No one can say the Americans are easy to convince. The candidates to occupy the White House for the next four years have spent 17 months campaigning to convince people to vote for them, and the combined efforts cost six billion dollars. They held 14 rallies in 12 states in the last few days, for a last spurt of convincing, because neither one was way out ahead. Neither one was letting up, or saying he had it in the bag.
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They both showed stamina, both stressed messages they felt strongly about, though it was no laughing matter.
Romney said: “I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true but just keep on repeating it, and ultimately hoping I will believe it, but that is not the case, all right! I will not reduce the taxes paid by high income Americans.”
They took digs at each other’s perceived areas of weakness, like Obama with Romney’s comparisons of past and present. Memorable humour at the other’s expense has often played in candidates’ favour in previous contests.
Obama said: “You mentioned the navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called ‘aircraft carriers’, where planes land on them.”
Of course, humour in the sensitive political arena can never be nasty; it relies on surprise and between-the-lines recognition of the context, like at a charity dinner held by the archbishop of New York.
Romney said: “Campaigns can be gruelling, exhausting. President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who is always in our corner, someone who we can lean on, someone who is a comforting presence, without whom we wouldn’t be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife, Ann; he has Bill Clinton.”
Obama said: “Of course world affairs are a challenge for every candidate. Some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity, because I was so popular with our allies overseas, and I have to say I am impressed to see how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem.”
As one headline writer at Canada’s National Post newspaper put it: ‘Make ’em laugh, get their votes: Winning the likeability race is key in the tight battle for the White House’.