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Bill Lacy, Dole Institute director, chats about the presidential election

November 7, 2012

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Moderator:

Good afternoon, everyone, and congratulations on making it through another election season.

Today we're chatting with Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute of Politics, and a veteran of seven presidential campaigns. Bill worked on two of former Sen. Bob Dole's presidential runs, and managed the 2008 campaign of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

Bill, thanks for joining us today to talk about the presidential election. To kick us off, can you tell us what surprised you most about last night's results?

Bill Lacy:

Thanks for having me. The thing that surprised me most was that the President's team absolutely nailed the turnout model. They said 72% of the electorate would be white--a historical low--and they were right. The vaunted Obama ground game was amazing and unprecedented in contemporary campaigns.

bigpicture:

Would you characterize Obama's re-election as a victory for his campaign or a failure of the Romney campaign?

Bill Lacy:

A win for the President's campaign, absolutely. They had the economy and voter intensity against them and yet changed the composition of the electorate entirely. 6% more Democrats than Republicans voted...the exit polls showed the President's Job Approval at 54%, which was a full 5% higher than the national averages right before the election. In short, they added enough Obama voters to the mix to create a much more positive turnout.

Moderator:

A reader named ostrich asked yesterday morning about early voting and how that may have impacted the outcome. How do you think early voting affected the presidential race?

Bill Lacy:

Actually Republicans did better on early voting than in 2008 so I don't think it had much impact.

racerx:

What benefit does the Electoral College provide in 2012 and beyond? Is it still relevant, or should we abandon it in favor of the popular vote?

Bill Lacy:

Tough question, which would have been much tougher had Romney won the popular vote. I have always considered myself an Electoral College supporter but there are some interesting options out there on switching to popular vote--if you can do it without amending the Constitution, which as you know is difficult. We had a guest a year ago at the Dole who noted that since the Constitution gives the states the right to allocate Electoral Votes states could use the popular vote to determine that allocation. It's complicated to explain in this format but email me at the Dole Institute website and I'll send you info.

Moderator:

The Romney campaign tried to make this election about the economy, and said President Obama's policies had failed. Did that message resonate? In the end, how was the Obama campaign able to win the election?

Bill Lacy:

It resonated with some voters, but about 50% in the exit polls agreed with the President's campaign's arguments that President Bush created the economic problems and that President Obama needed more time to fix them. That negated it's value.

The President's campaign won by nothing less than defying political gravity...they were swimming upstream against a terrible economy and voter intensity and won. It is a much more incredible feat than what they did in '08.

bigpicture:

Why do you think the Republicans were able to maintain such strong control of the House, with such relatively strong Democratic turnout?

Bill Lacy:

Realize the President's ground game was designed to benefit him in the Democratic areas of presidential target states and not in House campaigns. The vast majority of those areas were already held by Democrats in the House. In effect, the President's campaign functioned like other presidential campaigns in tough races: they ruthlessly focused their resources on getting him reelected.

local_interest:

Where does the Tea Party go from here? With the losses of West, Akin, Mourdoch, Walsh, etc with only Bachman standing (narrowly), does that deflate or increase their ambitions?

Bill Lacy:

Look at the big picture over the last two cycles...one can argue the GOP would control the Senate in the next Congress if we had nominated the right candidates in DE, CO and NV in 2010 and MO and IN in 2012. I don't necessarily believe all those candidates lost because they were too conservative. Two of them defeated Republicans who clearly would have won and all were just not very good candidates. They made terrible mistakes. I do think it's time to go back to Bill Buckley's old rule about primaries: Nominate the most conservative candidate who can win the general election. In my view, this presupposes that the person has adequate skills and experience as a candidate.

Moderator:

We heard a lot about undecided voters from the time of the conventions through the debates. Is there a general consensus on which way they leaned?

Bill Lacy:

I actually missed that in the exit data, sorry...I can tell you Gov. Romney carried Independents by a comfortable margin but, again, lost because the Obama ground game grew his piece of the electorate.

Moderator:

The numbers show that Mitt Romney got about 2 million fewer votes than John McCain did in 2008. What does that tell you?

Bill Lacy:

I haven't figured that out yet but it's an astounding fact that's hard for me to believe. We may eventually find that part of the GOP base couldn't get excited about Romney and didn't vote. This should get a lot of analysis in the coming days.

Moderator:

Does his solid victory give President Obama a mandate, or will be be hamstrung by the Republican-held House again? Will we see Congress be more receptive to working with the president?

Bill Lacy:

Did President Bush get a mandate in the 2004 election? I don't think so, and he actually got about a half percentage point more of the popular vote than the President yesterday.

The two most successful President in contemporary history are Reagan and Clinton, and each succeeded by aggressively courting the other side in Congress. Is President Obama willing to do that? Or does he expect Speaker Boehner to do something congressional Democrats in the '80's and Republicans in the '90's didn't have to do? President Obama is the nation's leader and it's his job to reach out.

bigpicture:

Do you think we'll be seeing/hearing a lot more from Paul Ryan?

Bill Lacy:

Definitely. He'll be taking the lead in the GOP House on budget issues. Now that he is a nationally known figure with presumably greater ambition, it will be fascinating to see what he does.

Moderator:

Rex Russell asks this question via Facebook: "If the GOP had run an old fashion normal Republican in the vein of someone similar to Bob Dole or Nancy Kassebaum, would he/she have eclipsed the incumbent?"

So, would the GOP have benefited from a well-known moderate? Could a moderate have even made it through the primaries?

Bill Lacy:

I wonder some days if President Reagan could make it thorough the GOP primaries! After all, he never focused on social issues--he was much more a Western style conservative like Barry Goldwater--and believed in a Big Tent GOP that was a coalition.

I think your question is difficult to answer because you are talking about a different time. I think a more problematic issue for the GOP is to square their belief in limited government with the ways that many social conservatives are willing to use the federal government to enforce their views. Moderates voted heavily for the President but my take is a lot of those moderates are actually libertarians who can't stomach some of the GOP's social views.

local_interest:

Considering the money involved in this election, do you think there will be any attempt to control it? Thanks for answering questions today, by the wya.

Bill Lacy:

I believe campaign finance reform and restrictions have made things worse. If I could have my way, I would eliminate any limits on contributions but then require total and instantaneous transparency in disclosure of contributions. Most of you will disagree with me on that point, but I think Americans can look at the facts and judge accordingly.

I enjoy interactions like this--I would encourage you to always feel free to email me or better yet come to our programs and hear a wide variety of points of view.

Moderator:

What do you see as the president's biggest priority now that he's been re-elected? What will be his biggest challenges?

Bill Lacy:

His biggest priority and challenge is to own the situation the country's in because he has asked to have four more years to fix it. He's going to have to move to the center. Bob Woodward's last book describes a budget deal the President had reached with Speaker Boehner but then reneged on due to political considerations.

The President has to reach out and try for consensus--not try to dictate it.

Moderator:

Bill, thank you for taking the time to give us a great post-game analysis. And readers, thanks for your great questions. This has been a very interesting chat.

Bill, before we sign off, do you have any final thoughts about this election?

Bill Lacy:

I do. We need to stop questioning the motives of people we disagree with. And we need to learn again how to agree to disagree. For my Democratic friends I think you must understand that as great a victory as the President earned, he is going to have to be the leader on reaching any agreements with House Republicans.

For my Republican friends, it's time to figure out how to reach minorities, women, young people and moderates. It's hard to square some of our past action with our commitment to limited government. The GOP should remain a conservative party but the days of winning national elections with just white voters is over.

At the Dole Institute we attempt in everything we do to reflect Sen. Dole's view on bipartisanship and reaching common ground when possible, especially in very difficult times.

Now is a great time to remember that and put it to work.

Moderator:

Thanks again, Bill. Have a great day.

Comments

verity 1 year, 9 months ago

Yes, we must learn to work together, but I'm suspecting, from past experience, that the Republicans will not do it unless President Obama kicks some @$$.

1

riverdrifter 1 year, 9 months ago

"The GOP should remain a conservative party but the days of winning national elections with just white voters is over." Solid point and a very unpleasant thing for the GOP's extremists to consider.

1

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