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On the road with the 2012 US election.

2012 Elections: Fear and loathing in the heartland

Politics and nature pummel America’s midsection.
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Corn grows in a field August 17, 2011 near Willow Springs, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/AFP/Getty Images)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Scorching heat and a searing drought have made this one of Iowa’s worst summers on record. The corn is barely knee-high is some places, and analysts are predicting financial disaster for the state if the trend does not break soon.

But stunted plants and hungry cattle are not Iowa’s main affliction in this long, hot season, say residents. Rather, it is the attack ads that run constantly on local media.

“We are being bombarded,” said Kathryn, a fifty-something professional woman who has lived in Iowa for decades. “You cannot turn on the TV without seeing them.”

Iowa is a “swing state.” Although recent polls in the state give President Barack Obama a slight lead over his challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the race is too close to call. That’s made this small agricultural state the focus of unusually intense political activity.

Obama visited Cedar Rapids just a week ago to drum up support for his proposal to extend tax cuts for the middle class; his visit to the home of Jason and Ali McLaughlin was widely publicized.

Romney made Iowa stops during his four-day “Every Town Counts” bus tour, drawing fire from protesters along the way.


2012 elections: Mitt, Barack, time-out!

The Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns were already unattractive. Now they've become downright absurd.
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US President Barack Obama runs onto the stage for a campaign event on July 14, at a high school in Clifton, Virginia. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama does not like his challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney returns the favor. Both men want a seat in the Oval Office starting in January 2013, and are hell-bent on attaining their goal. Everyone understands this by now. What more is there to say? Quite a lot, apparently.

Romney vs. Obama: Money talks

In fact, in the 2012 presidential race, it positively screams.
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Eric Byler, head of the Coffee Party, speaks during a protest in front of the US Supreme Court in February, in Washington, DC. His group and others rallied to urge court justices to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a decision that prohibits the government from putting limits on political spending by corporations and unions. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Few issues galvanize the American electorate like money: who has it, who doesn’t, and what various people are doing to get it. In the 2012 presidential race, money may become the determining factor in the outcome.

If so, this is not good news for the Democratic incumbent, President Barack Obama. The champion fundraiser of 2008, who was able to refuse taxpayer money for his campaign because he was flooded with donations from the little people, is now locked in a fierce battle with a challenger who has made money the main pillar of his bid for the White House.

Mitt Romney, the all-but-crowned Republican nominee, is a very wealthy man — one of the richest, they say, ever to run for president. He touts his success at every opportunity, saying, in effect, that his ability to make money makes him uniquely qualified to lead the country.

But questions are now being raised about how he got his money, what he has done with it, and how the laws of the land seem to be in favor of Romney and other fat cats.

On Thursday, the Boston Globe broke the story that Romney remained CEO of Bain Capital three years longer than he's claimed. That sparked a firestorm of criticism, and prompted Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter to call Romney "the most secretive candidate to run for president since Richard Nixon," Politico reports.

The news comes after a trail of trouble-raising issues about Romney's finances. These are highlighted sharply by an investigative report in this month’s Vanity Fair. A lack of transparency in his financial dealings, says author Nicholas Shaxson, has made it difficult to unravel the tangled web of offshore accounts, tax havens, and questionable accounting practices that have allowed Romney to amass, and keep, his wealth.


Doubts about Obama’s new attack ad (VIDEO)

The president goes on the offensive, but it may not be doing much good.
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Outsourcing call centers like this one in Bangalore, India are a common way for businesses in the United States to reduce personnel costs. (Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)
The real campaign has not even started yet, and already we can barely see the candidates for all the mud that is clinging to them. The barrage of negative political ads is costing millions, souring moods, and, if Gallup is to be believed, doing little to change voters’ minds about their choice for president.

Romney in the penalty box

The Republican candidate’s two-pronged reaction to the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling lands him in hot water.
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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with his wife Ann during the July Fourth parade in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. The Romney's took a break from their vacation to march in the parade. (Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images)
Poor Mitt Romney has had a really bad holiday week. Not only was he sternly rebuked by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, ridiculed for his jet-ski vacation on Lake Winnipesaukee, and had his record at Bain Capital savagely assailed by yet another Obama attack ad. He has lost the respect of my hairdresser.

Hot dogs and rage on Fourth of July

The nation celebrates another birthday, but can’t seem to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.
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Americans have heavy, conflicted ideas these days about where the country should be heading. That might make for tough conversation over hot dogs this July Fourth. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — The air is pierced by the whine of incoming artillery, followed every few seconds by explosions. Groggily, I think about taking cover, but I realize I am no longer in Kabul, Afghanistan. What is going on outside my door is no Taliban attack. It is the joyous celebration of the United States’ birthday. The Fourth of July brings fireworks, cookouts and an outpouring of patriotism, as we all reflect a bit on what it means to be American in an increasingly scary world.

Health care decision leaves Americans divided

I have spoken to dozens of people about the health care act across the country. While reactions are split along party lines, neither side had a monopoly on logic.
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Medical students and professionals participate in a news conference in support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act outside the U.S. Supreme Court Building on March 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court, which has set aside six hours over three days, will hear arguments over the constitutionality of the act. (Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s long-awaited ruling on the Affordable Care Act — known to both admirers and critics as “Obamacare” — has been characterized as a compromise, meaning it made almost everyone a little bit happy and a little bit sad.

“Looks like they split the baby on this one,” said one political activist in Denver.

Even CNN and Fox News were confused, announcing originally that the law had been struck down, based on partial information saying that the Court had ruled that the attempt to justify the Act on the grounds of interstate commerce was unfounded. But Chief Justice John Roberts, a staunch conservative, found a way to uphold the law on the basis of the government’s right to levy taxes.

Compromises have been few and far between in this increasingly polarized political landscape, and so perhaps we should all welcome this rare event.

But judging by the level of anger surrounding the ruling, matched by the almost total ignorance of its provisions and effects among the general population, nothing has been solved by Thursday’s decision. Instead, the battle will continue — right up until Nov. 6, when voters can finally have their say.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicated that Americans are evenly divided — 46 percent to 46 percent — on whether or not they favor the Affordable Care Act. The split reflects the deep chasm between Democrats and Republicans: 85 percent of Republicans want the Act repealed in its entirety, while 65 percent of Democrats want the bill maintained or expanded.

This is not a debate over health care, or even about the proper role of government in our society. It is politics, pure and simple. Republican challenger Mitt Romney — himself the author of a similar health care bill in Massachusetts, lost no time in weighing in.

"If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama," Romney told a news conference on Thursday.

Over the past several months, I have spoken to dozens of people about the health care act. Reactions are split fairly neatly along party lines, although neither side had a monopoly on logic.


Arizona and the Supremes: Who won?

Both sides claim victory after the Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona's prickly SB 1070 immigration law. Hispanics, not so much.
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Jane Pauk, of Phoenix, Ariz., pushed for support of her state's controversial immigration reform in front of the US Supreme Court. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The first thing that strikes a recently arrived visitor to Arizona is the large number of traffic patrol cars on the highway. Barely a mile goes by without seeing some unfortunate pulled over to the side of the road, police lights flashing, car doors opened, sometimes a small crowd of people standing around looking worried.

When I asked a friend, a resident of Arizona, what gives, he laughed.

“It’s a new Arizona crime wave,” he said. “It’s called ‘driving while Hispanic.’”

Most of Arizona’s tough immigration law, SB 1070, was just struck down by the Supreme Court. State officials can no longer arrest or deport illegal immigrants — this, said the court, is the purview of the federal government. Arizona cannot impose harsher penalties for failing to register, for seeking employment, and a few other infractions, than Washington has designated.


Man on a wire: Mitt Romney’s delicate Mormon balancing act

For some, Romney’s Mormon faith is a non-issue. For others, it’s the main attraction.
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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands with people during a campaign event. Romney will have to have to find a way to manage voters' demands with the demands of his faith. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Ben McAdams is the political equivalent of a unicorn. McAdams, who is running for mayor of Salt Lake County, is both a Democrat and a Mormon. Sitting in his Salt Lake City office, staffed by enthusiastic young recruits, McAdams smiles as he contemplates his unique status. “I have met many Mormons who wonder how I can be a Democrat,” he laughs. “And just as many Democrats who wonder how I can be a Mormon.”

Romney in Iowa, American flags made in China

Protesters drive a Cadillac with a toy dog on the roof, while others root for Ron Paul. Republican Mitt Romney’s 'Every Town Counts' tour fails to impress some folks in this swing state.
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Iowans cheered Mitt Romney at a campaign speech in Davenport. But some complained that the US flags were made in China. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Politics are a hard sell here in the “Quad Cities,” a group of five towns straddling the Mississippi River on the Iowa/Illinois border.

It may have been the hot blustery breeze off the water, or the time of day — 4 p.m. during the work week — but just a few hundred people showed up to hear presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney bring his message to the Midwest. Romney is on a bus tour of swing states, having already been to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin before hitting Iowa.