Mike Glover, Des Moines political reporter for the Associated Press (left) makes a point during Tuesday's Midwest election forum. Other panelists, from left to right, were former Democratic National Committee chair David Wilhelm, Chicago Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson, Republican campaign strategist Steve Grubbs and MC political science instructor Robin Johnson.
Along the way to reviewing “Election 2010: What It Means For The Midwest” at a special Midwest Matters forum at Monmouth College, four distinguished panelists also touched on what the Midwest might mean to the 2012 election.
Described as a group of “politicos, pundits and professors,” the panelists included a Democrat – David Wilhelm, manager of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign – and a Republican – Steve Grubbs, founder of Victory Enterprises, Inc., a political communications company specializing in media, polling and mail. Mike Glover, political reporter for the Associated Press, and Rick Pearson, political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, rounded out the panel, which was moderated by MC political science lecturer Robin Johnson.
During his opening remarks, Glover noted, “Elections in America are won in the middle.”
While he meant the moderate ground between the two political parties, it would have been nearly as accurate had he been speaking in geographic terms. In the 2004 presidential election, for instance, a victory in the “battleground” state of Ohio lifted George Bush past John Kerry.
The 2010 election was a big one for Republicans, and Johnson showed that an eight-state section of the Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana) reflected that, with major GOP gains in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and state governors.
“We thought it would be a good year, but we didn’t know how good it would be,” said Grubbs. “It turned out to be historically good. Now the Republicans have a two-year window of opportunity to impress the voters.”
Wilhelm, of course, offered a different point of view.
“This was a terrible month,” he said. “I’m glad to see it end.”
He countered a popular point of view that the Democrats lost so much ground because their base didn’t turn out and vote.
“There’s virtually no evidence of that. It was actually the moderates, the independents, who did not vote. When you really get beneath the numbers, the Democrats have to admit a tremendous rural problem. Of 125 districts in the region that could be classified as rural, the Democrats controlled 61. Now, after the election, it’s just 22. What was that all about? We need to have answers. We need a heartland strategy.”
Part of that strategy, he added, should involve listening to the people.
“The people were saying this election was about jobs, jobs, jobs. The Democrats said ‘health care and cap and trade.’ It compares well with the mid-term election in 1994, when the people were saying ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs,’ and the Democrats said ‘deficit reduction.’ We can’t continue to be tone-deaf to what the people are saying.”
Johnson posed two questions to the panelists on behalf of the students in attendance, asking them “How’s the economy going to be?” and “Will college graduates be able to get a job?”
“In 1994, the deficit in Illinois was $1.6 billion,” replied Pearson. “In 2010, it’s 10 times that. Whoever thought we’d look at a $1.6 billion deficit as the good old days? Voters want to see cuts. They want to see blood on the floor. As long as it’s not your ox getting gored, go ahead and do it.”
Glover approached the economy question from a different angle.
“If government eliminated all discretionary spending, they’d still have a deficit,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a hell of a lot the government can do about the economy.”
Grubbs offered yet another viewpoint, speaking to the students directly.
“The skills I use today were self-taught during school outside of the classroom, or I learned them after graduation,” he said. “After you finish school, know that you must continue to teach yourself. If graduates have practical skills, interview well and work hard, there’s room for them in this economy.”
Grubbs also shared his insights about the Tea Party, agreeing with Pearson that it would not become a viable third party.
“The White House hosted officials from China to ask for more money. People saw the United States, the greatest capitalist country ever, asking for another loan from a Communist country. They looked at America today and said, ‘This is nothing like the country I grew up in. So where do I go?’ That’s where (the party) comes from, but the anger and angst will wane.”
The panelists also discussed Obama’s role in the 2010 election and who might challenge the former Illinois state senator for the Democratic nomination in 2012.
“We advised our candidates to run against (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, not Obama,” said Grubbs. “She was more unpopular than Obama. That being said, you look at who was in charge of Congress before the election, and it was (Harry) Reid, Pelosi, (John) Boehner and (Mitch) McConnell. After the election, it’s still Reid, Pelosi, Boehner and McConnell.”
Looking ahead to the next presidential race, Pearson agreed with the other panelists that Obama would not be challenged.
“If he is, then there would be no chance of the Democrats winning the presidential election,” he said.
Wilhelm said only one person, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, could do it, but “she’s tried that. She’s busy. And she’s something like 20 points behind. It would rip the party apart like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
As for the Republicans’ most likely nominee, Glover made a valid point, and a humorous one, as well.
“In November 2006, who was saying Obama? He wasn’t even a blip on the screen. So who knows? It could be somebody out of – well, not left field, but somebody out of right field.”
Grubbs actually named names, and he put them into groups. He said that Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich would “almost certainly” run, and that Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal wouldn’t. He was skeptical about the chances of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee running, but then listed five other possible candidates: John Thune, Jim DeMint, Mitch Daniels, Boehner and Ron Paul.
“The Republicans will find somebody from the center – our center,” he added. “It’s going to come down to Florida, Ohio and just a few key states.”
The panelists agreed that there are too many variables to accurately handicap the race at this point. For example, will the Tea Party emerge as a viable third party and steal Republican votes? Will the economy fail to continue its slow rise, thus severely hurting Obama’s chances?
While that was the panelists’ view, the moderator made an outright prediction.
“With 275 electoral votes, Obama beats Romney,” said Johnson, as he concluded the entertaining evening.