Experts discuss Obama and Romney’s campaign tactics in Gaston

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Monday afternoon, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute hosted a bi-partisan panel to discuss the upcoming presidential election. Hundreds of Georgetown students nearly filled the lower seating of Gaston Hall to hear the panel, which featured Dana Bash, CNN’s senior congressional correspondent, Bill Burton, Senior Strategist for Priorities USA Action (an “Obama super PAC”) and former White House deputy press secretary, and Rob Collins, partner at Purple Strategies and former chief of staff for Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne moderated the discussion.

In light of the upcoming elections, GPPI hosted the event to spark discussion and debate. Last week, the Georgetown College Democrats and College Republicans hosted a Republican and Democrat surrogates’ debate. Yesterday’s event was focused less on debate and more on discussion.

The Post’s Dionne first asked each member of the panel to give their view on the state of the election. Dana Bash remarked at how surprising Obama’s current lead on Romney is, given the way things looked for both candidates last winter.

“You definitely feel that the neck-and-neck dynamic of the presidential race has shifted,” Bash said. “If you look at the historical data, no president has won re-election with unemployment as high as it currently is, so the history is not on President Obama’s side.”

Burton attributed Romney’s loss of the early advantage to three main factors. First, the Democrats narrowed the Republicans’ campaign funding advantage to a significant degree by raising a surprising amount of money of their own.

Second, Burton mentioned a “disconnect” between Romney and the voters.

“The story that you’re trying to tell matters,” he said. “On the Republicans’ side, I think it was very hard to tell what the story was.”

Burton continued to say that the Romney campaign spent too much time trying to bring down Obama’s image, and not enough time building up an appealing image of Romney himself.

Finally, Burton echoed a comment made earlier by Bash and pointed out that “candidates really, really matter.” No matter how well a campaign is run, if a candidate makes gaffes and does not appear likable to the public, he or she will not get support. Burton mentioned Romney’s “10,000 dollar bet” remark and his recent criticisms of the “47%” as examples.

With all this talk of Romney digging himself into a huge hole in the election, the bi-partisan discussion seemed very one-sided. Dionne even joked, “Rob [Collins], would you like to add anything to our discussion about how Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election?” After the crowd’s laughter, Collins presented the case for hope for Mitt Romney.

He advised us to “think of candidates like stocks.” Romney may seem to be far behind now, but his “company” (to stick with the stock analogy) has many great assets and ways to gain ground; they must use these as much as they can in the final six weeks before the election to have a chance.

“Looking forward, we do have the debates. Right now, 13% of people who say ‘I’m voting for Romney or Obama’ say they would strongly consider voting for the other candidate, so there are votes in play,” Collins said. “Sixty percent of the voters said they watched either the Democratic or Republican conventions, so people are paying attention. And twenty-two percent said that the debates are either ‘extremely important’ or ‘very important’ to their decision, so there is a lot of flexibility in the electorate.”

In addition to demonstrating just how close this race could be if even a relatively small amount of voters are moved in Romney’s direction, Collins touched on the basic facts and issues that Romney must focus on in the debates to show the advantages of his platform:

No nation has ever borrowed more than their GDP, and not either defaulted or gone into a zombie economy, ever, in the history of the world. We’ve cracked a barrier that is pretty hard to come back from. And, at the same time that we’ve done this, we’ve taken 20% of the economy, and we’ve put a government stamp on it. And the Affordable Health Care Act is a good name, but I think that in twenty years we’re gonna find out that it’s not so affordable.

During the question and answer session, a Hoya from Wisconsin expressed his concern over the intense partisanship he sees, both in his home state and nationwide. He asked the panelists if they see any hope for more bi-partisanship in the future. None of the panelists could predict whether the election itself will be able to generate more cooperation in government, but they voiced their sincere hopes that America’s government will find an agreeable way to handle the tremendous issues it faces.

Photos by Amalia Martinez

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