Charlie Cook discusses campaign strategies as election nears
It takes more than a bad economy to win – or lose – a close presidential race, the political analyst argues.
Despite the state of the economy, political analyst Charlie Cook gave President Barack Obama a slight advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney as he discussed the upcoming presidential election in front of a packed Whitley Auditorium on Sept. 10.
But the publisher of The Cook Political Report was quick to point out there is still much time left and many variables that can determine the outcome of the election.
“This is a close race and it’s going to stay a close race,” he said.
Typically, when the economy is bad, presidents don’t get reelected, Cook said. And while people understand the current administration inherited a bad situation, as time went by, they expected the man they put in the Oval Office to have done more about it.
For many Americans, President Obama spent too much time in his first term fighting for the health care law and not enough time trying to fix the economy, Cook said. Voters let their lack of confidence in the president’s effectiveness be known in the 2010 election cycle that gave the Republican Party a majority in the House of Representatives.
Looking ahead, Cook said, most economists don’t predict the economy will get better this year and consumer confidence is low, with roughly 60 percent of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track.
“If you focus on these numbers, (Obama) shouldn’t get reelected,” he said.
And yet, when confronted with the alternative of having Romney as president, most voters don’t feel comfortable with the choice. Part of this is because Romney’s campaign has not convinced the American people he is someone they can trust to lead the country, Cook added.
“If President Obama is reelected, it would be despite the economy and because of his campaign,” he said. “But if Mitt Romney wins, it’d be because of the economy and despite his campaign.”
Cook said the problem with the Romney campaign is one of trustworthiness. They have focused their efforts on blaming Obama for the “lousy economy” and forgot to build Romney up in the eyes of voters. While he is a bright man, Cook said, he does not have broad appeal with voters. He added the question is whether Romney has the type of personality needed to cut deals and find the middle ground if elected.
“You should always define your candidate before the opponent has a chance to do so,” Cook said, adding the Obama camp has done a good job painting a picture of Romney as a calculating businessman more concerned with the bottom line than the well being of American workers. Whether that picture is true or not, the imagery “has stuck to him like Velcro.”
Cook said the Romney campaign “squandered” a precious opportunity to reach swing state voters during the Republican National Convention last month by scheduling moving and personal testimonies about Romney before coverage by the big television networks begun.
“Only people in the room or who were watching C-SPAN saw it,” he said. “They did the right thing at the wrong time.” The Obama campaign, on the other hand, has done a great job in getting television spots in the regions that are most important for the campaign, he added.
Cook said another area where Romney has failed is immigration. He said Romney “received bad advice” and criticized the president’s immigrations efforts, alienating the growing Latino vote that may determine who wins the election.
No matter who wins, Cook said he is worried elected officials on both sides are not willing to take the middle road. Nowadays, many politicians see compromise as a four-letter word, a sign of weakness or lack of principle. He said the truth is, to get things done, they need to get people pulling in the same direction, no matter what color jersey they wear.
“We didn’t get in this mess just under Democratic presidents or Republican presidents,” Cook said. “My theory is Democrats can screw things up and Republicans can screw things up; but it takes both sides to overly screw things up.”
He said people with the right temperament are not running for office anymore because the standards voters have set are too high, keeping viable candidates on the sidelines. He said some of the flawed presidents Americans elected in the past went on to do great things for the country.
“I hope more young to middle-age people who do have the skill sets and the intelligence, the personality to become effective leaders, run in bigger numbers than in the past 20, 30 years,” he said. “We haven’t done it so well. I hope your generation does better.”
At the end of the discussion, Cook took time to answer questions from students, who filled the auditorium to capacity. He encouraged those who may be seriously considering running for office in the future to do so with an open mind and the right disposition.
Above all, he said, “behave yourselves. Don’t do stuff you don’t want to see in the front of the local paper,” he added with a smile.