Are the swing states embracing Obama again?

President opens up lead against all Republican candidates in key battlegrounds.

The re-election of Barack Obama may well be back on. After watching the economy tank and the president struggling to make his promised sweeping reforms, many American swing voters were in a state of intense deliberation -- Obama 2.0 or something new?

But the economic picture is improving - and while jobs continue to be created and unemployment falls, the Republicans are involved in bitter exchanges and political gaffes, leaving Obama's opinion ratings continually improving.

Dana Milbank recently wrote in the Washington Post that:

While Romney embraces the birther billionaire Donald Trump, he has ceded to Obama the political center. The day after Romney indelicately announced that he was "not concerned about the very poor," Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast about his affection for the Rev. Billy Graham and about "the biblical call to care for the least of these -- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.

It now seems that the Obama campaign is gaining momentum in the areas that matter most -- key swing states.

Fox News conducted a poll late on Wednesday. It analyses voters in 10 battleground states -- Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia and it would seem that in those states, which are key to his chances of re-election, he is performing better than the Republican alternatives.

Dana Blanton at Fox News explains:

The swing-state voters back Obama over Romney by 8 percentage points and Santorum by 9 points.

Obama tops Paul by 12 points in the poll. Gingrich lags farthest behind Obama, as voters in these key states prefer the president to the former Speaker by 20 points.

Chris Stirewalt adds:

It's getting harder for Republicans to argue that their protracted nomination process isn't doing serious damage to their chances of unseating President Obama in the fall.

The latest FOX News swing state poll has some sobering news for the Republicans. Not only do both of their current frontrunners, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, trail nationally (Romney trails by 5 points in all states, Santorum by 12), but they lose in the 10 key states that are likely to decide the election.

It is arguably Romney's poll demise which is most striking. A few weeks ago Romney appeared to be the the certain winner of the Republican nomination race. The data now suggests a very different story. In states such as Florida, where Republican voters tend to consider themselves as moderates, he does just fine. But among the Republican core voters, he is treated with suspicion. Rick Santorum, who was seen as lagging behind before his recent wins, is now arguably the most viable winner of the GOP race.

On the Guardian website Michael Cohen explains pointing to two polls that paint a bleak picture for Romney and give hope to his Republican rival Rick Santorum:

What should be most daunting for Romney is the Rasmussen and PPP polls track likely voters, rather than simply registered voters. Romney's polling numbers within the GOP remain where they've been for much of the year - around 25-35% support, and rarely much higher.

To beat an incumbent, the stars need to be clearly aligned in one's favor. There is very little to date that suggests this is the case for Mitt Romney.

He remains the Republican candidate who Republicans might support if they have to - but that guy in the sweater vest seems like he might be more fun.

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

Photo: Getty Images
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Meet the remarkable British woman imprisoned for fighting against Isis

The treatment of Silhan Özçelik shows how confused British policy towards the Middle East has become. 

Last week, a British court sentenced a woman to prison for attempting to join fighters in the Middle East. Silhan Özçelik, an 18-year-old from Highbury, London was sentenced to 21 months for her part in “preparing terrorist acts” under the Terrorism Act 2006. The judge called her a “stupid, feckless and deeply dishonest young woman”.  What all of this misses out is the most extraordinary fact: that Özçelik was not convicted for going to fight for the Islamic State, but for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – better known as the PKK, one of the only effective and consistent opponents of Isis since the war began.

Volunteering to fight in foreign wars – so long as they are long ago enough – is a celebrated tradition in Britain. In the late 1930s, while the Spanish Republic battled on against a fascist coup led by General Franco, tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world went to fight for the International Brigades, including 2,500 from the UK. They included future celebrities such as writer George Orwell and actor James Robertson Justice, and commemorative plaques and memorials can now be seen all over the country

Like the International Brigade volunteers, Özçelik allegedly volunteered to fight for an embattled state facing military defeat at the hands of a far-right insurgency. The combat units she might have joined have been the subject of moving portraits in the Guardian and even praise on Fox News. The PKK is a secular socialist organisation, with a streak of libertarianism and its own feminist movements. But because of its military opposition to the often brutal Turkish treatment of the Kurds, the western powers list the PKK as a terrorist organisation; and would-be heroes like Silhan Özçelik are detained as criminals by the British state.

On one level, what Özçelik’s conviction represents is a change in how the state relates to ordinary citizens who fight. In 1936, the rise of fascism was something on our doorstep, which was opposed most fervently not by official western governments but by ordinary folk, dangerous far left subversives and free spirited writers who sailed to Spain – often in spite of their own governments. In today’s wars in the Middle East, the state is absolutely determined to maintain its monopoly on the right to sanction violence.

What Orwell and other volunteers understood was that while western governments might promote values like liberty and deplore the rise of tyranny, they were also duplicitous and unreliable when it came to prioritising the defeat of fascism over the narrow interests of nation and profit. Then as now, western governments were  deeply uneasy about the idea of ordinary people taking up arms and intervening in global affairs, or deciding – by force – who governs them. If the Terrorism Act 2006 had applied in 1936, Orwell would surely have been arrested at Dover and sent to prison.

More pressingly for the current situation, the persecution of the PKK should make you think twice about the motivations and outcomes for military intervention in Syria. Cameron is on a march to war, and, following the Paris attacks, much of the political establishment is now lining up to support him.

At the same time, our court system is imprisoning and persecuting young women who try to take up arms against Isis. It is doing so at the behest not of our own national security, which has never been threatened by the PKK, but that of Turkey. Turkey’s military is actively targeting Kurdish forces, and has recently stepped up these attacks. There is a wealth of evidence, not least its behaviour during the recent siege of Kobane, to suggest that Turkey – Britain’s only formal NATO ally in the region – is tacitly collaborating with Isis in an attempt to defeat both Assad and the Kurds.

As the government rushes to war in Syria, much of the media attention will focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s awkward task of holding his anti-war line while persuading his party and Shadow Cabinet not to split over the issue. Others will focus, rightly, on the complexity of the situation in the region and the question of who western air-strikes are really there to support: is it Assad, the murderous dictator whose regime has itself been linked to the rise of Isis; Turkey, which is seemingly focussed entirely on defeating Assad and the Kurds; or the soup of organisations – including the Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria – which constitute the anti-regime rebels?

But Özçelik’s conviction should also raise a more fundamental concern: that the contradictions and complications that we are so used to associating with the Middle East lie at the heart of British and western policy as well. If the British state persecutes, rather than supports, the few secular and progressive organisations in the region who are fighting Isis, whose interests is it really serving? And if we don’t trust those interests, how much trust can we really place in it to act on our behalf in Syria?

You can sign a petition calling for Silhan Özçelik’s release here, and a petition calling for the decriminalisation of the PKK here.