When someone offers you a front-row seat to a panel discussion moderated by ABC’s chief political correspondent George Stephanopoulos and including James Carville, political consultant; Harold Ford Jr., executive vice chairman of Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Democratic Leadership Council chair; Howard Kurtz, Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast; and Leslie Sanchez, founder and CEO of Impacto Group, LLC, you get in your car at 5 a.m. on a Saturday and make the three-hour drive to New Orleans.
The panel discussion was part of The Daily Beast’s Innovators Summit, which brought a hundred of the brightest minds in the world to discuss innovation and how to reboot America.
The focus of the political panel was the midterm elections and how they are a report card for the Obama administration.
Dressed in a Mardi Gras Izod shirt and blue jeans, Carville was critical of President Barack Obama and the White House. “They never tell the public their strategy,” Carville said. “Obama makes appearances, but the White House doesn’t have a narrative.”
With a sly smile, he added, “As George W. Bush would say, ‘He has misunderestimated the severity of the situation.’”
While the entire panel believed the Republicans stand a good chance of taking control of the House of Representatives and possibly even the U.S. Senate, Howard Kurtz pointed out that the races have tightened up in some states, particularly in Pennsylvania, where Republican Pat Toomey has seen his lead over Democrat Joe Sestak cut to two percentage points.
“Republicans have been hurt by Christine O’Donnell,” Kurtz said. O’Donnell is the Tea Party candidate who upset moderate Rep. Mike Castle in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Delaware.
“Female candidates want to avoid being ‘Palinized,’” said Leslie Sanchez. “They don’t want to be caught like a deer in headlights in front of TV cameras. We no longer have a 24-hour news cycle; it’s a two- to four-second Twitter cycle.”
She added, “Hilary (Clinton) and (Sarah) Palin have changed the landscape for women in politics.”
Sarah Palin was the vice presidential running mate of John McCain in 2008, former Alaska governor, and a major fundraiser on the GOP speaking circuit.
“Palin is so unconventional,” said Sanchez. “She feeds into the desire for simpler politics and has transcended the Republican brand. There is no one like her on the national stage that can raise money like she can.”
Carville offered this advice to Obama if the GOP takes control of the House and Senate: “Tell them to put something on the table. It won’t happen. There’s no leadership there (in the Republican Caucus).”
While the GOP might win big on Nov. 2, they might not maintain control for long. “There is no political job security for either party,” Sanchez said. “Neither party had high favorability ratings.”
Kurtz was reluctant to predict many of the races. “We’ve been wrong most of this year,” he said. “There is a certain type of voter that votes in midterm elections.”
“Republicans are running against (Nancy) Pelosi and Obama,” Kurtz said. “Democrats are running personal attack ads. They won’t run the main issues.”
“The White House’s message is wrong,” said Carville. “They are saying what we’re doing is working. Instead, the Democrats should be running on helping the middle class and against Wall Street.
“I’ve seen the focus groups. This works every time. Sestak is doing this best.”
The Bush tax cuts were discussed. Carville said he didn’t know why the Democrats weren’t going harder against the cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. Harold Ford Jr. believed that Congress would vote to extend all the tax cuts when they reconvene on Nov. 15.
“Some believe Obama should veto the cuts the first time,” said George Stephanopoulos, who said his former boss Bill Clinton used a similar strategy against a Republican-controlled Congress.
“It could help them make it better, following the Clinton example,” said Sanchez.
Carville would have none of it. “These tax cuts manifestly do not work,” he said. “From 2002-2007, the middle class income dropped $2,000. The Congressional Budget Office says tax cuts are the least effective program in a recession.”
The panel ended with a discussion on the visceral nature of the attacks on President Obama. Marc Adelman, an advisor to the John Edwards campaign and a Summit participant, talked about a recent campaign trip with Republican Congressman Aaron Schock.
“I have never seen such personal, almost visceral, attacks on our president,” Adelman told the panel. “Over and over again, people stopped the congressman to tell him how much they dislike Obama.”
Carville and Stephanopoulos, who both worked for Bill Clinton, refused to believe the attacks on Obama are any worse than those on Clinton or Bush.
“I remember walking through the airport and having people scream how much they hated Bill Clinton,” said Carville.
Carville refused to believe racism was a part of the criticism, especially in the South. “We have the country’s first Indian-American governor, the mayors of two of our largest cities, Baton Rouge and Shreveport, are black, and the mayor of New Orleans is white.
“Take that, Connecticut.”