U. hosts Politico debate on election strategy
The debate pitted former Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan and former George W. Bush communications adviser Jim Dyke against Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Jesse Ferguson and former Communications Director for the House Budget Committee Nu Wexler.
Martin covered the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 midterm elections for Politico and reported on the Obama administration during its first year. Last October, Martin and Politico colleagues broke the news that Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain had been accused of sexual harassment.
Before opening the floor up to opening remarks by the speakers, Martin noted the significance of speaking in the Wilson School, named after the last president from Martin’s native state of Virginia.
“History junkie that I am, I couldn’t start a panel at Princeton in 2012 without thinking of 1912, the centennial of Wilson’s election,” Martin said.
Duncan’s introductory remarks highlighted the themes that would reverberate during the debate, including his belief that not enough money is spent on American politics.
Meanwhile, Dyke dove right into his belief that elections with an incumbent, like this year’s presidential election, are typically a referendum on the job the incumbent has done thus far.
“In a referendum election, you look at the job they’ve done and see if you want them to keep doing their job or if someone else can do the job better,” Dyke said.
Like Duncan, Wexler said he saw great poverty around him growing up, but unlike the former RNC head, Wexler said these experiences convinced him to become a Democrat since he believed the government had a role in the taking care of people.
In questions addressed directly to each side, Martin first asked the Republicans how GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney planned to avoid a split in the party with the rise of more conservative elements like the Tea Party.
“The Tea Party’s not an actual party — it’s a movement — and the movement was based on the fact that government is too big, too inclusive and costs too much,” Dyke responded. “There will be a choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. When that framework is put in front of people, those who believe in small, more cost-efficient government won’t be afraid to vote for Mitt Romney,” he said.
Martin asked the Democrats what Obama could do to win.
In his response, Ferguson relied on a motif that would come up again that evening: the weaknesses of his eventual Republican opponent.
“Ultimately, you get two choices on the ballot and you might not agree 100 percent with any individual one, but you have to make a choice,” he said.
When later asked about polls that showed voters trusting Obama and Romney nearly equally on handling the economy despite Obama’s greater personal popularity, Wexler returned to this message.
“In the course of the election, the more people learn about Mitt Romney, the less they like him,” Wexler said.
Martin later steered the topic back to the question of fundraising and advantages Republicans have gained, asking the Democratic debaters how the party planned to respond and how Obama justified accepting donations from super PACs.
“I think the fundamental reason is you don’t walk into a gunfight with a knife,” Ferguson said. “We’re not going to catch up, but what will be fundamentally different from 2010 is there will be a Democratic response.”
“It will be a sharp butter knife,” Martin interjected, eliciting laughter from the audience. He then asked Duncan to explain his earlier assertion that more money in politics would be a good thing.
“Why I fundamentally think there’s not enough money in politics is because we spend so much money on consumerism, but so little on educating people on what the issues are,” Duncan said, also describing a historical advantage Democrats enjoyed in fundraising.
Duncan and Dyke also emphasized that money was necessary to get a message out, but after a certain point, there was no direct correlation between money and winning.
Martin then turned to the strategy of constructing a negative face as an outlet for attacking the other party. He noted that in the 2010 election cycle, there were many advertisements featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and that few of these spots were produced by Democrats.
Martin then carefully refrained from predicting the winner of the election, noting that both parties would undoubtedly choose their own candidate as the winner. Martin said he was hopeful that there would be exciting debates with more evenly matched debaters than had been seen in quite a few campaign cycles.
“It will be a clash of titans. They are good on their feet, they can get a lot of information on their head and they are smart, smart individuals,” Martin said.