Panel of nationally known political strategists discuss wide range of presidential campaign issues

The event at the Schiff Conference Center in the Cintas Center drew more than 300 people | October 20, 2008

A panel of nationally known political strategists and experienced campaign managers shared their views in a formal discussion Monday about the presidential campaigns being waged by Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.

Sponsored by Xavier’s Institute for Politics and Public Life, “A Closer Look at Election 2008,” the institute’s inaugural event, featured Donna Brazile, Michael Murphy, Joe Trippi and John Kasich, all of whom have firsthand experience at the highest level of campaign politics.

Brazile managed the Gore-Lieberman campaign in 2000 and chairs the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute. Murphy is a Republican media consultant who has handled more than 26 political campaigns, including McCain’s 2000 presidential bid. Trippi has been a consultant on multiple campaigns including being the national campaign manager for Howard Dean’s presidential bid in 2004. And Kasich was an Ohio state senator and U.S. Congressman, spending 18 years in Washington serving on several committees including the House Budget Committee.

All are regular commentators today on weekly television news shows. At Xavier, before an audience of more than 300 at the Cintas Center, they discussed top election issues such as negative campaigning, the candidates’ experience, the race factor, the Internet, the vice presidential candidates’ qualifications and McCain’s chances of winning. The discussion was moderated by Roger Fortin, Academic Vice President and Provost.

One of the first topics was about negative campaigning and personal attack ads. Kasich said they are a newer phenomenon being practiced by both candidates that is damaging the national political discussion.

“Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil would have knock-down, drag-out fights and then sit down and have a beer,” Kasich said. “It was OK as long as it wasn’t personal. What’s happening today is the nature of campaigning allows for attacks on family and children. It’s making Washington dysfunctional. The politicians are unable to deal with long-term problems because of the viciousness of these campaigns. We adults have to stand up and say enough. Find where you agree with people and take the personal crap out of it.”

On the topic of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s qualifications compared to Joe Biden, Murphy, despite being a former McCain campaign manager, was critical of McCain’s selection of her.

“She may be minimally qualified, but she was a poor choice,” Murphy said. “I worry about her in Washington. In time she has a bright future, but she was a base pick, and we gave away the experience issue. I’m kind of a fan of Obama, but I think in four years, if he wins, people will say, we need some experience in Washington.”

Brazile noted that despite being strong and tough, Palin “has been a polarizing figure on the campaign trail as some of her comments have been distasteful and terrifying to the base of the Democratic party. And she did not reinforce the McCain argument for experience.”

Asked about the possibility of the “Bradley effect” playing out for McCain on election day Nov. 4, referring to the loss by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in 1982 in the gubernatorial election despite polls that put him in the lead, Trippi said it’s not likely to happen again.

“There’s a much better chance that on Nov. 5, we’ll be talking about the Obama effect—the historic turnout and more young people voting. We’ll be talking about the energy of the Obama campaign. By organizing online, they created the most massive get-out-the-vote operation ever in the history of this country.”

Trippi also noted the possibility exists that McCain, who has pulled his campaign out of several states, could still win the presidency by taking the most electoral votes with slim margins in some states while losing the popular vote overall. “There’s no way he could win the popular vote because he gave up on those states. It would be that he won the presidency but lost the popular vote by millions, and I would not want to be trying to lead the country after that.”

Kasich said McCain would win Ohio if the election were held today, and that questions about Obama’s race and experience would be a factor. A lot of the lingering doubts about Obama, he said, remain with members of the working class.

“I’m not convinced he’s closed the deal with blue-collar, working, white Democrats,” Kasich said. “He’s improved with them, but doubts that remain are related to doubts whether he shares their values or gets their problems and for that I think John McCain still has a chance to win.”

Brazile said that divide has more to do with cultural differences than with race. “Could race be a small factor? Absolutely, but I don’t want it said 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King that we’re obsessed with what’s on people’s outsides. Harry Truman said the presidency is the only position that represents all the people so you have to fight for all the people.”

Asked how to reignite the momentum of the McCain campaign, Murphy said since he can’t go back and start over, he’d advise McCain to pitch the current brand, stop blaming the financial crisis for his woes and recast himself in a way that would “move the whole country.”

“I’d do a half-hour TV speech, and McCain ought to be praising Obama, and then he should run as a sheriff going to Washington and sweeping all the corruption away,” Murphy said. “He could become the bipartisan sheriff of Washington. Americans loved the McCain they saw at the Al Smith dinner. There’s no reason why they can’t have more of that.”

Kasich also noted that another reason Obama is ahead in the polls is that Democrats are more comfortable using the Internet than Republicans.

“We need to become more comfortable with YouTube and blogs and the Internet,” he said. “The Internet is absolutely incredible, and Republicans don’t learn how to use it effectively, they need to get sleek and cool with robust messages, or we’re doomed to lose election after election.”

Finally, in a nod to the optimism of former President Ronald Reagan, Brazile said America needs a president who will take a play from him and work to stop the polarization that has taken hold. “I do believe this country needs someone to pull it together, and whoever wins the election needs to reach out to the other and say I need you.”