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Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Character in a Romney Campaign Anecdote Appears on the Trail

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Experienced watchers of Mitt Romney are familiar with an anecdote that he first told earlier this year, about a Boy Scout troop in Monument, Colo., that bought an American flag and then sent it around the country. First they had it flown above the Capitol. Then, they asked NASA if they would send it up into space. The flag went up in the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986, Mr. Romney always tells the crowd, and the Scouts were so excited watching from their classrooms - until the shuttle exploded after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts aboard, including a teacher, Christa McAuliffe.

Somehow, the flag survived the explosion intact, and Mr. Romney tells the story, at event after event in these closing weeks, as a testament to American innovation and perseverance.

But Saturday night in Englewood, about 45 miles north of Monument, Mr. Romney had a surprise for the crowd: The scoutmaster, William Tolbert, a major in the United States Air Force who was assigned to Space Command, was in the crowd, complete with that same flag.

Below, the full exchange:

“Some years ago I was serving as a Boy Scout leader in the Boy Scouts of America and I was at a court of honor, that's where the Boy Scouts get the Eagle Scout Award or other awards, and there was a long Formica table at the front of the room, and I was seated at the far end of it next to an American flag. And the person who was speaking at the podium was a scoutmaster we'd flown in to tell his story, a scoutmaster from Monument, Colorado, that I just drove through.

And he said that his Boy Scout troop wanted to have a very special American flag, so they bought one and they had it flown above the Capitol building. Then, when it came home, the boys said, ‘I'd like to have NASA take it up a space shuttle.' And so they contacted NASA, and NASA agreed. He said, you can imagine the pride of our boys as they were si tting in their rooms at school watching the TV sets as thy saw the space Challenger shuttle launch into the air, and then they saw it explode on the TV screen in front of their eyes.

And he said he called NASA a couple of weeks later and, ‘Have you found any remnant of our flag?' And they had not. So he called every week, week after week, month after month, still no remnant of the flag from that terrible disaster. Then, he said he was reading an article in the paper, and it described some of the debris from the Challenger disaster and it mentioned a flag. So he called NASA again and they said, ‘In fact, we have a presentation to make to your boys.' So NASA came together and the boys were there, and he said they presented the boys with this plastic container and they open it up and inside was the American flag, their flag, in perfect condition. ”

After he told the story, Mr. Romney called Mr. Tolbert up to the stage.

“Come on up here,” Mr. Romney s aid. “Now, did I get that story right?”

“You did, sir,” Mr. Tolbert replied.

“That is a great flag representing the greatest nation in the history of the earth,” Mr. Romney said.

Obama Up by 5 Points in Iowa, Des Moines Register Poll Finds

Iowa is at the center of President Obama's and Mitt Romney's dueling strategies for victory, and the president holds a narrow edge over Mr. Romney there, according to a Des Moines Register poll released Saturday evening, which found Mr. Obama with 47 percent, to 42 percent for Mr. Romney.

The candidates crossed paths in Iowa on Saturday, and both are scheduled to visit the state one more time before Election Day, although the poll found that 42 percent of likely voters had already cast their ballots.

The poll, which was conducted Tuesday through Friday, has a margin of sampling error for each candidate of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll found that only 2 percent of voters remained undecided, and 5 percent declined to name their favorite.

“There are things that could happen today and Monday that would shape the final outcome,” J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the poll, told The Des Moines Register. “Nobody need be overconfident.”

Whil e the findings are welcome news for Mr. Obama, whose political rise began with the Iowa caucuses four years ago, the poll found that 7 percent could still change their minds. And among that small group, the poll found that 48 percent described themselves as angry and pessimistic, double the overall average.

Iowa's six electoral votes are being contested heavily by candidates and their campaigns, which have descended on the state in the final weekend of the campaign.

The Caucus Click: Obama in Milwaukee

President Obama spoke at a campaign rally on Saturday in Milwaukee. He also campaigned in Ohio, Iowa and Virginia. Doug Mills/The New York Times President Obama spoke at a campaign rally on Saturday in Milwaukee. He also campaigned in Ohio, Iowa and Virginia.

Biden Takes a Daylight Saving Time-Themed Swipe at Romney

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at a rally in Arvada, Colo., on Saturday.Ozier Muhammad/The New York TimesVice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at a rally in Arvada, Colo., on Saturday.

ARVADA, Colo. â€" Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took a few last swings at Mitt Romney in Colorado during two stops on Saturday before heading to a final stretch of campaigning in a pair of other crucial swing states, Virginia and Ohio, telling a crowd of 900 at a suburban Denver high school that while the Republican presidential nominee is a “decent” man, he is also “absolutely shameless” and has shown he lacks the character required of a president by preying upon the fears of desperate and worried Americans.

“Folks I want to remind you, t his is the end of daylight savings time tonight,” Mr. Biden said. “It's Mitt Romney's favorite time of year because he gets to turn the clock back. He wants to turn that clock back so desperately. This time he can really do it tonight.”

At one point, the 69-year-old vice president insisted that he wasn't “one of these guys who talks about these other guys being bad.” And for a moment he seemed to go out of his way to praise Mr. Romney, along with President Obama, as “both decent fathers. They are both good family men, they are both decent men.”

Mr. Biden then spent much of his speech lacerating Mr. Romney's character and what he described as his waffling over key issues â€" citing, among other things, what analysts have described as Mr. Romney's evasive and at times contradictory positions on pulling troops from Afghanistan. Mr. Biden said Mr. Romney's favorite phrase when addressing questions about troops in Afghanistan was, “It depends.”

“It depends on the day,” Mr. Biden said. “It depends on the hour. It depends on the weather. It depends whether the sun is shining. It depends what the polls say. It depends on who's looking. It depends on who's asking. With these guys, it always depends. It always depends. Everything depends.”

Throughout much of the campaign, Mr. Romney said he embraced in concept a 2014 pullout from Afghanistan of regular combat troops â€" the same plan put forward by Mr Obama and NATO allies â€" but he often amended that timeline by saying he would first weigh advice from military commanders, leaving wiggle room, analysts said, to keep regular forces in Afghanistan past that date. But in the final debate with Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney unambiguously stated â€" without the usual caveats or conditions â€" that “we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.”

(Mr. Biden also asserted during his speech here that Mr. Romney said i t was tragic to leave Iraq and not leave behind 30,000 combat troops. But Mr. Biden did not mention that Mr. Romney, who had talked in interviews about numbers like 10,000 to 30,000 troops, was suggesting something of a residual force to help the transition â€" not entirely unlike the Obama administration's plans for Afghanistan after 2014.)

Mr. Biden also drew on a lesson he said he learned from his mother, whom he quoted as saying, “Joey, the measure of your character is not what you do when people are looking. It's what you do when you think no one is looking.”

“Governor Romney revealed his character when he thought no one was looking, and he characterized 47 percent of the American people as, quote, unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives,” Mr. Biden said. “Who does he think he is? No wonder they run ads preying on the fears of the American people and those autoworkers. Presidential elections are first and foremost about character. Char acter is the single most important ingredient a president must possess, and it's clear who has it, and who does not have it.”

Sunday Breakfast Menu, Nov. 4

Sunday's Breakfast MenuStephen Crowley/The New York Times

As President Obama and Mitt Romney make their closing arguments to voters, the Sunday shows are packed with advisers, strategists and pollsters offering a preview of the final days of the presidential race and speculating on what Election Day may hold.

David Plouffe, senior adviser to Mr. Obama's campaign, and Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to Mr. Romney's campaign, will appear on ABC's “This Week” to talk about the end of the race, including the impact of October's jobs report and Hurricane Sandy.

Mr. Plouffe will also appear on NBC's “Meet the Press” along with Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader. The program will also feature a panel that includes Mayor Cory Booker of Newark and Mike Murphy, the Republican s trategist who has advised Mr. Romney.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Rich Beeson, Mr. Romney's political director, and David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's senior campaign adviser, will weigh in on the campaign. Then Karl Rove, former White House adviser, and Joe Trippi, Democratic strategist, will share their thoughts during a panel discussion.

Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Gillespie will also represent their candidates on Univision's “Al Punto” on Sunday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Mr. Obama's former chief of staff, and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, an adviser to Mr. Romney, are scheduled to appear on CNN's “State of the Union.” Plus, Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor and Republican National Committee chairman, and Steve Elmendorf, Democratic strategist and deputy campaign manager of Senator John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, join CNN's panel.

Keeping out the campaigns, CBS's “Face the Nation” focuses on analyzing the race with two packed panel s. First, on politics: David Gergen, former White House adviser and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University; Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary and contributing editor to Vanity Fair; The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan; National Journal's Rich Lowrey; and CBS's John Dickerson.

Then CBS hosts a discussion of Election Day by the numbers, featuring Anna Greenberg, Democratic pollster; Leslie Sanchez, Republican strategist; Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report; Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia; and CBS's Anthony Salvanto.

Bloomberg's “Political Capital” has Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania is on C-Span's “Newsmakers.”

Telemundo's Spanish-language public affairs program, “Enfoque,” features its own political analysts along with Adolfo Franco, a spokesman for the Romney campaign; Carlos M. Gutierrez, former commerce secretary; Maria Echaveste, former White House deputy chief of staff; and Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California.

And TV One's “Washington Watch” will have Hilda L. Solis, labor secretary, and Hilary Shelton, the N.A.A.C.P.'s senior vice president, discussing the final days of the election, including the jobs report and voter suppression.

The Caucus Click: Soccer Team Celebrates a Victory and a Biden Sighting

Members of the Tigers soccer team, part of the Arvada Edge Soccer League, applauded when they spotted Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at a Beau Jo's pizzeria in Arvada, Colo. The team was celebrating a victory in its last game of the season when Mr. Biden stopped in to buy pizza. (The man in the photo is a Secret Service agent.)Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times Members of the Tigers soccer team, part of the Arvada Edge Soccer League, applauded when they spotted Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at a Beau Jo's pizzeria in Arvada, Colo. The team was celebrating a victory in its last game of the season when Mr. Biden stopped in to buy pizza. (The man in the photo is a Secret Service agent.)

Ryan Children Enjoying the Trail in the Campaign\'s Final Days

Sam Ryan in OhioJosh Haner/The New York TimesRepresentative Paul D. Ryan's son Sam, 7, took the stage after a rally in Marietta, Ohio, on Saturday.

MARIETTA, Ohio - In these final 72 hours of slogging through four states a day, candidates, reporters and staff members can all feel like the walking dead.

Safe to say, no one is having more fun on the campaign trail than the three young children of Paul and Janna Ryan. At each Tarmac touchdown, when the candidate and his wife dash into a waiting vehicle, Sam, 7, Charlie, 9, and Liza, 10, enthusiastically wave to camera crews huddled under the airplane wing for another perfunctory “arrival” photo that no one will probably ever use.

As Mr. Ryan worked the rope line here a fter the first rally of the day on Saturday, Sam jumped onto the stage where his father had stood and flashed two exuberant V-for-victory signs.

Sam, the Ryans' youngest child, is a second grader who sported a Cheese Head hat at a rally, and the day after the vice-presidential debate last month he strolled to the back of the campaign plane, where reporters sit, to give his own news conference. Hard-bitten journalists grilled him on his favorite color (blue) and his Halloween costume (“a secret”).

His father later posted a picture to Twitter with the caption, “Campaign spokesman in training.''

Most days the Ryan children are home in school, but they have been a presence in the campaign even when absent. In battleground Ohio, where Mr. Ryan has emphasized his cultural connections to blue-collar voters, he shopped for deer-hunting clothing for Liza accompanied by the national press. On Halloween, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan walk ed their neighborhood in Janesville, Wis with the three children, again followed by the press. Sam and Charlie were goblins, and Liza, in a blue pageboy wig and rainbow-colored outfit, was the singer Katy Perry. (Points to Mom and Dad for not censoring the costume because of Ms. Perry's prominent support for President Obama.)

But, Sam is the one who clearly most enjoys the game of Presidential Campaign. When he flashed his Nixonian victory waves, the crowd rippled with applause and his father turned back to see what the fuss was.

Young Sam will be eligible to run for president himself in 2040, the same year Mr. Ryan's controversial House budget projects federal revenues and spending would be in balance.

Follow Trip Gabriel on Twitter at @tripgabriel.

Romney Makes Appeal to Undecided Voters

Mr. Romney, accompanied by his wife, Ann, started Saturday by speaking to supporters at a rally in Portsmouth, N.H.Stephen Crowley/The New York Times Mr. Romney, accompanied by his wife, Ann, started Saturday by speaking to supporters at a rally in Portsmouth, N.H.

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - With just 72 hours before the polls open here, Mitt Romney kicked off his busiest day of the general election so far, racing through four events in three states as he made his final appeal to voters.

His message: A Romney administration offers the reality of the hope, change and across-the-aisle bipartisanship that President Obama promised four years ago and then failed to deliver.

“I've watched over the last few months as our campaign has gone from a start to a movement,” Mr. Romney said. “It's not just the size of the crowds. It's the conviction and compassion in the hearts of the people.”

The lessons he picked up as governor of Massachusetts, working with a largely Democratic legislature, he added, would serve him well in the White House.

“I learned that respect and good will goes a long way, and it's likely to be reciprocated,” he said. “That's how I would conduct myself as president. I won't just represent one party. I will represent one nation.”

Mr. Romney also made an explicit appeal to undecided voters, urging his supporters to “spend some time in the next three days to see neighbors and maybe ones with an Obama sign in front of their home and just go by and say, ‘Look, let's talk this through a bit.'”

“Because you see, President Obama came into office with so many promises and he's fallen so fall short,” Mr. Romney said. “And just rem ind them of some of the things that they may have forgotten. He said he was going to be the post-partisan president, but he's been the most partisan, dividing and demonizing.”

Mr. Romney was joined on his campaign plane by nearly his entire top team, a close-knit coterie of senior advisers, many of whom have been with him since his days in the Massachusetts Statehouse. Their mood was both upbeat and nostalgic.

Boarding the plane in New Hampshire to head onto Iowa, they posed for a quick group picture on the tarmac - a photo that, depending on the outcome of Election Day, could be either a glimpse into a future White House, or a keepsake for old friends of a campaign that didn't quite go their way.

Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, made a brief trip back to the press cabin to pass out pumpkin whoopee pies. Though she remained determinedly on-message and positive, talking about the people who are “really, really hurting,” her face and demeanor belied a weariness. (Mrs. Romney, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was seen limping off the campaign plane Friday night, though aides said it was not a flare-up like the one she had during the primaries and that she was merely “exhausted.”)

“Three more days,” she said, echoing what has become a refrain on the campaign trail, as voters chant how many more days are left until, they hope, Mr. Romney becomes the president-elect. “It's been long. It's been a long road.”

On the stump, Mr. Romney offered a series of aggressive lines against Mr. Obama, criticizing the president for remarks he made in Ohio on Friday when he told his supporters that “voting is the best revenge.”

“Vote for revenge?” Mr. Romney asked, rhetorically. “Let me tell you what I'd like to tell you: Vote for love of country.”

Referring to the three presidential debates, largely credited with helping him pull closer to Mr. Obama in the polls, Mr. Romney presented what he said was a stark contest between himself and the president.

“He says it has to be this way. I say it can't stay this way,” Mr. Romney said. “He's offering excuses. I'm offering a plan. I can't wait to get started. He wants to convince you to settle. But Americans don't settle. We dream, we aspire, we reach for greater things.”

He ended his speech, as he has been doing recently, with another call to unity.

“Come walk with me,” Mr. Romney urged. “Walk together to a better place. We've got to take back this country.”

Follow Ashley Parker on Twitter at @AshleyRParker.

The Weekend Word: Fallout

Today's Times

  • The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is threatening to create Election Day chaos in some places, but the expected disruptions are considered unlikely to change the outcome of the presidential election, Michael Cooper reports. The biggest impact is likely to be on state and local races.
  • Campaigns are now using a strategy that targets a little-scrutinized variable of election results: the influence that spouses can have on each other's voting decisions, John Harwood writes. In a skin-tight presidential race, pillow talk and kitchen-table discussions could make a difference to each party's bid to close its gender gap in battleground states.
  • The commander in chief who was comforting the nation a few days ago has been replaced by a political warrior, accusing Mitt Romney at every stop of dishonesty for claiming that the president's auto industry bailout resulted in jobs moving to China, Mark Landler reports.
    Mr. Romney gave a speech in Wisconsin on Friday that was a departure from his usual stinging attacks on President Obama, choosing instead to name specific pieces of legislation that he would introduce in office and making an explicit case for his own lengthy résumé, Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker report.
  • Presidential campaigns overshadow Congressional contests, often leaving Senate and House candidates largely to their own devices, Jonathan Weisman writes. Since neither presidential candidate is focusing on the down-ballot races, the winning Congressional candidates may not feel the need to repay the man who wins the White House with the sort of loyalty and gratitude that can smooth a legislative agenda once the new terms begin.
  • Jackie Calmes has cataloged a snapshot of Mr. Romney's reactions to the economic crisis to provide a sense of how he might have responded had he been president and how he might approach policy should he be ele cted.
  • A last-minute burst of below-the-radar cash has begun flooding the national elections in the last days of the race, advertising in contests that could determine control of the Senate and exploiting a loophole that keeps their donors anonymous until long after the votes are counted, Nicholas Confessore and Derek Willis report.
  •  The Federal Emergency Management Office has distributed $40 million in Hurricane Sandy relief aid since Friday afternoon, but lawmakers are expecting a multibillion-dollar bill for the federal government at a time of fiscal restraint, Eric Lipton and Jennifer Steinhauer report.

Weekly Address

  • President Obama used his weekly address to offer words of comfort to those affected by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and to ask that the nation pray for the storm's victims. “And as president, I promise them this: your country will be there for you for as long as it takes to recover and rebuil d,” he said. “Our number-one concern has been making sure that affected states and communities have everything they need to respond to and recover from this storm.” He vowed not to let “red tape and bureaucracy” get in the way of the recovery and thanked a number of citizens for their heroism when the storm was darkest. “We're Americans. When times are tough, we're tougher. We put others first. We go that extra mile,” he said. “We recover, we rebuild, we come back stronger â€" and together we will do that once more.”

Happenings in Washington

  • Supporters of financing for public broadcasting will hold a Million Puppet March on the National Mall on Saturday.
  • Madame Tussauds Wax Museum will let children cast their own ballots while learning about the election process Saturday morning.
  • Ralph Nader will moderate the Alternative Parties Debate with candidates from the Libertarian, Green, Constitution an d Justice Parties on Sunday night.