TIME Ideas: The Case for Negative Campaign Ads

  TIME IDEAS
The Case for Negative Campaign Ads

Negative advertising can raise legitimate questions about candidates and are actually good for democracy

It’s quite popular to condemn negative advertising. It’s a great applause line on the stump.

Newark Mayor Corey Booker recently got front-page headlines by condemning Obama’s ads about Romney and Bain Capital — until he had to take his comments back because, I would guess, the Republicans were using them as attack lines against the President. President Obama defended his negative ads, saying they are about Romney’s character and fair game. Romney started his own negative ads, though he quickly repudiated a proposed negative campaign against Obama that would have focused on the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And everyone condemned it, though it appears it was never even made and certainly never ran. That’s the first time I’ve seen just thinking about running negative ads condemned.

It was Johnson who ran the Daisy ad against Goldwater in 1964, but it’s the Republicans who popularized negative ads by using them broadly under Lee Atwater. To be fair, both sides use them now, but usually Republicans take the hit for being more negative. In 1996, we ran mostly negative or comparative ads for President Clinton while Bob Dole ran mostly positive ads, but 2-to-1 voters thought we were positive and the Republicans negative. We began all our negative ads with the phrase “Another negative ad from the Republicans…”

So I’ll say something unpopular. Negative ads are by and large good for our democracy. And when they are not — when they overreach unfairly, they boomerang and the people who ran them take a well-deserved hit. But when they focus us on something important — like who would make a better commander in chief, who would fix the economy or when they bring up past events that need a real vetting — they do a service. They don’t let politicians off the hook and hold them accountable for their past actions.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

The New York Times: Soccer Dads: The Most Likely White, Male Backers

President Obama faces his single toughest electoral challenge with white men – and his support for gay marriage, while favored by most voters, probably will make it an even tougher slog with this key group in Midwestern swing states.

According to Gallup’s most recent tracking poll, only 40 percent of white voters approve of how the president has done his job. With white men it’s only about one in three. And just 23 percent of men believe the economy is starting to recover.

Older, rural, white men, especially in the South, are probably out of reach for the president because race is likely a factor with them. So he has to focus on better educated, more tolerant, moderately upscale suburban men – Soccer Dads. Both men and women find Obama equally likeable but they dramatically split on whether he shares their values, according to a recent CNN/ORC International poll.

Read the full article at The New York Times

TIME Ideas: Will Events in China Have Any Lasting Impact on Obama?

  TIME IDEAS
Will Events in China Have Any Lasting Impact on Obama?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Going after the Obama administration over its handling of the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, as the Romney campaign recently did, was a mistake. The far more sensible path when a sensitive diplomatic maneuver is underway is to sit tight and root for America to succeed. As a rule, you never step into an ongoing matter involving the security and prestige of the United States and potentially also give aid and comfort to the other side in the process.

The president and his team have made major progress on the image of the United States abroad, in finding and killing Osama Bin Laden and winding down the Iraq war. A Democrat’s typical weakness has become a strength, and Romney only took himself off message last week — and looked small.

Recent polls show that only 7% of Americans view foreign policy and related issues as the most important problem facing the country today, with some polls registering the importance of foreign policy as low as 1%. These same polls show that 72% of Americans named an economic issue as the most important for the country to focus on.

Romney needs an election on the economy. An anemic jobs report gave him a potential opportunity. But instead, Romney spent days trying to trigger national security criticisms of the Obama administration and, even if he succeeded, which I doubt, he will not have won any new votes anyway.

In this case, you have to wonder what the Romney team was thinking.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Ideas: Obama v. Romney: Who Will Win the Economy and How?

  TIME IDEAS
Obama v. Romney: Who Will Win the Economy and How?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: It’s déjà vu all over again. Just about every election since 1932 has been about the economy, and the 2012 race is no exception.

According to a recent Gallup poll, when asked to name off the top of their minds the most important problem facing this country today, 72% of Americans named an economic issue.

Right now no one is winning the economy as an issue with critical swing voters. According to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, only 13% of independent voters are very confident in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy. Only 12% are very confident in Romney.

But Obama can, as he did in 2008, definitely win the economic issue. He did it then because in the face of an economic collapse, Obama presented himself as the steady hand with a plan. People are still looking for that kind of leadership. So far Obama has focused on the Buffett rule, problems with Wall Street and the issue of inequality.

The key to winning the economy is broadening his economic message from income inequality to the larger problems that are engulfing the country and much of the world. He has to focus more on how we can use America’s know-how to succeed in this new global innovation economy; comprehensive tax reform; and a budget deal that will give business the confidence to hire.

Over on the other side, Romney is still in the infancy stage when it comes to an economic message — and the once-moderate Massachusetts governor moved to the right during a primary in which he tried to appease the Republican base. His quick turn to embrace tax cuts and conservative policies like those of the Ryan budget plan has left him off-message and off-center. Ryan is a ticket to electoral oblivion.

Obama’s message may need some broadening but while Romney has experience in business, his shift to the right on the economy has created an opening that Obama can once again fill.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Ideas: What Are the Best Next Steps for Romney and Obama?

  TIME IDEAS
What Are the Best Next Steps for Romney and Obama?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: President Barack Obama has some key advantages that he should press in the battle against Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee. First, a gender gap is emerging with Obama leading by as many as 19 points on women’s issues in some polls and holding on to this advantage may be the key to victory. The Republican party has backed itself into a corner when it comes to women’s rights. Therefore Obama should be looking to revive the Violence Against Women Act that needs a constitutional fix, raise equal pay for equal work (even men favor that!) and in general revisit the safeguards that moms need to protect their kids in an increasingly turbulent online world. In 1996, no TV would be manufactured without a v-chip. Today it’s the cell phones and computers that need a v-chip so that parents can let their younger kids use these new technologies without fear about how they can be misused.

Second, Obama has now pulled ahead even among independents and that means that continuing to emphasize that he has a sound approach to balancing fiscal responsibility with our nation’s values and priorities is critical to his re-election. David Brooks may say he went too far in criticizing the Ryan budget, but the truth is that the President is on the right track with the idea that Romney-Ryan is a ticket to electoral oblivion, just as Dole-Gingrich came to stand for unacceptable cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

Third, Obama needs to win the 26% of the electorate whose households earn more than $100,000. He connected with them last time and they were his key to victory in 2008 — his margin twice-over came from this important and growing group of professionals and households with dual incomes. That’s why “Buffett rule” days are as likely to lose him votes as gain them — these voters want to know what Obama is going to do to create new jobs through innovation and by mastering the global economy. That’s where he can retain and even make gains with this group.

Fourth, he should remind the voters that every day he is working to make their lives better. That’s why news like the FCC’s new database to track stolen cell phones and smartphones is not small bore — it’s the kind of thing that shows how the administration is looking out for people and their everyday problems.

Obama has a lot of advantages now as we begin to enter the one-on-one phase of the election and he has to press these advantages to win.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

CNN: Who are the Soccer Moms of 2012?

Do independent women voters elect presidents? Democratic strategist Mark Penn and Republican strategist Linda DiVall assess who the “soccer moms” of 2012 are.

View the video at CNN

Could defeat for Obamacare mean victory for Obama?

By MARK PENN
Published March 30, 2012

If the Supreme Court knocks out the guts of the Affordable Care Act — the individual mandate requiring people to purchase health insurance or pay a fine — the battle within the Obama campaign will be fierce. The president will be faced with two stark alternatives: launch the political equivalent of a drone strike on the Supreme Court and use the ruling to energize his base, or accept the decision and move on, hoping to neutralize the divisive law in the general election.

In the first scenario, President Obama would double down rather than back down. So far, he has shown no willingness to compromise on the individual mandate despite massive public opposition to the measure. In the face of a Supreme Court ruling against the law, a defiant president may seek to make an even more strident case for his vision for health care in America.

Already, the talking points for a war on the high court are being put in place by organizations such as the Center for American Progress. The story line is simple and potentially effective: From Bush v. Gore in 2000 to the Citizens United decision in 2010 to the possible Obamacare ruling, the Supreme Court puts politics above the people in the name of the Constitution.

This argument could play among an electorate predisposed to suspect the worst.A Bloomberg News survey taken shortly before the oral arguments found that 75 percent of Americans believe that politics will influence the justices’ decision on the health-care law. If the court kills the act, then Washington is reduced to a triple play of gridlock — between the president, Congress and the Supreme Court, nothing gets done.

The Obama campaign could paint the court as out of step with the modern world, in which the state needs to help redress the inadequacies of global and national markets. After all, the mandate is about everyone paying their fair share toward health care; it eliminates free-riders from the system.

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TIME Ideas: How Will the Supreme Court’s Decision on Health Care Affect The Election?

  TIME IDEAS
How Will the Supreme Court’s Decision on Health Care Affect The Election?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Overturning the healthcare law would be a drastic curtailing of Congressional power that will set off a political firestorm that won’t be good for the Court or the body politic.

The Court would in essence be saying that universal healthcare will either have to be provided to everyone at no charge or that requiring people to pony up for healthcare they need will require a constitutional amendment, just as the income tax needed one back in 1913.

Faith in government institutions is already at a record low. Just last fall Gallup reported that 81% of Americans expressed “historic negativity” towards the U.S. government. Yesterday a Bloomberg News poll showed that 75% percent of Americans believe that the Justices’ health care vote will be influenced by their personal politics.

Although this healthcare plan is not popular in recent national polls (47% against in the New York Times/ CBS poll; 42% against in the Washington Post/ ABC poll) such a ruling would put a fork in the ability for Congress to legislate universal healthcare. It would disillusion people even further – Congress doesn’t act much now and when it does it gets overturned. This would be the triple play of gridlock – from the President to Congress to the Court, nothing gets done.

If this suit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is successful, then perhaps people would want to re-open the requirements for wearing seatbelts or banning kids from sitting in the front seat under age 12. Maybe the mileage standards would have to be rolled back or the EPA standards we have come to rely upon to protect our air. Perhaps we need to reconsider Social Security under similar grounds. Advocates of more states’ rights would use the decision to re-open the debate of the general power and authority of the federal government.

The Republicans would cheer a ruling overturning the plan as a major victory. I think it would boomerang though as the American public doesn’t want to be denied a path to universal care and the decision would create a rallying cry for President Obama and his campaign. The conservative judges would be seen as once again having put a political rather than a legal stamp of opinion on the bill. The politically surer path for the Court would be to let universal healthcare be a matter between the President, Congress and the voters. If they don’t like the plan – and a lot of people don’t – then people can exercise their rights this November. Stopping Congress under any circumstances from requiring people to get healthcare to protect themselves and the greater community seems at best anachronistic and would only further undermine a political system already under a cloud of doubt.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

Polioptics: Mark Penn and Karen Hughes discuss U.S. politics [Audio]

Mark Penn and Karen Hughes discussed U.S. politics on the radio show “Polioptics” this week. Listen to the full podcast

TIME Ideas: Why Are Obama’s Numbers Falling?

  TIME IDEAS
Why Are Obama’s Numbers Falling?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: The sobering numbers coming from the polls the past few days show that to win re-election, President Obama must do more than simply ask for another four years to let his policies work. He has to make a major leap into the center to deal with the volatility coming from the record number of independent voters in the electorate. His job approval is at 41% in the latest New York Times/CBS poll and 46% in the Washington Post/ABC News poll.

The developing storyline was that an improving economy mixed with a divided Republican electorate should have shot President Obama’s numbers sky high, putting the race out of reach for the Republicans. But the public wants to see more than just job growth — they want to see President Obama grow in the job. They are concerned that difficult situations in Iran and Afghanistan are raising the stakes on who occupies the Oval Office, as his foreign-affairs numbers dropped 10 points in New York Times/CBS poll. And while the fight over contraception coverage energized the base, it also revealed a more divided electorate on the issue than expected when it comes to rules for religious institutions.

I have to admit, I was ready to say that the President had turned the corner based on recent events and that his campaign seemed to have reached a more even footing compared with the rocky and chaotic Republican primary. But numbers like these send you back to first principles: 1) the President has to keep working to overcome doubts about his leadership by being a President first, not a candidate; 2) he has to move more decisively into the center, which means less about raising taxes and more about streamlining and modernizing government; and 3) he has to run on a forward-looking and comprehensive economic plan that deals directly not only with spending but also with trade, immigration, energy prices and a host of other issues holding the country back from real economic growth in the 21st century.

Americans remain moody and pessimistic about government and everyone in it; however, they remain open to President Obama. These unexpectedly low polls serve as a warning sign that he has to keep searching for the right key to the door of re-election.

Hughes: Gas prices and federal budget deficits are rising, and so are tensions in the world. If they aren’t already, alarm bells should be sounding at President Obama’s campaign, because these two new polls, the New York Times/CBS News and Washington Post/ABC News, show Americans are not at all happy with the way the President is dealing with those issues and are deeply worried about the President’s performance — or more accurately, his failure to perform — both at home and abroad. These polls are the most recent reminder of just how vulnerable the incumbent President is during this election year.

Gas prices and federal budget deficits are rising, and so are tensions in the world. If they aren’t already, alarm bells should be sounding at President Obama’s campaign, because these two new polls, the New York Times/CBS News and Washington Post/ABC News, show Americans are not at all happy with the way the President is dealing with those issues and are deeply worried about the President’s performance — or more accurately, his failure to perform — both at home and abroad. These polls are the most recent reminder of just how vulnerable the incumbent President is during this election year.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

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