Wednesday October 10, 2012

2012 battleground map whittled to just 9 states -- they’re getting all the attention, ad money

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- So much for Mitt Romney’s plans to compete for Democratic-trending Michigan or Pennsylvania. And what about President Barack Obama’s early hopes of fighting it out for Republican-tilting Arizona, Georgia or Texas? Forget them.

The presidential battleground map is as compact as it’s been in decades, with just nine states seeing the bulk of candidate visits, campaign ads and get-out-the-vote efforts in the hunt for the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory. That means just a fraction of Americans will determine the outcome of the race for the White House.

"It’s difficult if not impossible to pull new states into that kind of competition," said Tad Devine, a Democrat who long has helped his party’s presidential nominees craft state-by-state strategies to reach the magic number.

A month before Election Day, that means both candidates are concentrating their precious time and money in the handful of states that still seem to be competitive: Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

Obama succeeded in expanding the map in 2008 by winning the traditionally Republican states of Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia.


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But it took a Democratic tidal wave to do so, and he was the exception in a nation that’s grown increasingly polarized, with demographic shifts heralding Democratic victories in the Northeast and on the West Coast and Republican dominance in the West and South.

Surge in violence, new training camps show al-Qaida revival in Iraq after U.S. troop withdrawal

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Al-Qaida is rebuilding in Iraq and has set up training camps for insurgents in the nation’s western deserts as the extremist group seizes on regional instability and government security failures to regain strength, officials say.

Iraq has seen a jump in al-Qaida attacks over the last 10 weeks, and officials believe most of the fighters are former prisoners who have either escaped from jail or were released by Iraqi authorities for lack of evidence after the U.S. military withdrawal last December. Many are said to be Saudi or from Sunni-dominated Gulf states.

During the war and its aftermath, U.S. forces, joined by allied Sunni groups and later by Iraqi counterterror forces, managed to beat back al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch.

But now, Iraqi and U.S. officials say, the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago -- from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.

"AQI is coming back," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, declared in an interview last month while visiting Baghdad.

Israeli prime minister orders new elections
’as quickly as possible’

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday ordered new parliamentary elections in early 2013, roughly eight months ahead of schedule, setting the stage for a lightning quick campaign that will likely win him re-election.

For nearly four years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has presided over a conservative coalition that has proven stable in a country where governments rarely serve out a full term. Re-election could grant him a fresh mandate to continue his tough stance toward Iran’s suspect nuclear program, put the already deadlocked peace process with the Palestinians further into deep freeze and complicate relations with the U.S. if President Barack Obama is re-elected.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu said he was forced to call the snap polls after his coalition could not agree on a budget.

"I have decided that it is in Israel’s better interest to go to elections now and as quickly as possible," he said. "For Israel, it is preferable to have as short a campaign as possible, one of three months over one that would last in practice an entire year and damage Israel’s economy."

With no viable alternative on the horizon, Netanyahu is expected to easily be re-elected as prime minister: He is riding a wave of popularity and his opposition is fragmented and leaderless.

Police: Alabama student killed by campus police wasn’t armed, took LSD before shooting

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- A nude University of South Alabama freshman had taken LSD and assaulted others before he chased the campus police officer who fatally shot him, authorities said Tuesday, though the student wasn’t armed and didn’t touch the officer.

Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said at a news conference that 18-year-old Gil Collar took the potent hallucinogen during a music festival Saturday before assaulting two people in vehicles and attempting to bite a woman’s arm.

Authorities said Collar then went to the campus police headquarters, where he was shot by university police officer Trevis Austin. Austin is on leave while investigators review the shooting.

Video taken by a surveillance camera showed Collar nude and covered in sweat as he pursued the retreating officer more than 50 feet outside the building, Cochran said. Collar got within 5 feet of Austin and the officer fired once, striking the student in the chest, Cochran said.

Cochran said Austin came out of police headquarters with his gun drawn after he heard Collar -- a 5-foot-7, 135-pound former high school wrestler -- banging on a door. While campus police typically carry pepper spray and a baton, Cochran said Austin was armed only with a gun during the confrontation.

Extreme athlete cancels 2nd try at becoming first skydiver to break sound barrier over N.M.

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) -- Blame it on the wind. Again.

For the second straight day, extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner aborted his planned death-defying 23-mile free fall because of the weather, postponing his quest to become the world’s first supersonic skydiver until at least Thursday.

As he sat Tuesday morning in the pressurized capsule waiting for a 55-story, ultra-thin helium balloon to fill and carry him into the stratosphere, a 25 mph gust rushed across a field near the airport in Roswell, N.M.

The wind rushed so fast that it spun the still-inflating balloon as if it was a giant plastic grocery bag, raising concerns at mission control about whether it was damaged from the jostling.

The balloon is so delicate that it can only take off if winds are 2 mph or below on the ground.