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  • 4 November 2012, 13:25

Republicans Fight Uphill Battle For Chicago

The people who run the campaign office of the Republican Party in Chicago call it a Victory Centre, but even they accept they are fighting a losing battle for the city in this presidential election.

While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are virtually neck-and-neck in the race for the White House in national polls, Mr Obama is still thought to hold considerably more sway in the Windy City.

It was here, four years ago, that Grant Park heaved with an estimated 240,000 people who celebrated the victory speech of the man chosen to be the nation's first black president.

Today, on the streets around the Republicans' small and unassuming office in the trendy Lincoln Park area, campaign posters for either candidate are hard to find - but the Democrats may feel like they hardly need to campaign here at all.

Chicago's high proportion of Democrat voters is widely expected to once again tip the rest of the state of Illinois in the party's favour.

For Republicans, making small gains in the city is the mission - do that, and they believe Illinois is within reach.

Chris Cleveland, vice-chairman of the Chicago Republican Party, says his people have been encouraged by polls that show support for the president has dwindled.

He believes Mitt Romney has done enough to win the presidency even without Illinois.

The Republican Party recently banned media from entering their Chicago base, in North Lincoln Avenue, but anyone peeking through the blinds can see busy volunteers on the phones, with posters, stickers and garden signs stacked up and waiting to be handed out.

At a nearby cafe, Mr Cleveland told Sky News 1,900 people had signed up as volunteers at the offices, and more than 300,000 phone calls had been made since July to gather support.

He claimed that, although Chicago remains a "solidly Democrat" city, there had been a "distinct fall in support" for Mr Obama.

He cites as an example the decision to host Mr Obama's election party not at Grant Park again, but at the considerably smaller McCormick Place convention centre. The Obama campaign has said the decision was due to security and weather concerns.

"Four years ago, we saw a lot more posters for Obama in Chicago," said Mr Cleveland. "I think there's disappointment with him. The economy is in a shambles. He's spent massive amounts of taxpayer money."

He added: "Our mission here in Chicago is to raise votes by five to 10 percentage points. If we can do that, we'll start winning constantly in the state."

But the party is at a disadvantage, he said, because local government - from the mayor down - is dominated by Democrats. He claimed local businesses are in fear of demonstrating support for the Republican Party.

"Businessmen fear what will happen to them if they depend on government, whether for contracts or a liquor licence," said Mr Cleveland, 50, who owns a software company.

"If you challenge the established order, they will use the levels of government to curb you. It presents an obstacle for us."

On the streets of Lincoln Park, most people who spoke to Sky News said they would be voting for Mr Obama.

Bernadette Rivero, for one, believes support is still high for the president. She sees Mr Romney as a "flip-flopper" who changes his policies from one moment to the next.

The 24-year-old is a mental health social worker and fears cuts in funding to healthcare.

"Like most politicians, Romney says a lot but doesn't really specify how he's going to make his ideas happen," she said. "Obama does that a bit too.

"Romney just comes across as too fake, too all-American."

Paul Siegfried, 43, a gas worker who lives in a Chicago suburb, believes Mr Obama deserves another four years.

"Things are going well and I don't see the reason to change things now," he said. "I think he's done as well as he can.

"Romney is portrayed as a businessman, but to me he's like a Gordon Gekko character who goes around cutting up companies for profit. Come on, man - really?"

Susan Ferraro, 58, a vet from Lincoln Park, voted for Mr Obama in 2008 but thinks she might switch to Mr Romney.

"My biggest disappointment with the campaigning is that I was really looking for someone to come out and say, here's what we're going to do - to be specific about their policies," she said.

"I've not seen as much as I would have liked to with Obama. I think it's time for a change.

"We need someone new to come in and look at things differently."

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