President hopes strategy to will inject urgency into his campaign as figures show election spending has passed $1bn mark
Barack Obama was expected to become the first president to take advantage of early voting by casting his ballot in Chicago on Thursday, a move he hopes will inject urgency into his campaign’s relentless push to lock up early voters, a major part of a strategy designed to deliver a second White House term.
As new fundraising figures were released that take election spending for the first time over the $1bn mark, the battle is focused almost exclusively on the ground operations and getting out the vote.
With 12 days left to polling day, voting is already under way in 32 states, with an estimated 8 million people having cast their ballot.
The percentage taking advantage of early voting is significantly higher than in 2008 and much higher in the swing states, testament to the intensity of the door-to-door operations. Obama has a substantial lead in early voting.
The president, dispensing with the usual ritual of voting on election day to provide footage for television crews, is returning to his hometown to raise awareness about voting early by casting his ballot.
The Obama team is backing this up with an ad warning that only a relatively few votes determined the outcome of the 2000 election. The ad is entitled ’537′, the number of votes that gave Bush victory in Florida. That is “the difference between what was and what could have been”, the ad, which is to air in the battleground states, says.
“So this year if you’re thinking that your vote doesn’t count, that it won’t matter, well, back then there were probably 537 people who felt the same way. Make your voice heard,” the ad says.
The Democratic push reflects concern that apathy might see supporters fail to make the effort to vote on November 6, especially if the weather is bad. It also ties up votes in case of any last-minute surprises such as bad unemployment figures just days before polling day.
Republicans traditionally tend to be better at turning out in large numbers on election day.
Professor Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who monitors early voting, said that almost 400,000 people have already cast their vote in Iowa, about 30% of the likely final vote, and about one million in Ohio, about 20%.
“In Iowa, you could conclude that Obama is not doing as well as in 2008 when he won by 9%. The early voting shows him with a smaller lead than 2008, but still ahead by 4% to 5%,” McDonald said. “In Ohio, who knows? It is just a mess, with lots of activity by both campaigns.”
He added: “If I was a betting man, I would put it on Obama … If Obama wins Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa, he wins. If Romney loses Iowa, it is difficult for him. If he loses Ohio, it is almost impossible for him to win. It all comes down to Ohio. Ohio is ground zero.”
Reflecting that, both Romney and Obama are spending at least part of the day in Ohio. Obama, on the second day of a tour that takes in eight states, is scheduled to speak in Cleveland while Romney has three stops in Ohio.
The Romney campaign released its latest fundraising figures Thursday, a big haul over the first few weeks of this month. It raised $111.8m between October 1 and 17. Figures to be submitted to the Federal Election Commission show there were 794,958 donations to the Romney campaign, 92% of them of of $250 or less. It has $169m cash in hand.
Obama received a boost when George Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, came out in favour of the president, just as he did in 2008.
“You know, I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012 and will vote for him and vice-president Joe Biden next month,” Powell told CBS News. “So that’s an endorsement for President Obama for re-election.”
Powell praised Obama for his handling of the economic mess he inheritedfrom Bush and for ending the war in Iraq, also inherited from Bush. Powell expressed concern about what he said where Romney’s changing positions on foreign and economic policy.
Meanwhile, the normally disciplined Obama made a gaffe that could fire up Republicans, indirectly describing Mitt Romney in a magazine interview as a “bullshitter”.
The president made the off-the-cuff comment to Rolling Stone. Douglas Brinkley, who wrote up the interview, said: “We arrived at the Oval Office for our 45-minute interview … on the morning of October 11. As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. She said: ‘Tell him: You can do it.’ Obama grinned. ‘You know, kids have good instincts. They look at the other guy and say: ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”
McDonald warned that this remark could provoke a backlash among Republicans. “Coaches warn players not to bad-mouth the other team. You do not want to rile them up. It looks like a gaffe to me.”