A 360 Degree View of Campaign 2012
Charlie Cook, David Leonhardt, Molly Ball, and Ronald Brownstein discuss the 2012 Campaign.
A 360 Degree View of Campaign 2012
THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2012
A 360 DEGREE VIEW OF CAMPAIGN 2012
Doerr-Hosier, McNulty Room,
1000 N Third Street,
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Publisher of The Cook Political Report
Political Analyst, National Journal Group
Washington Bureau Chief, The New York Times
Political Director, Atlantic Media Company
Editorial Director, National Journal Group
* * * * *
P R O C E E D I N G S
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Good morning everybody, good
morning fellow diehards. We are pleased and shocked to
see a room full on the last day. It shows how much
engagement there is in this audience for the election.
My name is Ron Brownstein; I am the editorial
director of the National Journal Group and the political
director of Atlantic Media, your cohosts here with the
Aspen Institute. And we are here on this final day to
offer you, who have not yet had enough analysis of the
campaign, something a little different we hope, what we're
calling a "360-Degree View Campaign 2012." And what we
mean by that is that we want to explore this election from
many different angles to kind of isolate what could be
some of the key factors that tip the result one way or the
You know polling today has pretty much –- we're
actually meeting at a good time because polling has pretty
much converged both nationally and in the states. Pretty
consistently now in polling President Obama holds a lead
of about three points nationally over Mitt Romney, but is
below the 50-percent mark himself. And his approval
rating usually is just below the 50-percent rating as
well, which suggests that today this is a campaign that is
within the reach for either side to win, and as I said a
campaign that will ultimately be tipped one way or the
other by a series of factors.
And what we want to do this morning is focus in
on three of these in particular: the trajectory of the
economy, the demography of the electorate and the tactics
and strategies of the campaigns themselves. And to
explore this for you this morning we have a great panel.
To my immediate right is David Leonhardt, who is the
Washington Bureau chief of the New York Times and a
Pulitzer-prizewinning economic columnist as well. And as
a two-time finalist –- which means loser -- for the
Pulitzer prize myself, I say that with utterly no
MR. BROWNSTEIN: To his right is my colleague at
National Journal, Charlie Cook, the eponymous publisher of
the "Cook Political Report" and one of our premier
analysts not only of presidential elections but
congressional elections, he writes a column every week in
National Journal where I do as well, and as well for our
National Journal daily publications. And we're hoping in
a few minutes we'll be joined as well by Molly Ball from
MR. COOK: I get a prize every time I open a
crackerjack so that puts –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, that's terrific. All
right, so we're going to talk about these three areas in
depth, but I want to start by asking you a broad question.
As we said, today with the polling converged and Obama
pretty consistently slightly ahead of Romney but still,
ominously for an incumbent, below 50 percent. If we're
going to talk about –- these three areas we're going to
talk about today, the trajectory of the economy, the
ultimate makeup, the demography of the electorate and the
tactics of the campaigns themselves including things like
performance in the debates and the kind of conventions
they mount, rank them in your view from the most to the
least significant in shaping the ultimate result.
MR. LEONHARDT: We're going in descending order.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Descending order.
MR. LEONHARDT: Right, so the economy is most
important. There have been only three elections since
World War II, and I may forget one of the three and you'll
help me here, in which the ultimate outcome was not
extremely close to what it would have been predicted by
the direction of the economy in the year before the
presidential election. And those three all have obvious
reasons; it's Watergate, when General Ford did much less
well than you would have expected; it's '68 when the
Democrats did much less well than you would have expected
because of Vietnam; and it's Eisenhower, who had a
personal popularity unlike anybody in public life today.
With those three exceptions, the economy just is
enormously important. Even 2000, people think how did
Gore lose with that great economy. The economy was
slowing really markedly in 2000. And so you look at that
and you look at what the economy is doing now and it would
argue for a very close election. And that means that
although I think demography is less important than the
state of the economy and tactics are even less important
than either and I actually think they trail the other two
by quite a bit, I still think this election's going to be
close enough that tactics could matter.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Charlie?
MR. COOK: I would go exactly with the same
sequence –- economy, demography and tactics. On the
economy I would just sort of look at it a different way.
The predictor that has the best historic track record of
predicting presidential elections is change in real
personal disposable income. And if you look at change
from a year earlier, right now this one looks most like
where it was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was upsetting
Jimmy Carter –- upset, beat badly Jimmy Carter. And then
the next three closest to where it is in terms of real
disposable income the party in the White House were all
thrown out as well.
So I would say that by the economy that you –-
it's extremely difficult for an incumbent to get reelected
with the economic circumstances we have today. Not
impossible but real uphill.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah –-
MR. LEONHARDT: The only thing I would add to
that, and I mean I've spent much of the last six months
telling Democrats that I think they're too optimistic, so
it's strange for me to be coming at it from the other end.
But if you look at a full menu of economic indicators, I
think the income one is one of the most pessimistic for
Obama. I think if you were to look at employment and some
other things they're more hopeful for him. And when you
kind of put it all in the stew, that's where I end up with
more of a toss-up than Romney as a favorite. So, yeah –-
MR. COOK: And just to push back very slightly,
the problem with unemployment is that if you then look at
U6, you look at all these other measurements of extended
unemployment and the labor participation rate that the
8182 –- it's actually a lot worse than that, and so I
think it understates the severity of the problem.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I would answer the question; I
think tactics also are the least important. But I think
there's an interplay between the economy and demography
that could be important here. I think, as Charlie said,
you look at kind of the broad range of numbers. Today,
they would tilt away from reelection, particularly wrong
track –- you know, the idea of an incumbent president
being reelected with 60 percent or more of the country
saying they're on the wrong track is a "historic" as the
What could save –- if Obama is going to be
saved, I think demography would be essential to it in
terms of both their ability to continue and maybe even
accelerate the growth of the minority share of the
electorate, which we'll talk about a little bit more
later, and also whether the key elements of their
constituency, of their coalition are feeling a little bit
better about the economy than the public overall. And
that allows him to survive further erosion among the
groups that he had trouble with in the first place.
MR. LEONHARDT: And you're thinking of Ohio and
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, yeah, and I'm also
thinking of upscale whites as opposed to downscale whites,
which is what I want to ask you a question about in a
minute. But David, let me kind of –- setting that up as –-
and now let's kind of talk about these individual buckets.
So let's start with, you know, since you both
agree that the trajectory of the economy, an important
point, the trajectory of the economy is the critical
factor, what do you think Obama can expect between now and
November. What's the ratio of good news to bad news that
he can –- that he is likely to be looking at?
MR. LEONHARDT: I think the most likely scenario
is that the economy will improve a bit between now and the
election. I think if you look at what happened at the
very beginning of this year we had a real nice burst in
job growth. And it sort of looked like for a couple
months, whoa, are we going to get 200,000 jobs every
month, are we going to get a nice pickup in income? And
is Obama actually going to become a pretty solid favorite?
Could this resemble '96 where the year started in what was
sort of a tossup and the economy strengthened and by the
summer everyone thought Clinton was a pretty strong
I don't think Obama is going to get that, but I
think that the –- probably one of the main factors that's
gotten less attention than it should in the slowdown since
the start of the year, the third consecutive spring
slowdown, is gas prices. Gas prices went way up, they got
really high about –- don't hold me to this –- six months
ago, you know, some number of months ago, just in time to
really pull back the economy in the spring. And now
they've stopped rising, they've even fallen a little bit.
And so I would guess instead of job growth
around 100,000 they –- we could get it up to 150, we could
even have another month maybe of 200. I don't think we're
going to have 200 fairly consistently, and I would put a
huge margin of error around that. The main thing to
remember about the economy is the Rogoff-Reinhart theory.
This was bespoke by Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart
called "It's Different This Time," right? What's it –-
what's the actual title of it? I'm missing it –-
SPEAKER: "This Time Is Different."
MR. LEONHARDT: "This Time Is Different," thank
you. And what that says is that in the wake of financial
crises you have recoveries unlike any other time. They
are long and slow and uneven and they're miserable and
typically unemployment rises for more than five years. We
are ahead of that thanks to the extremely aggressive
response of the federal government, but we're still living
through that and so I think we'll have a really weak
economy this year.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: But slightly trajectory –-
trendline's slightly up.
MR. LEONHARDT: I mean 60 percent chance that
it'll be slightly up?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. LEONHARDT: Yeah.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Okay.
MR. COOK: I'd go about the same all the way
through with a greater chance of it being worse than best –
- than better. I mean, if you look at the -- just sort of
the global economic slowdown, if you look at what's going
on in Europe, if you look at public doubts, increasing
doubts over the fiscal cliff, I think unemployment is
likely to go higher than lower and growth is you know twoish
for, you know, through. So I don't –- I think this is
a very, very hard situation for –- it will get over the
demographics, but for all the key groups it's like this
isn't the cruise they signed up for.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right. Now, you know, most
political strategists and political scientists believe
that trajectory matters more than level. In other words
the issue is not so much where the economy is on the day
of the election or the period right before the Election
Day, it's kind of the direction and the expectations of
the public. And one way of kind of –- one trend that
underscores that is that in our Heartland Monitor, polling
of the National Journal and others if you asked people how
they're doing today, they don't –- it isn't really much
better than what they said a year ago. But what did
improve quite a bit from last summer through this spring,
and saw Obama's approval ratings rise with it were
expectations up for the future. We saw an increase in the
share of Americans who thought the economy was going to be
better in a year than it is now. Charlie, that's
beginning to get punctured, right?
MR. COOK: Yes, I mean we've now seen conference
boards drop four months at a row, the University of
Michigan is the lowest this year. Yeah, I mean I think
there was a burst of enthusiasm and now it's sort of given
way a different direction. But I think the other thing
that probably a lot of folks in this particular crowd
would probably be thinking though is but it wasn't his
It wasn't his fault, he inherited all this and
that's –- it's absolutely, totally true. But once you
take the oath of office, every single month you take a
little bit more ownership of that economy than the month
before. And by the time you get up for reelection it's
yours. And if it's getting better you deserve the credit,
whether you –- you get the credit whether you deserve it
or not, and if it's not getting better well, you get the
And so even though everybody remembers when it
went to hell and under who it went to hell, that's not as
relevant right now. And I think there's also another
aspect of this; people kind of remember that the focus for
the first two-and-a-half years of this administration
wasn't on the economy.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: What he said –- I mean, the
stimulus plan was –- it was eight –-
MR. COOK: And not well accepted.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: –- 900 -- but it was a very
large –- I mean it had more spending on domestic
discretionary public-investment type programs than Clinton
was able to do in his entire four years. I mean that was
a big chip they put down on the table.
MR. COOK: It's generally considered not big
enough. And then you go to capital grade –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: It's too big –-
MR. COOK: –- and then you go to health care.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, so –-
MR. COOK: And –- but health care –- I mean it's
impossible to argue that health care reform didn't
dominate the first two years in office, and at a time when
people by leaps and bounds believe the economy is the
biggest thing –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Let me ask you another question
about the expectations because one thing that struck me,
and we'll talk about this more in a few minutes. You
know, the evolution of each side's coalition where what
I've called the "class inversion" where Democrats now
depend more on the white upper-middle class than they do
on the white working class, and the working class
component of the Democratic coalition is heavily minority.
But one thing that was interesting in this polling earlier
this year was we began to see more of a divergence in
expectations for the future between white-collar America,
which is starting to feel pretty good in –- probably in
part not only because of the overall trajectory of the
economy because of what was happening in the stock market,
maybe home values to some extent, and working-class
America where there was just no improvement. I mean there
was no –- just still extremely pessimistic about not only
the short-term future but the long-term future and the
ability of kids to match their lifestyle.
So do you think –- is there the possibility,
either of you, that this –- that we will see a significant
divergence in attitudes about the economy that there is
more of a recovery in the places where many of the people
in this room live than there are in more blue-collar or
rural parts of America which are not feeling any better at
all, and could that have an effect on the ultimate result?
MR. COOK: Well, I mean, working-class whites
are 38 percent of the electorate –- people in this room
with all due respect –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Thirty-five?
MR. COOK: I was thinking about one –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: At least college-educated
MR. COOK: Well, yeah, but we're talking to the
high end of that. But I –- yeah, I –- to me working-class
–- I mean you've written about this many, many, many times
but non-college-educated whites, you know the president
lost in 58/40 and right now it looks on track to not being
able to recover that number again.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right, but I guess I'm asking
is –- do you see any possibility that there will be
portions, that there will be a divergence in assessments
of the economy between kind of more upper-middle-class
America and lower-middle-class America because that could
be significant if in fact that occurs.
MR. LEONHARDT: Absolutely. I mean you look at –
- you look –- for all of this silly talk that colleges
aren't worth it any more, you look at the gap between what
college graduates make and what everyone else makes and it
is at an all-time high. So the college graduates have
suffered because we've just been through the worst
recession in 70 years. So if you had a choice between
living through the worst recession in 70 years and not
living through the worst recession in 70 years, I would
recommend B. But if you don't have that choice and you
then have to choose college or not college, I would
recommend A, right? This gap is wider than it's ever
been. And so it would make absolute sense that college
graduates would have a more upbeat view of the economy.
And this now goes into the area where you are
literally the world's leading expert, but –- so it seems
that would then go into the area where you can imagine
Colorado and maybe North Carolina and opening up more for –
- and Virginia which is a better example than North
Carolina –- opening up more for Obama and him putting
together this coalition where he can win without Florida
or Ohio. But then there's this other funny dynamic,
right, which is the auto bailout, and the fact that
manufacturing is coming back pretty well. The Democrats
sort of nominated someone who's not that good with the
blue collar, the Republicans nominated someone who might
actually be worse.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. LEONHARDT: Right?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. LEONHARDT: And so there is this –- a little
bit funny thing in which while the white-collars are doing
much better I do think that there's a chance that portions
of the blue-collar economy are coming back fast enough,
that that is still where the ultimate balance –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And I know Charlie you've
pointed out quite accurately in a recent column that only
four times in our history of the popular vote and the
Electoral College vote diverged –-
MR. COOK: Actually three times they split, the
fourth time 80/24 –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: –- 80/24 –- we didn't really
MR. COOK: –- though they both went one way and
the House ended up picking the fourth way.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right picking the other, right.
MR. COOK: But three times popular vote,
Electoral College vote –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Four times the winner of the
popular vote has not been the president, right.
MR. COOK: Okay, but –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: So –-
MR. COOK: –- that's usually not the question
MR. BROWNSTEIN: But no, here's my question, so
even conceding –- no if you just stipulate that, that
usually they go the same way you know talk about the –- as
David kind of alluded to the differing economic
experience. We now have two sets of swing states, right,
we have a "Rust Belt" set of swing states, Michigan, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Iowa –-
MR. LEONHARDT: Wisconsin –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: –- and Wisconsin, and then New
Hampshire kind of fitting in; they're older, white, except
for New Hampshire, heavily manufacturing base. Now we
have this new set of "Sun Belt" swing states that used to
be Republican-leaning states but are now truly kind of in
play to various degrees –- Virginia, North Carolina,
Florida, the Southeastern conference, and then we have the
Southwestern conference of Colorado, Nevada and New
Mexico. The economies are, generally speaking, in those –-
many of those states, better than the nation overall or
are at least seeing some more improvement. But they
diverge as well. So do you want to talk about –- does
that matter, the local economies?
MR. COOK: I think it matters, but I think it
matters sort of who these people are. I mean one of the
things that's driving you know North Carolina, Virginia,
certainly the Southwestern states, one of the things
that's driving it is they're getting a lot of transplant
college-educated upscale people from other parts of the
country that are making that state more like the norm in
the middle of the country -- you know, the norm of the
country. But you also have a rise in Hispanic population
that's driving a lot of that as well even in places that
you wouldn't necessarily guess like North Carolina and
You know –- but the catch there is while the
President looks on track to hit you know the same 67
percent he got last time, there is no real sign that that
turnout among Latinos is going to be remotely where it was
last time. And even post-DREAM-Act polling doesn't show
that excitement cheering up. So the thing about it is the
turnout among Latinos has always been a certain level. It
spiked up in 2008 and there's no evidence that it's going
to be –- that it's not going to be normal this time.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes.
MR. COOK: And that's what's driving some of
these newer states.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: –- these newer states into the
Democratic camp. It's the combination, you know, and a
conversation I had with David Axelrod after the 2010
election and we talked about Michael Bennet, here in
Colorado. Maybe we'll kind of segue now into
demographics. You know, Michael Bennet –- you know David
Axelrod kind of agreed that the "Bennet" model, the Bennet
coalition was kind of where they may have to go. And
let's explain what that was.
I mean, Michael Bennet won by generating a
significant minority turnout, doing well among young
voters, and performing well among college-educated whites,
especially women, allowed him to survive an utter pasting
among rural, blue-collar and older whites. So that's two
out of three among non-college white men.
Now, there are places where that coalition works
and places where that coalition doesn't work. But when
you look at polling today, how optimistic or concerned –-
we'll be talking about turnout in a minute, but how
optimistic or concerned should Obama be about his ability
to hold that basic coalition of young people, minority
voters and college-educated whites especially women. Is
that coalition sticking with him, Charlie?
MR. COOK: Well, young people, he's going to win
comfortably but not where he was. I mean he got 66
percent of the vote among 18-to-29-year-olds last time and
right now he's got 56 percent of the vote against Romney.
Romney 56 –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: In which poll?
MR. COOK: Oh, I'm sorry, this is the Gallup
Three-Week Moving Average through its 9,000 interviews,
will be releasing an additional fresher week later today.
But the thing is he's on a track for 56 percent, not 66
percent we got last time. And then of course you said the
turnout, we'll talk about turnout later, but the turnout,
it's just not a pulse on campuses right now.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, so let's talk about this
because, David, because I think if you look at Obama's
modern Democratic coalition, which is -- whose evolution
toward he is accelerating –- I've call it the "coalition
of the ascending" because it represents groups that are
themselves growing in society and we'll come back to that
because it may offset some of the turnout issue. So if
you look at, you know, consistently now in polling he is
still running –- and in 2008, he won 80 percent of all of
non-white voters, and he's holding very close to that in
almost every poll.
MR. LEONHARDT: And he wins every non-white
group, right, he wins Asian-Americans pretty thick.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: He's over 60 percent with
everybody; two-thirds among Hispanics, over 9 out of 10
among African-Americans. College-educated whites, he won
47 percent of them. That broke down to a 42 percent of
the men, not so great, but 52 percent of the college white
women. And Charlie, he is holding very close to that in
most polling among the college white women.
The young people are drifting off a little bit,
but by and large the groups that stayed with him are
largely still there. The difference is, the challenge is –
- the groups that tilted away from him last time which
were primarily the blue-collar whites both men and women
and the college white men, they're tilting further away.
I mean, they are moving further and it's possible as
Charlie noted before he could see just historically low
numbers among working-class white voters.
When you look at the economy, his agenda, his
position on social issues, the whole gamut, what does he
have in his toolbox to try to reach out to working-class
whites even if it's just to hold down the erosion
MR. LEONHARDT: I mean, I think what he has in
his toolbox explains a long –- a lot of what their tactics
are, right. What he has in his toolbox is making the case
to working-class white voters that hey, the other guys are
really not on your side. The other guys want to cut taxes
really deeply for the well off. You think we're bad on
Wall Street, the other guys are worse, right.
And I think that explains why despite little
bubbles of criticism about the Bain stuff, they are not
packing off the Bain stuff at all. And I don't mean to
take us straight into tactics but I think –- I mean, I
think what the case they can make is, hey, you may be
disappointed with us, right, but if you are a younger
person you have no tolerance for the Republican Party
position on gay marriage, on immigration, on some of these
social little things. And then they will make a similar
case which will be harder for them to make to working-
class voters. Hey, you may be disappointed in us, but the
other guys are really on the opposite team from you and
you're angry now.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: How –- I mean, that's the
classic choice-versus-referendum tug-of-war between
incumbent and challenger. How much mileage can they get
with that kind of argument, particularly with those
MR. COOK: Well, we kind of got into this the
other night at the belly-up session. But we're –- there's
-- in a slightly different formulation to be –- this is a
two-step process. And number one, referendum on the
president, yes, no or maybe. And if the answer's not yes,
then you say, okay, is the other guy acceptable. I think
with the economy where it's been, where it is and where I
think it's likely to be, I think he loses the rejection,
but maybe goes to the maybe. And then you get over to the
maybe and the big question is –- and I think their only
chance of reelection is basically distorting Romney and
basically making him an unacceptable choice.
And I think that Romney, I don't want to get
into the tactics, that's later on, but I wanted to –- but
the fact that the Romney campaign has never bothered to
tell people who he is, flesh him out as a human being,
they are uniquely vulnerable to this. But I don't think
that lower-income whites are getting any positive
messaging from the President whatsoever. And all they're
getting is the negative messaging and maybe it works.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: With one exception as you noted
I think before in the upper Midwest, the potential for the
auto bailout perhaps being the one positive message he can
take into those communities. And it is a reality that
both last time and this time he polls better among workingclass
whites in Ohio than just about anywhere else. I
mean it sort of an anomaly there. And Wisconsin and
Michigan, those three states –- he can win without Ohio --
Michigan and Wisconsin, especially Michigan, very
difficult to overcome. How much of an asset could that be
for him in those areas?
MR. LEONHARDT: I think it can be a significant
asset because as Charlie mentioned the stimulus isn't
popular, right. One of the problems with responding to
these financial crises is that Keynesian economics is just
not popular. Set aside the debate about whether it works,
it's not popular. And even the people who think it works
acknowledge it's not popular. And so it's hard to go out
and sell the stimulus.
You can go out and sell the auto bailout, right.
That is something tangible, it has a story, it sort of
makes sense. I mean what's interesting to me is their
positive story even there though is so backward looking,
right. Think about it. It's a past tense. "We saved,"
not "we will." And they've made this decision that they
are not going to go out and tell a story about hey, you
elect us and we're going to do A, B, and C.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right, right.
MR. LEONHARDT: And when you say this to them
they get very angry and they say, that's not true at all,
we've got positions, papers, you know, more position
papers than you could ever read. But having position
papers is different than telling Americans, hey, you elect
us and we'll do 1, 2, 3. Now, I am so much sympathetic to
their not doing that because it wouldn't be honest. They
can't do those things if Congress looks at all like what
I'm guessing you'd expect it to look like. But still
politics suggests you should tell that story. The fact
they're not is sort of an interesting decision.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And the fact that they're not –-
and this may be blurring from demographics, the tactics,
but we talked about this the other night and we've written
about this, it is striking the way they're approaching
their coalition. As David said there really is not an
overarching national economic message at the center of
What has been much more central is an effort to
find individual issues that animate different components
of their coalition. So –- and in fact to create wedge
issues, you know from the left, which is not something
we've seen much in national politics. But for trying to
generate interest and turnout among Hispanics we've had
the DREAM Act legalization and the ardent opposition of
the Arizona law including after the Supreme Court decision
for women's –- especially socially liberal women, they
focused on access on contraception, the Pay Equity Act,
the Violence Against Women Act, young people student loans
but -- and then kind of wrapping it all together with
assaults on Romney and Bain, but without kind of this
central, you know, reelect me and here are the five things
I'm going to do to make the economy work better in the
second term than the first. What do you make of that kind
of strategy, which is a little different than what we've
seen from Democrats in the past?
MR. COOK: I'm assuming that they have looked at
this and said, the old way doesn't work anymore, that just
the messaging for the people in this room is just totally
different than the messaging to a group of people 60 miles
away in some little town. And that it is what it is and
targeting is the way to go. And I don't know that they're
wrong, but I –- you know I personally think that they're
paying a price for policy decisions the first two years
and they're doing –- they're playing the best hand they've
MR. BROWNSTEIN: David –- I'm sorry, Charlie,
was it –-
MR. COOK: Yeah, yeah, go ahead.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, one thing that really
strikes me about this strategy is that it seems to me to
go further than any Democratic nominee has gone toward
accepting what their coalition is now, and how it has
evolved from what their coalition was historically. I
mean the "new-deal" coalition that Democrats kind of grew
up on was centered on working class voters, especially
whites and older voters.
And in 2008, as Charlie noted, 58 percent of noncollege
whites voted for McCain. So did 58 percent of
white seniors. In 2010 that went over 60 percent voting
Republican in each case And if you look at each of the
issues that I've noted that he is using to try to activate
different components of his base, almost all of them
further complicate his relationship with the most
culturally-concerned of components, the white electorate,
who are older and blue-collar.
So it seems at least from my end that they have
really crossed a Rubicon here. You know if you look at
the first two years, one reason why they did not do
immigration reform was because all of these Democratic
blue dogs from Conservative blue-collar rural districts
said, if you do this we'll get slaughtered. We can't do
this. They all got slaughtered anyway, even though they
didn't do it. So has Obama, in your mind –- I mean is he
kind of making a leap here in this election toward a very
different Democratic coalition and certainly we would
remember from even as recently as 25 and 30 years ago?
MR. LEONHARDT: Yes, but he's also still trying
to have it both ways, right? So if you look at something
like gay marriage and I will say that I don't completely
accept his narrative that this is just naturally. When
you came to it, I think there have been some politics
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Uh-huh.
MR. LEONHARDT: If you look at the DREAM Act,
they're exactly what you're saying.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. LEONHARDT: They're not saying wait a
second, we've got to worry about that voter in Elyria,
Ohio, right, the white working-class voter. They're
saying something else, right, and so I think that's
absolutely right. At the same time the Bain strategy,
right, is clearly trying to hold on to –- it's saying, hey
you know what we're not going to worry about the tsktsking
we get from the elites about the private equity
thing. We're going to go after it and try to win some
votes. I mean to me that raises a question that actually –
- I'm not the moderator –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Sure, no, no –-
MR. LEONHARDT: –- but I'd like to ask each of
you which is –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: We're all equal.
MR. LEONHARDT: –- I think –- I mean I think
part of this is they're looking at the numbers that say
young people are just leaning so heavily Democratic today.
And that, contrary to popular wisdom, is not the way it
always is, right, for the '80s and '90s there were not
huge age gaps.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes.
MR. LEONHARDT: And so I think in some ways it's
in part a long-term strategy and the question I'd be
interested in what you guys think about is how confident
should Democrats be that the people who today are between
the ages of 18 and 30 or 18 and 40 will remain leaning
Democratic for life. And I just don't know the answer to
MR. COOK: Well that plays into something else I
was going to say, is that first of all the seniors that
behaved a certain way for so long, they grew up in the
Depression. They grew up in World War II, where the
federal government could tackle something and succeed.
And their life experience and their view of government was
so different. And very, very sadly, most of those people
are gone now.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. COOK: And the people that have replaced
them, 65 up, have had a very different experience with
government. And so they're just different people. And so
the fact that the Obama campaign may have different
relationship procedures it may have to do in part with the
way the seniors changed. And then with these young people
–- I mean I do think that voters tend to cement their
political leanings early in life, and for Republicans,
four years ago that had to have been a terrifying
suggestion with where things are.
Now, I don't know what it means because you have
a kid walking across the stage last month getting their
college diploma, and the economy was in the toilet the
first day freshman year. The economy was in the toilet
every single day they were in college, and now that
they've moved back into the basement it's still -- and so
the thing is it doesn't mean that they don't like
President Obama a great deal, but that this, as I said
earlier, cruise –- not the cruise they signed up for, this
whole changed thing -- I mean, you go out and poll a
college campus, there isn't a political pulse right now.
And so for him to get that kind of elevated turnout
(inaudible), to me it's a fantasy.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, there are a couple
different elements of the Democratic strength among young
people, some of which are likely to endure this immediate
problem and others are now much more questionable. Part
of it, a big part of it, a big part of the reason Obama
won two-thirds of young people is that this is the most
diverse generation in American history.
You know, 2011 was the tipping point where a
majority of American newborns were non-white. And 47
percent of Americans –- 47 percent of Americans under 18
today are non-white. And we talk about the majorityminority
country somewhere distantly in the future. But
on the under-18 population we will be a majority-minority
right around 2020, maybe as early as 2020 or 2021.
So that is a big part of it. A big part of why
Democrats are getting these elevated margins among young
people is that many of them are minority voters who are
voting Democratic at whatever age. But the other part of
it was that Obama did win a majority of whites under 30,
he won 55 percent of whites under 30. And that had a
variety of components to it.
One part of that that will continue to benefit
Democrats is this is a very socially liberal -- "tolerant"
is a better word; socially tolerant generation. They
don't get what the fuss is about gay marriage, for
example. And so that will be an advantage for Democrats
in reaching those voters.
But as Charlie said, the opportunity that was
there for Obama to really build a lasting majority was is
if this economy had produced results for those young
people, he clearly had an opportunity to cement their
lasting loyalty. And I think in the white electorate it's
going to be much more contested this time. He will do
better, and he does better in polls among whites under 30
by far than any other age group among whites. But I think
it's unlikely that he will win a majority of them again.
I mean, he doesn't have to win a majority then again to
win, but that's where I think -- so some of this is kind
of the larger demographic story, but the opportunity has
been somewhat constricted by the economy.
I want to ask you even in 2008, you know talking
about how this country has changed, in 2008, Barack Obama
was the first candidate in history to lose whites by
double-digits and win. Not only win, but win big, win the
biggest Democratic victory since Johnson in '64. And that
was because as we said, he won 80 percent of all nonwhites.
And they were 26 percent of the total vote, which
was more than double their share in 1992 when Clinton was
elected they were 12 percent. The decline in that
intervening period has entirely been among those working
class whites. The college white has stayed unmoving at 35
So, Charlie, you were talking about the turnout
before -- the turnout really, or the share of the
electorate is a function of two factors, the turnout, but
also the pool. The number of eligible voters are –- there
are 2 million more eligible Hispanics than four years ago.
I think that right, I think it's 2 million. So my
question to you is, even if turnout is disappointing can
the underlying demography give Obama an increase in the
minority share of the vote? And can he win if it doesn't?
Can he match his 43 percent among whites from last time?
MR. COOK: I don't think it's growing --
particularly peeling out Texas, peeling out California,
all that. But when you're looking at 77 percent of all
registered voters saying –- registered voters –- saying
that they're definitely going to vote, 77 percent versus
only 62 percent of Hispanics, a 15-point differential,
that's really huge. And there hadn't been that much
growth to make up for -- to make up for that. And so I
don't -- and if you look at the NBC/Wall Street Journal
polls it says the same that I don't see any chance that
the percentage of the Latino electorate in this election
will equal 2008.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: That is an interesting
prediction, because certainly there will be -- I believe
it is 2 million more eligibles. That would be striking.
But of course there is a denominator issue here, which we
saw in 2010. We saw an enormous turnout of conservative,
especially older whites. Seniors were the biggest share
of the electorate in 2010 midterm than have been in any
mid-term in the history of polling. How much does Obama
have to –- we've been talking about their efforts and
we'll switch to tactics in a moment, their efforts to kind
of mobilize their electorate, what they see as their
electorate. But how much of a risk do they face of just a
sheer flood of older rural blue collar, the most
conservative portions of the white electorate?
MR. LEONHARDT: They face a big risk. I think
that's why you see these Medicare wars continuing, right.
I mean, Medicare –- this isn't my point, but Medicare for
a long time was the third rail. And now it will probably
be a central feature of every campaign for a long time,
right, because both parties see it as an incredibly
important way to distinguish their own view from the other
party. So that's why you see the Republicans harping on
these Medicare cuts in the health care law, it's why you
see the Democrats spending so much time talking about Paul
Ryan's plan. People above 65 vote in huge numbers, and
Medicare seems to be the battleground, and I think the
fact that you see that attention speaks to exactly the
fear that your question is getting at.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Let's talk tactics. Charlie,
the assumption among many of us, I don't know if you've
shared this, has been that money matters less in
presidential elections than any other election, both
because people are voting on the circumstances of their
life, but also because they're exposed to so much free
media. But we are seeing the potential for enormous sums
and potentially a wide disparity amazingly with an
incumbent president cumulatively being outspent by the
Republicans, particularly the independent groups. Could
that kind of -- should all of us be kind of checking our
conventional wisdom again that this doesn't matter?
MR. LEONHARDT: I think that's a very good way
of putting it. If you know a month, two or three months
ago I would have said, look I don't think money will be a
decisive factor in this presidential election, that
President Obama is going to raise and spend between some
$700 million and $1 billion, Romney's going to spend,
raise and spend between $700 billion, toss in the
superpacks on both sides, you know that –- you were not
going to see a terrific imbalance and I think that there
is a law of diminishing returns in terms of effectiveness
of advertising. After a certain point, you know, somebody
else is spending something like three to two and they're
both spending massive amounts of money would make a
So just putting a context, you know, that
President Obama in 2008 raised and spent, it was just a
touch under $700 million, right. And half of that was to
beat Hillary Clinton. And he still outspent McCain threeto-
one. And so $700 million is not a pittance, and anyway
he'll probably end up with something like -- get close to
$1 billion. But there's a point, I guess, of is there a
tipping point where the imbalance gets so great that it
does make a difference and you know we might get there.
I personally think that the tipping point in
terms of superpacks and all this is a lot more likely to
be on the congressional side, where you don't have this
saturation spending like President Obama and Governor
Romney will have. I think it's more likely to impact down
there, but it could get bad enough that makes a difference.
MR. LEONHARDT: Political scientists for whom I
have great regard are very skeptical of the effect of
money in presidential elections. And so I think it's fair
to start this with some skepticism. Having said that, I
don't see how you don't look at the Republican primaries.
And as I think you're suggesting, head into this race with
some thought that money could really matter. Because they
were so important in the Republican primaries, I mean they
really -- every time Romney hit a rough patch, more money,
more advertising, it kind of carried him through.
And so I do think one, if you're going to make a
list of big questions about this election, I know 10 or 20
questions, one of them that I would add to the list is,
does big Democratic money get off the sidelines more than
it has so far.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, it's interesting, one
other aspect -- and we'll bring in the audience in a
minute, one other aspect of the money is where they're
choosing to spend. The Obama campaign is making an
enormous investment. If the ads are into the numerator,
the Obama campaign is making enormous investment on the
denominator. I mean they're spending a lot of money
trying to change the composition of the electorate. But
as Charlie, I think, alluded to a little bit before, the
paradox they face, David, as you know very well, is the
groups. With the exception of the college white women,
the groups at the core of their coalition are also some of
the groups that are being hammered hardest by the
recession, whether you look at Hispanics, African-
Americans, or young people. So how would you -- how much
of a headwind is that for engaging an electorate that may
agree with you on issues, and be closer to you on issues,
but really not much that you can say to them when they
ask, are you better off than you were four years ago.
MR. LEONHARDT: I think it definitely matters,
and I actually think that's –- I think that is a much more
meaningful way to slice the country than states. But
you'll read a lot of stories and see a lot of reports over
the next several months, I hope not too many in the New
York Times, based on what I'm about to say, slicing and
dicing swing state economies. I wouldn't pay that much
attention to those reports. I think the national economy
is what sets the real narrative, and then I think there
are people's personal experiences. But I think slicing it
the way you just sliced it, which is looking at the fact
that the economy has been so much harder on the young than
the old, which is not to say it's been good on the old;
again it's like the college/non college thing, I think
that has the potential to be one of those factors in a
very close election that could be determinative.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: You want to add something?
MR. COOK: And when you look at, for example,
Hispanic vote, young Hispanics, so that's the intersection
of two different incredibly depressed groups, wow, that
really is some -- but I think though that the mobilization
route that the Obama campaign is doing, they really have
to do this because if President Obama's reelection is
dependent upon winning half of the undecided votes, it's
not going to happen. I mean, it's not.
And one of the things that's really interesting
you see in the NBC and the Wall Street Journal, their
pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff combined the first
five months of their polls, or first five months January
through May, and they consolidated together 3,800
interviews, of that 260 are with undecided voters. So
comparing all registered voters with the undecided, among
all registered voters 32 percent of registered voters
think the country is headed in the right direction; 32
percent, 59 wrong track. Among just the undecideds 15
right direction, 71 wrong track. President Obama's job
rating for those five months, overall, 48/46, among
undecideds 24 approve, 59 disapprove.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Charlie, did you do the fave/
unfave on Romney, because I was looking last week at some
of the swing states, very similar, but also Romney really
under water among those same voters.
MR. LEONHARDT: Well, that's what's interesting.
Obama, and though -- this is not job rating, this is
positive/negative. Obama image among undecideds, 27
positive, 49 negative. And for Romney, 9 positive 49
negative. So their negatives are identical, but they
don't know anything positive about Mitt Romney because his
campaign has never told his story. They won the
nomination tactically, organizationally, you know,
outmaneuvering Newt and Santorum and all this, but they
never said, here's a three-dimensional human being with a
life story and a family, and someone that may not
necessarily be a cold-hearted ruthless bastard,
MR. BROWNSTEIN: A life story in a family, they
don't want to mention the dog though.
MR. LEONHARDT: In the Romney campaign's
defense, they couldn't have won the nomination telling his
full story, right. I mean, that was part of the problem.
MR. COOK: But they've had since April.
MR. LEONHARDT: Yes, yes.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Before you go to audience,
something –- if I could just button up this session with
just one point of my own. You know, you mentioned before
Obama only won 43 percent of whites in 2008, the first
person ever to lose white by double-digits and win. I
think we'd all agree given everything we're seeing in
polling and the economy; it's going to be very hard for
him to match that number. It's almost certainly going to
come in below that, and its implications for governance
we're going to talk about at the end. But in terms of the
election, it really does underscore the second question of
whether they can continue to grow the minority share of
the total electorate.
Because each point, it was 26 percent of the
vote was non-white in 2008, their internal estimate is
that they can push that up -- they and demography will
push that up to 28 percent. It if goes to 28 percent in
2012, and he holds 80 percent of them, which he shows
every sign of doing, he could win reelection with less
than 40 percent of whites -- slightly less than 40 percent
of the white vote.
If it doesn't go up, obviously he has to get
closer. And this is the kind of election where each one
of those points is going to be enormous, you know, whether
Obama needs 41 percent or 39.5 percent of whites to win is
going to be a significant variable.
And the ability to increase that minority share,
and to hold in particular those college white women who
are with him on social issues, are going to be absolutely
essential. And personally, I think the election is going
to be decided much more in the white upper-middleclass
than in the white working class which seems ready to
stampede against him.
MR. LEONHARDT: If Obama wins reelection with 41
percent of the white vote, which you're saying is
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. LEONHARDT: –- what percentage of white men
does he win?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: He probably, you know he will
win –- I've got to do the -- figure out the thing, he'll
win about –- he's going to win 35 percent or less of noncollege
white men. And a –- the big variables here are --
look at it this way, he won 40 percent of non-college
whites, and 47 percent of college whites. The third
consecutive Democratic nominee who did better among
college than non-college after the reverse was true from
Roosevelt, all the way through Dukakis.
The likelihood is overwhelming, as Charlie said
way back when that that 40-percent number among noncollege
whites is going to go down, both among and men and
women, probably 36, 37. The issue becomes how close can
he stay to that 47 among the college whites. So far he is
-- he's staying very close to it. He's right at where he
was with college women, he's down slightly with college
men. And that is probably the key -- the two key
variables for him are how much can he push up the minority
share of the vote, and how close can he stay to his white
Charlie, want to add a point?
MR. COOK: He'd be getting 33, 34 percent of the
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, in Gallup.
MR. LEONHARDT: All college and non-college?
MR. COOK: All white –- or no, all white male,
33, 34 percent.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Now, there are other polls that
are better for him overall because the college white is
better. So let's start right over there. Yeah, you, yes.
Please identify yourself.
MR. HANNIS: Hi, my name is Mark Hannis
(phonetic). I had a question, you spent a lot of time
talking about turnout and that's going to be key issue. I
was wondering if you could talk about both maybe as a
strategy and a tactic by voter suppression, with all the
voter ID laws, and how that will play both in this
election and future elections and with the whole
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I think it potentially really
matters and I think it just absolute hardball politics
that these Republican governors and legislators are
pursuing. And obviously, no one wants voter fraud. The
evidence of voter fraud on the scale that people are
talking about just isn't there. I mean, not to say it
never happens. And we are talking about, as I said, an
election where Obama is poised to win at least 80 percent
of the people who are most likely to be affected by this.
You know here's a kind of short-term/long-term issue here
for Republicans, which is that it's clear -- I think we
all agree Romney can squeeze out a victory by getting
somewhere close to 60 or 61 percent, maybe even 62 percent
You don't want to be in a position where you
have to do that every four years. Sooner or later
Republicans have to deny Democrats the ability to win 80
percent of minorities in every election. And this kind of
strategy is counter-productive for that. But if you were
thinking just about getting through this one election, and
it's worth noting that no Republican, because of this
demographic change, has gotten past 50.8 percent of the
vote, since 1988. The ceiling, you know, is lower, but --
so in the long run policies like these are counter
productive for them because it becomes implausible at some
point to win 63, 64 percent of whites if that's what you
need, if Democrats keep winning 80 percent of minorities.
But in this election, it could be significant.
MR. COOK: Can I jump in? I'm from Louisiana.
Notwithstanding the herculean efforts of Mayor Landrieu,
who I think is just a fabulous mayor, Louisiana has a
history of somewhat -- I know this is news to some of you -
- of assorted politics. There is no consequential voter
fraud in this country. And if an office was ever -- was
stolen, it would be more likely to be a rural sheriff's
race someplace than any contest of any consequence. I
think this is a set of solutions in search of a problem,
with a problem that doesn't exist.
Having said that, I think for Republicans -- I
think for some of them this is a political tactic. But I
think some of them have an honest-to-God belief that there
is a huge voter fraud problem in this country. And John
Fund at the Wall Street Journal spends a lot of time
writing about it, but at least in my experience in
politics I don't think it exists. So -- but the thing
about it is can this make something of a difference in
close races, close places, yes.
But the thing is to me, the question I have for
the people that are pushing "we need to change these voter
laws and make them more stringent" is are you going to
play on a level playing field. So in other words, in
Texas, if you're going to require a state-issued photo ID,
well, if you're going to accept the concealed carry
weapons permit, you really got to take a University-of-
Texas-issued student ID. I mean, they both are, you know -
- you really kind of do both and play straight.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Let's go over here.
MS. DAVIS: Davis (phonetic). There are many
differences between the voting Latino block compared to
all the minorities in the U.S. It depends on whether you
are a white Latino, whether you are educated, whether
you're of Mexican descent, Cuban decent, Puerto Rican,
South American or other locations. I haven't heard
anywhere at any time that there are any kinds of studies
or statistics that you're taking into account the
different kinds of Latino that are in this country, which
you have to target in different ways. Are there, and if
there aren't any you should?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: No, there's plenty. I mean --
what we're talking about is kind of the net, you know how
it all comes out. Obama won 67 percent of the net of
everybody in '08, and all polling shows he's in position
to equal or more likely slightly exceed that with the
issue being turnout.
The biggest, the most important divide in recent
years in politics have been the one you did not mention
which is between Catholic and Evangelical Protestant
Latinos. The Catholic Hispanic vote, with the exception
of the other important divide, obviously Cubans behave
very differently than everybody else, but in terms of the
Hispanic community much more Republican.
But when Bush made his big inroads among
Hispanics it was largely among Evangelicals. Catholic
Hispanic votes stayed very Democratic. And I would just
point out though, in '08, as immigration reform faded as a
Republican priority and you saw the GOP mobilize against
it you saw very visible expressions of concern from the
socially conservative Evangelical Latinos who felt this
was undermining their ability to sell Republicans in that
community. And a lot of that has been out there this time.
There has been a lot of public anxiety on the
part of many of these conservative Hispanic Evangelical
leaders about the language, the self deportation, and so
forth. So that has been -- there's clearly, you look at
attitudes, Hispanics are not African-Americans. They're
not as reflexively pro-government, and they've obviously
very socially conservative. But Republicans really have
not been able to get to those attitudes because of other
barriers that they've erected for themselves in the way.
MR. LEONHARDT: The Washington –-
MR. COOK: The Pew Research Center has an entire
institute devoted to studies of voter attitudes among
Hispanic voters that's very, very good.
MR. LEONHARDT: The Washington Post had an item
pointing out how poorly Marco Rubio did among Mexican
American voters in his senate race, and raising the
question of would he play nationally in the way that a lot
of people assumed.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: So, we got anybody on this side
of the room? Maybe over there?
Sorry, get your exercise in.
MS. FLAX: My name is Marcia Flax (phonetic) and
I just wanted to ask, what do you think the impact would
be if Hillary Clinton and Biden exchanged places?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Can we do likelihood first?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes.
MR. COOK: Zero. And the thing is that first of
all, I think for President Obama, and let me go into
preferences, I think the world of Secretary Clinton and
you know the country would be lucky to have her -- is
lucky to have her. I think the likelihood of President
Obama and his team deciding to announce that the first
decision I made as the Democratic nominee for president
was a colossal mistake, and that I'm going to have to dump
my running mate and throw a lifeline to Hillary Clinton, I
think the odds of that are somewhere around zero.
And the thing is -- and if he were 10 points
ahead in the polls, if I were her I'd say, you know, I'm
tired, I've been to a 100 countries but what the hell,
I'll take it. I don't think they'd give it today, if it's
offered I kind of doubt if she'd take it.
MR. LEONHARDT: Sir –-
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Over there. Oh, sure, plunge
MR. LEONHARDT: I was going to say, I would just
note Michael Gerson's good line, the former Bush
speechwriter, which is at any given moment Americans are
not mainly deciding whether their president is right or
left, they're deciding whether he's strong or weak. That
would make him look weak.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Sir, over here. Is there a
mike in this side?
MR. SMITH-BERGEN: Good morning, Bill Smith-
Bergen (phonetic) is my name. You -- understandably none
of you mentioned the deficit or the long-term debt, which
is a gargantuan issue particularly for two generations
beyond this room. Why do you not see it as a bigger issue
for this election in the dialog?
MR. COOK: David Rubenstein and Edward
Zuckerwich (phonetic) just had a battle on that and that
MR. LEONHARDT: I mean Americans are in favor of
the deficit. They're deeply in favor of the deficit.
When you asked them, are you in favor of the deficit, they
say, no, this deficit is terrible. When they say, do you
want to cut spending, they say, no, no. Do you want to
raise taxes? No, no. So -- both campaigns both know
this. I agree with you economically it's extremely
important. But given that Americans are against cutting
Medicare, or are against cutting Social Security, are not
so much against cutting the military, but they're not
strongly in favor of it. And they're against having their
MR. BROWNSTEIN: They will raise taxes on top.
MR. LEONHARDT: They will raise the taxes on
other people. There's not a lot of margin for the
candidates in getting --
MR. BROWNSTEIN: So, let's kind of look at this -
- and clearly getting the economy moving overall, job
creation will be a bigger issue in the campaign. But
certainly, right after the election, this will be
immediate challenge they face, and certainly probably the
biggest issue they face in 2013 will be whether we can
produce some sort of long-term plan to bring the deficit
One aspect of this election seems to me, and
Charlie, this kind of goes to your congressional
expertise, the likelihood seems to me that whichever way
this tips in 2012, we're going to be talking about a very
closely divided country. Presidential race, whose margin
of victory will probably be small -- almost certainly be
smaller (inaudible) electoral college vote; a Senate where
someone is going to be right around 50-50 on side or the
other, and a house where Republicans probably serve the
majority, but a diminished majority.
So, in a closely divided Washington, David,
starting with you, will there be the ability to deal with
the deficit which will loom certainly as the governing
issue of 2013 if not the campaign issue of 2012.
MR. LEONHARDT: And there's this whole, as
you're alluding to, there's this thing "taxmagaddon,"
right, or the fiscal cliff where you've got all these
expiring tax cuts and all these spending cuts that are
going to take effect, I think it's going to be really
hard. I think you sort of have to break it out into the
If Obama wins, do the Republicans decide that
they're willing to compromise in the way that they just
weren't in the first term? I don't know. If I were a
Republican and I decided I wanted to compromise with
Obama, the first thing I'd worry about was a primary
challenge, right. And if the Republicans win they're
going to have really strong hand, and I don't think
they're going to be looking for a lot of compromise.
So, on the one hand we've got all this expiring
stuff that may force something like the Bain or Obama
grand bargain. On the other hand, I don't see it at this
MR. COOK: I think it's going to take a fairly
catastrophic economic market event to focus -- to change
behavior on Capitol Hill, to go a different direction than
we've been going.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Here's a paradox along the
lines that we were talking about before with Democrats and
immigration, the reverse for Republicans, if they win
unified control they will almost certainly do so because --
partly because of exaggerated margins among white seniors,
probably 60 percent plus, in that environment, will every
Republican senator on a party line basis, through
reconciliation vote to convert Medicare into a premium
support system, as the Ryan plan would do.
Would they -- will they all stand up and -- I
mean, that is I think what many conservatives envisioned.
We get unified control, 50 or 51 senate seats, we pass
something like the Ryan budget on reconciliation, which
precludes filibusters, and the question I ask is if --
will that be plausible given the constituency that they
will most likely mobilize if they are going to win that
level of power.
MR. LEONHARDT: Well, I mean the Ryan plan
exempts everyone over 55, right. So it's a European style
single payer health care if you're over 65, and marketbased
healthcare if you're under, so.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. LEONHARDT: I mean that would be -- you're
right, they don't believe that, but that would be why they
might feel okay to do it.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: We got anything over here –-
Sir, right here.
MR. COOK: We've got a ringer here.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: We've gone from three to one,
SPEAKER: You both touched on the congressional
races. Charlie, where do you come out on Senate and House
races, especially given -- I don't know how many, three or
four Democratic senators, oh I think I'm busy, I can't go
to the convention.
MR. COOK: Well, I think -- let me focus on the
last part first. You start having conventions that go
into September, and when elected officials sort of have
other things to do. And I think they may elect to stay
away, particularly if all the donors are not going to the
convention either, but anyway. But just bottom line
congressional, this thing if -- because Democrats are 23
seats up and Republicans only have 10 in the Senate,
there's such an enormous imbalance, there's not really a
question of whether Democrats are going to lose some
Senate seats, but how many.
And obviously, with the Senate right now 53-47,
the Republicans need three seats if they win the White
House, four seats if they don't. Right now, just with the
races we have and what we're seeing right now, if
Republicans had a bad night they'd get 52 –- they'd get 2
seats which would get them to 49 and short. And a great
night might get them to 5 seats, which is to 53. Most
likely was probably be what Ron said a minute ago, 50-50
give or take. But then you've got this interesting
situation with Angus King, the former independent governor
of Maine, who is probably going to get elected to Senate,
and seems desperately determined to not come down one side
or the other.
So dependent upon which side wins the
presidency, and if you have a side that wins the
presidency -- let's say Republicans hypothetically win the
presidency, and pick up two seats so that they're at 49
seats, that could be interesting. I mean, anything, the
two, three seats, either way, Angus King becomes a very,
very interesting person. And so my joke, that it's not
fair, because I think he's a very independent and
incredibly sincere guy with a lot of integrity, but the
joke would be that we have 32 Senate races and one silent
auction for Angus King.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I just had a real quick -- for
you another question. We are at -- as all our politics
are evolving sort of more parliamentary system where the
individual matters less than the broad verdict on your
team. The level of split-ticket voting, the number of
voters splitting their ticket between president and Senate
is at the lowest level since 1960. If you look at -- even
in 2010, even amid the Republican landslide there were 10
states with Senate races where Obama's approval rating in
the exit poll was 48 or above, Democrats won 9 of those
10. There were 15 states in 2010 with Senate races where
his approval rating was at 47 or below, Democrats lost 13
of those 15.
In 2006, Republicans lost 19 of the 20 states,
in which Bush was at 45 or below; Olympia Snowe, the only
one to survive. So you can run -- you can run away from
Charlotte, but you can't really hide. And that really
gets the last point which is -- the only thing Charlie
didn't mention was I think a key variable here is going to
be not only how many seats –- how many Democratic seats
Republicans win, but maybe just as important will be
whether –- how many of the Republican seats Democrats can
win in states where Obama is likely to do well, Maine,
Massachusetts, Nevada, I think. You know, the whole –-
picking up two of those forces Republicans to win 6 if
Obama wins, and that's obviously a lot different than
winning a four.
So let's go right here and try to squeeze in a
couple of more questions, and we'll try to be briefer as
SPEAKER: Following Charlie's comments on the
painting -- my name is Robert Potter, from Dallas. You
talked about painting the picture of Mitt Romney, what
percentage of the electorate know what Bain is, or Bain
Capital? Even more important, what percentage of the
minority know what Bain or Bain Capital is? In contrast,
same two questions about Olympics. Why don't they stress
his role in the Olympics versus Bain?
MR. COOK: I think I saw something the other day
of what percentage awareness of Bain, and it was coming
up. But you have to divide it up. I mean the thing is we
live in two countries right now, a country with swing
state markets, television markets, and the not. And Lucy
and I were just in Boston, and you wouldn't think you'd be
overwhelmed there, but you are because of New Hampshire.
And so the diet of ads, where you'd really want to divide
it up, are you in a market with ads or not, or swing state
ads or not.
The thing is I think that there is -- I watched
some focus groups where they had some people -- these
people were saying they knew that he was a business guy,
he seems smart, he seemed like he was a successful
business guy; and they know he's a Mormon. But the thing
about it is even stipulating smart, successful business
person, it doesn't say anything about whether he's
trustworthy or not, or whether he would handle the economy
in a way that reflects values of normal people.
And so the thing about it is I personally think
that his campaign has made a horrific mistake in not
fleshing in, filling in him, you know, who he is as a
person so that people might be more willing to -- I mean
even if they're willing to pull the trigger on President
Obama, are they will to say, okay, I'm going to go with
you, because -- and I think the campaign has made a huge
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes, not on your side as rising
in the swing states where people are getting that -- are
getting doused by the argument on Bain.
Anybody else -- ma'am in the back over there,
let's see, we're going to have our mike runners earn their
pay today. It's coming from the other side. It was
actually her but --
MS. ZERKIN: That's what I thought. Hi, Nancy
Zerkin (phonetic). I don't ever read the right-wing
blogs or what's been said about Romney, he certainly
fought hard using issues of the right --
MR. BROWNSTEIN: The clock is ticking; can we
get to the question?
MS. ZERKIN: -- in the primaries. So -- what
are the blogs saying?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Interesting point, kind of a
MR. LEONHARDT: The conservative blogs about
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, and maybe use it to talk
more broadly about the conservative base on Romney.
MR. LEONHARDT: I mean the conservative base has
come home, as we should always expect the conservative or
the liberal base will. And you know, I mean, Grover
Norquist had -- might have a line on this -- "All I want
President Romney to do is sign the bills that Paul Ryan
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right, and that's their
expectation. Can we just -- just, ma'am, you, yeah.
SPEAKER: When will the polls accurately tell --
or pretty accurately tell us when the -- who's going to be
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Great question.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: 1:00 a.m., 2 a.m. on the
MR. LEONHARDT: They're starting to be
meaningful though, right?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, there is meaning. I
think most of us would say that at this point the
presidential approval rating, I mean the race involving an
incumbent president is probably the single best number to
watch. But you know I think it matters somewhat all the
way through, and after the conventions, it obviously
Sir, over here. Hold on. Matt –- mic is
coming, hold on.
SPEAKER: I wonder whether you would address the
probability of things that the administration might do
between now and the election that could move where we are
right now. Similarly, things that the administration is
not particularly looking forward to, like closing the
Straits of Hormuz, or escalating that further, Israel
attacks Iran. Particularly in the area of health care, is
it really necessary for him now to maintain the mandate
which is the most hated part of it all.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Separate -- the known unknowns,
MR. LEONHARDT: He can't do anything
domestically because the House won't pass anything, right.
So there's basically nothing they can do for the economy
at this point except maybe tiny stuff around the edges. I
think foreign policy, which is what you suggested is
clearly the big thing. And I think that's why you see
them managing the Iran situation in the way they are
First of all, they think the best policy is the
way you avoid war. A war delayed is war avoided, right.
But it also helps them politically because to the extent
that you can keep the Israel/Iran tensions on a low boil,
it keeps oil prices down. I think it's mostly the foreign
policy stuff that you --
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Before Charlie jumps in the
other foreign policy, what is your expectation? Does
Europe reach a crisis point between now and the election,
or do they kind of muddle through?
MR. LEONHARDT: I think muddle through is the
most likely scenario, but I think there is a significant
chance of something much worse than muddle through,
because there's a chance at some point the markets say,
enough already, you guys aren't getting ahead of this, and
it gets beyond their control.
MR. COOK: This election, as of this moment,
it's not about foreign policy, it's not even 1 percent
about foreign policy. Obviously, you can't quantify the
unquantifiable, if something happens, if there is a war,
something like that it will change things. We have no
idea how it would change things. All we would know is all
bets are off. And any kind of event that could do that, I
think everybody in this room would be smart enough to know
it when they saw it. And so we just sort of have to
assume that a black swan doesn't exist until we see it.
And then we have to say, well, okay, everything has
changed, now what?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: There may not be a bear in the
woods, as Ronald Regan -- (laughter). All right, we have
time for one quick question, let me go to the back and
then I'm going to ask a final question to the panelists.
Okay, quick question.
SPEAKER: It seems to me we've been framing this
entire discussion around polls rather than on what either
candidate may do to solve our problems. And we've seen
the same thing from our elected officials. It seems to me
it is by definition --
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Quick question?
SPEAKER: -- impossible to lead if you are
following polls. And the question is, is this a healthy
way to have this discussion?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, I would say that we're
here to discuss Campaign 360, and we've been trying to
give people a sense of what the dynamics are that are
shaping the campaign we've touched on. And the issue of
the ability of either side to govern after an election is
going to show us simultaneously two things –- that the
parties are deeply, deeply divided, and the country is
closely, closely divided. Deeply divided and closely
divided is a very challenging recipe for governance,
especially with the added element that David noted about
before, which is the increased pressure, the kind of quasiparliamentary
nature of our politics, where each side
faces increasing pressure to stand with their side against
the other with an escalating series of sanctions when you
culminate in your primaries.
So I mean that is kind of a summary of the
situation that overrides any individual issue. And again,
if Republicans win unified control they will attempt to do
virtually all they are going to do in one reconciliation
bill which allows you to preclude the Senate filibuster,
it would be interesting to see how much of that they can
do. And if Obama doesn't -- if Obama does win reelection
the choice really I think will fundamentally be the
Republican', do they make the same calculation that the
GOP congress did in '97, which is that we're all going to
have to live with each other for a while, let's make a
deal. Or do they face so much pressure that they just say
we're going to try to wait you out again.
MR. LEONHARDT: I mean, it's a democracy. You
can listen to polls too much. But most successful leaders
and democracies spend a lot of time looking at public
opinion. Roosevelt did, Regan did. But I agree you can
go too far.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: All right, let me ask you guys
a final question, I hope I can articulate it the right
way. It's a close election, as we all anticipate it is
now, it's somewhere close to 50-50, it is the last day
before the election, it is the last night before the
election. And Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are in their
campaign planes, and they are making these final decisions
about where they are going, and each of them have decided
they want to go to the one state that is most likely to
decide whether they win or they lose. In a close
election, where do each of them go, David?
MR. LEONHARDT: Romney goes to Ohio, it's very
difficult for Republicans to win without Ohio, and Obama
goes to Virginia because it is the state that he can do
the bank shot. And if he gets Virginia, he can
potentially win without Ohio or Florida.
MR. COOK: I'd say exactly the same thing.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Me too.
MR. LEONHARDT: Hey, I feel like I just passed.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Amazing, amazing. Amazing,
yes. Absolutely -- all exactly the same. I think the
last place Barack Obama will be, will be about 15 miles
from his house. Well, listen -- thank you for sticking
MR. LEONHARDT: Thank you.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Join me in thanking this
terrific panel, and we hope you enjoy the rest of the
festival and the rest of the election year.
* * * * *
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