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Big Differences in Presidential Candidates Make Election Extra Important

September 25, 2012 – The stakes are higher than usual for the upcoming presidential election than most others, according to recent participants in a Georgetown forum.

“Every campaign, people say this is the most important election of your lifetime,” said Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, a professor in Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute (GPPI). “I actually think that’s true with this one. I actually think the issues at stake are that important.”

Dionne said the views of President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney on such issues as Medicare, national security, jobs and the gross domestic product are “substantial.”

Different Directions

The columnist and scholar facilitated a GPPI-sponsored discussion yesterday with Dana Bash, CNN senior congressional correspondent; Bill Burton, senior strategist for Priorities USA Action; and Rob Collins, partner at Purple Strategies. Priorities USA Action is an independent expenditure political action committee that supports Obama, and Purple Strategies is a bipartisan public affairs firm.

“Where we would move as a country depending on one outcome or the other, [they] are really quite different directions,” Dionne explained at the GPPI forum.

Collins agreed with Dionne’s sentiments about the significance of the 2012 presidential race.

“My entire life I never considered any election the most important of my entire life until, actually I do believe this one,” said Collins, who has worked on more than 14 campaigns and served as chief of staff for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “ … No nation has ever borrowed more than [its gross domestic product] and either defaulted or gone into a zombie account … in the history of the world, ever. … So we’ve cracked a barrier that’s pretty hard to come back from.”

Cacophony of Messages

Bash said the shift in the presidential race from the “neck-and-neck dynamic” to Obama having a slight edge in the polls has surprised her. She attributed the shift to the Obama campaign being “able to define Mitt Romney before he could define himself.”

Burton, a former deputy press secretary for Obama, said the shift had to do with a lack of one strong message for the Republicans’ campaign strategy.

“I think it’s very hard to tell what the story was,” Burton said. “You’ve just got this cacophony of messages about … ‘President Obama’s a pretty bad guy and you should vote against him.’ But they were telling voters a lot of information that they already had.”

He said the Democrats had a different campaign strategy.

“What we were doing and what you saw the Obama campaign do was tell a story about President Obama,” Burton said. “From the campaign they talked about what was the defense of his accomplishments in the first four years, what are his plans and where is he going to take the country – sort of the normal arc of a story.”

Still in the Race

Collins believes the race is still close to call.

“What did the [Democratic] convention really do?” Collins asked. “It just engaged the partisans on the left. The Republicans have always been there. Democrats had a week of their propaganda, and they all just kind of came home.”

He said the race could still go either way. 

“As long as you feel you have a message and a plan and the money to execute, you’re always in this race,” Collins said.

Students’ Forum

Earlier this month, political surrogates for the Obama and Romney campaigns participated in a debate sponsored by the university’s College Democrats and College Republicans.

Neither of the candidates are perfect, and voters are not going to like [either] candidate 100 percent. As voters we must decide who we agree with the most."


Jose Madrid (C'14),Georgetown student

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) squared off in front of nearly 300 students Sept. 20 on topics ranging from tax cuts and the economy to immigration reform, education and the environment.

As an undecided voter, Jose Madrid (C’14) asked Carnahan and Chaffetz to give three concrete ways they would decrease unemployment.

“I asked that question because I know of so many people who are unemployed or who have not been able to get long-term employment – my father being one of them,” said Madrid. “As a college student in my third year, it’s also something my peers and I are thinking about. There is a great degree of stress when it comes to thinking about what I will do after college.”

Madrid said both representatives made an important point.

“Neither of the candidates are perfect, and voters are not going to like [either] candidate 100 percent,” he said. As voters we must decide who we agree with the most.”

Post-Election Optimism

Panelists from the GPPI discussion also took a look at what the future may hold for a polarized political system.

“Post-election, this country has always risen to the challenges, and I hope we still have it in us, and I think we do,” said Collins. “The good news is, we have some really experienced leaders…you may not like that leadership, but [Congress is] going to have to work with a president who’s going to have to make some really tough calls over the next four years, and they understand the stakes and the consequences.”

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