The Joy of Debating (Presidential Style)

One of the joys in covering American presidential elections is the uniformity that belies the potential for chaos; there is a rigidity to the events and a fanatical attention to detail to ensure (on the surface at least) that nothing can go wrong, that events occur like clockwork and that ‘democracy’ can be celebrated from sea to shining sea.

Then the candidates get involved and it all gets far more interesting….

A classic example of this is the quadrennial holding of the great debates. Every four years   TV producers pull out stock footage of Kennedy and Nixon and hold the latest candidates up to this historical high-point in an attempt to offer ‘analysis’ and ‘insight.’ The debates form the dramatic highpoint of the election as the candidates appear together for the only time during the electoral process and seek to outdo one another.

Historically the debates have recorded astronomical viewing figures. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that these 50 million viewers are switching on to learn anything new. These debates are not traditionally a forum for freethinking, or for wide-ranging answers or even interaction between the candidates. They have historically been a forum for the delivery of stock answers to what are often sycophantic questions. So why the high viewing figures? For the same reason that millions tune in to watch NASCAR or Grand Prix races, part of the reason is in the hope of witnessing carnage; a truly awful moment that will define the election and which people can claim to have witnessed live.

Such incidents have occurred before, but are generally rare and becoming rarer. As politicians have become more professional and less personal, they have generally performed ‘better,’ stayed ‘on message,’ and not fallen foul of dangerous ‘off the cuff’ remark making. Which has, of course, made the debates far less interesting.

Even when the odds look stacked in favour of a disaster, frantic preparation caused disappointment to the millions who tuned in to witness the expected car wreck of Sarah Palin’s 2008 debate with Joe Biden. Despite expectations, the general consensus was that she more than held her own, came across as engaging and, dare I say it, looked great in the camera cut away shot from the back of the stage…

In the fifty-two years since the televised debates began, there have been some remarkable turning points: The visual dynamism of JFK, Gerald Ford’s insistence that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, Mondale’s admission that he would raise taxes, Lloyd Bentsen’s withering put down to Dan Quayle and Clinton’s extraordinary use of the set to demonstrate his empathy with the audience.

Debates, therefore, are about far more than content. They are about conveying a feeling and a style that either attracts or repels voters. Gore’s condescension towards Bush in 2000 was palpable and reinforced the impression that Bush would be a far better drinking partner (although whether this is really the basis for electing a president is another matter).

The debates in this election cycle will be fascinating to observe. Irrespective of one’s own view of the candidates, both Obama and Romney are professional politicians. They are not leaving anything to chance and have both been practicing for months. Neither will really debate one another. Instead they will have stock answers, ready to be wheeled out in response to predictable questions. The degree to which the candidates can inject personality into what have been rather staid events,  will be revealing, for it will likely be on this topic that un-decideds will finally make their selection.

Romney: Falling at the Final Hurdle?

National polling has Romney and Obama neck and neck, but is the Republican candidate in danger of faltering when he should be sprinting?

So here we are with 50 days to go until Election Day and what is the topic of conversation amongst the American chattering classes? The economy? The future direction of healthcare? The correct manner in which to enforce American foreign policy in a volatile era? The viability of the Ryan budget proposals?


With the three scheduled presidential debates looming the attention is once again on Mitt Romney’s inability to remain gaffe-free for very long. The Republican candidate is developing a Dan Quayle-like quality for opening his mouth just long enough to take one foot out and replace it with another.

It could rightly be argued that Romney’s foes in the ‘mainstream media’ are paying undue attention to these faux pas, but in the absence of serious policy debates, there is relatively little else to focus upon.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are fighting this presidential election on the issues, despite the very clear distinctions that exist between them this time around. Instead it is being waged, once more, on who is the more likeable candidate and Mitt Romney is losing that battle every time he speaks.

At a time when the United States faces serious challenges overseas, with its deficit the wrong side of an eye-watering $16 trillion and unemployment stubbornly above 8% this could and should have been an election focused on policies and politics, on the competing approaches to alleviating America’s economic, social and global woes. Instead it has descended into an American farce, in which one millionaire is accusing another of being out of touch with the electorate.

Mitt Romney’s latest verbal offering to offend the masses in the media could well prove to be decisive heading into the final stages of the campaign. Romney’s poorly run, poorly defined campaign looks set to be defined by his political opponents between now and Election Day by the contents of a tape recorded, off the cuff remark made to a roomful of supposed supporters.

It was in Romney’s interest to drag the national debate back to domestic, financial issues, where the president is arguably on weaker ground. However, by his remarks, he may well have surrendered any advantage he previously had in that area.

His overall point, that 47% of Americans probably won’t vote for him may well be true, as is his further point that he desperately needs to reach the 5% of independents who will, as usual, decide the election. Had he said this, in cool, logical terms, then you would be reading something else right now. But alas, Romney went further, equating all of the 47% as somehow being delinquents, dependent on the government and contributing nothing to society, determined to vote for Obama come what may.

This will do nothing to endear Romney to anyone beyond the most extreme members of his base and could, indeed, decimate his chances with wavering independents. His remarks reinforce the concept that the United States remains deeply divided after 4 years of Barack Obama, with little hope of unity in sight.

The Romney campaign was further rocked when a second video emerged in the wake of the initial debacle in which he asserted that peace in the Middle East was ‘virtually unthinkable,’ and that ‘Palestinians aren’t interested in peace…’

Once more Romney has demonstrated a lack of agility in foreign affairs. His overseas trip this summer proved to be a public relations disaster and failed to succeed on any level to raise his profile in a positive manner. His remarks in relation to the death of Ambassador Stevens and the attacks on the US positions in a series of nations was equally flat-footed and appeared to reveal a lack of diplomatic prowess. His latest remarks on the chances for peace, in a region where the U.S. has historically attempted to play the role of honest broker, look set to further reduce the credibility of his candidacy.

In a single day, the individual, personal failings of the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States, in both foreign and domestic policy, as revealed on a grainy home video, appear set to ensure that Barack Obama receives a second term in the White House, not in a vote of confidence in the incumbent, but as a resounding vote of no confidence in his opponent

Changing Perspectives in American Politics

For decades there has been an accepted maxim in American politics: when the American people felt secure internationally they voted in a Mummy president who would keep any eye on the store and ensure that domestic issues were addressed. However, when they felt uneasy, insecure or altogether threatened, they would vote for a Daddy candidate who would stand tall on the world stage, face down any adversary and defend the nation, come what may. Throughout the past 40 years, Democrats have been cast as the Mummy Party and Republicans as the Daddy. It has been the Republican Party that has managed to successfully wrap itself in the flag and campaign successfully on national security issues, portraying the Democratic Party as being weak and unreliable on foreign affairs. For much of that time they were also able to portray the Democrats as being financially irresponsible and as being advocates of tax and spend approaches to government.

Events of the past two administrations have altered this perceived reality.

During the 1990s the Clinton administration did much to end the perception of the Democrats as being poor handlers of the economy, as the United States entered the 21st century with a debate over what to do with the almighty surplus that had built up in the government coffers. The administration’s handling of foreign affairs was more mixed, but essentially Bill Clinton bequeathed his successor a nation that was prosperous and at peace.

His successor, of course, was George W. Bush, who continued to invert the perceived wisdom in relation to the role of American political parties. The apparent economic prudence of former Republican administration’s was replaced by a tax cut in time of war, which saw the eradication of the surplus, as the administration sought to have guns and butter. If its economic legacy was poor, its foreign policy was worse, as it deliberately ignored previous Republican strategies that had been successfully implemented as recently as 1991.

The inversion of previous perceptions has continued under President Obama. With his team drawn largely from the former Clinton Administration, this is perhaps to be expected. However, Obama has not been able to replicate Bill Clinton’s economic polices, which saw vast reductions in the US debt. Instead, the debt level has increased substantially, to an eye-watering $16 trillion dollars. The scale of the debt is such that easy remedies appear no longer to be an option. The scale of the debt, coupled with an unemployment rate stuck stubbornly above 8% should have spelt doom for the incumbent, but so far it has not.

Unusually, voters are not yet registering their overwhelming disenchantment with the Obama presidency, despite the usual maxim that people vote according to the contents of their purses or wallets; President Reagan’s question remains pertinent today: “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?”

Instead of running on his economic record, or his groundbreaking (however you view it) decision to implement healthcare reform (initiated, like the Bush tax cut, at precisely the time that it was least affordable), President Obama is instead taking the battle to his opponents, casting them as naives with insufficient experience, indifferent to the plight of normal Americans and ill-prepared for high office. Intriguingly, Four years ago, many of the same accusations were made of Senator Obama.

A key area that Obama is exploiting is the difference in terms of experience in foreign policy. Continuing to defy accepted maxims, the president is portraying himself as the steady, experienced Commander in Chief, and his Republican opponents as woefully unprepared for global leadership. The Republicans have done much to aid him in this. Neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan have served in the military, or focused upon military or defence affairs during their careers in government service. Neither has a record of addressing foreign or military affairs in any manner of note. For a Republican ticket this is unheard of. A quick stroll through past tickets confirms that on all occasions either the top or bottom of the ticket had a recognised appreciation of foreign or military affairs that would be brought to bear in the White House. That is not the case in 2012.

Instead, President Obama has been able to portray himself as the man who killed bin Laden. He has successfully managed to avoid being ‘swiftboated’ on this issue so far, despite many efforts, not least of which is the new book ‘No Easy Day.’ His efforts have been aided by Mitt Romney’s recent overseas trip to Europe and Israel, where he at best did little to impress and at worst did much to reinforce a negative image of his candidacy. Developments in recent days have exacerbated this situation. Despite the potential problems that the numerous embassy storming could have posed politically for the president, Mitt Romney’s poor handling of the issue has actually eased the pressure on the administration.

With a little over 7 weeks to go until Election Day, Obama continues to lead in the polls, both nationally and in key swing states. He has noticeably opened up a lead in the key swing states following the convention. This is not over yet, and the debates could be crucial. A key blunder, an indiscretion and this could all turn on a dime. Yet, as this week’s events have demonstrated, when opportunity presents itself, Romney’s reaction has been far from beneficial to the Republican ticket, and he still has all of the heavy lifting to do if he is to have any chance of securing what at this point would looks like an unlikely victory come November.

Women and the Right

Much has been made in recent months of the role of women in American politics. Hardly any of the coverage has been positive, especially in its portrayal of the Republican Party. Several weeks ago, Ann Romney stared from the cover of Time Magazine, representative of everything feminine about the GOP: strong, loyal, attractive, God-fearing and proud. She became this season’s GOP pin-up, but in a way far unlike earlier incarnations such as Sarah Palin or Cindy McCain. But how representative is Ann Romney of American womanhood, or even of Republican women? In short, is she really Mitt Romney’s ‘secret weapon’ or merely another prop to be wheeled out on cue to utter appropriate blandishments in regard to this year’s anointed candidate?

American politics has come a long way in a short period of time. In 1952 Nixon’s ‘Checkers speech’ was attacked as being shameless in its tone and content. It would appear, however, that ‘shameless’ has become the norm in American politics as spouses are now routinely presented to talk up the moral character of the candidate, lest there be any doubts.

Despite suggestions that she has been little more than an adornment for Mitt Romney, Ann Romney has emerged in recent months as a symbol of the Republican Party, desperate to rebut allegations that it is involved in a war on women and as a means to soften her husband’s image: Surely anyone with a wife like this can’t be all bad? This is one lady who it would be easy to dismiss as a cardboard cut-out Republican spouse, but her battle to overcome the debilitating impact of Multiple Sclerosis must give one pause for thought. Her tenacity and drive is all the more remarkable for having to overcome this ailment and to endure the tough life that comes with campaigning for the presidency.

In a debate about a war on women, what better artillery to deploy than a smart, attractive and eloquent woman to refute such allegations and present an image of her husband as seen through the eyes of the one who knows him best? Ann Romney’s elevation during the Republican National Convention is no coincidence and the decision to cancel the first planned day was also no tragedy. Over the weekend, the GOP was casting around in an attempt to re-schedule the presentations once they learned that the major networks were unlikely to carry Monday night’s feed (and Ann Romney’s speech) in full. Cancelling in the name of safety in the eye of the storm, allowed for a truncated convention in which Ann Romney would be guaranteed a prime time speaking slot in which she could attract the attention of the watching world.

Her speech was noticeable devoid of references to policy or politics, but aimed instead at the heart. At times it sounded alarmingly Palin-esque, before Mrs. Romney dovetailed into a history of her relationship with her husband and their early life together, a focus designed to appeal to ‘normal women’ not necessarily married to the son of a governor. As such this was not a speech that one can imagine Hillary Clinton having given. Ann Romey’s contribution to her husband’s life and career appears not to be as a consigliere, but rather as the steel in the spine at times of doubt.  Like Barbara Bush before her, it would appear that Ann Romney is the real power in the relationship, driving her husband’s ambition, actively supporting him in his aspiration to higher and higher political office. She is undoubtedly a great asset to her husband and his campaign. It must be asked, however, as to how much she will appeal beyond the traditional Republican base. What she said last night was unlikely to convince undecided voters that she and her husband are anything other than pleasant, moderate, successful and wealthy Americans who have been blessed with good luck and good fortune. They have made their way in the world and who now stand at the brink of political history, about to either enter a pantheon of greatness or a cupboard of also-rans.

There are clearly contradictions and areas of potential conflict. As a recipient of costly medication to treat her M/S, there are risks that Ann Romney could be drawn inevitably into any on-going debate about healthcare in the United Sates. Likewise, it will be intriguing to see how she addresses the potential for conflict that could emerge from the GOP platform document that opposes abortion but which remains conspicuously silent on issues of rape and incest. Irrespective of Governor Romney’s rejection of such a stance, this will, nevertheless be the platform that he and his fellow Republican candidates will be forced to run on and defend in debates and interviews. Even if Romney himself has declared that his potential White House will not be beholden to such a manifesto commitment, there will be plenty of Republicans who will attempt to hold him to this position, including members of congress. Would a President Romney veto a bill to overturn Roe v Wade presented to him by a Republican congress? This hypothetical situation that could all to easily become a tough reality for Ann Romney’s husband to address as President of the United Sates.

The degree to which Americans vote for a candidate on the basis of their wives is debatable. As John Kerry discovered in 2004, having a wife who was viewed unfavorably by the country can certainly be a burden. Clearly Ann Romney is no Hillary Rodham Clinton and she is certainly no Michelle Obama. What emerges from her biography is a headstrong, determined and intelligent women, dedicated to her family and determined to ensure that her husband achieves all that is possible.

Ann Romney has become the leading lady of the Republican Party this electoral cycle, a move aided by the lack of a woman on the ticket for sure, but a move designed also to draw comparisons and quell discussion of a Republican War on Women. In an election year that has seen Sandra Fluke disparaged as a whore by Republican talk show hosts for her views on access to birth control, and in which the odious topic of rape and women’s biological reaction to it has dominated debate, it is perhaps not surprising that some have suggested that the Republican Party itself is engaged in a war on women. Were the party to declare such a conflict, they would surely lose. For one thing, there are far more women than there are Republicans! Neither is it in the Republican Party’s interest to attack women. Female voters have been vital in securing the White House for Democratic candidates in 1992, 1996 and 2008. If the Republican Party could secure the long-term support of the female vote, it would have a virtual lock on the White House.

Interestingly, the Women for Mitt Romney coalition has recently launched a web site, presenting what it claims to be the priorities of American women. Absent are any references to what could be broadly termed ‘women’s issues.’ Indeed, the web site makes a distinct point that these women are Americans first and women second and the issues that are important to them are issues that should be important to all Americans, irrespective of gender.

In the United States women’s reproductive rights becomes a nation issue on an all too regular basis to the national stage, with vague threats to overturn Roe v Wade, before slinking back to the extreme wing of the Republican Party to wait for another moment to try once more to reduce women’s rights to do what they wish with their own bodies. These attempts to wage Culture Wars repeatedly backfire, as in 1992, and lead only to Democratic Party victories, fuelled by women voters.

The comments made by the Missouri Republican Party candidate for Senate, Todd Akin cast a shadow over the Romney/Ryan ticket. Not because they agree with him, they do not. They, along with members of the Tea Party, have made requests that he stand down. His refusal to do so ensures that he remains an embarrassment, not only to himself, his party but also to his nation. The Romney campaign is also forced to continue to address the statement, which diverts time and attention away from the issues that the campaign is focused on; jobs and the economy.

Women are the great-untapped resource for the Republican Party. American women have been responsible for denying the Republicans the White House on several occasions. They were singularly responsible for keeping Bill Clinton in the White House, despite his repeated indiscretions. However, as a party, the Republicans appear unable to decide how best to court their vote.

For the Republican Party to win in November it needs to consider the gender breakdown in the United States:

  • There are 157 million American women and only 151.8 million men.
  • 46.2% of American women voted in the last elections compared to 45% of men.
  • Only 43% of women voted for John McCain compared to 56% that voted for Obama in 2008.
  • Obama only carried 49% of the male vote in 2008
  • Obama appears tied with Romney for the male vote, but is ahead by up to 20% with women.

When Republicans win the female vote, they win elections, as was the case in the 2010 mid terms. The remarks by Todd Akin this week, therefore, are detrimental on a whole variety of levels. They risk identifying the Republican Party with an anti-female agenda and continuing allegations that the party is engaged in a war on women in 2012. This is exacerbated by reports that the Republican Party platform will oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The inclusion of Paul Ryan on the ticket also raises concerns. As a Catholic, Ryan has voted repeatedly for measures in Congress that have won the support of the National Right to Life Committee Group. There are also strong concerns that the Party Platform that emerges at the Convention will severely restrict access to IVF treatment in the United States.

Akin’s remarks place at risk the potential of winning the Senate seat in Missouri that seemed eminently possible until very recently. With the withdrawal of party support, his chances appear doomed. Failure to win the seat places the Republican national strategy in jeopardy and will impact the party’s hopes of retaking the Senate in November.

Akin’s remarks highlight a singular fact: Until the Republican Party learns to successfully woo the female vote, women will continue to keep the party from power. Ann Romney’s drive and support has brought her husband to the cusp of the presidency, within the margin of error in many opinion polls. The question of whether Mitt has what it takes to go the extra mile for victory and secure the female vote, will be revealed in the remaining days of this campaign…

Paul Ryan: Pros, Cons and a Podcast

The subject of whom Mitt Romney would select as his running mate has been swirling for several months. Now we know that it is Congressman Paul Ryan, what are the implications?


After several months of wild speculation surrounding the Republican Vice Presidential pick, which has included everyone from Chris Christie to Condi Rice, Mitt Romney has named Representative Paul Ryan. In doing so, Governor Romney has ensured that this will be far from a tame, event-free general election. Indeed, the decision appears to have finally ignited interest in the race, passion in Republican supporters and has the potential to spark similar sentiment in the Democratic ranks.

As the author of the much-vaunted Ryan budget proposals, the Republican vice presidential candidate brings a great deal to the ticket; assets and liabilities that will be utilised and exploited by both friend and foe alike in the coming months. As I discussed on Sky News this weekend, Ryan’s presence on the ticket ensures that the American electorate will be presented with a clearly defined choice this November.

What then, are the advantages that Representative Ryan brings?

1. He is NOT Sara Palin. The last minute, poorly vetted fiasco of 2008 has not been repeated, ensuring that Romney has secured the talents of a smart and able young running mate, whose intelligence and ability to answer questions from Katie Couric is not in question.

2. Ryan’s standing with the Tea Party movement should placate those members of the movement that feel they have been sidelined thus far in the presidential process. Clearly Mitt Romney was not the Tea Party’s candidate of choice, but by reaching out and embracing Congressman Ryan, Romney should have done enough to ensure that they turn out and vote Republican in November.

3. Ryan’s presence appears to have already energised what was a rather tame Republican ticket. His unveiling ahead of the convention in Florida ensures that delegates will head to Tampa excited by the ticket, rather than vexing over any shortcomings in Romney’s resume and tax records.

4. Ryan’s age, vitality and recognised intelligence stand in sharp contrast to the current Vice President, Joe Biden, more renowned for gaffes than for policies.

5. In endorsing Ryan, Romney is by extension endorsing the Ryan Budgetary proposals, since this is Ryan’s defining policy. Without his budgetary proposals, Ryan would be just another member of the lower chamber of Congress and an unimaginable candidate for the presidency. His budgetary proposals have elevated him to a position of leadership within the House of Representatives and the Republican Party. By naming Ryan, Romney is allying himself to his partner’s budgetary and spending proposals, which will endear him to the right, but which, as we shall see shortly, ensure a barrage of criticism from the left.

6. By selecting Ryan, Romney has guaranteed that the economy and welfare reform will be central to the campaign. This will make life uncomfortable for President Obama who may be pushed into a foreign policy focused campaign as a result. To do otherwise will risk drawing attention to his deficiencies in the vital areas of welfare and the state of the economy. The alternative will be to initiate a totally negative campaign focused on the Romney/Ryan plan, the like of which Democrats attacked Romney over during the initial primary season.

Whilst the nomination of Congressman Ryan brings with it considerable benefits to the Romney camp, there are also serious impediments to consider:

1. Romney introduced Ryan as “an intellectual” who had been in Congress for 14 years. These are not usually terms of endearment for Republicans and it is easy to imagine these very attributes being portrayed as liabilities in opponents. Indeed, to many in the Republican movement, they are far from ideal and it will be interesting to see how these elements are addressed during the campaign. 14 years is a long time to be in the lower house and there will certainly be uncomfortable voting records for the Congressman to address (including his votes in favour of the bailouts of GM and Wall Street), which Democrats will be eager to exploit in revenge for the savaging that Senator Kerry received in 2004.

2. Romney’s embrace of Ryan enables the White House to link Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital with the cuts espoused in the Ryan Budget plan. The combination will enable the Obama team to portray the Republicans as Robber Barons; vindictive slashers of public services, out to deny seniors their rightful retirement protections and healthcare provisions. The approach that the White House is guaranteed to take on this issue will ensure that Florida, with its elderly population, will be an even more vital state than usual and will undoubtedly be the venue of intense and at times vitriolic advertising aimed at scaring the living daylights out of American seniors.

3. With Ryan’s selection, there is a total lack of foreign policy experience on the Republican ticket. This election cycle could therefore see a bizarre inversion of politically accepted norms, in which the Republicans under Romney and Ryan run on domestically focused economic issues, whilst the Democrats under Obama are forced away from this traditional position to an embrace of strong foreign policy and national security issues, on the premise that the president “killed bin Laden.”

4. Historically, vice presidents have been chosen to add balance to a ticket. This may be geographic balance (north/south, east/west), exemplified in 1960 with Kennedy’s selection of Lyndon Johnson. Balance may also be expressed in terms of age, and again 1960 is a classic example of this, with Johnson’s maturity contrasting with JFK’s youth. Balance may be struck in terms of gender, such as the Mondale/ Ferraro ticket of 1984 and the McCain/Palin ticket of 2008. Finally, balance can be struck in terms of ethnicity, such as Obama/Biden in 2008. None of these elements are adequately addressed in the selection of Paul Ryan and so the Republican ticket is bereft of ethnic, gender or regional balance. Neither does the Republican ticket in 2012 include a Veteran or a Protestant; points that could be significant considering the traditional Republican embrace of God and the military. Indeed, for the first time ever, both main parties have a Catholic on the ticket as vice president.

5. Whilst every presidential candidate wants to have his VP selection recognised as being a smart first choice, the risk for Romney is that his running mate overshadows him. Ryan is a recognised economic/welfare planner with 14 years experience in Congress. Romney is not known for his tenure in office or for his intellectual dynamism. His reputation for being a lightweight risks being exacerbated by his selection.

6. Despite the content of speeches and campaign advertising, the American Presidency is rarely won on issues. It occasionally depends on personality. It is always a matter of figures and the figure that counts is 270. The big question ultimately is simply: Does Ryan help Romney get to the magic number of 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency? This is the bottom line reason for choosing a running mate. It should not be about personal dynamics or compatibility. It needs to be a cold-hearted calculation: Will this individual help or hinder the electoral chances of the ticket?

Every candidate needs to consider the states that they are likely to win, states they hope to win and states that they are likely to lose, in order to plan a campaign that will deliver victory. In this calculation, a viable candidate must be able to guarantee carrying their home state. (Gore’s failure to win the presidency in 2000 was not helped by the loss of his home state of Tennessee). However, in 2012, neither Romney nor Ryan can take such a fact for granted.

Romney has historical ties to Massachusetts and Michigan. He was governor of the former and grew up in the latter. However, both are recognised as being traditional Democratic strongholds. Massachusetts will not vote for Romney as a favourite son in November and it is highly unlikely that Michigan will either. Obama carried Romney’s home state of Michigan with 57.4% of the vote in 2008, over 16% ahead of his Republican rival. Michigan alone is worth 17 Electoral College votes.

The situation with regard to Ryan in Wisconsin, with its 10 Electoral College votes, is even worse. Whilst Ryan has gained in popularity since his first election and received 64% of the vote in 2008, that same election saw Obama outpoll McCain in Ryan’s own district 51.4% – 47.4%. Statewide, Obama won Wisconsin with a 13.9% margin over McCain, carrying 56.2% of the vote. Ultimately, McCain carried only 13 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Despite all of the heat that will be generated in the coming weeks and months the two Republican candidates are starting the campaign in the unenviable position of being unlikely to carry their home states.

The selection of Ryan has energised an otherwise dull campaign. The degree to which this is maintained will be fascinating to see. For far too long, voters have complained that there is little to choose between candidates. In selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has ensured that there will be a clear and distinct policy option presented to the American voters this November. The one winner in all this is Paul Ryan, who like Sarah Palin before him, has been propelled to international renown in the blink of an eye. His statements and appearances in the coming weeks will do much to decide if his next four years will be sent in the Vice President’s residency or in Congress planning his own bid for the presidency in 2016…

Paul Ryan as Romney’s VP Running Mate

It’s always nice to be awoken with breaking news from leading broadcasters. So it was this morning when I was informed of the breaking news by my contacts at Sky. Within hours I was live on set and considering the implications of Ryan’s place on the Republican ticket.

I will be writing more on this topic later in the week but for now, enjoy my appearance on Sky News from this morning….



Mitt Romney’s Previous Bad Trip

In light of this week’s visit to London, Israel and Poland by the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney, it is instructive to recall his recent visit to Houston to address the 103rd Annual Convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), America’s oldest and largest civil rights organisation.

Considering that he will face America’s first black president, Barack Obama, in the election this November, his decision was an interesting one. The NAACP has a strong tradition of inviting presidential candidates to address their conventions and is officially non-partisan, however, an analysis of the black vote is revealing.

In 2004, only 7% of African Americans considered themselves Republican. In 2008, 95% of the African American vote went to Obama, in contrast to only 4% going to McCain that year and only 11% to President George W. Bush in 2004. That same year (2008) the black vote rose to 13% of the national total, up from 11%, but intriguingly, Obama’s take of the black vote was up only 2% from that received by Bill Clinton in 1996 and virtually tied with Jimmy Carter’s 94% in 1980.

The Republican take of the black vote has its own interesting elements: In both 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush received 11% of the black vote, considerably higher than the 4% that voted for Bob Dole in 1996 or the 6% that voted for George H. W. Bush in 1992. The 1992 figure was particularly interesting considering the 21% that George H.W. Bush received in 1988 and is perhaps indicative of Bill Clinton’s ability to connect with the African American community. Prior to this, Reagan had received 12% in 1984, and a paltry 3% of the black vote in 1980.

It is possible to discern a pattern, therefore, of overwhelming black support for Democratic candidates and scant support of Republicans.

Romney’s decision to attend was hardly done in the expectation of winning the crowd over and taking the black vote in November, but he could not afford to snub the invitation. Romney faced a tough call in Houston: He could tell the audience what it wanted to hear or he could stick to his message. It has been suggested that he was booed for failing to understand what the audience wanted and for referring to the health care legislation as ObamaCare. In other words, he didn’t pander to his audience.

Irrespective of what one feels about Romney’s politics, there is something to be said about telling an audience something unpalatable rather than merely paying lip service to their desires. Clearly, any Republican seeking to gain the support of the African American community is going to have their work cut out for them. Romney’s task is made all the harder by his opposition to the health care reforms that President Obama has passed and which he plans to repeal. His speech can be viewed in full HERE.

The event has become mired in acrimony.  Romney was booed in places, and cheered in others. He has been accused on MSNBC of attending in the knowledge that he would be poorly received, in the expectation that this would drive ‘racist’ non-black voters into the Romney camp. Such interpretation is clearly incendiary and designed to stoke the passions on both sides. It is certainly far from helpful. Read a transcript of the speech HERE

Romney has also been accused of drafting attendees to the convention to deliberately cheer in key points and to be seen embracing Romney (figuratively, if not literally) after the speech. Romney undoubtedly invited members of the black community to attend this address and it would be more surprising if he had not. The degree to which a small number of invited guests could drown out a hostile crowd, however, is open to speculation. This led to a rather undignified showdown between Bill O’Riley and my old boss Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington Bureau Chief on Fox News.

Whatever one makes of Romney’s speech and the reaction to it, he did at least attend. This is more than can be said for America’s first African-American president who elected instead to send his gaffe-prone vice president, Joe Biden in his place and record a video message for his many supporters at the NAACP.

It is fascinating that this has not garnered a greater response: Romney has been critiqued for attending, for his speech and for potentially manipulating the crowd. But very little has been said in response to Obama’s ‘scheduling conflict’ that prevented him from attending the annual conference of America’s most important civil rights organisation. Had Romney offered such an excuse surely the accusation would be that he was at the very least indifferent to the black community. What the decision of America’s first black president to stay away says about his priorities heading into the November election is open to similar interpretation.

With 99 short days top go until the election, it appears that neither candidate is covering themselves in glory as they barnstorm the planet in desperate search for cash and votes. In the process they demean themselves and the office for which they year. This, alas, has become the accepted way of doing things and nothing, it seems, is about to alter that, whoever wins in November.