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.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment 

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.

Permalink to Politico Arena comment

Thursday, March 1, 2012

U.S. Senate Candidate Josh Mandel Speaks at Akron Press Club

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel visited the Akron Press Club today and (officially) announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The Republican from Beachwood spoke at the press club event and then fielded questions. The event was co-sponsored by the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron and the League of Women Voters of the Akron Area. The video from the event is below.

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