Worries At Home From Anti-American Protests

The protests against an anti-Islam movie made in the U.S. are expected to continue for a while. How concerned is the Obama administration about political fallout at home? Plus, what's the impact of early and absentee votes on November's presidential election?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Throughout today's program we are following continuing protest in majority Muslim countries. The violence mostly against American facilities is blamed on a video with a mocking portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he believes the violence is calming down, but he expects the protests will continue for some time.

Right now, let's look at the politics of all this, for the violence does take place during a presidential campaign. Joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Good morning. How concerned is the Obama administration about the political fallout at home?

ROBERTS: Well, they must be somewhat concerned because they put the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, on five - count them, five - television programs yesterday to defend the administration's actions in the region. Look, the president has very much had the upper hand on foreign policy. And if you turn on your TV, however, and see American embassies attacked, an ambassador killed, at the same time there are more attacks in Afghanistan killing our soldiers; the Israeli prime minister is also all over television yesterday, saying it's time for President Obama to draw red line on Iran - it could start to be problem for him.

And though Romney was widely criticized for his initial response to the attacks in Libya and Egypt, you are now hearing other Republican voices going on the attack, saying the administration is vacillating, sending no clear signals.

INSKEEP: Well, the aggressiveness of the Romney campaign would suggest that they think they see an opportunity here. At least they feel they need to make a case. How vulnerable is the administration?

ROBERTS: Well, I think it's only vulnerable if this is seen as part of a larger picture of disappointment. You hear the Republicans constantly invoking the name of Jimmy Carter. And, of course that was a time when inflation was through the roof and hostages were being held in Iran. And at some point, the voters just decided that didn't want to stay that course. That point, by the way, was after the sole debate in that election.

And Republicans are hoping that the total picture will turn around the voters this time around to the joblessness, the report from the census last week about the loss of middle-class income, and combine that with what looks like chaos around the world, maybe they think voters would abandon the president.

I thought it was very telling, yesterday, that Ambassador Rice was so insistent that the cause of the riots was that movie, not U.S. policy. Because one of the things you heard when Obama was elected, was that voters hoped that the U.S. image would be improved around the world, that the U.S. would gain more respect. And it's important for the administration to say that, in fact, that has happened; though the polling in various countries around the world does not support that.

INSKEEP: Well, let's look at polling and the United States. If you look just at the top line number, who's ahead, the president is not that far ahead of Mitt Romney right now. His bounce after the conventions has faded a little bit. But if you look a little more closely, things don't necessarily look that great for Romney, according to the analysts.

ROBERTS: Well, because he's running behind in several key states and he's pulled out of some states that he hoped he could turn from blue to red. Even with huge sums of money being spent by those superPACs, states like Michigan and Pennsylvania are just staying firmly Democratic. Some of that superPAC money, by the way, is now going instead to Senate and House races. And there you see some Democrats in trouble, not only because of money but because in blue states like Massachusetts and Connecticut and red states like North Dakota and Nebraska, there's not big Obama ground game going to help get out the vote.

Look, Steve, Romney just has to hope that the something shakes up this election. And the debates are the most likely thing to do that. But one problem he has, is that by the time the debates happen, a lot of people might have already voted in this country.

INSKEEP: Enough people that it can make a real difference?

ROBERTS: I think so. I mean early voting in some states is huge. In North Carolina last time, for instance, it was more than half of the vote. And the absentee ballots there have been available for 10 days. Iowa starts in-person voting in 10 days and it was more than a third of the vote there the last time around. All-important Florida, where there's a court case now pending over early voting, more than half of the ballots were not ones that voters cast on Election Day.

So this puts an enormous premium on a highly organized get out the vote strategy

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much, as always. That's Cokie Roberts.

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