By Carol Cain CBS 62 Detroit
With days left in this historic billion-dollar-plus marathon for the White House that polls show tightening, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney continued to duke it out as each answered the final question in the CBS Local Presidential Forum on what bothers them most about what their opponent has said about them.
The exclusive CBS Local forum asked 10 questions over 10 days of the two candidates hoping to become the 45th president of the United States to help voters learn more about the men, their policies and outlook for the nation.
"Democrats are trying to scare the American people into thinking that if I am elected, the middle class will pay $2,000 more in taxes," answered Romney. "That is just wrong, and the study that the Democrats use to support this false claim bases its findings on unfounded assumptions that have since been discredited.
"The fact is that my tax plan lowers individual tax rates by 20%," he added.
Obama said the Romney campaign obviously isn't dictated by fact-checkers. He then added there was no sense to rehashing all the times Romney and Cong. Paul Ryan haven't told the truth, adding their strategy seems to place a premium on misrepresenting facts.
Jobs and the economy has been the 800-pound gorilla in the room in this race and tops nearly every poll of Americans concerns which is why the first question in the CBS Local forum revolved around it.
The economy is better today than when Obama took over. But it is still struggling. National unemployment fell to 7.8 percent in September, its lowest point since January 2009.
"It's the economy, stupid," was uttered two decades ago by Democratic strategist James Carville of the 1992 presidential race describing how Gov. Bill Clinton won over incumbent Pres. George H.W. Bush.
It's applicable today.
"I think the main question for the candidates is how to create a strategy of sustained high economic growth over the long haul," said former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, who some say could be a GOP presidential candidate in 2016. "Conversely, how do we fix our structural problems so that economic growth and job creation can occur. Everything else pales by comparison," Bush added.
After Obama's performance in the first presidential TV debate, polls showed the race tightening.
The most surprising shift occurred among women voters which is why it was a key topic of the second TV debate where the two men answered town hall questions from the audience which was moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley, the first female to host a presidential debate in 20 years.
The final televised debate this Monday night will be moderated by CBS "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer and focus on foreign affairs.
No doubt, the recent attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans will again be a focal point as well as the thorny issue of dealing with China.
Tom Watkins, former state superintendent of Michigan schools and China expert from Washington, D.C, will be glued to his TV set. "Going forward, every major issue impacting the world will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, DC," he said. "How our respective leaders manage this relationship will impact the world. "
"We need a plan, not rhetoric to assure China's rise does not come at our demise," he added.
Beyond jobs and the economy, national defense, and appealing to women voters, other questions raised in the CBS Local forum included: confronting the budget deficit, urban city agenda, Supreme Court nominees, healthcare reform and education outlook.
This presidential contest continues to play out in in places that were expected to be battlegrounds like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Florida is also key which made the Orlando Sentinel's endorsement of Romney on Thursday stand out as the paper supported Obama four years ago.
Wisconsin is another state in obvious flux. Two weeks ago, Obama was up 11 points over Romney in a Marquette Law School poll. The latest poll shows it a one-point race with Obama over Romney 49 to 48 percent in a survey of 870 likely voters taken Oct. 11-14.
Romney and Obama have sparred over the auto bailouts and government engineered bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. Obama has cited the bailouts on the campaign trail, in this CBS Local forum, during televised debates and during a David Letterman appearance.
Speaking of autos, Romney has taken hits for a headline on an opinion piece he wrote in 2009 about those auto bailouts. The New York Times' article had a "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" headline, but Romney never said that in the text of his article.
Romney got a pat on the back Thursday from Lee Iacocca, one of the auto industry's quintessential car guys who steered Chrysler back from the brink of ruin a generation ago, as he threw his endorsement his way.
Now 88 and living in California, Iaccoca's name still carries sway in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan – where Obama is ahead but his lead has decreased in recent days.
Other issues will resonate with some voters.
"The only thing I can do is voice my frustration that while both parties talk about the importance of using all our energy options, their actions undercut that goal," said Tony Earley,chairman, president and CEO of PG & E Corp. in San Francisco.
"The reality is that energy assets are assets that will be around for a quarter to a half century and we can't let election cycle politics cloud a common sense approach which can move us to more energy stability and a high degree of environmental protection," Earley added.
While many voters have already made up their minds up, a small but influential group representing anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of "undecided" or "swing voters" are still lurking.
What might lure their vote?
"In 2012, this race is all about the economy and jobs," said Carroll Doherty, associate director of Pew Research for the People & the Press which has surveyed voters for years. "But leadership is also key," Doherty said. "Who is viewed as the leader able to get things back on track will be critical."
(Carol Cain is an Emmy winning journalist who has covered politics and business over 20 years. She is Senior Producer/Host of CBS62's "Michigan Matters" and writes a column on politics and business for Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at email@example.com).
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