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Herald on Sunday editorial: Close US race comes down to the economy

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The US presidential election, now just 10 days away, is too close to call. The economy remains the main issue on voters' minds, which was evident this week when both candidates in the final debate were quick to drop the intended subject - foreign policy - and attack each other on economic issues.

This is not a good sign for President Barack Obama whose foreign policy is more appealing to war-weary Americans right now than the more bellicose postures of Republican Mitt Romney.

Nor does it bode well for the president that he has had to be on the attack ever since his lacklustre performance in the first debate. Until then his re-election had looked assured. Romney had made a series of inept comments, at home and abroad, and was well behind in the polls.

After that debate the polls tightened and Romney gained the all-important "momentum". He still has it. The President's aggressive tactics in subsequent debates and speeches have made Romney the main focus of the campaign without denting his poll numbers.

National polls, though, can be deceptive in the US. The election is decided by an electoral college of state delegations with votes based on the state's population. On calculations of the states each candidate is likely to win, a few "swing states" will decide the outcome and the most crucial looks like Ohio.

Obama is ahead in Ohio. Nationwide, he also has an eight-point lead among women voters. And he probably retains the edge among younger voters who turned out for him in enthusiastic numbers four years ago. As of course did African Americans and other minorities. His prospects of a second term depend on whether he can motivate them to go to the polls again.

Every country watches a US presidential contest with an eye on its own interests. This week's foreign policy debate contained a fleeting reminder that the Obama Administration has shifted Washington's focus towards the Pacific.

The President mentioned trade negotiations in which New Zealand is also taking a leading role, though he extolled them mainly for the exclusion of China. Romney's concerns were confined to the Middle East where he sees the Arab Spring turning into Islamic extremism.

The American economy, though, is of more immediate concern to the world, too. Romney exudes confidence that he "knows what makes business create jobs". If voters trust him, he could win.

- Herald on Sunday

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