UML-Parker Lecture on 2012 Election

Yesterday I attended the UMass Lowell – Parker Lecture at the UML Inn & Conference Center forum on the 2012 Presidential election . Chancellor Marty Meehan moderated a panel that consisted of former Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, the Boston Herald’s Joe Battenfeld, the Lowell Sun’s Jennifer Myers, and the Boston Globe’s Glenn Johnson.

The event began with Meehan inviting each of the panelists to talk about the “state of the Presidential campaign” at this point. Glenn Johnson began. He said the US Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren (they all see her as the Democratic nominee but more on that later) will attract more attention in Massachusetts than will the Presidential election. As for the national electoral situation, the early Republican debates have “winnowed the field much earlier than you would have expected.” The big question is whether Mitt Romney will be the nominee or will someone snatch it away from him.

Battenfeld went next, saying that YouTube has “radically changed” this year’s Presidential election. It had a significant impact on the 2008 race but it is much more powerful this time. It provides a way for people to participate in the race without physically being there. This time, retail politics has been less important (in places like New Hampshire) than have the debates which have driven the race thus far. The UML Senate debate, for instance, “won the nomination for Elizabeth Warren.” Others dropped out right after that and Scott Brown started targeting her directly.

Charlie Baker cautioned everyone that a year out from an election is a very long time and that predictions made today will likely prove to be untrue. He somewhat discounted the effect of social media on the election. He also said the importance of the Republican debates thus far was that Mitt Romney confirmed his status as the front runner. Baker said the Senate race will be bigger than the Presidential race but that because of our proximity to New Hampshire, we would gain insight into what was going on in the presidential race.

Jennifer Myers said that the communities of the Merrimack Valley were a microcosm of the rest of the country and that people here are very angry, particularly about jobs.

Battenfeld jumped in to say the Republican nomination might be wrapped up by the end of January, right after the Florida primary. Glenn Johnson thinks that Elizabeth Warren will suffer from the lack of “candidate development” that would come with a contested primary. Someone like Obama doesn’t need that so he’s not harmed by not having a contested primary.

The next question was whether the distrust of government that seems endemic in America will increase or decrease turnout? Glenn Johnson said turnout will be the decisive factor in whether President Obama wins. Will the people who supported him in 2008 but who are now discouraged still turnout? “Because the people who hate him certainly will.”

Meehan interjected, can the Republican nominee be successful asking the question “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” Charlie Baker repeated that you won’t know what the election will be about until you get closer to it. If the race is about the economy, then Mitt Romney’s chances of winning are “quite good.” Joe Battenfeld agreed that Romney would benefit if the election is about the economy, but he said that the Obama people are very skilled in shaping the debate so it is true that we won’t know the answer until we are closer to the election. In response to a question about Foreign Policy, Jennifer Myers said that the election will be about the economy but in this age of globalism you can’t separate the economy from foreign policy.

Glenn Johnson said the Obama campaign will portray the president as a victim of “rank partisanship” at the hands of a Republican Congress and that he needs the endorsement of the public to change that. Regarding foreign policy, Obama will point to successes like the demise of Osama bin Laden and Muahhmar Gaddafi as evidence that when he’s had control, he’s realized a large degree of success but in areas where Congress has been an obstacle, he has not had as much success. In this election, foreign policy might be used as evidence of strong management than of foreign policy itself.

This event was interesting not only for its content, but it also provided us some insight into the thought process and attitudes of (some of) those who are covering the 2012 presidential rate for the mainstream media.