Friday, December 21, 2012

Pulling the Plug on Politico's Arena

Well I gotta say I was shocked when I received the email (see below) authored by Jon Harris and Jim VandeHei telling me that now "was a good time to put the Arena feature to rest." After all, Politico Arena contributor's like myself do not get compensated (at least I didn't) and Arena was popular enough this election season alone to account for "12 million page views" according to Politico.

So why kill it? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Politico "will be discussing different ways that outside opinion journalism can fit creatively in a site that remains, in terms of the work of our own editors and reporters, steadfastly committed to ideological neutrality." But wasn't the purpose of the Arena to allow for the exchange of opinion and ideas? Perhaps we'll never know why Politico decided to go in this direction but I suspect at some point we'll figure it out. I hope something comparable fills the void or that Politico will rethink their decision.

Here is the unedited email:

A Note to Arena Contributors –

We began the Arena feature – conceived to be a kind of rolling, real-time op-ed page – just over four years ago, in the final two months of the 2008 campaign.

Over these four years Arena has hosted – thanks to the intelligence and good will of contributors – thousands of constructive, serious, provocative and civil debates on issues facing Washington and the nation. Your submissions often made news--picked up  by reporters and columnists at other publications.

Arena's launch reflected a spirit of innovation at our young publication – still only six years old. That spirit, which continues to guide us, pushes us to a certain healthy restlessness. As we contemplated the publication's future in the wake of the recent election, POLITICO editors decided it is time to think more about the role of outside opinion on our site and how to present it to maximum impact. In that light, it seemed to us that now was a good time to put the Arena feature to rest.

We are proud of its content – and the 12 million page views Arena generated in just this last presidential campaign – and want to push forward with something new before the feature becomes familiar and loses any edge.

In the months ahead, our editors, led by POLITICO Editor-at-Large Bill Nichols, will be discussing different ways that outside opinion journalism can fit creatively in a site that remains, in terms of the work of our own editors and reporters, steadfastly committed to ideological neutrality.

In addition to the thanks we give to all you as contributors, we'd like to thank the three terrifically smart and conscientious people who have served as Arena moderators these past four years – Fred Barbash, David Mark, and Erika Lovley.

We look forward to enlisting you in more conversations and debates about issues of the day on POLITICO in our post-Arena future.

With gratitude,

John Harris
Jim VandeHei

Friday, November 30, 2012

From Congress to My Classroom: Zack Space, Part II

In the summer of 2011, former U.S. Rep. Zack Space (D-OH) visited my American Congress and Presidency classes. Elected in the Democratic wave of 2006, Space represented Ohio's 18th congressional district until his defeat in the Republican wave election of 2010. Today, he visited with my upper-level students (mostly majors) currently enrolled in those courses plus students taking my mostly freshman-level Government & Politics in the U.S. course.

As was the situation last year, the students were treated to a display of knowledge, candor, honesty, and humor that is rare for guest speakers, particularly the cautious crowd of current and former members of Congress. All this despite the fact that he had a long drive from Dover early in the morning to make it to my 8:50 Congress class. And unlike some soon-to-be-retiring members of Congress, no speaking fee was required to get him to discuss such varied topics as the fiscal cliff, gerrymandering, campaign finance, and the recent election. Many thanks to Mr. Space for taking a huge chunk out of his day to come visit with my students at The University of Akron.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Obama-Romney Post-Election Meeting: No Bromance Expected

Politico Arena Topic: A Romney-Obama Friendship?

The meeting between Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama is the political equivalent of two head coaches of rival sports teams shaking hands after the conclusion of a heated game. Just like the Yankees and Red Sox or Packers and Bears, the handshake means nothing except to signify that at the end of the contest, the combatants can be somewhat civil towards each other but the rivalry will continue.

Unlike John McCain who continued in his capacity as a U.S. Senator following his 2008 defeat, Mitt Romney has no position in government and thus will have absolutely no impact on policy or politics. Democrats won’t need to listen to him and Republicans won’t want to.

I also do not foresee Obama and Romney becoming bosom buddies down the road as Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton did. The 2012 election was a particularly bitter contest (not that all presidential elections aren’t tough) and both candidates seemed to have a high level of disdain for one another. In the end, the meeting will make for a nice photo-op but will disappear quickly from the public consciousness as focus will turn back to the fiscal cliff Washington is staring at through the windshield.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dan Coffey: The Myth of the Ohio Bellwether County

My colleague, Professor Dan Coffey, the primary author of Buckeye Battleground, has written a highly-relevant post that should be of much interest as we enter the final few days of the 2012 presidential election. It is titled "The Myth of the Ohio Bellwether County."

Coffey observes that: "One of the questions that I often get is what counties are the most important bellwethers for Ohio. Many pundits claim that these counties can predict the outcome of the national election and so observers should keep a close eye on them (see here or here). Generally, I point out that this notion is largely a myth and...go through some of the reasons these “bellwether” counties are competitive, but why the impact of these counties tends not to mean that much in helping to understand the presidential race in Ohio."

Instead Coffey argues observers should focus on regions: "it is not really useful to think of individual counties. Rather counties are within regions and regional differences do tell us something important, a point which me and my co-authors make in covering the Five Ohios in our book Buckeye BattlegroundIndividual counties are often driven by the same sets of forces, and aggregating counties into regions provides a better sense of the whole picture.

Coffey's post is located here: "The Myth of the Ohio Bellwether County."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The "War on Women," the Gender Gap, and the 2012 Election

Politico Arena Topic: Will Mitt be damaged by Mourdock's rape comment?

Governor Mitt Romney was already in a bind over his “binders full of women” comment after the second presidential debate at Hofstra University. The gap that he had seemingly been closing among women in this country started to widen after that slip-up. But the latest volley in the “war on women” could blow that gap wide open.

Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comment on October 23 in a debate that rape is “something that God intended to happen” is as abhorrent and ridiculous a statement as one could utter and just the latest controversial comment on women that Republicans have offered up (hey Indiana Republicans—you sure you don’t want to bring back Senator Richard Lugar, a person as intelligent and respected as any person currently serving in Congress?).

If Mourdock’s comments were an isolated incident, it may not have had an impact. But starting with Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s comments this spring that Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who testified in front of Congress on the topic of contraception, was a “slut” and “prostitute,” it’s been a pretty tough year for the GOP on women’s issues.

Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comment in August that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” has put the modern Republican Party’s views on abortion and women firmly under the media microscope and at the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. Akin has since compared his female opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill, to a dog at a recent fundraiser, and subsequently news has broken that he had been arrested several times in the past at the scene of abortion protests.

And Akin and Mourdock are not isolated cases. U.S. Representative Joe Walsh, a freshman from Illinois running for reelection in a very tight race, said in a recent debate that he was against all abortions without exception, even when the mother’s life was at stake because “with modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance….There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing.”

So how does Governor Romney repair the damage? After all, Governor Romney enthusiastically endorsed Mourdock in his senate bid. I don’t think he can at this point. His only hope is that his advantage among men is bigger than his gap among women, a prospect that is highly unlikely.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Romney in a Bind(er) with Women

Politico Arena topic: Will women overlook Romney's 'binders' comment?

Women are one of the key demographic groups in the 2012 election. They vote at a higher rate than men—they composed 53% of the electorate in 2008 and 54% in 2004. In 2008, Senator Barack Obama was able to win the White House largely because of a 13 point margin among women. Senator John Kerry lost narrowly in 2004 largely because the gender gap closed to only 3 points. Until President Obama underperformed in the first presidential debate, he enjoyed a very large advantage among women ranging from 10-20 points in public opinion in many surveys. That gap narrowed in the days following the debacle in Denver.

Governor Mitt Romney’s comment in the second presidential debate that in an effort to find qualified women for his gubernatorial administration he collected “binders full of women” has been panned and it’s veracity questioned. Besides becoming a hash tag sensation on Twitter and fodder for late-night comics, political observers have brought new focus to Governor Romney’s policies on gender. And that focus has revealed positions that are sure to enlarge the gender gap. Mitt Romney’s position on the Fair Pay Act of 2009 (Lilly Ledbetter), the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama, has been: I’ll get back to you. His shifting positions on contraception and abortion from when he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate, to when he was Massachusetts governor, to when he was a Republican primary candidate, to when he was a general election candidate, can be described as nothing but Etch-a-Sketch.

But perhaps Governor Romney’s biggest problem is his own party. The modern Republican Party is openly hostile to women’s rights on a number of issues. From opposition to legislation mandating equal pay for equal work for women, to support for legislation in numerous states mandating transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, to a Republican Party platform that says no abortions, no exceptions, many believe the GOP is on the wrong—and extreme—side of women’s issues. Governor Romney’s biggest problem with America’s women is being the nominee of a party viewed as wildly out of touch with the mainstream values of a majority of those women. Proudly carrying the banner of Republican Party orthodoxy on gender issues may be fine in a primary battle, but is very problematic in a general election and may well cost Romney the White House come election day.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment.

Monday, October 8, 2012

VP Debate 2012: High Expectations and Underestimating the Opponent Can be Perilous

Politico Arena Topic: Could Biden hit Ryan too hard?

There is no question that Team Obama needs a solid debate performance from Vice President Joe Biden in the VP debates. After a week of stories following President Barack Obama’s weak performance at the Denver Debate, a strong Biden showing would help staunch the bleeding. Democrats hope that Biden can land some punches and counter-punches on the Romney-Ryan agenda that President Obama failed to land or even throw. Especially facing the architect of the GOP’s budget, Biden will be expected to take Representative Paul Ryan to task for his plans on Medicare, Social Security, and a host of other controversial policy ideas.

The Vice President has one very large advantage going into the October 11 debate: expectations are very low for him. Known for his verbal gaffes, Biden is neither feared nor respected by Republicans, particularly by the VP nominee himself. Long-time Republican strategist Ed Rollins epitomizes this view when he told Fox News this summer that Ryan “is going to wipe up the floor with Biden in the debates.” However, high expectations and underestimating your opponent can be perilous heading into a debate—just ask Team Obama.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Challenge of Being Likable

Politico Arena Topic: Was Ann Romney's Convention Speech a Game-Changer?

Ann Romney’s speech highlighted what we already knew—that she is a decent speaker who could potentially play the role of first lady effectively. The speech was by no means a “game changer” however. The most important speech of the convention has yet to happen. Mitt Romney’s speech will be the most watched, observed, and dissected speech at the GOP convention. Like any nominee trying to knock off an incumbent president, Governor Romney must demonstrate that he offers a different and better vision for America than the current president. He must convince wavering independents and Obama supporters from 2008 who are having buyer’s remorse to come to the Republican side. His task is made more difficult by the hard right stances of the Republican Party platform and utterances of GOP office holders and candidates in recent weeks that have received such negative publicity with the potential to turn off moderates and many women. Romney’s own sprint to the right during the GOP nomination process and his selection of running mate Paul Ryan with his unwavering social conservatism no doubt complicate this process.

Perhaps most challenging for Romney is that he must connect with the average American. The likeability gap between President Obama and Governor Romney is very real—he must close that gap as much as possible if he is to win the election. Americans prefer to cast a vote for someone they like. A candidate perceived as aloof and not being able to identify with the middle class of the country will struggle in the end. So Mitt Romney’s biggest challenge is to achieve what Ann Romney attempted to do last night—to convince America that despite his privileged upbringing and sheltered life, he can identify with the hopes, dreams, challenges, and struggles of everyday Americans. Perhaps most importantly, he must demonstrate that he actually cares about those same people.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan: An Unconventional VP Choice for a Conventional Campaign

Politico Arena Topic: Is Paul Ryan a Good VP Choice?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is an unconventional choice for a vice presidential running mate and certainly qualifies as a “bold” one. Time will tell if it is a good pick. Not many individuals from the U.S. House are chosen for the #2 slot—the last time that happened was 1984 with Walter Mondale’s selection of Geraldine Ferraro. House members usually lack the visibility and experience on the national stage that a senator or governor possess. But Ryan is different. He has become one of the leading voices of the new Republican Party—one of the 40-something “young guns” redefining the party’s brand of fiscal conservatism. He is a wonkish Gen Xer—a stark contrast with the man who picked him. Ryan is bright and has spent most of his adult life on Capitol Hill, including nearly 14 years as a member of the House—no Palin problem here (you can’t see Russia from his Janesville District but on a clear day you may be able to see Rockford).

The “Ryan Budget,” with its blend of fiscal austerity and massive cuts to the domestic safety net combined with compassion for the top earners and DoD, will now become a central focus of the campaign. To a great extent, this is something both liberals and conservatives relish—a real debate about the future priorities and values of the American economy. And up to this point, it is something the Romney campaign has been loath to explore in any way but the most vague and vacuous. That will now change.

From an Electoral Map perspective, the Ryan pick may put Wisconsin back in play—a state where President Obama has had a consistent if small lead in the polls throughout the campaign. Ryan’s Catholic upbringing and social conservatism will help the Romney campaign with Midwestern Catholics and perhaps other religious conservatives still uneasy about Romney’s faith. Without a doubt the Ryan pick energizes a GOP base sorely in need of energizing. Ryan gives the base a reason to vote FOR Romney instead of just AGAINST President Obama. But Ryan is a double-edged sword—those very reasons he may energize the base may be the same reasons he turns off independents and seniors in crucial swing states. The Obama campaign will not miss an opportunity to remind seniors in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Iowa—three of the top five states in terms of proportion of seniors per capita—what the Ryan Budget means for the future of Medicare. Thus, putting Wisconsin in play may ultimately come at the expense of handing Florida to Barack Obama in 2012—a trade the Obama campaign would make any day.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Veepstakes: The Case for Portman

Politico Arena Topic: Romney's Running Mate

Picking a running mate is the most important decision a presidential candidate can make. After all, they are not the president yet; they cannot order a military strike on a foreign country, cannot send American soldiers into harm’s way in a foreign land, cannot issue executive orders or sign bills into law. About the only thing of consequence a presidential candidate can do is pick the individual who will serve as their deputy should they be elected. It used to be that the vice presidential position was so inconsequential that it was the place where political careers went to die. In the modern presidency, however, vice presidents have become an important component of the presidential administration and a trusted adviser to the president. But the most important role of the vice president has remained timeless—to be ready to take over in the event that death or disability strikes the president. This transition has happened eight times in our history due to the death of the president and once due to resignation. However, too often in American history, presidential candidates (or the party machine in days gone by) have failed to ask a fundamental question when considering the person who will be only a heartbeat away from the presidency: is this person qualified and competent to be president in their own right?

With the pressure to win being paramount, running mates are often chosen because of geographical and ideological reasons, qualifications and competence be damned. Senator John McCain’s recent defense of his own 2008 decision aside, Sarah Palin was not qualified to be president. The world held its collective breath in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush collapsed in Japan as, just for a moment, the thought of “President Dan Quayle” took hold. And Spiro Agnew’s resignation as vice president after a lengthy investigation into his ethical and legal misdeeds allowed the country to avoid an even bigger Constitutional crisis when his boss Richard Nixon resigned a year later. These examples should cause presidential candidates to pause and reflect during the search for their running mate.

And so that brings us to Governor Mitt Romney’s decision about his own running mate. The usual cast of characters have been mentioned for months as speculation has continued nonstop since the spring: Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, and Paul Ryan. I do think it will be somebody from this group. All of these folks are relatively safe—there is not a Palin in the bunch. If the 2012 election were a football game, it is likely to be decided by a field goal, not a touchdown. Thus Romney does not need a Palinesque Hail Mary; rather, a short, high-percentage pass down field to get him into field goal range would be much more helpful. And Romney does not seem to be a gambler anyway—he is much more Aaron Rodgers than Brett Favre.

Given this, my gut and my head scream Rob Portman, the Ohio Senator no one knows much about. In terms of geography, Portman comes from perhaps the most important state of all in 2012—Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio and only twice since 1896 has a Democrat achieved that, the last time being 1960. You win Ohio, you win the presidency. Portman, a longtime member of the U.S. House from Southwest Ohio, would help Romney in the state. Portman’s only downside in the Buckeye State is that he is relatively unknown to most Ohioans. But that is what a campaign is for and by the time November rolled around, most Ohioans would have an idea of who Portman is. Ideologically, Portman is a conservative, but not the kind of flamethrower that would turn off independent, swing voters. He is a soft spoken, pleasant, policy-wonkish individual that has proven he can work with individuals across the ideological and political spectrum. He will not excite the base in a Palineque sort of way, but he will not turn them off either.

And if Governor Romney considers the competent/qualified question I laid out above, no one on the list of frontrunners for veep comes close to Portman. He is absolutely qualified to be president—in fact much more so than Governor Romney himself. His resume, filled with a variety of experiences in the White House and on the Hill, is as strong as any president since George H.W. Bush. Besides spending 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and currently serving in his first term as a U.S Senator, Portman has held a variety of positions in the administrations of both Bushes including as an Associate White House Counsel, director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, U.S. trade ambassador, and director of the Office of Management and Budget. This is a better resume than most presidential candidates and if Romney fails to capture the White House in 2012, Portman would have to be considered a likely POTUS candidate in 2016. Romney, of course, may choose to go in a different direction. But if he is serious about picking the best person for the job, he need not look beyond the Buckeye State for his veep.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Romney's Tax Returns and the Politics of Perception

Politico Arena Topic: A Taxing Dilemma for Romney?

In 1968, Republican presidential candidate George Romney initiated the practice of releasing tax returns by making 12 years available to the public. Forty-four years later, his son, Mitt Romney, reluctantly made available only 1 year and that was only after withering criticism from his GOP rivals for the nomination. In 2008, when he was being vetted as a running-mate, Romney handed over 23 years of returns to the McCain campaign. No one knows for sure what the McCain people saw, but we are certain that Romney was not chosen.

By not releasing more returns, Romney leaves the impression that he has something to hide. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But in politics, perception is reality, especially at the presidential level. During a presidential campaign, transparency is the best policy because the questions will continue and the negative attention will not cease unless the campaign makes a good-faith effort to clear up any questions. Even members of Romney’s own Republican Party are questioning his motives in not releasing more returns—a sure sign that this tax return controversy will only get worse. President Obama did not put the birther nonsense to rest until the state of Hawaii released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011. That contrived controversy has now all but gone away except for the handful of nut jobs and conspiracy theorists like Donald Trump, Joe Arpaio, and Orly Taitz who can’t seem to let it go (and may also believe the world is flat and that the moon landing never happened).

For Romney, it is best to put that information out now, deal with the negative fallout during the summer, and have the issue behind him when he picks his running-mate and goes to the convention. By waiting, he only risks blunting the momentum he will need coming out of Tampa in the sprint toward election day.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Obama's Swing State Travel Log

During presidential election years, I get asked by the media quite a bit about Ohio's role as a battleground or swing state. Besides the fact that Ohio is known as the "Mother of Presidents" with a direct connection to 8, in the modern era Ohio maintains its strategic importance to fashioning an electoral vote majority. If it wasn't important, presidential contenders and their campaign surrogates wouldn't visit Ohio as much as they do.

This concept of presidential travel and the electoral map motivated me to actually look at the data. What I present below is just a first swipe--I haven't drilled down into the numbers much. And, this is the beginning of what I hope will be a long-term project tracking the travel destinations of presidents, presidential candidates, and their surrogates.

President Obama's First Term Travel to 13 Swing States I have identified for 2012 election (as of July 13, 2012):*

Colorado: 10/4
Florida: 18/5
Iowa 10/4
Michigan 10/3
Minnesota: 6/1
Nevada: 10/4
New Hampshire: 6/2
New Mexico: 3/1
North Carolina: 10/3
Ohio: 22/6
Pennsylvania: 19/2
Virginia: 49/9
Wisconsin: 8/1

*First number is total separate trips to state; second number is separate trips to state in 2012 so far.

Although Virginia is the most visited battleground state by President Obama, many of those visits were in conjunction with his role as Commander-in-Chief and other official duties (e.g. visits to the Pentagon, CIA, etc.). Also, given Virginia's proximity to the White House and ease of travel to get there, it is unsurprising that it ranks first.

Ohio, it should surprise no one, ranks second, with Pennsylvania close behind. Obama has made 22 total visits to the Buckeye Battleground and 6 in 2012 alone with another one scheduled for this coming Monday in Cincinnati.

Another question intrigued me: how does Obama's travel to Ohio compare to other recent presidents in their first term? I did a quick check and here's what I came up with:

Reagan: 9
GHW Bush: 18
Clinton: 18
GW Bush: 30

It seems that even as Ohio's electoral vote totals have declined over time, Ohio is becoming increasingly popular with sitting first-term presidents.

More to come on this topic as the campaign season rages on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist, and the Chickens Coming Home to Roost

Politico Arena Topic: Is Jeb Bush Right About Partisanship?

Governor Jeb Bush is absolutely correct when he says that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush would be out of sync with today’s GOP. Make no mistake, Reagan and Bush were conservatives; however, both were willing to negotiate, compromise, and cut deals with the other side, despite differences in ideology and policy. Such behavior is considered treasonous today but governing was the priority, not the 24/7/365 campaign that dominates in the twenty-first century.

One can see in the Bush 41 presidency a foreshadowing of what would come: when he agreed with Democrats to raise taxes in the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1990 in an attempt to get America’s fiscal house in order and lower the deficit, he was assailed by the Right for discarding the “No New Taxes” pledge he made at the 1988 RNC Convention. In this instance, Bush acted with courage and did what he thought was in the best interests of the country. However, conservatives at the time such as Richard Viguerie assailed President Bush accusing him of abandoning conservative principles and being too willing to “cut deals with the Washington establishment.”

Today, the chickens have come home to roost. Most Congressional Republicans have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes—ever. Republicans fear if they don’t sign the Norquist pledge, he will find someone who is willing to sign the pledge to defeat them in the next primary election. And with the Congressional map gerrymandered in such a way that most districts are safe, and with the invention of the SuperPAC and unlimited campaign spending, Republican members of Congress fear a primary challenge from an uber-funded fellow Republican more than anything. And so to avoid that primary challenge, Republican lawmakers uphold Conservative orthodoxy—regardless of merit and regardless of the consequences thus giving us stalemate.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Invisible Massachusetts Governor

Politico Arena Topic: Is Mitt Romney Avoiding Massachusetts?

The Romney campaign seems intent on emphasizing Mitt Romney’s time as a venture capitalist with Bain rather than his time as chief executive of a large Northeastern state (of course, no else is supposed to talk about Romney’s time with Bain). His reticence to highlight his years as Massachusetts governor is indicative of the Romney campaign’s fear of alienating the Republican base who loathe the more moderate actions and policies of Governor Romney. The Romney campaign is reluctant to reminding social and religious conservatives that he was once a supporter of abortion rights and creator of Romneycare upon which the Affordable Care Act is in part based.

So…if Romney is left to campaign without touting his record as governor, he must campaign as the candidate from Bain. The question is: will his record as a venture capitalist capture the hearts and minds of independent voters? The answer is probably not, especially when independent voters, who are largely not paying attention right now, realize that the purpose of a venture capitalist is to make money—lots of it—for investors, and not to create jobs, a top priority for most Americans in 2012. And when these same voters come to realize that Romney’s job creation consists primarily of the stablemen who care for his horses, the domestic help caring for his several homes, and the workers installing elevators for his numerous automobiles, they may switch their allegiance to his opponent faster than you can transfer money into a Cayman Islands bank account.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Winning the Veepstakes: Exploring the Criteria of Running Mate Selection

Below is an essay I published in the Summer/Fall 2008 edition of Northeast Ohio Municipal Leader Magazine. Although almost four years old, it is still very relevant today.

Winning the Veepstakes: Exploring the Criteria of Running Mate Selection

“Don’t any of you realize that there’s only one life between that madman and the White House?”

--Ohio Senator Mark Hanna imploring his Republican colleagues not to place New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt on the ticket as President William McKinley’s running mate in 1900.
The Importance of the Running Mate Choice

The selection of a running mate is perhaps the biggest decision a presidential candidate will make during their candidacy. Though most pundits are obsessed with the decision from a purely horse-race driven perspective, it is a decision that could have monumental consequences given the fact that eight of the 42 individuals who have served in that office died—four by assassination and four due to natural causes. Add in the fact that one president, Richard Nixon, resigned before his second term was complete, and the historical track record shows that slightly over one in five U.S. presidents did not complete the term they were elected to. This doesn’t even reflect those presidents such as Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower that were incapacitated during their term.

Such statistics would not be cause for alarm if party nominees chose their running mates based on qualification alone. However, they don’t and rarely have. Instead, the intricacies of the Electoral College and two party system dictate that strategic candidates consider other factors beyond mere qualification. Beyond that, many running mates have been picked with little care or vetting. This is the case even in the modern presidency leading to some deficient running mates, and worse yet, vice presidents.

For example, in 1968 and again in 1972, Richard Nixon tapped Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate. A moderate from a Democratic-leaning border state, Agnew had a meteoric rise to the vice presidency having made the jump from Baltimore County Executive to Governor in 1966. His turbulent tenure as vice president ended abruptly when he resigned in October 1973 as part of a plea agreement to avoid federal prison time for money laundering and tax evasion during his time as governor.

In 1972, South Dakota Senator George McGovern picked first-term Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton, someone who shared his opposition to the Vietnam War, as his running mate. Even a shoddy background check would have quickly revealed what the newspapers uncovered almost immediately—that Eagleton had undergone electroconvulsive therapy in the early 1960s for mental illness. Eagleton’s stay on the Democratic ticket was short—he was replaced after 18 days by Sargent Shriver, brother-in-law to President John Kennedy and first-director of the Peace Corps.

In 1988 and with little consultation, Vice President George H.W. Bush shocked the political world by picking Indiana Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate. Never known as an intellectual-heavyweight, the fresh-faced conservative was just two years into his second term when he was tapped by Bush. Many political observers expressed shock that someone with so little political experience would be picked to be one heartbeat away from the presidency, despite the fact that Quayle protested he had as much Congressional experience as John Kennedy when he ran for president. Quayle’s tenure as vice president was a rocky one and provided ample fodder for late night comics. When images of President George H.W. Bush momentarily collapsing from intestinal flu at a 1992 state dinner in Japan aired in the United States, most Americans realized that an unqualified vice president, even one who can’t spell potato, wasn’t a laughing matter.

Criteria Considered

Many factors come into play other than sheer competence when a running mate is chosen. This has always been the case throughout American history—from Elbridge Gerry to Joe Lieberman. It may be even truer in the modern era.

Perhaps the most obvious factor that a presidential campaign considers is geography. The electoral math dictates that running mates should be able to carry (or at least make competitive) an important swing state for the ticket or at least solidify a region in the party’s base. Nearly all modern running mates have fulfilled this criterion and many pre-modern running mates have as well.

Senator John Kennedy’s selection of Lyndon Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader, was based on the calculus that Kennedy needed to carry Texas. Kennedy, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, carried LBJ’s home state—barely—just 46,000 votes separated Kennedy and Nixon, the Republican nominee. Former California Governor Ronald Reagan’s selection of primary rival George H.W. Bush in 1980 was based in part on geography. As the son of a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, Bush moved his family to West Texas following World War II to enter the booming oil business. Bush helped broaden Reagan’s appeal beyond the West to the Northeast, South, and beyond. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s selection of fellow Southerner Al Gore was an unconventional yet successful attempt to break the GOP’s lock on the South. The Senator helped Clinton win a number of border states including Gore’s home state of Tennessee, the first time a Democrat had won there since 1976. Most recently in 2000, Al Gore’s selection of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman was an attempt to carry the battleground state of Florida. Lieberman, who is Jewish, appealed to the many transplanted Jews from the Northeast residing in the Sunshine State.

In order to make the ticket more palatable to a broad spectrum of the country, another important running mate criterion is that of ideological counterbalancing. If a presidential candidate is a staunch liberal or conservative, a moderate is often chosen to counterbalance their “extremeness.” Conversely, if the party nominee is perceived as a moderate, a running mate who better represents the party’s base might be in order.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter, the conservative former governor of Georgia, chose liberal Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale as a way to appeal to progressive Midwestern and Northeastern Democrats. Reagan’s selection of moderate George H.W. Bush helped Reagan broaden his appeal beyond Goldwater Republicans. Bush’s ill-fated choice of Dan Quayle was a nod to the conservative base which never trusted the elder Bush. Finally, Gore’s selection of Lieberman, a conservative Democrat willing to criticize President Clinton’s conduct during the Monica Lewinski scandal, appealed to mainstream voters uneasy about Clinton’s transgressions and Gore’s environmental activism.

Though geography and ideology are important factors, a prospective candidate’s resume is also important, despite examples in American history where the resume has been discounted. As a former member of Congress, Ambassador to China and the United Nations, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George H.W. Bush was very qualified to be president in his own right. The eight year apprenticeship he served as Reagan’s Vice President only strengthened his strong resume. Many other running mates in the modern era from Kansas Senator Bob Dole (Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976) to Joe Lieberman had enough experience in national public office that they could have indeed assumed the duties of president should that have been necessary.

Occasionally, for various reasons, the presidential candidate will need to choose someone that not only meets some or all of the criteria previously discussed, but also is viewed by the American public as having presidential credentials beyond reproach—in other words, an individual who is viewed as a viable presidential candidate in their own right, even if they have chosen not to run themselves. Such an individual is said to possess gravitas—a murky concept connoting a mythical combination of wisdom, experience, and intelligence that would allow the individual to flourish in the presidential role if called upon.

Many pundits spoke of General Colin Powell in this manner, particularly as Republicans increasingly called upon George Bush to dump Dan Quayle from the ticket in 1992 as his campaign fortunes sagged. In 1988, Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis’ running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, was similarly viewed in this light. This perhaps explains why one Democratic elector chose to cast his vote for the Texas Senator instead of Dukakis. Finally, what else can explain Texas Governor George W. Bush’s selection of fellow Texan Richard Cheney in 2000? The selection of Cheney had nothing to do with geography since both men were from Texas (though Cheney later registered to vote in his native state of Wyoming). Nor did ideology factor in since both Bush and Cheney had genuine conservative credentials. Rather, the selection of Cheney was an attempt to calm the fears of those who thought Bush’s qualifications, both in terms of previous political experience and intelligence, did not rise to the presidential level. As a former chief of staff to President Ford, a member of the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1989, and as Secretary of Defense for President George H.W. Bush, Cheney had a resume fit for a president and the respect of most of the political establishment. Despite his controversial tenure as vice president, no one can dispute that he had, and has, gravitas.

The 2008 Veepstakes

As of this writing, neither party nominee in the 2008 election has yet chosen a running mate. However, given the obvious challenges of a post-9/11 world and sinking economy, and given some glaring shortcomings of each party’s nominee, this year’s selection of vice presidential running mates is of crucial importance, not only to the horse race aspects of the campaign but the public policy aspects of governing.

Arizona Senator John McCain will have to contend with the fact that at age 72, he would be the oldest U.S. president ever elected to a first term. Ronald Reagan, elected at 69 and sworn-in at 70, was previously the most aged president. Reagan suffered memory lapses throughout his presidency and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease five years after he left office which will serve as a stark reminder that presidential illness and disability are always a possibility, particular for a septuagenarian president. Beyond the challenge of advanced age, McCain is also distrusted by the conservative base of his own Republican Party. This distrust is the result of his embracing the maverick role in the U.S. Congress for decades and earning a reputation for bucking his own party, even when politically inexpedient to do so.

Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the presumed nominee for the Democratic Party, has the opposite problem. At age 47 and just three years removed from being a state senator in Springfield, it is relatively easy to portray Obama as too inexperienced for the job. Also, with one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, opponents can paint Obama as out of touch with mainstream America.

The challenge for both candidates will be to select individuals that simultaneously boost their chances of winning the election but are also viewed as presidential in their own right. As career legislators, both men lack executive experience so helpful in the White House, thus a running mate with executive experience is logical and perhaps essential. McCain, often viewed as a moderate will likely want to bolster his credentials among the GOP base, perhaps by selecting a conservative Southern governor. Obama will need to increase his allure among moderate and independent voters, particularly since McCain has a built-in advantage there. Perhaps a moderate governor from a battleground state would help Obama broaden his appeal.

Given the fact that a number of presidents have not survived their term, and several have been unable to perform their duties at some point during their presidency, a running mate should be chosen based on qualification first. In a post-9/11 world, the office of vice president is too important to select an individual solely based on electoral or political expediency.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bain and the Political Street Fight

Politico Arena Topic: Should Democrats Stop Bain Capital Attacks?

“They apparently looted the companies, left people unemployed and walked off with millions of dollars. Look, I’m for capitalism, I’m for people who go in to save a company... if somebody comes in takes all the money out of your company, and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that’s not traditional capitalism.” Those were not the words of President Barack Obama but rather Newt Gingrich, one of Mitt Romney’s chief rivals for the GOP nomination, just four months ago. Bain was a major target during the Republican Primary season. So what has changed? Absolutely nothing except that some Democrats are getting squeamish about attacking Romney’s one supposed advantage in the election—his business experience—for fear of angering Wall Street and Corporate America. Here’s a news flash Democrats: they already don’t like you nor trust you, just check the campaign finance records.

The Obama campaign is exactly right to take on Romney’s business credentials by delving into the world of Bain Capital and private equity. After all, Romney touts his business acumen at every campaign stop. And the Obama campaign appears to be on the correct side of public opinion on the issue of wealth in general. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, 56% of Americans agreed that “unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy” was a “bigger problem in this country” compared to 34% who felt “over-regulation of the free market” was a more important problem.

Finally, the notion that it is somehow unfair to examine a candidate’s past record is laughable. After all, a campaign should be about the issues and record/experience that each candidate brings to the table. In 2008 (as will be the case in 2012), the Republican Party and McCain campaign had little hesitation inspecting every vote Barack Obama cast and every public utterance he made as a U.S. Senator or Illinois legislator. Obama’s life as a community organizer and even as a student also came under great public examination. Even Sarah Palin, who took so much issue recently with scrutiny of Bain, did not hesitate as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate to accuse Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and other attacks perceived as way out of bounds and simply not true. If the Obama campaign were to give-in to the criticism and relax its investigation of Romney’s record as a venture capitalist, it would be unilaterally disarming.

It is common practice for campaigns to cry foul and argue that attacks by the other side are unfair. The Obama campaign will certainly do the same. However, a presidential campaign is not a high-minded game of chess played over wine and finger-food but rather a street fight fought in a dark alley with sharp implements for the most important office in the land. And just about anything, from Swiss bank accounts to birth certificates, is fair game.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

The Ohio Presidential Connection

Below is an essay I published in the Winter 2008 edition of Northeast Ohio Municipal Leader Magazine. Although it is four years old, it is still very relevant today.

The Ohio Presidential Connection

“There’s nothing like an early morning rally in the great state of Ohio. I can’t think of a better place to kick off the last day of this campaign.”

--President George W. Bush, November 1, 2004, in Wilmington, Ohio.

Ohio has always played an important role in the presidential election system since achieving statehood in 1803. Because of its size and diversity, both in terms of geography and population, Ohio has been, and will continue to be, a microcosm of the rest of the country. In recent elections, Ohio has been a key electoral battlefield—a must win state for those seeking the presidential office. It’s possible to win the presidency without winning Ohio’s electoral votes; it’s just not likely. Since 1964, no individual seeking the presidency has won the office without winning the Buckeye State and only twice since 1896 has that happened. In fact, no Republican has ever become president without winning Ohio. It is also no accident that eight presidents can trace part of their lineage to Ohio.

The Buckeye Eight

Ohio has a long rich history of playing a vital role in American presidential elections. This is most keenly embodied in the number of presidents and presidential contenders who have had connections to the Buckeye State, earning Ohio the moniker, “mother of presidents.” In 1836, William Henry Harrison became the first Ohioan to win electoral votes in a presidential election and in 1840 was elected as the nation’s first Whig president. Though born in Virginia, Harrison had served in the Ohio State Legislature as well as represented Ohio in both the U.S. House and Senate. Harrison also became the first president to die in office, expiring after only 30 days from pneumonia, likely the result of giving the longest inauguration speech in history without a hat or overcoat during inclement weather.

Union Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, in 1822. He was elected president in 1868, and reelected four years later, beginning a succession of Gilded Age Republican presidents with Ohio ties. Fremont’s Rutherford B. Hayes and Mentor’s James A. Garfield followed in 1876 and 1880 respectively. Hayes, winner of perhaps the most controversial election in American history, became president despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York. A corrupt Electoral Commission reversed the contested electoral votes of three Southern states (Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina), thus handing the election to Hayes with an electoral vote margin of one. Hayes pledged to serve only one term—a term most notable for his ending Reconstruction of the South and ushering in a new era of discrimination that would last well into the latter part of the Twentieth Century. James Garfield, only 49 years old, became the second American president felled by an assassin’s bullet when he was shot by a frustrated office-seeker just shy of four months after his inauguration. Garfield’s murder cut short a promising presidency—the former president of Hiram College, Union General, and U.S. Representative was perhaps the most prepared and most intelligent of all the individuals elected in the Gilded Age. After a four-year respite, North Bend-born Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of William Henry Harrison, defeated incumbent President Grover Cleveland in an exceedingly close election. Harrison lost the popular vote by 90,000 votes but won the electoral vote. In 1892, Cleveland exacted his revenge on Harrison by defeating him in a rematch, becoming the first and only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

In 1896, William McKinley of Canton became the sixth president with Ohio connections, and four years later became only the second Ohioan to win a second term. McKinley continued the streak of bad-luck for Ohio presidents becoming the third U.S. president to be assassinated, this time by an anarchist in Buffalo at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. Eight years later, Cincinnati’s William Howard Taft succeeded the iconic Theodore Roosevelt only to have his predecessor challenge him in 1912, thus ensuring his defeat. Warren G. Harding of Marion was elected eight years later and during his term appointed his Republican predecessor, Taft, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Ohioans couldn’t lose in 1920—Ohio Governor James M. Cox was the Democratic nominee who lost to Harding that year. Harding became another Ohio president who failed to survive his entire elected term, serving just over two years before his death from an embolism while in San Francisco.

Not all of the eight presidents with Ohio connections were the best and the brightest. In fact, some such as the intellectually-challenged Harding were much less than that. However, they all had one thing in common—a lineage traced to electoral vote-rich, yet often up-for-grabs Ohio. In the pre-modern era of brokered conventions and backroom deals, sacrifices were made regarding the qualifications of individuals—instead, strategic considerations based on geography ruled the day.

Though U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft, the son of the 27th president and another in the long line of Ohio Tafts, nearly wrested the GOP nomination away from General Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Ohio’s grip on the White House ended with Harding’s death. A large reason for this is that as the era of the post-1968 primary system was ushered in by both major parties, Ohio’s power during the nomination stage decreased dramatically. This is due to the fact that Ohio’s primary usually occurs later on the calendar when the results are all but official, at least in the recent era of rampant frontloading. Thus in the primary season, Ohio is largely ignored by the campaigns in favor of states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina that are much less representative of the nation as a whole, but are important simply because they are at the head of the line.

This situation is particularly exacerbated in 2008 as the Iowa Caucus will occur January 3, and a scant five days later the New Hampshire primary will take place, both contests occurring far earlier than at any point in history. Ohio lawmakers have not given into temptation and followed the great rush by other states to move Ohio’s primary date to the beginning of the calendar. Because of this, Ohio’s March 4 primary will hold little interest as both party nominees will have likely been chosen long before. However, both campaigns will have all but taken up residence in the Buckeye State as the general election phase will have begun, and few states will equal the attention Ohio will garner.

The Presidential Connection and 2008: An Ohioan as VP?

The 2008 election has brought rampant speculation as to whether or not Ohio’s popular Governor, Ted Strickland, will be chosen as a runningmate by the eventual Democratic nominee. Strickland’s endorsement in November 2007 of Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party favorite, has fanned the flames of speculation. The choice of Strickland as a runningmate makes all kinds of tactical sense. The Lucasville-born Strickland is exceedingly popular with the Ohio electorate with approval ratings consistently hovering between 60% and 70% in his first year. As a moderate Democrat and Methodist minister whose base is Southern Ohio, Strickland appeals more to crucial border and Southern states than any potential Democratic nominee. Strickland has cross-over appeal as evidenced by the support of large numbers of Republicans and independents in his 2006 gubernatorial election, as well as in his easy reelection victories as a U.S. Representative from the 6th Congressional district in Southeast, Ohio. Strickland’s support of Second Amendment rights and his good working relationship with the NRA, who endorsed him in 2006, further increases his across-the-aisle appeal.

And let’s not forget Ohio’s electoral vote bonanza of 20—a total sure to bring victory to any Democrat able to capture it. And this more than anything means Strickland is at or near the top of any short list of potential runningmates. Strickland may well turn down a future offer for the VP slot and has publicly and repeatedly stated that he is “not interested.” However, that won’t quell the speculation. No serious Democratic Party nominee could fail to consider the popular Ohio Governor as a vice presidential runningmate.

Perhaps no election demonstrates the importance of Ohio in the electoral milieu as does 2004. No state was visited more by the major candidates in the nine months leading up to the election. An immense amount of money was spent by both campaigns in Ohio as well as their surrogates. Ohio voters were repeatedly inundated with political advertising, including the infamous Swift Boat ads, throughout 2004. The 2008 election will be no different. In a state carried by President George W. Bush by only 119,000 votes, a mere 2% of the popular vote total, Strickland’s name as part of the Democratic ticket could be just the elixir to make Ohio a blue state for the first time since 1996.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Obama, the Newsweek Cover, and a Changing America

Politico Arena Topic: Does the Newsweek Cover announcing Obama as "The First Gay President" help or hurt Obama's reelection chances?

Well you can bet the Newsweek cover declaring Barack Obama to be the first gay president will make its way into more than one anti-Obama ad. However, I believe it will be a net positive for the Obama campaign going forward. Social and religious conservatives who are appalled by the President’s support for same-sex marriage were never going to vote for him anyway—even if he were the last eligible candidate on the planet. And the drop off in support for Obama among some independents will likely be offset by increased support among other independents and an energized base that, for the first time since 2009, sees glimpses of the hope and change candidate they voted for in 2008.

The fact is that a majority of Americans now view same sex relationships as socially acceptable (54% according to a recent Gallup poll compared to 55% who found it unacceptable just 10 years earlier). And 50% of Americans now think same-sex marriage should be legal. The GOP is out of step with America on this issue and will be increasingly at odds as the trends are moving toward even greater acceptance. The real key for Obama is that young people (18-34) are overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriage with 2/3 supporting it according to Gallup. This is absolutely an issue that could energize younger folks to get out and vote for Obama which will help him compete in many of the battleground states in 2012.

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Neptune Spear, Politics, and the 2012 Election

The Osama bin Laden killing is an absolute net positive for the Obama administration and should be highlighted as evidence of President Barack Obama’s leadership on national security matters. After all, Republicans and the Republican primary candidates have been criticizing Obama’s foreign and national security policy for months and it is appropriate for the Obama campaign to respond to those attacks. What better way to do this than to show a contrast between Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney using Romney’s own words against him?

And to the complaint by Republicans that the Obama campaign is “turning a unifying event into a divisive political attack”: in 2004, the Bush reelection campaign did not hesitate using the events of 9/11 for campaign purposes. Who can forget Vice President Richard Cheney warning that a vote for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was asking for another 9/11: It’s absolutely essential that…on November 2nd, we make the right choice, because ifwe make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again.” And perhaps the most powerful ad of the 2004 campaign featured President George W.Bush hugging and comforting Ashley Faulkner, an Ohio girl who lost her mother in the attack on the Twin Towers.

So, yes the Obama reelection campaign should milk the very successful bin Laden killing for all it’s worth. The fact remains that after eluding justice for almost a decade, it was President Obama who made the difficult call to green-light Operation Neptune Spear. Not all commanders-in-chief would have made the same tough decision.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obama's GSA-Inspired Headache

Politico Arena Topic: Vegas Spending Spree an Administration Embarrassment?

The General Services Administration Vegas spending spree may not be a migraine for Democrats and the Obama administration yet, but it’s definitely a big headache. Anytime a Federal government scandal happens, the president in charge gets blamed regardless of how complicit they are. And a scandal involving a government agency wasting taxpayer money plays directly into the narrative that Republicans love to tout about Democrats—that they are big government-loving, money-wasting, free-loaders. And what better way to corroborate this in the minds of critics than by throwing a huge Las Vegas kumbaya-get-in-touch-with-your-feelings-and-build-our-team-tax-payer-funded-fantasy-trip for GSA employees? (Too bad they didn’t hire a mind-reader to read the public reaction if this went public).

The Obama administration has to exercise massive damage control at this point. A slew of very public denouncements and firings needs to happen—sooner rather than later. With the Secret Service prostitute scandal also making headlines, the Obama administration has to demonstrate it has no tolerance for this kind of behavior, has no empathy for the perpetrators, and is in control of the Federal government. Failure to contain the fallout would make it a bigger part of the presidential campaign—something the Obama campaign will desperately want to avoid because this an issue they lose.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

For the Record: Josh Mandel, Akron Press Club, and the Campaign Fishbowl

Over the course of the year, the Akron Press Club has hosted events by both major party candidates for Ohio’s U.S. Senate election occurring in November 2012. On January 6, incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) spoke to the Press Club; on March 1, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, the soon-to-be Republican nominee, announced his candidacy at the Press Club. As a former VP for Programs and current member of the Akron Press Club board, I moderated both the Brown and Mandel events.

Following the Mandel event, media reports surfaced that the Mandel campaign attempted to prevent opposition trackers from recording Mandel’s speech to the Press Club. Since I was present at the event and since questions continue to be raised, I wanted to post, for the record, my thoughts about what transpired.

Mandel's staffers acted unprofessionally and were clearly trying to intimidate the folks that came to record the event. The Mandel campaign tried to prevent one individual from entering the room until I intervened, and also tried to obstruct the views of two of the cameras with their heads and by holding up pieces of paper until I told them to stop. I explained to Mandel’s staff that the Akron Press Club was an open forum and that the Press Club was also recording the event and would be putting that video online ASAP. And those individuals that came to record the event, by the way, despite what the Mandel campaign has said, did not try to disrupt anything—in fact they did not say a word while they were recording nor did they ask for help while they were being harassed. And I know this because during Mandel's speech, I was standing in the back of the room as all this occurred.

It is the policy of the Akron Press Club that anyone can record audio or video of our events. Period. Had Mandel-affiliated trackers been sent to record Sherrod Brown’s appearance on January 6 and been met with the same kind of treatment, I would have made sure that they were able to record freely and without interference. The Mandel Campaign knew going into the event that the Press Club is an open forum and that anyone who wished to record could do so (the only thing that would be prohibited would be having lunch—unless they paid for it). When Mandel’s campaign staff tried to block one of the trackers from entering the room, I reminded them of the policy. They then proceeded to continue to try to block the recording after I told them they couldn't. Huffington Post published a story about the incident and what you see near the end of the Huffington Post video is the second time I had to speak with them to tell them they couldn’t do that.

Running for office, especially a U.S. Senate seat, is a very serious thing. Congressional candidates and campaigns should not expect that their words uttered in an open forum are somehow private or not privy to public scrutiny. Ultimately, they are operating in a fishbowl. Attempting to prevent video and audio recording of a candidate speaking in a public forum is a losing proposition and does not reflect well on the campaign or the candidate—especially when a campaign is fully aware that such recording is permissible. It makes the campaign look amateurish and not fully confident in their own message or candidate.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mitt Romney: An Etch A Sketch Candidate in an Era of Permanent Ink

Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch moment may be the defining moment in what can only be described as a tumultuous primary season. Romney’s longtime aide Eric Fehrnstrom caused a firestorm of criticism for his boss when he said on CNN that the general election offered a chance to hit the “reset button for thefall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You cankind of shake it up and we start all over again." When scholars perform their post-mortem of the 2012 campaign, they may be able to point to the Etch A Sketch moment as the precise point in time when Mitt Romney lost the election.

Fehrnstrom’s comments are both illustrative and important in two very different ways. First, Etch A Sketch may well be the last straw for many conservatives who already do not trust Romney. Whether it is Romney’s Mormon faith, the moderate policy positions he cultivated as Massachusetts Governor, or the air of inauthenticity that clings to Romney like an ill-fitting suit, conservatives have never embraced him. The Etch A Sketch comments validate the feeling among conservatives that Romney has no core, that he is a political chameleon who will do or say anything to win, that he is not one of them. Etch A Sketch may not cost Romney the nomination, but it could very well cost him the general election should he be the Republican Party nominee. The first order of business for any presidential campaign is to turn out the base in November. And if part of the GOP base decides to stay home rather than vote for their party’s candidate that they view as a charlatan, especially in crucial battleground states like Ohio and Virginia, Romney cannot win.

Secondly, the Etch A Sketch comments reveal that the Romney campaign is utilizing a playbook that is outdated in the 21st Century. There is no reset button in presidential politics—not anymore. The ubiquity of social media means that the lines drawn on the Etch A Sketch during the primary season are drawn in permanent ink. You can shake the toy as much as you like but the lines will still be there. Every event is recorded. Every speech, every public utterance, every awkward joke lives on in perpetuity, only one Google search away from being the next viral campaign ad run by the opposition. I’m pretty sure that the Obama campaign is adept at navigating that series of tubes we call the Internet, collecting for later use every Romney misstep, gaffe, and controversial statement from tree height to Cadillacs to Planned Parenthood. In 2012, a candidate can no longer tack to the extremes of their party during the primary season only to sprint to the middle during the fall campaign without repercussion. The social media microscope—often primed by a well-conceived 140 character tweet—makes that impossible.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mitt Romney: Trouble Signs Ahead

Politico Arena topic: Does Romney's Win Make the Nomination Clearer?

Mitt Romney’s win certainly helped boost his chances of securing the GOP nomination. Illinois represents his first convincing victory in a large industrial state—the kind of battleground state Romney would need to win in a general election matchup against President Barack Obama (though Obama should be able to carry Illinois easily in November). But underneath the veneer of his Illinois win rests some continuing trouble signs. According to exit polls, Romney lost the white evangelical vote once again to Rick Santorum. Evangelicals compose much of the Republican Party’s base across the United States—a base Romney must turnout in droves in November if he is to defeat Barack Obama, especially in battleground states like Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia. But evangelicals have yet to embrace him. Romney also lost among protestants who attend church weekly, those that maintain that the religious beliefs of the candidates matter a great deal, those who said they were looking for a true conservative, and those that said they wanted someone with strong moral character.

Is this enough to sink Romney’s nomination campaign? That’s not likely at this point as his superior organization and deep pockets give him an advantage in the delegate count in what has become a nomination season marathon. However, in the general election, a party’s nominee has to motivate the base and it is not clear whether the GOP base will be motivated by a guy that they don’t view as a true conservative. A certain percentage of those base voters, though they are unlikey to cast their ballots for Obama, may stay home on election night—a situation Romney could not afford in so many of the swing states he would need to carry.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Rush Limbaugh and the Death Spiral of Incivility

Politico Arena Topic: Has the 'War on Women' Gone Too Far?

Rush Limbaugh crossed the line last week with his offensive statements about Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law Student and Democratic activist. But crossing the line is nothing new for Limbaugh—he has a long and sordid history of attacking women, minorities, and Democrats. The guy is a school yard bully with a large megaphone.

I am heartened by the fact that many of his advertisers have pulled their ads—they clearly saw Limbaugh’s venom affecting their bottom line. Some like Carbonite CEO David Friend saw the moral debauchery in Limbaugh’s comments noting that Limbaughoverstepped any reasonable bounds of decency.” However, I am disappointed but not surprised that so many of Limbaugh’s fellow conservative commentators have not only stood by his side, but have chosen to follow Limbaugh’s lead in attacking Ms. Fluke and women in general.

And where has the Republican Party been? Some, like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have belatedly criticized Limbaugh’s comments, but GOP lawmakers are not exactly sprinting to the microphone to publicly repudiate him. As George Will said Sunday on This Week, “Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran,but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.” To top it off, we get Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential front runner, who gives Americans a half-hearted—“it’s not the language I would have used”—in discussing Limbaugh’s discourse. (So what language would he have used? Harlot? Strumpet?) What a tremendous missed opportunity. Romney could have demonstrated his moral backbone by publicly smacking Limbaugh. But Romney, like many in the GOP, are simply afraid of offending Limbaugh’s mythical audience or being on the receiving end of Limbaugh’s future tirades.

Perhaps what is most disheartening is this episode demonstrates once again that our politics are gripped by an ugliness and mean-spiritedness that pushes the bounds of basic decency. As a country, we seem to be in a death-spiral of incivility that wounds the body politic and makes it increasingly difficult for our institutions to govern. Politicos and members of the media across the ideological spectrum will need to publicly and forcefully repudiate the destructive speech of personalities like Rush Limbaugh in the future if we are ever, as a country, to escape the spiral.

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