, co-founder of Pollster.com and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told AFP.

“I don’t think you heard much tonight that suggests fundamental differences in either military strategy or policy,” he said. “And so, in matching positions there, you take the foreign policy issues off the table.”

All eyes are now on nine or 10 swing states, particularly Florida, Ohio and Virginia, which offer the largest number of electoral college votes in the quest for the magic number of 270 that guarantees victory.

Since trouncing Obama in the first presidential debate on 3 October, polls show that Romney has surged into the lead in Florida and caught up with the president in Virginia, but he still trails in all-important Ohio.

“I think we are, at the moment, close enough that you could imagine a cliffhanger that comes down to a single state’s electoral votes,” said Franklin.

Dotty Lynch, professor of Public Communication at American University, told AFP that we can expect an already exhaustive advertisement blitz in the crucial battlegrounds to intensify in the final two weeks of campaigning.

“The advertising is going to be extremely heavy and very targeted towards specific groups, women voters, blue-collar (working class) voters,” Lynch said.

But the emphasis will also turn to the “ground game” as Obama’s Democrats and Romney’s Republicans focus greater attention on their street-by-street drive to get supporters to the polls on 6 November.

“We’re really down to both sides mobilising whatever resources they have to get their voters to the polls, to go as much as they still can in the last two weeks door-to-door,” said George Washington University professor Christopher Arterton.

“Oftentimes, it is the person talking to somebody that they know, or somebody in their neighborhood or somebody very similarly situated that can have a decisive influence on whether that person votes in the first place, and how that person votes,” Arterton told AFP.

Both parties have invested tremendous resources over the last four years in building up voter contacts and identification efforts so they know who their supporters are and can boost turnout in crucial areas.

“We’re looking at a battle of ground forces,” Franklin said, adding that deciphering what is really going on in the swing states between now and election day will be hard.

“We’ve seen a great deal of spin from both campaigns in the last week, talking up their early voting efforts,” he said.

“We see the advertising, we see where the candidates go and visit, but it’s much harder to monitor the number of home calls that are made.”

As it happened: Obama and Romney battle in the final US presidential debate

VIDEO: 6 key moments from the final 2012 US presidential debate

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