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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Overview of President Obama's Campaign Themes

Patrick Gaspard, Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee
Charlotte, NC
September 6, 2012

11:00 A.M.


MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the last day of the briefings that the Foreign Press Center will host here at the Democratic National Convention. We’re pleased to have an esteemed speaker with us this morning. It’s Patrick Gaspard, who’s the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee.

First, we’ll have a brief announcement introduction by our friend, Marie. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Good morning, everyone. It’s good to see you for the final day of our convention. I know I’m getting used to this. I’m going to miss it after it’s over. (Laughter.)

Thank you so much for being flexible on the time, really happy to have with us today Patrick Gaspard. He’s going to talk about some the themes of the week, do a little bit of a wrap-up of how the week has gone, some of what we’ve been very proud of in our convention, and then talk a little bit about what we can expect from this evening’s program. He’ll just make some brief opening remarks, and then we’ll open it up for questions.

And one logistical note for folks is we do have a hard stop today. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to do any pull-asides on the way out. So if you have questions, ask them during the briefing. I wanted to forewarn people on that.

So with that, I will turn it over to Patrick. And thanks, guys, so much.

MR. GASPARD: Thank you, Marie. Good morning. I’m pleased to be able to join you for what I hope is going to be a little bit of a dynamic back-and-forth. We think that we have had an absolutely exceptional convention thus far, filled with speakers who have both inspired and motivated the activists in the room to go out and work ever harder to re-elect the President, because the stakes could not be higher in this contest. And we’ve also spent a fair amount of time not only laying out the President’s record, but also bringing it into sharp relief and contrast against the Romney-Ryan plans for middle class Americans.

We’ve heard from speakers like Bill Clinton, who gave us an exceptional speech last night where he delineated all the falsehoods of the Republican ticket and laid that out against the President’s vision for growth in this country. And of course, on the very first night, we were all thrilled to hear from Mayor Julian Castro and from our outstanding First Lady, who has a bird’s eye view on the President’s character and can speak to what motivates him each and every day in that Oval Office far better than anyone else can.

And this evening, we’re of course going to hear from Vice President Joe Biden. We’ll hear from Senator John Kerry, who will talk about the ways in which President Obama has made certain that America continues to lead in the world on securing democracy and prosperity for all in a time of intense competition. And finally tonight, we’ll hear from the President himself, who will have an opportunity to address the American people and give them a sense of what they can look forward to in a second Obama Administration.

So with that, I’d love to open it up.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.) All follow-on questioners, if you could just wait for the microphone, we’ll start right here.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, sir. My question is: What are we going to expect in Obama’s speech tonight?

MR. GASPARD: Well, convention speeches are always about vision and looking downfield a bit. Clearly it’s not a State of the Union address, so you’re not going to see a litany of highly detailed policies being laid out, but the President will present his vision, his plan for the American people, and he’s going to talk about it through the prism of the shared values that he has with middle class Americans. And of course, I would hasten to remind you that just last week at the Republican Convention, we received a speech from that nominee that was bereft of any specificity at all, did not lay out how the Romney-Ryan ticket would benefit middle class Americans, be they students or seniors.

And the President, of course, will speak to his record. He’ll remind all of us where we’ve come from, where we are today. And he’ll point us towards what we need to do in order to ensure energy independence, to make sure that young people have the opportunities they need so they can out-compete and out-innovate anyone else in the world. And the President will, of course, specifically address what we need to do to take care of those who have worked hard and played by the rules and deserve a fair shake when it comes to things like Social Security and Medicare.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) TV in Poland. Sir, this is the last day of the convention. Could you draw some comparisons between what we saw in Tampa and here, not as far as the substance goes but as far as the energy and the people’s reactions to what’s going on on the floor?

MR. GASPARD: Yes. That’s a great question. I actually think there’s no comparison between the energy that we’ve had here in Charlotte, North Carolina and what took place out in Tampa. You can see that our delegates, our activists have been engaged throughout the conversation that we’ve had each of the last two nights, and I know that impartial journalists have commented on this over the air. There did not seem to be the same level of intensity and passion towards the ticket in Tampa.

And I have to say there’s one other thing that’s, in my opinion, a sharp contrast here. In Tampa, I think that the nominees and all the other speakers were really having a direct conversation with the individuals who were in that room, the extreme wing of their party. They weren’t having a broad conversation with all of America about how we all come together in difficult times to move forward. In this convention, I think that we’ve properly elevated the conversation. We’re not just talking to folks in the room, we’re not talking to our base, we’re not just talking to Democrats writ large; we’re asking all of Americans to lean forward together, to listen together, to walk together, towards a greater shared prosperity.

All of the energy in that hall in Tampa seemed to be animated only when there were hostile attacks against the President, not when any kind of a positive vision was being laid forth, because that was almost nonexistent in their conversation.

MODERATOR: Okay, great. For our next question, we’ll go to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much for your comments. Two questions: First, is the President going to announce any new measures for the economy? And second, the decision to move back to the arena from the stadium is kind of controversial because you have said that it will – the show will go on rain or shine. And what’s going to happen if it doesn’t even rain? It’s going to be interpreted as you couldn’t fill up the stadium and now you’re moving back to the arena.

MR. GASPARD: Well, I think – I’ll take the second question first. I think if you look at the track record that our campaign has and this President has in having the capacity to draw excited audiences to come and participate in a conversation, and you contrast that with the other campaign that has struggled mightily to fill considerably smaller spaces, I think that the American people know, our activists know, reporters know that we would have had a full house in the stadium tonight if we chose to go that route. We already had 65,000 folks who had committed and thousands others who were on a waiting line. We had thousands of activists here in the state of North Carolina that volunteered shifts in order to earn the right to come and participate in tonight’s Democratic conversation. So we felt fairly confident about our ability to fill the seats and put on a great show, as you say.

But at the end of the day, safety and security had to prevail. We had to be concerned about tens of thousands of folks who would be turning out in what was forecasted as an evening when we were likely to have thunder showers. Rain is one thing; thunderstorms is another thing altogether. We had to be concerned about them. We had to be concerned about the first responders who would have to be on hand to provide for their safety. So on balance, we understood that we had to take the show back indoors.

And of course, we still know that irrespective of that choice, we’re still going to have a great program this evening. There’s going to be great energy in the hall. And thousands of folks who could not come in to participate as a consequence of the move are going to join watch parties across the country, across the region. And I know that they’re going to follow up and continue to be active and engaged in our campaign.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in the arena?

MR. GASPARD: I’m sorry.

MODERATOR: Can you speak here to the mike?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) or the stage or --

MR. GASPARD: I can’t hear you. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Is there any change in the arena in terms of the podium and the capacity and all that?

MR. GASPARD: There are minor logistical adjustments that need to be made just because we have a smaller footprint in this arena, but it’s not going to compel us to make radical shifts in our programming at all. We’re going to still hear from that great lineup of speakers that I hinted at before. And again, as I said, there’s going to be tremendous energy in the room.

Now on your first question, if you’d remind me quickly.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Is the President going to announce any new economic measures?

MR. GASPARD: Well, I think that the American people have a very clear sense of what this President’s economic vision has been and continues to be. Clearly, everyone knows in this country that this President walked into exceedingly difficult times, the worst recession since the Great Depression, bleeding 8 million jobs in a historic downturn before any of his policies took hold. And they know that as a result of his polices, we’ve now grown 4.5 million jobs in the private sector over the course of the last 29 to 30 months. And then all the other things that he has done to enhance economic security, healthcare security, and to make sure that young people in this country have all the opportunities they need to succeed.

Unlike Mitt Romney, we didn’t need to hire a bunch of Hollywood and Madison Avenue PR execs to reinvent the President. Folks know that he is working hard every single day on behalf of the middle class. I’m not going to get ahead of the President of the United States and preview elements of his speech. But broadly, you can be assured that he’s going to recommit to the hard work that needs to be done because the President would readily accept that the pace of growth has not been as quick and as robust as any of us would want. But certainly, we are in a far better place now than we were four years ago this time, and he’ll make plain all the reasons why we are, and he’ll explain how we’re doubling down on some of those policies that have increased manufacturing output in this country for the first time since 1997, that allowed for growth in the iconic American automobile industry for the first time in a generation.

And that’s – and he’ll, of course, speak to the jobs plan that he’s had languishing in front of the Republican-led Congress for the better part of a year, a plan that would grow a million jobs for teachers, for firefighters, for construction workers in this country.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question, we’ll go to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) with (inaudible) Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have two questions. First, what can we expect to hear about foreign policy, since this was a overshadow topic in all – during all of the campaign compared to the last two campaigns?

And secondly, a logistical question: Do – our media credentials will be guaranteed to go in the arena? Because yesterday, they were not.

MR. GASPARD: I’ll allow one of my trusted colleagues here to take your second question.

On the first question, we will absolutely hear about foreign policy challenges and successes in this evening’s addresses. Unlike the conversation that you heard in Tampa, Florida last week, our conversation about foreign policy will actually be fact-based and will not be a work of fiction or delusion. Last week, Mitt Romney and his supporters in the Republican Party tried to suggest that somehow we are less secure in the world today than we were when Republicans had their hand on the steering wheel, but of course all Americans know – everyone in the world knows – that the President responsibly drew down the war in Iraq, has put us on a pace to withdraw responsibly in Afghanistan with a timeline and a date certain.

And contrasted with Mitt Romney, who seemed to think it was tragic that we brought down the conflict in Iraq, Americans are well aware of the circumstances in Libya, where, without jeopardizing American lives and safety, we managed to end a brutal dictatorship and put the people of Libya on the path towards a democracy.

And of course, we’re going to talk about the ways in which we have enhanced benefits and long-term security for our veterans here, those who have given the best measure of themselves overseas and in the past have been woefully neglected. The President and John Kerry and Joe Biden and others will talk about the ways in which we’ve lifted up their cause and made certain that they’re able to be productive members of the society.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. GASPARD: Again, I’m not going to preview specific elements of the President’s speech, but I’m certain that John Kerry, given his perch in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, will speak to all that this President has done to impose harsh sanctions against Iran and to make certain that the world is safe from nuclear proliferation in that instance.

MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, right here.

QUESTION: Yes, I am Silvia Pisani from La Nacion, Argentina.

MR. GASPARD: I think the --


MR. GASPARD: The second question.


QUESTION: How about logistics?

MODERATOR: Logistics.

MR. GASPARD: Logistics and their credentials.

MODERATOR: We’ll get back to that. Sorry, (inaudible). Someone will follow up with you.

QUESTION: Everybody loved, of course, Clinton’s speech yesterday. I wanted to ask you, what is the reason that this speech will be remembered much more than the speech that will pronounce today Obama? And the second question is about the platform. If you could explain what happened with the platform, this thing of Jerusalem and God coming in, out, in, out?


QUESTION: Okay. And if it is going to be damaging for Obama campaign in the future.

MR. GASPARD: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the very last --

QUESTION: The – well, that this coming and going with God and Jerusalem is now going to be damaging for Obama campaign in the future.

MR. GASPARD: I’ll actually – I’ll tackle that last bit of this first, and I’m going to do it by again reminding you of the contrast between what took place here in our convention yesterday as it relates to the platform and what took place in Tampa, Florida with the Republicans. I’m going to go to Tampa first.

Let’s all recall that just a week ago, Mitt Romney tried to suggest that somehow there was daylight between his position on the question of abortion in instances of rape and incest. He said there was daylight between his position and the stated position of the Republican Party through that platform. He said he disagreed with his party’s platform, and yet he took absolutely no measures at all to make plain that disagreement at the convention, to correct that platform, to make it reflect his stated values. So if there really was any daylight between him and the extreme wing of his party, the Akin, the – people like Congressman Akin – if there was any daylight, it was not demonstrated through any leadership out there on the floor.

Contrast that with the action that President Obama compelled us to take yesterday. We drafted a platform that was intended to reflect the challenges and the successes that we’ve had to both meet and all that we’ve accomplished over the course of the last three years. So on foreign policy, on the state of Israel, we laid out all the ways that the President has enhanced security, improved the relationship, and of course, in that document, we made plain that Israel is and will always continue to be our most important ally in that region.

When it was rightly pointed out to us that there was a change in the passage from 2008 to 2012, the President took note of it and suggested that we work immediately with the delegates in the hall in a democratic and transparent way to have a conversation about the need to amend the platform so that it reflected the President’s values, the President’s policies and positions today, and going forward. And Chairman Villaraigosa and former Governor Ted Strickland did that in about as open a conversation as one could hope to have in a modern convention. So I would just ask that folks contrast it to where, in one instance, you have clear leadership, and the other instance, you have equivocation or capitulation to extreme elements in Mitt Romney’s party.


Now on your other question about Bill Clinton’s speech, that was a tremendous speech. Bill Clinton can tell a story like no other politician has ever been able to do, but you can trust that Barack Obama has enough security to be able to follow the likes of Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton’s speech will be memorable, but it’s going to be memorable in ways that are, I think, different than the President’s speech tonight.


On the very first evening, our First Lady was able to speak to the values that inform the tough decisions that this President has to make every single day. Last evening, President Clinton was able to give sharp definition to exactly what’s at stake in this election. He was able to lay out exactly what the Romney-Ryan vision looks like because he has historic precedent for it and was able to put it in that kind of proper context. And of course, tonight, the President is going to be forward-looking and he’ll be able to lay out the North Star that he’s pointing Americans to in a second term.


MODERATOR: Next question in the front right here.


QUESTION: My name is Jostein Loevass. I’m with the Norwegian Business Daily. I think the President or this convention is trying to change the narrative of some more unpopular issues like the healthcare reform. Do you think that is going to be successful, and can Obamacare become a winner for you in this election?


MR. GASPARD: Great question. I don’t think that there’s any speaker in this convention who’s trying to change the narrative about healthcare reform. I think that each speaker who took the stage said exactly what we have been saying about healthcare reform before passage, during congressional hearings, and post-passage and after the Supreme Court resolution of this issue. We’ve made it clear that before President Obama took office, before healthcare passed, we had ballooning healthcare costs in this country that were absolutely unsustainable, and we needed to figure out ways to improve our access to healthcare equality, healthcare for all, while reining in costs that were running rampant for individuals, for small businesses, and for government.


And we’ve also made it clear that as a consequence of this bill passing, we now have over 3 million young people who are able to stay on their parents’ healthcare insurance who did not have access to insurance before. There are about 12 or 13 million Americans who received a rebate from their health insurers because those insurers were not giving the kinds of resources they ought to to direct care, and were instead inflating the salaries and compensations of CEOs. We also have women who have access to preventative screenings who did not have them before this bill passed. And certainly, we have hundreds of thousands of seniors who have a prescription drug benefit, again, as a consequence of tough, politically unpopular decisions being made.


So we’re not trying to change the narrative or recast this or just massage it at the edges; we’re going directly to the American people and laying out the same case that we’ve laid out from day one on this issue. And it has been our experience that as we travel the states, that as the President has this direct conversation, we continue to get great and positive responses from Americans across a broad swath, a broad spectrum of ideologies.


MODERATOR: All right. Next.


QUESTION: Voters will get it? Voters will get it?


MR. GASPARD: Well, there’s every evidence that the voters have been getting it. We continue to be – to have some measure of success in the battleground states. If we go into electoral process here, the President still has more paths to 270 electoral votes than Mitt Romney and the Republicans have, and we are confident that as we go out and tell our story and tell the truth about what Romney and Ryan intend to do to Medicare, what they intend to do to Social Security, how they intend to roll back Obamacare to the detriment of seniors, then I suspect that we’ll be successful in the end.


QUESTION: Yes, Stephane Bussard, Swiss daily newspaper Le Temps. There are two months left until the elections. How do you see the whole issue of campaign financing in the sense that – a lot of people say that now the Obama campaign will be outspent by the Romney campaign. And how do you see that in terms of negative ads? Because obviously, it’s going to be a big issue in the swing states. Thank you.


MR. GASPARD: Yeah. Well, that is true. Over the course of the last three months, our campaign has been out-fundraised and outspent by Romney and his combined super PACs. We know that Karl Rove and Chamber of Commerce and Sheldon Adelson and Donald Trump and all their friends are doing all that they can to make certain that they are able to maintain their favorable tax rates, to make sure that all manner of rules are not promulgated for the – against the oil interests.


So they’re going to continue to outspend us in the states. I think in most battlegrounds right now, they’re up on us almost at a ratio of 3-to-1. However, irrespective of that, the numbers really have not changed all that much in this contest. If you go back to the heated primary between the Republicans, look at the moment when Mitt Romney kind of emerged as their nominee, you’ll see that there’s been really no moment in Qunnipiac, in Gallup, in all the national polls and the critical battleground states polls as well.


We’ve always said this is going to be a very, very, very close contest, much tighter than the last one. But we believe that because of the infrastructure that we built in 2007 and 2008, the infrastructure that we continue to rely on as this President passed historic consumer protections and Wall Street reform and healthcare – as we did all that hard work, we continue to rely on our activists in Ohio, in Virginia, in Florida, in North Carolina. So that muscle hasn’t atrophied at all, and we see that those activists continue to be engaged. While we may not match the other side dollar for dollar on the air, I trust that with the message that this President’s going to bring, with the vision that he’s going to lay bare, and with the hard work of Americans young and old who really care about their country, who love their country, who are going to go out and knock on doors and register voters and build public awareness, that we’ll be able to compete with those undemocratic, nontransparent Super PACs.


MODERATOR: This is going to be the last question (inaudible).


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


MODERATOR: Hold on. Wait for the microphone.


QUESTION: Sir, how worried are you in terms of turnout in general for the next elections? It seems that there are some minorities who are a little bit disappointed, to say the least, about Barack Obama. They will – may not just show up on the 6th of November. What do you think? And what are we doing to get those guys out there?


MR. GASPARD: Sure. Well, as an organizer, all we’re paid to do all the time is worry. We are taking absolutely nothing for granted in this contest. Again, as we go out and we talk to our activists, when we look at the over 3 million Americans who’ve made some kind of a contribution to this campaign, when we look at the tens of thousands of folks in states like North Carolina who are out knocking on doors on our behalf and are having the kinds of intimate retail conversations on the door stoop, at the kitchen table, that are paramount to offset the cynicism that folks are hearing about on cable television, I’m confident of our ability to be successful.


And I want to say this notion that somehow minorities and the base of the party lack enthusiasm is just not evident. If anything, I see a lack of enthusiasm on the other side. I see a extreme right wing in that party who have a venomous hatred towards our President. Bill Clinton talked about this last night. But we’re not seeing any kind of a positive vision on the other side that engenders enthusiasm in the base or inspires all Americans to come together in these tough times of crisis.


But on our side, I think you’re seeing great enthusiasm in here. I think that we’re seeing enthusiasm from folks who are benefiting from what the President did on the Dream Act, enthusiasm from folks who are excited about the fact that this President has made it possible for people to serve in the military and for this country they love irrespective of whom they love. We’re seeing enthusiasm from young people who are benefiting from the fact that this President doubled the size of Pell Grants, doubled the number of Pell Grant recipients, and has made sure that young people can pay back their debt at a lower interest rate.


So we’re seeing real enthusiasm, real involvement out there, and I know that that’s going to continue over the course of the next few weeks and months until we’re – until we have victory on November 6th.


MODERATOR: Thank you.


MR. GASPARD: Thank you.

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