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Obama enjoys comfortable edge over Romney - in Ireland

Although Ireland received nary a mention in last night's foreign policy debate in the US, the country by and large prefers the Democratic US President to his rival in the GOP.

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet locals in Moneygall, Ireland, in May 2011. The 2012 US presidential election is of great interest in Ireland, though the public's political leanings tilt strongly in favor of America's Democrats.

Maxwells Irish Government/Reuters/File

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Despite receiving no more than a passing mention in last night's US presidential debate on foreign policy, Europe is closely watching the campaign between President Obama and Mitt Romney. And Irish eyes in particular are firmly fixed on the US.

But if Ireland had any electoral votes to cast on Nov. 6, they would be solidly locked in the win column for Democratic president – and Irish favorite son – Obama.

"It seems the worm is turning for Romney," says Garrett Roche, a graduate student and former finance analyst from Dublin. "I think we're naturally a more left-leaning country – European countries are in general. The US has shifted to the right since the '70s and it's naturally a right-of-center country anyway."

Interest isn't purely geopolitical, nor is it entirely vicarious. Ireland's economy is mired in a slump with unemployment at 14.8 percent and debt-to-GDP ratio set to hit 120 percent, so US economic interests in Ireland guarantee Irish interest in US politics.

"Closer to Boston than Berlin," was the mantra during the "Celtic Tiger" era, and despite Ireland being in receipt of bailout funding from the European Central Bank, EU, and IMF, transatlantic links remain strong.

US Department of Commerce figures indicate American investment in Ireland is at an all time high, totaling $188 billion in 2011. Over 100,000 people are directly employed by US firms, a not insignificant chunk of Ireland's 2.1 million-strong workforce, while the US Chamber of Commerce in Ireland says 600 American businesses operate in Ireland with a combined payroll of $21 billion and pay local taxes amounting to $5.1 billion.

Successive US administrations have complained that Ireland's low corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent attracts companies on the basis of tax avoidance, perhaps even evasion.

Added to this febrile mix is a new wave of emigrants and longstanding ties to the Democrats in particular.

"I used to live in the States for eight years, so I'm probably even more interested than most," says Mr. Roche.

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