2:00 P.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today we have with us Alexander Burns, who writes for Politico, who will talk about the state of the campaigns on the eve of Election Day.
MR. BURNS: Hi. Thank you all for coming. As Miriam said, I’m Alex Burns. I’m with Politico. I’m one of our two bloggers sort of anchoring our election coverage. I’ll be here in Washington on election night, but just came back from Nevada, which is of course a very important swing state – a little closer. So I want to just give a couple sort of brief overview thoughts on where the campaign is right now and then get pretty quickly to what your questions are.
We find ourselves on the eve of the election with the preponderance of swing state polling suggesting the President is headed for a narrow win tomorrow. In these national polls, you see that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are very, very closely matched. They’re usually separated by just one or two points in either direction, within the margin of error. But the important polls to look at are the ones out in the individual states like Ohio and Florida, Virginia and Nevada, Wisconsin, because what really matters is which candidate can get to 270 electoral votes.
Most of those polls suggest that the President is very, very slightly ahead in most of those states. It’s within the margin of error in most places, so there’s a very, very real possibility that Governor Romney ends up winning tomorrow night, but it would be considered something of an upset if, despite all polls out of Ohio, practically all polls out of places like Nevada and New Hampshire showing the President ahead, if Romney were to win anyway.
It’s a cliché in American elections and I imagine in most elections that at the end of the day, what matters is turnout, which voters actually show up at the polls. I don't know if we have anyone from Australia here, but I guess where you have compulsory voting, that’s not such a big wildcard. But here, the big question mark is always who is actually going to show up and participate. The reason why the Romney campaign believes that it still has a reasonably good shot at winning this election is because they think that the voting population is going to look more like it did eight years ago in 2004 when President Bush got reelected than it did in 2008 when Barack Obama got elected in the first place.
Four years ago, the President benefited from a historic participation by young voters, nonwhite voters, and by winning by significant margins among independent voters and women voters. He is not going to win by a big margin or maybe at all among independent voters this year. So if the President wins, it’s going to be because he has offset his losses among independents by picking up even more support among those groups that voted at historic levels in 2008 – Latino voters, young voters, unmarried women, other groups that traditionally vote more liberal but don’t necessarily participate at the highest rates.
The Romney campaign is making the bet that we are going to have a somewhat wider, somewhat more conservative, somewhat older electorate than we had four years ago, which is why you see him campaigning in places like Pennsylvania, which is a traditionally Democratic state but has a large population of white voters and independent voters that he believes could swing to him in this race. Just to sort of zoom out beyond that, in the big picture, the most significant issue in the election is still the economy, but I think you have to consider that at this point, it’s maybe a bit less of a liability for the President than it was a year ago. Romney got into this race on the theory that he’d be able to win the Republican primary because he was the most – the strongest candidate for the general election against Obama and that he was the strongest candidate for the general election against Obama because he, Mitt Romney, has strong credentials on the economy and Barack Obama has weak credentials on the economy.
Most of that is still true, that the President, if you look at public opinion polls, his approval rating on the economy and jobs is still poor. But because we’ve seen this sort of steady downward movement in the unemployment rate, that it’s now below 8 percent if only just below 8 percent, some of the mood in the country that existed when Romney launched his campaign 17 months ago has dissipated a little bit, that there’s not the same sense that there was in 2010 of just enormous pent-up frustration and anger at Washington and at the White House over the condition of the economy. The President is now out there campaigning and saying that things are basically moving in the right direction. It’s still not a slam-dunk for him to make that case and there’s still a lot of frustration, but it’s a more plausible case for Obama to make now than it was at the beginning of the race.
So let me just answer whatever is on your minds. I’m happy to talk about the presidential race, the states, if you want to talk about the Senate and Congress.
MODERATOR: And state your name and media organization.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Burns (inaudible) Sweden. Have you seen any impact from Sandy on the election?
MR. BURNS: I think you heard over the last couple of days some prominent Republicans like Karl Rove, the former Bush advisor, Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, saying pretty explicitly that they think the storm was helpful to the President. Not necessarily because people saw how the President handled the storm and chose to vote for him where they might have otherwise voted for Romney, but because there was this sense of sort of gathering momentum behind the Romney campaign.
There was a lot of talk about this idea that Romney’s polling numbers run a steady upward trajectory, and then for a week we really stopped talking about the campaign just period. You didn’t hear about it in national news. And then any president in a moment of crisis, any president who is seen on the ground in a situation of devastation, there’s typically some sympathy, some public rallying around that person.
I think there’s some reason for skepticism of that assessment that – certainly, the storm didn’t hurt the President, but even before the storm hit, there were signs that Romney’s momentum was leveling off a little bit. He clearly got a bump out of that first debate in Denver, a big bump out of that first debate in Denver, but he didn’t knock out the President in either of the two successive debates. And if you look at a state like Ohio or a state like Nevada or Wisconsin, you can see that the poll – that Romney sort of moved up in the polling and then either plateaued or dipped back down a little bit, and that was before the storm hit.
So I think you can make the argument that Romney would be better off right now if the storm hadn’t happened. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable case to make because the challenger candidate in these kinds of races always needs to close with a very strong message, and the storm made that difficult. But the idea that Romney was on track to win and then the storm broke his campaign, I think that’s pretty dubious.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Christoph Marschall from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel.
MODERATOR: We need another – (inaudible) is doing something for --
STAFF: For what?
MODERATOR: Andrew. I don’t ask. I don’t want to even ask. Yeah, we need a mike holder.
STAFF: Let’s just (inaudible). I’ll take care of it.
MODERATOR: Please. Yeah.
MR. BURNS: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I can go ahead or --
MR. BURNS: No, please. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So Christoph Marschall from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. I just wanted to know how reliable, in your opinion, are the polls at all? I mean, we are all trying to follow that, but there is this debate whether they have still the right technique, what about cell phone voters, landline voters, how do you get to the electorate which is really going to vote and not only pretending that they are possible voters. What do you make about that? That’s a big question since the margins of error of the polls are three or four percentage points and the two campaigns adjust 0.7 or maybe 1 percent apart, so --
MR. BURNS: Right. Yeah, I think that if Romney wins tomorrow, I think it’s a real sort of day of reckoning for the polling industry, that if you look day to day over the weekend and today, the great majority of polls from the swing states have shown the President ahead – slightly ahead, but ahead. If Romney wins anyway, I think there’s going to be a real outcry about “Well, why were all these polls wrong?” And as you say, many of them aren’t actually wrong. If you show the President up two points with a four-point margin of error and Romney wins by two, the poll wasn’t wrong. It’s just that there’s variation and error in sampling. But that’s not how polls typically get reported, and I think that you would – I think after this campaign, particularly if Romney wins, you’re going to see a lot more caution in the national media about how to talk about polling, how to assess the state of the race.
As far as whether polls by and large are accurate, personally, as a reporter, I don’t put too much stock in any individual poll. But if you take them all together, some pretty clear trends typically emerge. If you look over this last weekend, on Friday night you had one poll from the Miami Herald showing Romney ahead in the state of Florida by six points. And the same night, you had a poll from NBC and The Wall Street Journal showing that Obama was ahead by two in the state. I don’t know what you can really take away from that except for the fact that Florida is a very, very competitive state, and it always is.
On the other hand, you have a state like Ohio where in the last two weeks you have polls from CNN, Time Magazine, Public Policy Polling, a couple other pollsters showing the President ahead by three to five points. That’s a pretty stable trend. So I think we – personally, I wouldn’t bet my life on any one of these results, but when you have a stable trend of the President being ahead by a couple points in a state or Romney being ahead by a couple points in a state the way we’ve had in a place like North Carolina, that I put some stock in.
MR. BURNS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is (inaudible). I am from (Inaudible) Business Personal news agency. My question is: The latest news from the U.S. economic status unemployment you already mentioned, how could they influence the decision of right now undecided voters? How large they can have an impact? And one more question, please. Could you please figure out or lay out some brief vision how the economy could develop when, for example, Barack Obama will be reelected, or if there will be like, a major shift or when – on Mitt Romney? Thank you very much.
MR. BURNS: Thanks. I think that month to month, there’s been this expectation in the political press that the unemployment report would substantially change the race in one way or another, that when it ticks up – there was one month where I think it went from 8.3 to 8.5. A lot of people in my line of work immediately assumed this is terrible for the President and his numbers are going to take a hit. And I think there’s also the assumption that in October, when the unemployment rate dropped from – I think it was 8.1 to 7.8, well, that’s great news for Obama, his polling numbers should improve.
Neither of those things really happened. So you – I think we are at a point in the race where voters’ perceptions of the economy are pretty much fixed, and they have been for a while, because at the end of the day, if you’re a voter in Ohio or in Virginia or Iowa, you’re not basing your perception of the economy on this abstract number that’s reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’re basing your perception of the economy on whether members of your family have jobs, or your neighbor has a job, or if you can afford to buy what you want to buy at the supermarket, or how you much you have to pay for gasoline. So I think that we have tended in the U.S. press to overestimate the political impact of those jobs reports.
As far as the direction of economic policy depending on who wins this election, a couple months ago, I think a lot of people would have anticipated potentially some really significant changes if Romney were to win, because a couple months ago it looked like Republicans could win control of the Senate and take the presidency and keep control of the House of Representatives, which would have given Romney the kind of opportunity that Obama had at the beginning of his term – to have total control of the federal government, and really an ability to do things like revise or repeal Obama’s bank regulations, his healthcare law, things like that.
It now looks pretty unlikely that Republicans are going to take control of the Senate, so – and it looks very unlikely that Democrats will take control of the House. So whichever party wins the presidential election, we’re still going to have divided control in Washington. And I think it’s kind of anyone’s guess whether anyone will be able to get anything done under those conditions, and I think it’s a big question mark whether Governor Romney or whether President Obama has an agenda for the economy that could potentially get any bipartisan support at all. To me – I tend to be more pessimistic about these things – I think the safe bet is that not very much changes. The President, who has not implemented much in the way of economic policy in the last two years – it’d be surprising if Governor Romney were more successful facing a Democratic Senate than the President has been facing a Republican House.
You had a question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible), Macedonian TV from Macedonia. What turnout rates to be expected on these elections? And is it true that the bigger turnout, it means winner for President Obama? And also what was the turnout in 2008?
MR. BURNS: Gosh, I don’t know what the exact figure was for turnout in 2008, but it was – in 2008 it was higher than 2004, 2004 was higher than 2000, 2000 was higher than 1996. In the view of the Obama campaign, the trends in turnout have – ever since 1992, so for the last 20 years, each election you have seen more participation across the board, and you have seen more participation by nonwhite voters. So in each election since 1992, the percentage of the electorate that’s white has gone down by three to four percentage points, and the size of the overall electorate has increased by a couple percentage points as a share of the total population.
So if you ask the Obama campaign, their view is, “We are going to have turnout that is equal to or greater than 2008, and the electorate is going to look similar to the way it did four years ago.” The view of the Romney campaign is that 2008 was an anomaly in a lot of ways, that Barack Obama was a unique candidate running at a unique moment, and he was able to gain support and turn out voters from corners of the electorate that don’t typically participate in high rates and that the Romney campaign’s expectation, at least the last time I heard, was that you would have probably fewer Latino voters this time than you did previously, you’d probably have fewer young people than you did last time, you might have fewer people overall.
I can’t stand here and tell you definitively which bet is the better one. If you look at early voting in states – because some states vote only on November 6, some states allow people to vote in the several weeks or days before Election Day – early voting suggests the turnout is pretty strong. In a state like North Carolina or Florida, turnout in early voting may exceed what it did four years ago. And the big question there is: Does that means those are new people voting, that overall turnout will be more than it was four years ago; or is it that those are people who would ordinarily vote on Election Day and they’re voting early, and so it doesn’t change the overall pool of voters that much? We really don’t know. If we knew the answer, we could probably tell you who was going to win the presidential election.
MODERATOR: I thought there was somebody there.
MR. BURNS: It doesn’t matter. Just somebody --
MODERATOR: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Who was –
MR. BURNS: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Alexander (inaudible), (inaudible) Russia. Could you give us an idea of the state of congressional race as well? Thank you.
MR. BURNS: The House of Representatives, or the House and Senate? The expectation in both parties is probably that the two houses of Congress will stay more or less where they are. Democrats hoped after 2010 that they would be able to make up some ground this year in the House because Republicans elected a whole bunch of pretty weak candidates two years ago who now have to run for reelection in a less Republican year. What’s more, you had the – every 10 years we redraw the congressional maps in this country for the House of Representatives, and Democrats were very optimistic that by redrawing maps in New York and Illinois and California they’d be able to pick up a whole bunch of seats.
For a variety of reasons, it doesn’t look like that has panned out for them. In some respects, it’s just because Republicans have done a very good job of recruiting candidates. Democrats have done an inconsistent job of recruiting candidates. Republicans have benefited from a big financial advantage in a lot of races, where Democrats have not.
And then overall, the mood of the country has not – it’s not as Republican or not as pro-Republican an atmosphere as it was two years ago. But I don’t think anyone would go as far as to say that we’re in a pro-Democratic year, that we’re going to have a Democratic wave. So the House probably stays the same.
The Senate will also probably say the same, maybe exactly the same. Right now, there are 53 Democrats, 47 Republicans. Or to be exact, there are 51 Democrats, 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 47 Republicans. Those numbers right now look like they will either stay exactly the same or maybe move one seat to the Republicans. And that has a lot to do with individual candidates and individual races, that Republicans have ended up with a couple – I’m trying to think of a polite word for this but – incredibly bad candidates in a couple very, very important races.
So if you look at the Missouri Senate race, the Indiana Senate race, even the North Dakota Senate race, which Republicans may still win, you have elections where Democrats have ended up with – running in conservative states with strong Democratic candidates against weak Republican candidates. And so if you have a strong Democrat and a weak Republican in a Republican state, that’s a very competitive election.
And on top of that, you have – Democrats have caught a couple lucky breaks in that Republican Senator Olympia Snowe retired in Maine. That’s going to go to an Independent that will – who will probably caucus with the Democrats. And then the Democrats are pretty confident that they’ll be able to defeat Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts with Elizabeth Warren. That’s just a very, very Democratic state. Brown has run a fine campaign, he’s a popular senator, but it’s just a very, very Democratic state.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? (Inaudible.)
MODERATOR: Excuse me. With the next question, we’re going to go to New York, please. New York?
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you hear me?
QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible), French public radio. Two questions about these lawsuits that all legal battle that started yesterday in some states, swing states between Republicans and Democrats, how this is going to affect their results, the counting the votes tomorrow in those states, these states?
And second, about the Hurricane Sandy that affected, like, New York State and New Jersey, how this thing is going to affect the voters? Because some people, maybe they don’t have gas to take the car and go to vote, they have to change the locations of the poll sites. How do you think this is going to impact?
MR. BURNS: I’ll take your first question first. I think ever since the 2000 election, which was, of course, decided by 500 votes and a lawsuit in Florida, campaigns have had this mentality of sue first and ask questions later. So you are seeing a lot of lawyers deployed to different states, and a lot of – you have a lot of alarm and anxiety on both sides about voting irregularities, people who weren’t able to vote before the polling sites closed. I’m not sure which litigation you’re referring to in particular, but in Florida there’s a very big controversy about whether the Governor should extend early voting hours or should have extended early voting hours. He didn’t.
It’s difficult to say how much of this uproar is genuine from the parties and how much of it is based on a real sense that this could change the outcome of the election and how much it’s just precautionary, that if Democrats lose Florida by a thousand votes they’re going to blame the Governor for not extending early voting.
In a state like Ohio, there was a whole – just a whole mess of confrontations in court over the summer about what the early voting period would look like. Democrats basically came out on top of that one. So I can’t tell you definitively who is going to come out on top in the litigation, but if this is a very, very close election, I think the sort of nightmare scenario for everyone involved is that we would end up in weeks of recounts and lawsuits at the same time as Congress is supposedly going to be trying to confront a major sort of fiscal meltdown.
And on the question of whether Sandy will affect the vote, it will certainly affect the process of voting in New Jersey and in parts of New York. The State of New Jersey has laid out some measures where people can past their ballots electronically because some voting sites are not going to be able to open. New York is taking some measures as well. There are places in Connecticut that could be affected.
On the presidential level, that will not affect the electoral vote count. It won’t affect the actual outcome because those are very, very Democratic states. There is some sense on the Democratic side that if it’s a really close election and 50,000 people stay home in New Jersey because it’s inconvenient and 50,000 in New York and 50,000 in Connecticut, that maybe it could affect the popular vote margin between Obama and Romney, but that’s totally speculative right now. And frankly, if the election is that close, we’re kind of in a mess with or without the storm.
QUESTION: Brian Beary, Washington correspondent for EuroPolitics. I’m just wondering if you personally have been following the campaigns on the stumps very much, and if so, what’s your impression of the different moods between when you go to a Romney campaign rally and an Obama campaign rally?
MR. BURNS: Personally, I’ve been struck by the – I guess I would say the lack of energy on both sides, that if there’s more energy on one side it’s probably the Romney campaign, that his base is somewhat more fired up than the President’s is. But you don’t have the sense now that you had in 2008, or even in some races in 2010, of just electric energy on both sides. And I think that just has a lot to do with the mood of the country overall and the level of connection and commitment to the candidates that people have. The President’s base – all indications are the President’s base is going to turn out, but they’re going to do it out of a sense of obligation more than a sense of exuberance the way they did four years ago.
For the Romney campaign, there’s a lot of energy, but it’s more about beating Barack Obama than it is about this sort of overwhelming affection for Mitt Romney. So you go to a – I was at an Obama event in Las Vegas on Thursday, and his big applause lines are: We killed Usama bin Ladin, and we ended the wars – we ended the war in Iraq; we’re ending the war in Afghanistan. A lot of the lines about the economy you don’t – it’s not the same sense in 2008 that sort of whatever you throw out to the crowd they’re going to go nuts.
On the Romney side, there is a lot of excitement around this idea that – over the weekend they were chanting four more days at his rally – meaning, four more days until we beat Barack Obama, as opposed to four more years of the Obama Administration. But you don’t have – Romney is not a speaker the way George W. Bush was a speaker or the way some of his surrogates like Marco Rubio or Chris Christie are speakers. So you don’t have Romney whipping up the crowd in an incredible sense of excitement about Mitt Romney.
The other striking thing about the rally is, that I mentioned before, is just the composition of the support that both candidates have. You go to an Obama rally, in most places, and you’re looking at a – I don’t know if largely – but really significantly nonwhite audience for Obama, and for Romney that’s obviously not the case.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to New York. New York, your question, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Andy Bettag, Fuji TV. As we cover this event tomorrow, we’re going to keep a lot of attention on the exit polls. And certainly in 2004, we had some difficulty with them. How reliable do think the exit polls are? And do you think that system is fixed?
MR. BURNS: Is fixed?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) reliable do you think the exit polls will be tomorrow?
MR. BURNS: With exit polls, you want to proceed with even more caution than you do with regular polls, because you only get to take an exit poll once. So it’s not like you can say, over a period of three weeks, exit polls in Ohio showed this consistent trend, right? You can only take them tomorrow.
When you add to that the fact that many people are not voting on Election Day – they’re voting in early voting – that adds another level of, well, just what really can we learn from exit polls? I’m glad that they take the exit polls, because what you can do after the fact is you look at the results of an exit poll, and then you can look at the actual results of the election in a state like Nevada, and then you can – if the exit poll says that 40 percent of the people who voted were Democrats, when in reality 38 percent of the people who voted were Democrats, you can then reweight the exit poll and sort of adjust the whole data center, reflect the real electorate, and then you can learn some pretty interesting things about who voted and why. That’s not that useful in terms of calling an election in real-time, and generally speaking I would expect people to show real caution tomorrow night just because of the closeness of this race.
If you saw a state like Ohio or a state like Virginia, if you saw that Mitt Romney was doing really not particularly well on Election Day, that would be pretty ominous for him, because the President is expected to be ahead, especially in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, in early voting. So Romney needs to win those states on Election Day convincingly.
If we were to get an indication from exit polls that it was tied or if Obama was winning, that would be an ominous sign for Romney. But beyond that, beyond a real surprising underperformance by Romney on November 6th, I think people are going to be pretty tentative about the way they use those results tomorrow.
QUESTION: Where is the Tea Party movement this year?
MR. BURNS: That’s a great question. You obviously didn’t see an enormous presence for the Tea Party in the presidential primaries. It’s hard to imagine a candidate like Mitt Romney being nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in – by an Republican electorate with the same mood and same set of priorities that they had in 2010. But there’s always been sort of a debate about the Tea Party, whether it was a unique, new force in American politics and in Republican politics or whether it was essentially a new label and a different way of identifying a pretty consistent part of the Republican base.
The Tea Party movement, by and large, you’re looking at a pretty suburban population, you’re looking at a white population, very concerned about fiscal issues, conservative on social issues, but prioritizing fiscal issues over social issues – that’s a group that’s always been part of the Republican coalition, or at least in the last 20 years, 30 years. So I think what you see this year is that the Tea Party – Tea Party voters are still participating, but they – maybe they’re calling themselves Republicans, which they were in the first place.
You have seen in Senate elections and in House elections where that group continues to have outsized impact is in low turnout elections where the party base can choose a candidate based more on its ideological priorities than anything else. That’s why you ended up with a candidate like Todd Akin in the Missouri Senate race, or why you ended up with a candidate like Richard Murdoch over Dick Lugar in the Indiana Senate race. But again, it’s – if the Tea Party is just a way of describing a highly energized and active and engaged Republican Party base, they’re still there. They’re just not necessarily commanding the same influence in a higher turnout election.
QUESTION: May I follow up on that one, and challenge one thing you predicted for if we have this outcome, which have today, President Obama, majority for the Republicans House, Senate with the Democrats, and not much is changing? Couldn’t there be a slight possibility that if the Republicans don’t win the White House, and if they can’t take the Senate, that it starts a reckoning? First of all, why? And second, they will try to look at 2016 at least a few days after this election, so maybe one conclusion could be – not from the first day, not without discussion inside the party – that they can’t continue to be the party of “no”, because otherwise, they can’t take the White House in 2016. So I’m not trying to predict that, but isn’t there a possibility that some psychology – how the makeup of the White House and Congress would be, even if we have the same phenomenons, would be different – psychologically different because we have to look at 2016?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I think there’s a strong chance of that, and I think that there will be an internal debate in the Republican Party. There’s an article on Politico.com today predicting that there will be a major internal debate within the Republican Party whether or not Mitt Romney wins this election.
In the event that everything stays the same, I think Republicans are going to have to think about why. And the same is true on the Democratic side, by the way, if Obama were to lose. But if the President wins reelection, it’s going to be because he managed to shift a lot of blame for the state of the country onto a Republican House of Representatives, because he was able to exploit issues like immigration and abortion to drive groups like independent women and like Latino voters who were already leaning to the Democrats toward him in historic numbers. And you’re going to have – Republicans are going to have ask themselves: How can we stop this from happening again?
If Obama wins in a climate of 8 percent unemployment, where his approval rating on the economy is really pretty dismal, and the Republicans have a perfectly inoffensive candidate for the White House, even if he’s not necessarily inspiring to a lot of people, there will be sort of self-scrutiny: How did we screw that up? And some of that will be a matter of establishment Republicans and moderate Republicans saying we can’t continue nominating people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. There will be – some folks in the party have already been out there saying we have got to figure out a way to work around the issue of immigration, because Republicans cannot – even if Romney manages to win this year despite overwhelming opposition from Latino voters, the demographics look pretty ugly if you look ahead to 2016 and 2020 for a party that loses nonwhite voters by these margins. So I think that conversation is going to happen in that party regardless of the outcome.
On the Democratic side, by the way, if Obama loses, Democrats will tell themselves – and they won’t be wrong – that he was dealt a bad economic hand from the beginning and was never really able to get out from under that. But I think the party will – that party will have to ask itself some questions about how does it get real credibility on balancing the budget and how does it reckon with the fact that healthcare was the Democratic – national healthcare was the Democratic Party’s dream for two generations. They’ve achieved it. It’s not popular. If Obama loses, Democrats are going to have to reconsider some assumptions about what the American people want from their government.
MODERATOR: Over there.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Sonia Schott with Globovision, Venezuela. You mentioned the immigration issue, but seems to that both candidates, they are not taking serious this issue. And I will like to know how do you think the Latino population will make or could make the difference in these elections. Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Well, it’s pretty straightforward how the Latino population makes a difference. There was a poll out this morning showing that Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney with Latinos nationally by 49 points. If that poll is correct, he will get a higher percentage of the Latino vote than Bill Clinton did in 1996, which was an alltime high, and he will beat Romney among Latinos by 13 points more than he beat John McCain in 2008. A lot of Latino voters live in places like New York and Texas and California, which are obviously not competitive states. But if you look at Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, and Florida, those are four states that could decide the election, significant Latino populations in all of them. In some of them, Obama leads Romney by an even wider margin than he does nationally. That’s enough to swing an election. It may or may not be, but in theory it’s enough to swing an election.
Romney and Republicans have tried to remind Latino voters that Obama had time to push for immigration reform and he didn’t. That’s not the party speaking; that’s true. He could have said my first priority is immigration reform; instead, he passed a healthcare law and passed – or the House passed an energy bill, it passed a stimulus, and you never really saw major momentum behind an immigration reform initiative.
That has not really depressed Obama’s support with Latinos, and I think part of that is about his executive decision related to the DREAM Act and deportation, which was obviously enormously popular. I think part of is the Republican Party is not viewed as credible, period, on the issue of immigration, that you had – Mitt Romney running in the Republican primaries made some decisions about how to compete against his opponents that involved some pretty strident rhetoric on immigration, and he’s never really been able to get past that.
So even though he has – even though Romney and other Republicans like Jeb Bush have some pretty substantive criticism of Obama’s record on immigration, if they are not viewed as credible themselves on the issue, it doesn’t really get them very far.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Francesca Baronio. I’m an Italian independent journalist. I’m a freelancer. Now, I want to know what do you think about the Republican? Do you think that with a different candidate it would have been in a different position? I’m thinking not one of the guys who runs for the primary, but I’m thinking a stronger candidate like Chris Christie – or what do you think? They would be – they would have been in a different position right now on the polls? They would have more chance to win?
MR. BURNS: I think there are a lot of Republicans who think they’d be in a better position in the polls. Obama has run a good campaign in a lot of ways and he has exploited Romney’s weaknesses far more effectively than I think a lot of people expected. The knock on Romney at the beginning of the cycle was that he was boring. His problem right now isn’t that he’s boring. His problem is that he’s not sort of boring enough, that if he were just a very, very bland and uninspiring guy, there’s a – I could make the argument that if Romney were just a very, very bland and uninspiring generic Republican, he would be ahead in this election by 5 points. But he’s not a generic Republican. He’s a Republican who the Obama campaign has managed to caricature, with Romney’s help, as this out of touch, cold, unfeeling rich guy who doesn’t understand the economic hardship of ordinary people.
If Republicans had nominated a candidate who was pretty bland, like a Mitch Daniels or a Tim Pawlenty or a John Thune, I think you can imagine it being much trickier for the Obama campaign to make that person unacceptable to voters. I think that if they had gone with a candidate like Chris Christie, if Chris Christie had decided to run, the issue wouldn’t be that it’s hard to caricature the person; it’s that Chris Christie is kind of already a caricature and he’s one that the American people like. So yeah, he’s sort of this larger than life bombastic figure, but people already know that, so like, what are you going to do to tear him down if voters know it and like it?
So yeah, I mean, I think there are a lot of Republicans who feel that Romney has turned out to be a surprisingly weak candidate, and in particular this idea of his background in the financial services industry, that this is our first presidential election – this is our first presidential election since 2008, obviously, and 2008 was the election held in the middle of a global financial crisis. There’s still a lot of anger in this country directed at Wall Street, directed at big banks, directed at people viewed as sort of financial manipulators.
And the Obama campaign and its super PAC have pretty aggressively made the case that Mitt Romney is one of those people. Whether or not that’s fair, Romney has not defended himself in an effective way. So if you look at why the President is doing well in a state like Ohio, that’s a lot of the reason why. And it’s hard to imagine a candidate like a Mitch Daniels or a Tim Pawlenty – Tim Pawlenty never worked at a bank in his life, probably never – probably the highest salary he ever drew was as governor of Minnesota. That’s a harder person to tear down.
MODERATOR: Last question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Either way elections turn out, Madam Hillary Clinton is leaving office. Do you think that she will be the next Democratic candidate for president in 2016 and when America will be ready for a woman president?
MR. BURNS: Well, to take the second question first, I think there’s an enormous pent-up demand for a woman president now. I think there’s a level of disappointment that four years ago you had Hillary Clinton come very, very close to being the Democratic nominee. You had a woman nominated as vice president on the Republican side, and this year you have four guys. I think the safe bet – this is something that one of my colleagues sort of very confidently predicts – that Romney and Ryan may be the last presidential candidate ever composed of two white men, that the country is too diverse, there are too many prominent female and black and Latino elected officials now for parties to kind of keep nominating these very conventional-looking people.
I think it’s part of why Republicans are so excited about the idea of Marco Rubio and Susana Martinez in 2016, and it’s why Democrats are as excited as they are about Hillary Clinton. There are a lot of people on the Democratic side who supported Obama in 2008 who kind of ruefully admit in private that maybe their party would be better off if they had nominated Clinton. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but we’ve seen Hillary Clinton and also Bill Clinton in the last four years take on this – they’re viewed as sort of bigger than politics, bigger than elections and bigger than the political process. It’s a pretty remarkable thing. I saw this as somebody who grew up becoming aware of politics in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal. It’s pretty remarkable to see that these people who were so divisive and controversial in the 1990s are now some of the most popular and unifying figures in the country.
Democrats certainly hope that Hillary Clinton runs in four years, because some population of strategists in the party believe that she would be unbeatable. Some population of strategists in the party believed that she’d be unbeatable in 2008, and that didn’t work out. She says that she is not – that she does not intend to run four years from now, that she is done with politics. She said there’s a difference between having a job and having a life, and I think that a lot of people would understand if she decided at age – I think she would be 68 in 2015 – that she would rather be a private citizen for once in her life.
My personal view is that if you are somebody who is willing to commit as much time to trying to be president as she already has, and then you see an open pathway to the White House in front of you, that that’s pretty hard to resist. But it’s really anybody’s guess, and we’re going to spend – particularly if Obama loses, there will just be this enormous demand among Democrats that the party needs to rally around somebody who’s popular, and she’s the most popular person in the party. Whether or not the President wins, she’s the most popular person in the party.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you.
MR. BURNS: All right. Thanks a lot.