Democrats Take Over Charlotte

Posted September 4th, 2012 at 5:05 pm (UTC+0)

President Barack Obama’s campaign for re-election goes into high gear this week at the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is shown here leaving the White House for a campaign event Sept. 4. Photo: AP

But Can They Keep the White House?

After a week at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, the Democratic Party encampment here in Charlotte, North Carolina seems like another world.

On Monday, the party held a kind of giant street party downtown, complete with musical acts, yoga demonstrations and play areas for kids.  And of course, it wouldn’t be a Democratic Convention without booths for union representatives and health care advocates also set up along the way.

One guy hawking memorabilia about President Barack Obama says he sold more items in two hours on the first day in Charlotte than he did all last week near the Republican conclave in Tampa.  But then who had the bright idea to try and sell Obama stuff to the Republicans?


Democrats Seem Upbeat

At least the Democrats are putting on a good face.  The public opinion polls continue to show a very tight race, though I think everyone is still waiting to see just how much of a bounce, if any, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his crew got from the party’s convention in Tampa.

The Democratic delegates I’ve talked to here in Charlotte seem fairly confident, including one guy in West Virginia.  He says the president has gained five points on Mr. Romney in the past few weeks.  Too bad he’s still 14 points behind in West Virginia!  Beware over-exuberant delegates, my friends.


They Are Sure Are Nice Here

Everybody is struck by how polite and solicitous the locals are here in North Carolina.  Delegates from across the country are strolling into the welcome arms of southern charm all over “the Queen City,” and getting quite a kick out of it.  Of course, some of us from the northeast aren’t used to people saying, “Good morning” and “How are you doing?” at every turn, but it beats the alternative.

The people of North Carolina do seem proud to be hosting this event and anxious to put on the best possible show.  So far, the only thing that seems to be dampening spirits are the reliable afternoon thunderstorms that send delegates and media scurrying for cover.  So what happens if it pours Thursday night when President Obama delivers his acceptance speech outdoors in the local football stadium?  Doppler weather radars will be active and fingers will be crossed.


Waiting for Mr. Obama

Four years ago, Democrats walked or were bussed to a football stadium in Denver in the climactic act of the 2008 Democratic convention, Mr. Obama’s speech accepting the party’s presidential nomination.  Like a scene from the Bible, party faithful lined up for hours waiting to go in and listen to “The One.”  Well, “The One” is back this year and needs their support again, but the luster is off just a bit, even with Democrats.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured here during a visit to Indonesia Sept. 4, is being mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. Photo: AP

Many I’ve talked to want to hear a cogent defense of the past four years and, more importantly, a clear road map as to where Mr. Obama wants to take the country over the next four years, especially when it comes to jobs and the economy.  Democrats know that a good speech from the president would help him a lot in November and could get his supporters re-energized for the upcoming campaign.

Democrats are confident but also curious: what will Mr. Obama say to those who were so invested in him four years ago but who now feel a sense of disappointment?  They want to be inspired again, even though it won’t be like 2008.  I get the sense they know nothing will be like 2008 ever again.


Looking Ahead (already) to 2016

No matter what happens in the balloting on November 6th, Democrats will be in the market for a new crop of presidential contenders four years from now.  But that group could easily include previous candidates like Vice President Joe Biden and especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Vice President Joe Biden also may be pointing to a presidential run in 2016. He is shown here campaigning in Green Bay, Wisconsin Sept. 2. Photo: AP

Fifty percent of the delegates at this year’s convention are women and they remain solidly behind President Obama. Many, however, remain big fans of Hillary Clinton and would jump in line to support her in a nanosecond if she decides to run in 2016.

Still, four years is a long way off and some of the younger Democratic White House aspirants will get their moment in the spotlight this week.  Among them are Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, who some Democrats hope might turn out to be “the next Obama.”

Just as the Republicans did in Tampa, a subtext in Charlotte this week will be the auditioning of a new generation of future Democratic leaders. For many of them, this will be their first shot at national exposure.

After all, we are only eight years removed from the Democratic keynote speaker of the 2004 convention, an obscure state senator from Illinois with the unusual name of Barack Obama.



Romney Takes the Spotlight

Posted August 31st, 2012 at 2:32 pm (UTC+0)

Mitt Romney celebrates after getting the Republican presidential nomination at the party’s convention in Tampa, Florida, Aug. 30. Photo: AP

Vows to Restore the Promise of America

Mitt Romney tried to do something Thursday night he doesn’t always do very well.  He tried to show America and the world who he really is and what he’s made of.

In the speech of his life, Mr. Romney vowed to grow the economy, create jobs and “restore the promise of America” if elected in November.  But it was the personal side people were looking for, and how much of a convention bump the Republican nominee gets could depend to a large extent on whether people feel they are getting to know him better.

Mr. Romney did a credible job of delivering his speech and brought the delegates to their feet several times with rousing condemnations of President Barack Obama and his administration’s and promises of a better future.  It’s worth checking to see what kind of a bump in the public opinion polls the Republican ticket gets coming out of their convention and whether Mr. Romney’s speech will stir support not just among Republicans, but undecided swing voters as well.


Clint Tries to Make Mitt’s Day

To be sure, Mr. Romney got some help from a rising star from Florida, Senator Marco Rubio, and a fading star from Hollywood, Clint Eastwood.  Speaking of Clint, his skit was a bit of a mind-blower. It was more than strange to watch him standing on the podium talking to an empty chair in what was supposed to be an imagined conversation with President Obama.

Actor Clint Eastwood talks to an empty chair as part of his appearance at the Republican Party convention in Tampa, Florida, Aug. 30. Photo: AP

The imagined conversation was, shall we say, a little disjointed.  It seemed to veer toward a TV comedy show skit that ends with a guy in a white coat gently coaxing him offstage.  As Clint talked to the chair, I half expected to hear a voice from backstage cry out, “Hey Clint, I’m over here!”

But at the end of the night it was Mitt Romney center-stage, a one-time moderate who governed liberal Massachusetts and now leads a Tea Party-infused Republican Party that seems to slide further right each year.

In some ways Mitt Romney is an odd fit for this party.  But if he can find a way to make himself personally more appealing to voters by November 6, he just might be able to deliver the one thing that motivates Republicans day and night — denying Barack Obama and second term and taking back the White House.


Revved Up at the RNC

It’s pretty clear after a week of listening to Republicans carry on about the faults of President Obama that this party is pretty unified in its determination to deny him a second term in November.  That was the driving force in the Republican primary campaign this year and became the rallying cry on the convention floor night after night here in Tampa.

The Republicans may be outwardly confident, but I detected a bit of uncertainty just below the surface.

Mitt Romney prevailed against some more conservative alternatives in the primaries because he effectively won the race to become the Republican most likely to beat President Obama.  He did not win because he established himself as the new conservative icon in the mold of Ronald Reagan.

In fact, when discussing this point with Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, he acknowledged that Mr. Romney is “not Ronald Reagan,” but then quickly added, “Who else is?”

I also got the sense talking to people here that no matter how much they dislike President Obama and his policies, they have this sneaking suspicion that the president could still pull the election out because he is seen as more likeable by voters.  I think if Mr. Romney does lose in November, the Republican Party is headed for a rather chaotic period of searching for new leaders that could put the spotlight on a younger generation that includes the likes of Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez.


Immersed in Republican World

You see and hear some strange things roaming around the convention hall and especially the area they call “Radio Row,” which is located near the large media workspace area.  Day in and day out, various Republican politicians, commentators and even a few Hollywood celebrities make the rounds of a few dozen booths containing predominantly conservative talk show hosts who welcome them to their programs with open arms.

One minute Senator Mitch McConnell strides in.

Over in the corner is a small scrum of reporters interviewing a relatively obscure congressman.  You think you’ve seen his face but have no idea who he is.  And then over on the right is the actor Jon Voight, ardent Republican and Tea Party favorite.

Down the hall, Ann Coulter holds court and tells one reporter she doesn’t like his question about what Mitt Romney “has to do” in his acceptance speech for it to succeed.

President Barack Obama, pictured here in Charlottesville, Virginia Aug. 29, gets to reply to Republican campaign charges at the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this coming week. Photo: AP

As the Coulter interview ends, two young Republican guys rush up to her to let her know that Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is just down the aisle doing media interviews.  They seem offended at the sight of the head of the Democratic Party encroaching on their convention, and their tone suggests they’d like Ms. Coulter to do something about it.  But she’s too busy moving on to the next talk show booth, and one potentially volatile political confrontation is averted, at least for one day.

Radio Row draws in the faithful like catnip, hoping to get a quick glimpse of Republican Party rock stars and maybe a quick handshake or, if they are really lucky, a photo. I saw one guy earlier in the week strolling through the rows of conservative talk show hosts with a big smile on his face and cell phone pressed to his ear.  I couldn’t help but note how excited this gentleman was when I overheard him say, “Yeah, honey, it’s amazing.  There are like no liberals here anywhere!”

The other side of the coin begins Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina when the Democrats open their national convention to nominate President Obama for a second term in office.







Romney Time in Tampa

Posted August 30th, 2012 at 5:16 pm (UTC+0)


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tunes up for his speech to the party nominating convention Aug. 30, for speaking the day before, Aug. 29, at an American Legion gathering in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo: AP

No doubt about it, this is the most important speech of Mitt Romney’s political life, at least so far.  On his second try for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, a disciplined Mitt Romney took on one conservative challenger after another this year and emerged victorious.  For the second election cycle in a row, a Republican Party that is moving to the right has nominated someone with moderate roots.

This party may never come to love Mitt Romney, but he is their standard bearer now and party operatives will apply maximum pressure to make sure the rank and file party faithful get behind Mr. Romney, even if it’s only because they’ll do anything do defeat President Obama.


Big Moment But Will He Step Up?

Mr. Romney has been building toward this moment for decades and like so many politicians, it began with defeats.  In fact, most of the truly successful national politicians usually have one early defeat on their resume, and those defeats often provide valuable insights down the road.

Mitt Romney took on Democratic icon Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts in 1994 and even though he lost, he made a favorable enough impression with some voters that he was able to win the state’s race for governor in 2002.  Four years ago, though well financed and organized, Mr. Romney lost out to John McCain and learned some tough lessons about what it takes to appeal to the conservative base of the Republican Party, especially for a former moderate from Massachusetts.

But even hardcore Republicans here in Tampa acknowledge that the Romney acceptance speech has to be more than just a bashing President Barack Obama’s economic record and a laundry list of what the Republican candidate would do as president.

More than any time in his political career, Mitt Romney has to pull back the curtain and let Americans see more of who he really is, what he stands for in his core, and why they should entrust him with the highest office in the land.


Ryan as Attack Dog

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan made his national debut as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate Wednesday with a partisan speech that got the delegates up on their feet several times.  Ryan is used to the partisan thrust and parry of the House of Representatives, but he’s on a bigger stage now and most voters have yet to form an opinion about him, something both parties will work on for sure.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan gets party members on their feet cheering Aug. 29 by criticizing President Barack Obama. Photo: AP

Ryan got off some good lines about the disappointment many people feel about President Obama’s economic record and really roused the conservative base in the room with his aggressive attacks on government spending and the need to cut the deficit.  But Democrats have been hammering Ryan about what they say are some misleading and false attacks in his speech.

One that may be tough for him to defend is a suggestion in his speech that the president was responsible for the closing of General Motors auto plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, in December of 2008.  Problem with that is Mr. Obama didn’t take the oath of office until January 20th, 2009.  Oops.

Ryan is a fresh face among the GOP faithful this year and could have a bright future no matter which way the election goes in November.  But a big part of his task in the weeks ahead will be to serve as Mitt Romney’s main attack dog, and that role always carries peril for an ambitious politician looking to build a national constituency.

Re-introducing Mitt Romney

Posted August 29th, 2012 at 4:37 pm (UTC+0)

Republicans Hope to Humanize the CEO

The heart of the Republican Party’s convention effort is now underway here in Tampa, Florida and for lack of a more graceful way to put it, it’s now all about selling presidential nominee Mitt Romney to the American people.

The Tuesday night speeches were designed as a one-two punch of sugar and spice, starring Ann Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Ann Romney spoke about her husband, her family and her health struggles in very personal terms that clearly seemed to have an emotional impact on a number of the delegates in the hall.

Ann Romney, seen by many as her husband’s “secret weapon” in the presidential campaign, speaks to the Republican convention Aug. 28. Photo: AP

The Romney campaign sees Ann Romney as a kind of secret weapon than can blunt the Obama campaign’s overwhelming advantage with women voters, an edge that has kept the president in a slight lead in the national polls and in some key battleground states like Ohio, Michigan and even Florida.

The question is whether Mrs. Romney will have broad enough appeal beyond the Republican Party and can lure in some of those undecided women voters they need to narrow the gap in the public opinion polls.

Ann Romney made a good start on Tuesday, but the pressure is now on her husband to follow up in his acceptance speech Thursday and tell the country more about who he is personally and what his core is.

It’s important for Mitt Romney because his political career has seen a lot of zigging and zagging, from moderate governor of Massachusetts to leader of a party that has moved steadily to the right in the last several years.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie revs up Republican delegates at their convention Aug. 28. Photo: AP

As for Governor Chris Christie, he had his moments of humor (though I expected a little more of that, actually) and he knows how to wield the sword when going after his opponents. But much of the speech was all about Christie, perhaps confirming what his critics like to point out is his (careful, here it comes) “outsized ego.”

Christie didn’t get around to mentioning Mr. Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, until well into his speech and that caught some Republicans by surprise.

I still get the sense here that Republicans are trying whip up enthusiasm for Mr. Romney.  Having covered rallies by Tea Party conservatives since 2009, having watched the Republicans make huge gains in the 2010 midterm congressional elections and having covered the Republican primaries and caucus votes this year, there is no doubt this party is excited about the prospect of defeating Barack Obama in November.

I’m less convinced that enough Republicans truly believe that Mitt Romney is the right man to get the job done.


Presidential Casting Call for 2016 (or 2020)

One after another, the Republican Party’s crop of future leaders paraded before the convention Tuesday in what many insiders saw as public auditions as potential presidential contenders either four years from now if Mr. Romney loses, or in 2020 if he’s lucky enough to win two White House terms.

At the top of the list for the moment is the party’s vice presidential candidate this year, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Ryan has long been seen as a future conservative leader in the House of Representatives, though the budget plans he’s authored as House Budget Committee Chairman have drawn fierce attacks from Democrats.

If Ryan does well this week at the convention and during the presidential campaign, and if Mr. Romney comes up short in November, Ryan would be near the top of the list of potential contenders for 2016.

Chris Christie obviously relished his role in delivering the keynote speech Tuesday night and may have won over some of the delegates who might be president-shopping four years from now.

But Christie has a temper and can be volatile at times on TV, something that could put moderate voters off.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, shown here with Mitt Romney at a rally in Miami Aug. 13, will introduce the Republican presidential nominee at the party’s convention Thursday, Aug. 30. Photo: AP

Another possibile future leader speaking at the convention this week is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who will introduce Mr. Romney on Thursday. Rubio is seen as a possible breakthrough candidate for the Republicans because his Cuban-American background could attract some Hispanic voters, potentially cutting into a huge advantage for Democrats.

Others with featured speaking roles who could contend in 2012 or beyond include former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, a favorite of social conservatives who ran hard against Mitt Romney in some of the party’s presidential primaries, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who so far has little visibility nationwide.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is being treated like a conquering hero here after beating back the recall attempt in Wisconsin and could find instant support from economic conservatives in the party should he run in 2016.









Republicans Ramp up in Tampa

Posted August 28th, 2012 at 6:03 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Bad weather from Hurricane Isaac delayed business for a day at the Republican Party’s national convention in Tampa, Florida. Photo: Reuters

 Delegates Ready for their Close-up but is Romney?

Republicans had hoped to be blown away this week by Mitt Romney’s speech, not Hurricane Isaac. The storm forced a one day delay in the Republican Party’s national convention in Tampa, Florida and got people thinking about the weather instead of presidential politics.

Even so, the Republican delegates here are trying not to be blown off course. They’re known for orderly political conventions run by a tight party establishment, and Mitt Romney fits the mold of recent Republican presidential nominees like George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992, Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

But when you think about it, who would have imagined that a formerly moderate Senate candidate and governor from Massachusetts named Mitt Romney would one day wind up as the leader of a Tea Party-infused Republican Party that skews well to the right on social issues and often takes a stand of “no compromise?”


The Mood in Tampa

Delegates in Tampa were upbeat and anxious for the main convention events to get underway after the delay caused by Isaac.  Republicans had been gearing up for this week for the past year or so, barely able to contain their excitement over the prospect of denying President Barack Obama a second term.  It seems they are better able to contain their excitement when it comes to personal enthusiasm about their standard-bearer, Mitt Romney.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his wife Ann and grandson Joe arrive in Tampa Aug. 28 for the Republican Party’s nominating convention. Photo: AP

Romney has two objectives this week in Tampa.  One is to reignite the Republican base, including the Tea Party types and social conservatives, some of whom feel a little left out with all the campaign focus on the economy.  The other one, which is a little tricky given the first, is to find a way in his acceptance speech to reach out to moderate swing voters who have not yet made up their minds, and to present more of his real personality to the nation.

Romney has cast himself as economic “Mr. Fix It,” but has had trouble connecting with voters in a personal way, and that includes many Republicans.  In addition, the barrage of Obama campaign attacks on him as a rich, cold, out of touch CEO type have also contributed to a dip in his favorability ratings, something the Democrats are quick to point out at every turn.


Radio Row is Conservative Heaven

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a favorite of Republican conservatives, arrives in Tampa Aug. 28 for the party’s convention. Photo: AP

They line up every day for a chance to talk to the conservative faithful.  It’s known in the convention work area for journalists as “Radio Row,” a few dozen booths set up for national and local conservative talk radio hosts from around the country who offer a kind of carnival barker sideshow event that draws in Republican politicians and party activists in droves.

One moment you’re chatting with former Romney rival Herman Cain. The next minute Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann walks by, and the chase begins for a 90 second interview as you speed walk with her to her next interview appointment.  It can be fun and a bit chaotic.

Talk radio is like catnip to conservatives, especially those with future political aspirations.  It’s an important way to build a national following among conservative groups like the Tea Party or even among the social conservative activists who are always looking for the next generation to pick up the ball and run with it.

More on some rising Republican stars in my next post…

Republican Convention Preview

Posted August 22nd, 2012 at 9:04 pm (UTC+0)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan campaign in North Carolina this month as their quest for the White House rolls toward the party’s national convention next week. Photo: AP

Romney’s Moment in the Spotlight

The Republican Party National Convention begins Monday in Tampa, Florida and this is probably the most important Republican convention since the year 2000 when then-Texas Governor George W. Bush made his case to the nation.

The public opinion polls show Mitt Romney within striking distance of President Barack Obama as the president seeks a second four-year term.  But given the weak state of the economy and the dismal voter attitudes that show up in the polls, shouldn’t Romney be doing better?  Polls show people don’t like the president’s handling of the economy, but they do like him personally.  On the other hand the Obama campaign has done an effective job of trying to define Romney in a more negative light that, in some ways, has put Romney on the defensive on the eve of the party gathering in Tampa.  Among other things, Democratic attack ads have focused on Romney’s wealth and his refusal to release more than two years of his income tax returns.


Romney Makes his Case

Mitt Romney will give his nomination acceptance speech next Thursday, the final night of the Republican convention.  This is his best opportunity yet to reintroduce himself to the American people and make his own case for the White House.

Surveys show that a majority of voters believe Romney would do a better job of dealing with the economy, creating jobs and cutting the size of government.  What’s lacking is a personal connection between Romney and voters, especially those who are not hard core Republicans.

More than any other vote, the vote for president is personal.  It’s not just about the state of the country or who sides with you on key issues.  It’s also about who do you want in the Oval Office?  Who do you want as leader of the free world?

People are jaded about politics in this country, no question about it.  But hope still abides in many that they can be inspired when they go to make a choice for president, even amid all the disappointments that have occurred in recent decades.

Romney comes off as a well-organized, efficient, somewhat cold-blooded CEO whose main interest is in rebooting the economy and getting people back to work.  A lot of people may be willing to buy the theory, but are put off somewhat by Romney’s personality and a seeming inability to instill passion and inspire voters with soaring rhetoric and a thought-out vision for the future.

Of course, many Republicans argue that is one of the things that got Barack Obama elected four years ago, and look where we are now.  But many Republicans do acknowledge that Romney has a ways to go yet in actually connecting with voters in terms of whom he really is and where he wants to take the country.

The advantage in this area remains with the president.  But the Republican convention offers Romney his best chance yet to alter that dynamic a bit and at least become more competitive with Mr. Obama on this question.


Abortion a Possible Distraction

One of the more fascinating aspects of the recent controversy involving Missouri Republican Congressman and now Senate candidate Todd Akin is the apparent inability of the national Republican Party and candidate Romney to force him out of the race against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.  Akin offended scores of voters, especially women, and alarmed leaders in his own party with his comments that in cases of what he called “legitimate rape,” women don’t get pregnant because they have biological ways to “shut that whole thing down.”

Congressman Todd Akin, a Republican Senate candidate from Missouri, made abortion a major issue for his party less than a week before the presidential nominating conventions in Tampa. Photo: AP

Akin has apologized for his comments, but so far has resisted Republican calls for him to abandon his Senate bid.  Akin has been a champion of the religious right and anti-abortion activists in Congress and one of the reasons he’s vowing to stay in the race is so he won’t let them or their cause down.  This despite the fact that Romney and his running mate and Akin friend, Congressman Paul Ryan, have both urged him to consider political reality and drop out of the race.

It was a little head-spinning to see how fast Romney and other Republican Party leaders jumped on Akin in hopes of getting him to withdraw, but then the stakes are pretty big.  Missouri is only one of 33 Senate races this year, but Republicans have long counted on a victory there on their way to reclaiming a majority in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow margin at the moment.

The battle over Akin has the potential to become a major sideshow at the Republican convention and to inject the issue of abortion front and center before a national TV audience.  Republicans desperately want to keep the election narrative focused on jobs and the economy and what they argue is President Obama’s signature failure as leader, his inability to help the country recover from one of the worst recessions in memory.

Distractions over social issues like abortion tend to polarize undecided voters who otherwise might be tempted to give Romney a chance to run the economy for the next four years. And it might open up some cracks between the economic wing of the party and social conservatives who seem to have come to a kind of uneasy truce to fall in behind Romney as party leader.  Romney has always had trouble convincing social conservatives he is one of them, thanks mostly to his days as a moderate governor of heavily Democratic Massachusetts.


Conventions Still Matter

They aren’t what they used to be, but the party nominating conventions still play an important role in the election process.  They offer the party nominees an unfiltered opportunity to present their campaign message directly to the American people and they come at a time when many voters are just beginning to focus on the race for the White House.  An estimated 40 million people watched four years ago as Barack Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin spoke at the party conventions.

They also give the parties a chance to present a unified vision of where they would like to take the country over the next four years and to highlight a younger generation of politicians auditioning for future leadership roles in the party.

Young Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton nominated Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic Convention.  Clinton’s droned on so long the delegates gave him mock applause when he uttered the words, “In conclusion…”  But Clinton turned that around quickly when he made light of the reaction to his speech on comedy shows.  Four years later he emerged from the pack as the Democratic nominee and eventual winner against then President George H. W. Bush.

Then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton makes his national political debut at the Democratic Party’s convention in Atlanta, July 21, 1988. Photo: AP

Similarly in 2004, some Democrats were unsure about the choice of little known Illinois State Senator Barack Obama as convention keynote speaker.  The rest, as we know, is history.  This year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio are being highlighted at the Republican Convention as possible future stars in the making.

One more thing, a distracted or poorly run convention can be costly to presidential nominees, while a unified convention that projects well, especially to independent voters, can be an asset.

In 1992, Bill Clinton went into his convention trailing the incumbent, President George H. W. Bush.  Clinton used the convention to reintroduce himself to the country as a moderate Democrat seeking to right the economic ship.  In contrast, the Republican convention that nominated Mr. Bush for a second term got hijacked somewhat by divisive far-right rhetoric from the likes of Bush challenger Patrick Buchanan.  The result was huge bump for Clinton coming out of his convention, while Bush and the Republicans got negative reviews coming out of theirs.

Conventions no longer select nominees like they once did, but they still matter.  And what happens the next two weeks in Tampa and then in Charlotte, North Carolina where the Democrats meet, could easily have an impact in November on what is expected to be a very close election.





2012 Campaign Moves into Overdrive

Posted August 17th, 2012 at 5:08 pm (UTC+0)

It’s Getting Nasty Out There

We’re not seeing a lot of “hope and change” from either side in the U.S. presidential campaign these days.  Mostly it’s been attack, counter-attack, tee-up the next blast and stand back!  At this rate you have to wonder how both sides will make it to election day, November 6th, in one piece.

Some of the recent nasty back and forth featured the always unpredictable Vice President, Joe Biden, warning a largely black audience in Virginia that a Republican victory would have them all “back in chains.”  Mitt Romney’s camp seized on that as racially insensitive, while the vice president insisted he was referring to a Republican campaign promise to “unshackle” Wall Street.

President Barack Obama, shown here campaigning in Davenport, Iowa, speaks out this week against his Republican Party opponent, Mitt Romney. Photo: AP

Shortly thereafter Romney himself urged President Barack Obama to take “your campaign of division and anger and hate” back to Chicago. That was another ratcheting up of campaign rhetoric that probably was at least partly a response to the negative TV ads from Team Obama and its super PAC (Political Action Committee) allies that have had a measure of success in driving up Romney’s negative approval ratings in recent months.

Look, a lot of this simply turns off the public.  Those few voters who are truly undecided don’t usually try to referee which side started the mudslinging.  They just generally want it to stop and get both candidates focused on issues that matter to them like jobs, economic growth and a better future for their kids.


Ryan Pick Shifts the Debate

As we continue to weigh the pros and cons of Romney picking Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, there is little question that his addition to the campaign has changed the focus of the election debate, at least in the short term.

The Romney campaign’s theory of the case has always been to present their man as an experienced business and political leader who knows how to fix the economy.  This assumes the public has already come to the conclusion that Barack Obama is a failed president on the basis of his economic record.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney is firing back at President Obama in party rallies such as this one in Manassas, Virginia. Photo: AP

When pitching this argument to core conservatives, Romney’s advocates like to invoke the memory of Jimmy Carter and his one-term presidency.  But it should be pointed out that Romney has very little need to convince Republican stalwarts that Obama must go.  They’re already unified — not because they are enamored with Mitt Romney as their nominee, but because they really don’t like the president or his policies.

When it comes to making the case to independent, moderate or swing voters, even some who voted for the president four years ago, the Romney campaign likes to take on a sorrowful tone and make a pitch along the lines of: “We were all hoping for something better but it just didn’t work out, so it’s time to try someone else.”

So given that Romney’s chances of winning always revolved around the president’s economic record, job losses and economic growth, now the Republicans have added the dramatic presence of Paul Ryan to the mix.  Ryan has been in the forefront of conservative and Tea Party inspired efforts to restructure government support for social welfare entitlement programs such as Medicare (health care for those 65 and older) and Medicaid (health care for the poor and disabled).


A Shift in Emphasis

Putting Ryan on the ticket is, at least in the short term, shifting the election debate from who can best revive the economy and create jobs to a more complicated and politically risky conversation (for Republicans) about the future of popular entitlement programs like Medicare.  A Kaiser public opinion survey from earlier this year, for example, found that 70 percent of those asked did not want any changes in Medicare.  Some notable Republican strategists, including Karl Rove in The Wall Street Journal, argue the party can win the debate over Medicare by getting people to focus on the need for long term changes so that the entitlement will be protected for future generations.

But even Rove acknowledges that some Republicans worry that having a fight now about Medicare and other programs where Democrats have had an advantage in the past takes the focus away from what had been the central argument for a Romney presidency — that he is the one to restore economic prosperity and create jobs.

The vice presidential candidates, Joe Biden (L), and Paul Ryan (R), may make a difference in the presidential race. Ryan’s proposals to change Medicare have become a major point of contention. Photo: AP

In addition, there’s some grumbling behind the scenes from congressional Republicans in tough races this year who don’t want to be tied into a general debate over the future of entitlement programs.  If you are in a competitive district with a tough Democratic opponent, the last thing you want is for Medicare to become Topic A in the debate.

At the same time, Republicans believe they have an effective counter-attack in place to push back on Medicare.  They are running ads focused on what they refer to as Obama cuts in Medicare that total $716 billion to help fund the 2010 health care reform law.

Democrats say that figure does not represent any cut in benefits to seniors, but is an attempt to slow the growth of the program over time in an effort to keep it viable longer.  In the short term, this counter-attack could help the Republicans fuzz up the Medicare question and limit some damage.

But the question is will it have a long-lasting impact and is it merely putting off damage from Democratic attacks on Medicare that will take hold down the road.  Too early to tell on that one.


Campaign Dilemma: Base Supporters or Swing Voters?

With our national politics increasingly polarized, there are fewer and fewer true independent or swing voters in presidential elections.  Even though about a third of voters describe themselves as independents, surveys have shown most lean toward one party or the other come election time.  That means the pool of available true swing voters is shrinking, even though both parties and their super PAC allies may wind up spending more than a billion dollars trying to win them over.

In past elections the undecided vote often hovered around 10 percent or more in some cases.  This year experts have estimated it in the area of 3 to 7 percent or so.  With fewer voters open to persuasion in the final weeks, both parties will emphasize getting their core supporters out to the polls, which political strategists like to refer to as a “base election.”

In that sense, the 2012 campaign shapes up as similar to the 2004 contest between then President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry.  The Bush campaign focused on whipping up Republicans that year with less emphasis on winning swing voters.  Most people had already made up their mind on President Bush anyway, so the Republicans actually boosted their own turnout from the 2000 election nail-biter between Mr. Bush and Al Gore.

This year, President Obama has a tall order in reigniting enthusiasm among his supporters for a repeat of the strong Democratic turnout we saw in 2008, when one of his signature campaign slogans was “Hope and Change.”  The Obama folks are paying particular attention to making sure young people, Hispanics and single women come back to the voting booth this year in order to maintain the president’s huge advantages within those voting blocs.







Romney Rallies Republicans with Ryan Pick

Posted August 13th, 2012 at 7:20 pm (UTC+0)

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L), and vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan wave at a rally in Mooresville, North Carolina Aug. 12, hoping their ticket will propel the Republican Party to victory in the November election. Photo: AP

In his own way, Mitt Romney went bold with his choice of Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to join him as the vice presidential candidate on the Republican Party ticket.  After all the talk about Ohio Senator Rob Portman and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Romney decided to pass on vanilla and go right to “Rocky Road,” if you were to compare picking a running mate to choosing an ice cream flavor.

Ryan brings youth (he’s 42), boldness and an articulate and attractive bearing as the Republican vice presidential pick.  Conservatives are thrilled because they love Ryan’s long term economic vision that goes after the debt by cutting the size of the federal government and enacts tax cuts designed to grow the economy, very much along the lines of the Ronald Reagan model of the 1980’s.

Those conservatives who have long doubted whether Romney is really one of them are giving him credit for taking on Ryan when he could have gone with any number of safer picks that would be harder for the Democrats to attack.  Conservatives may never come to love Mitt Romney, but they can fall in love with Paul Ryan even if he’s only the number two on the ticket.


Ryan’s Pros and Cons

On one hand, Ryan will energize Republican Party conservatives to get a little more excited about this year’s election.  Granted they didn’t need much prodding anyway, because the unifying theme for Republicans in the final weeks of the campaign will be to defeat Barack Obama no matter what.  But the addition of Ryan to the ticket gives them an excuse to get really excited in the kind of way they are known to when a true-blue conservative is part of the team — like Ronald Reagan when he ran in 1980.

Ryan should do well in the one vice presidential debate with incumbent Joe Biden.  At least there won’t be the kind of teeth-gnashing Republicans had four years ago before Sarah Palin’s debate with Biden when they were truly worried she would make a gaffe big enough to sink John McCain’s presidential campaign.  This time, the worry might be that Biden will be able to flush out Ryan’s plans to dramatically alter the role of government when it comes to social welfare programs like Medicare, the health care program for the elderly, and programs that help the poor like the Medicaid health care program and food stamps.

In the short term, the Ryan pick looks solid.  Romney seems more energized by Ryan’s presence on the campaign trail, though it appears they will be mostly campaigning separately in the weeks before the upcoming Republican National Convention in Tampa that begins August 27th.  And to the extent that this year’s election turns into a competition to turn out the base vote in each party, the Ryan pick could score with Republicans who have until now been cool to Romney.  Ryan could also help a bit with social conservatives since he has a strong pro-life record in Congress, plus an inspiring self-made family story that includes his overcoming the sudden death of his father when he was 16.

Ryan’s addition to the ticket also puts Wisconsin into play as yet another key swing state this year.  Democrats have won Wisconsin in every election since 1988, though they did so narrowly in both 2000 and 2004.  Some Republicans also hope Ryan’s appeal will spread to other states in the upper Midwest like Iowa and Michigan, but that remains to be seen.


Democrats Ready to Pounce

Democrats have their own reasons to be excited about the Ryan pick.   Democratic Party strategists believe that Ryan’s authorship of two House Budget Committee budget blueprints gives them plenty of political attack ad fodder for the coming campaign.  Some Democrats were crowing that the Ryan choice was the riskiest one politically for Romney because Ryan is so closely tied in to the efforts of House Republicans and Tea Party types to completely restructure the underpinning of the government’s role in subsidizing the social safety net for the poor and the elderly.

Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan shows his proposed federal budget to members of the House of Representatives in April of last year. Democrats hope Ryan’s proposals will help them hold on to the presidency in November. Photo: AP

The Ryan budgets would transform the Medicare program from the current direct payment system run by the government to a voucher program.  Seniors would receive a government payment so they could choose from a variety of private insurance plans to cover their health needs.  This would apply to those who are now 55 or younger. Those now 56 and older would continue with the current system.

By some estimates, the giant trust fund that subsidizes the Medicare program is projected to run out of money by 2024, and even some Democrats acknowledge the need to make some changes to Medicare well before the money starts to go.  But Medicare remains one of the most popular government programs, and older folks are among the most reliable of voters, so Democratic attacks on Ryan aimed at depicting him and Romney as threats to the future of Medicare could bear fruit unless the Republicans can sharpen their response and counter-attacks.

In theory, Democratic attempts to define Ryan could have a political impact in states with higher proportion of older voters — states like Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio and especially Florida, all of which are key battleground states in this year’s elections.  So the Democratic dream here is that Ryan becomes a divisive and polarizing pick that could actually jeopardize Romney’s chances to win some key states that he absolutely has to have in order to have any chance of defeating President Obama.

Another point of Democratic attack could be taxes.  Ryan favors a simplification of the tax code that would eliminate the current structure and create only two new categories of those who would pay 10 percent on the lower end of the income scale and 25 percent for everyone else, which critics charge would be a boon mainly to high income earners who currently pay a higher rate.


Ryan’s Impact on the Campaign

Make no mistake, the addition of Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket makes it more likely that the campaign landscape will broaden in the weeks ahead to a much larger and more substantive debate about the direction of the country and the role of the central government.  Up until now Romney was determined to run a campaign based on the notion that this year’s election was a referendum on President Obama and his handling of the economy only.

To some extent, Romney and the Republicans were hoping they could do a rerun of the 1980 campaign Reagan ran against unpopular incumbent Jimmy Carter. Reagan capped his one and only debate with Carter by asking, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

But in recent months the effective Obama campaign attack machine has been able to shift the focus to Mitt Romney, his business background, his wealth and what Democrats contend is a sense of detachment from the average voter.  New polls right before the Ryan announcement showed Romney trailing the president from 7 to 9 points, an indication that Democratic attacks ads both from the Obama campaign and from various allied so-called “super PACS,”, or political action committees, were taking a toll on Romney’s approval ratings and his strategy.

Ryan’s addition to the Republican ticket now makes it more likely the debate will revolve around big ideas — the role of government, how to save and transform the popular Medicare program, and most importantly, what direction do people want the country to go in for the next four years.

Do they want to stay with the government-heavy Obama approach, or take a chance on returning to a more Reagan-Bush-like approach where the private sector is emphasized and the role of government is diminished?



U.S. Presidential Campaign Enters Crucial Phase

Posted August 9th, 2012 at 8:19 pm (UTC+0)

Romney Has Big Opportunity in Coming Weeks

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!  This is it, folks.  The real drama is about to begin.  After months of nasty back and forth between the presidential campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the battle is for the White House is about to be engaged in earnest and the stakes could not be bigger.

Here is a thumbnail guide to the major campaign events to come over the next several weeks leading up to the election on November 6th.


Romney Picks a Vice President

This will come before the Republican National Convention begins on August 27thand will be important because the choice and decision-making process behind it will tell us something about how Mitt Romney’s mind works.  All the experts predict Romney will make a safe choice, something along the lines of Ohio Senator Rob Portman or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

Did John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, shown together at the Republican convention Sept. 4, 2008, contribute to his defeat in the presidential balloting that November? Photo: AP

There’s been recent speculation the campaign might go for a slightly bolder pick like Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan or Florida Senator Marco Rubio. But the Romney campaign overall is known for its caution and seems determined to avoid the kind of thinking that led John McCain to pick the untested and largely unknown Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate four years ago.

Romney has said repeatedly the top qualification for his pick will be readiness to assume the presidency right away, so that would seem to eliminate most out-of-the-box picks that might appeal to some of the party faithful.  Whomever is chosen, the Romney camp hopes to reignite interest in their candidate and in his campaign just as the political conventions are about to get underway.


Romney’s Moment in the Spotlight

Republicans meet in Tampa, Florida for their nominating convention the week of August 27th, culminating with Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech the night of Thursday, August 30th.  Make no mistake, this will be a huge moment in the campaign not only for Romney and the Republicans but for the entire country.  Convention acceptance speeches are one of those moments in a presidential campaign that offer a huge opportunity, especially for challengers.

In recent months the Obama campaign has gone all out trying to depict Romney in a negative light with a barrage of TV ads, especially in the crucial states where this year’s election will be decided.  The convention speech will give Romney a chance to reintroduce himself to the American public and cut through the blitz of attack ads.

Even though Romney emerged as the presumptive nominee after winning in the party primary elections and caucuses, he has yet to really connect with voters, especially that fairly small pool of undecided voters who will determine the outcome of what is expected to be a very close election.  Romney has to humanize himself, talk about his family, his Mormon religion and his core beliefs.

Americans may be willing to turn Barack Obama out of office, but before they do, many undecided and independent voters are going to want to know what Romney is made of and whether he has “the right stuff” to be president.

I can recall the energy at the 1992 Democratic convention in Madison Square Garden in New York when Bill Clinton gave a rousing speech that whipped up excitement among delegates in the hall and gave television viewers their first lengthy look at the man challenging incumbent President George H. W. Bush.  Clinton trailed going into that convention but his speech and a follow-on bus tour sent him soaring in the polls and he never looked back on his way to victory that November.


President Obama’s Pitch to Middle America

Then Senator Barack Obama accepts the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency in Denver Aug. 28, 2008. His convention acceptance speech helped propel him toward winning the White House that November. Photo: AP

As for President Obama, he’s got a slightly different assignment when it comes to his convention speech.  There is no getting around the fact that the president has a record on the economy that can be tough to defend.  That’s why there have been the negative attacks on Romney trying to make him unelectable, much as the George W. Bush re-election campaign was able to do to Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

The president is going to have to take another shot at convincing Middle America that he’s on their side and that the country can’t afford to turn away from his policies now and take another gamble on Romney for the next four years.

The president, I believe, actually has a trickier task in using his speech to try and convince undecided voters that he deserves another four years.  It can’t be all about attacking Romney, either.  Mr. Obama will have to articulate a vision going forward that acknowledges the economic setbacks of the past four years while at the same time lays out a convincing narrative as to why he should be re-elected and, in a sense, given a second chance.


Debates Likely Crucial

Beyond the party conventions, the stretch run of the campaign really begins and then hits full speed with the first presidential debate, scheduled for October 3rd.  The two presidential candidates will debate three times, with one of the sessions devoted to foreign policy.  The two vice presidential candidates will debate once.

Presidential debates can be crucial, as Richard Nixon (L) learned after his debate with John F. Kennedy in 1960. Photo: AP

Since the election is expected to be close, we can expect the debates to have a major impact on the outcome.  It will be a last chance for voters to see the candidates in action and how they think on their feet.  But it’s not always what they say in the debates that matters, sometimes it’s how they look.

Richard Nixon’s five o’clock shadow in the first 1960 debate with John Kennedy didn’t help him with TV viewers, even though radio listeners gave Nixon the edge.  President George H.W. Bush was caught checking his watch during a debate in 1992, leaving viewers with the impression he was bored and disengaged.  Al Gore’s strange body language in a 2000 debate with George W. Bush and his sighs provided some memorable moments, and not in a good way for the former vice president.

In 1980, challenger Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter had only one debate late in the campaign.  That debate is memorable because Reagan asked voters a key question, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  That turned what had been a close election into a rout in the final days and you can expect that Mitt Romney will try some variation of that in his upcoming debates with President Obama.

Candidates are often wary of the debates, worried about misspeaking, making a mistake or fumbling an unanticipated question.  For those reasons, the debates do provide some potential for the unexpected. And in a close presidential race in the final days, sometimes the unexpected can become pivotal.




Mitt Romney’s Grand Tour

Posted July 26th, 2012 at 5:55 pm (UTC+0)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London July 26 at the start of his visits to Britain, Israel and Poland. Photo: AP

Raising His Profile and Looking for Votes

At first glance, Mitt Romney’s overseas trip itinerary — Britain, Israel and Poland — sounds like a tour for folks on the hunt for religious antiquities.  But in fact Romney is hunting for something else, credibility and votes.

This is Romney’s maiden voyage on the international political stage as a presidential candidate. He’s hoping the meetings he had in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron and former Prime Minister Tony Blair will help make the case that he’s ready to step into the role of a world leader if he wins the presidency in November.

Romney’s attendance at the Summer Olympics in London is also a nice way to remind U.S. voters about his crucial role in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Utah, a part of his bio that is often overshadowed by his business career and tenure as governor of Massachusetts.

Romney’s London stop recalls his role organizing the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. Photo: AP

But Romney got off to a bit of a rough start in London.  He told NBC News that security staffing problems for the London Olympics were “disconcerting.”  That brought a thinly veiled retort from Prime Minister Cameron, who compared the challenges of hosting the Olympics in a bustling city like London with holding games “in the middle of nowhere,” which most people took as a reference to Romney’s organizing work for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics 10 years ago.

Romney was also on the defensive over a story in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper quoting an unidentified Romney adviser saying that President Barack Obama did not fully appreciate the shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage” between the U.S. and Britain.  Romney said he didn’t agree with “whoever that adviser might be.”  Vice President Joe Biden said the reported remarks from a Romney adviser were “a disturbing start” to Romney’s trip.


Israel a Key Stop

Romney has vowed that he won’t criticize President Barack Obama or his policies while overseas, following a long tradition of presidential candidates refraining from politics while abroad.  But Romney’s visit to Israel clearly is intended to highlight a major difference with President Obama over the nature of U.S. relations with the Jewish state.

In Romney’s recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Nevada, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee referred to what he called the Obama administration’s “shabby treatment of one of our finest friends.”  It’s no secret there have been tensions between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a variety of issues.

Romney and his former rivals for the Republican nomination frequently hammered Mr. Obama in debates during the primary elections on how the U.S. was not sufficiently supportive of Israel, especially related to the issue of Iran’s nuclear aspirations.  Romney will meet with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials in Jerusalem as well as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem earlier this month and now he gets a visit from Mitt Romney. Photo: AP

Among those joining Romney in Israel during his visit will be a group of fund raisers and supporters from the U.S., including Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.  Adelson was a big supporter of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the Republican primaries, but quickly switched to Romney once he clinched the Republican nomination.  Adelson is a big advocate of closer U.S. ties with Israel and has pledged to spend upwards of $100 million to help defeat President Obama in November.

Republicans hope that Romney’s stop in Israel will help with two U.S. voting constituencies—Jewish-Americans miffed about the tense relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu and evangelical Christian voters in the United States who always regard loyalty to Israel a key component of U.S. foreign policy.

It should be pointed out that Jewish voters historically have supported Democratic presidential candidates.  They overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in 2008 and recent polls again give the president a healthy lead over Romney among Jewish voters this year.  But Adelson and others hope to persuade Jewish voters in key swing states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania to vote for Romney this year based on the notion that Romney would be a better friend to Israel than Mr. Obama has been.

Romney has vowed to make Israel his first overseas visit if elected President, pointing out by way of contrast that President Obama has yet to visit Israel since he’s been in office.


Last Stop Poland

Romney’s last stop in Poland gives him an opportunity to focus on another major difference with the Obama administration — the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.  Romney has referred to Russia as the “number one geopolitical foe” of the United States and has vowed to reset relations with the Kremlin should he win in November.  A central part of Romney’s foreign policy critique of the Obama record is that the current administration has been too soft on Iran, Russia and China and too hard on Israel.

Poland’s Lech Walesa gets his visit from Romney at the end of the Republican candidate’s tour. Photo: AP

While in Poland, Romney will meet with former President Lech Walesa, still a hero to millions of Americans, especially those of eastern European descent.  Romney’s focus on heavily-Catholic Poland plus an earlier meeting while in the U.K. with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny could have appeal to the huge Catholic population in the United States, a constituency where Obama’s support has eroded somewhat since his election four years ago.  Many Catholic voters of eastern European descent are located in key battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states that tip the balance of the election one way or the other come November.

Of course one of Romney’s main goals is to present himself both at home and abroad as a plausible president, commander in chief and world leader.  Candidate Barack Obama did a world tour of his own back in 2008, shortly after he clinched the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Then-Senator Obama made stops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain.  One of the highlights was Mr. Obama’s speech to an estimated 200,000 Germans in Berlin, which in a sense internationalized his presidential campaign.  Republicans used that image in an attack ad during the 2008 campaign as part of an effort to depict Mr. Obama as more of an international celebrity than a serious presidential candidate.

It was important for then Senator Obama to visit Afghanistan and Iraq four years ago because he had so little foreign policy and national security experience, and the trip did help raise his profile as a potential commander in chief with voters.  Ironically, four years later foreign policy is a key strength for Mr. Obama.  Public opinion polls show the president with a clear advantage on handling foreign policy issues, no doubt in large part because of the successful raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Romney has little foreign policy experience of his own though he did live in France while serving as a missionary for the Mormon Church in the 1960’s.

Romney’s goal here is to be at least competitive with the president on being able to run foreign policy and the military.  He doesn’t have to make the case that he would be better than the president, only acceptable.

Once his trip is over, Romney will return to the core message of his presidential campaign, which is convincing voters that this year’s election should simply be seen as a referendum on Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy.  Polls show if Romney succeeds in framing the choice in November this way, he’ll win.

By the way, speaking of military service, this will be the first U.S. presidential election since 1944 in which neither of the two major party candidates previously served in the U.S. armed forces.  The 1944 campaign featured President Franklin Roosevelt, who was crippled by polio as a young man, and New York Republican Governor Tom Dewey.  Roosevelt easily won re-election to a fourth term but died the following April.




Jim Malone

Jim Malone

After a stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Jim joined VOA in 1983 as a reporter and anchor on English broadcasts to Africa.  He served as East Africa correspondent, then covered Congress in the early 1990’s.   Since 1995, Jim has served as VOA national correspondent responsible for coverage of U.S. politics, elections, the Supreme Court and Justice Department.  Jim has been involved in VOA’s election coverage since the 1984 presidential campaign and has co-anchored live VOA broadcasts of numerous national political conventions, candidate debates and election night coverage.


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