Obama’s Tough Nut To Crack

John Dickerson and Dave Weigel talk with readers about the start of the general election campaign.

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Slate chief political correspondent John Dickerson and political reporter David Weigel were on Slate’s Facebook page to chat about the end of the GOP primaries and start of the 2012 general election. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation, click on this link.

Dave Weigel: Hello! I’m profoundly, tremendously excited to be here.

Aaron Mosher: Liar.

David Vodolazkiy: Why is racism and sexism back in such a hard way? Why doesn’t the mainstream press do more to combat this instead of opting for the easier and intellectually lazy “both sides” approach to journalism?

Dave Weigel: How would you say those those isms are “back”? I see the Romney and Obama campaigns exploiting the perception of racism or sexism when it benefits them. See: the Hilary Rosen kerfuffle. What examples are you thinking of, in particular? Because I agree, generally, that the press should not just process those things as “spats” between equally matched debaters.

David Vodolazkiy: I worded that poorly. I guess what I mean is, even 10 years ago they were still dog-whistling those ideas in reactionary politics, but today we have Rick Santorum saying “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better …” on video and being allowed to deflect with “blah plives.” It seems to be more a pattern these days than an aberration. Am I reading too much into it?

Dave Weigel: Well, it’s more subtle. Nobody has made a convincing case that Santorum dislikes black people—I think he was being his usual “look ma, no teleprompter” self and clumsily failed to make a point about how he, unlike liberals, would not divide Americans up by race. I don’t think most political racism is directed at a candidate. Too clumsy. It’s more pernicious when used to justify voting restrictions or immigration law.


John Dickerson: Hi everyone. Sorry I’m late. My computer took 12 minutes to power on. Alas, you have just learned a dirty secret of my life: my computer is wood-burning.

Christopher Baker: Do you see this election being decided by the respective organizations, as in who can mobilize their base better?

John Dickerson: It’s a bit of both. The parties have to mobilize their base and they have to find a way to get independent voters. The days of running up your vote in one particular part of a swing state and hoping the other guy doesn’t do as well with his base are largely over. Both parties play in counties they aren’t going to win in the hopes of shrinking the other guy’s vote.


Andrew Lovseth: Is Texas in play for the Obama campaign? The most recent polling shows the president with a smaller gap than in 2008 going head-to-head with Romney. With the Hispanic vote being touted at “crucial,” is there any chance of the president taking Texas and its 38 electoral votes?

Dave Weigel: Democrats made real progress in Texas from 2006 to 2008, and then 2010 came along and they slid back down the mountain. Should it hurt Romney that he got the nomination, in part, by running far right of what Texans see as acceptable immigration policy? It’ll hurt a little. But in 2008, Obama won 26 percent of the white vote and 63 percent of the Latino vote in Texas. Do we see those numbers moving very much? No.


Dan Bucherer: Interested in your opinion on the Indiana Senate race. Seems to me like Richard Mourdock is running away with this thing and will be the likely nominee. Does Joe Donnelly have a chance at all? What does Richard Lugar have to do to try to salvage the race?

Dave Weigel: I profiled Mourdock as a way of explaining whether it was still possible for conservative activists to oust incumbents. Answer: Yes, I’d give Mourdock the edge. Ironically, if the GOP primary had dragged on, and there was a dogfight between conservatives and Mitt Romney at the top of the ballot, Lugar might have had an easier time getting the votes of ordinary Republican voters. But the primary is likely to bring out the most motivated conservatives. I disagree a little with Nate Silver—Mourdock is a perfectly fine candidate, the kind of Republican who wins red state elections in presidential years.


Scott Chupack: Let’s play alternate reality for a second. In retrospect, which of these candidates would have beaten Romney if only they entered the campaign a year ago. Palin, Christie, Jeb Bush, Rubio, Mitch Daniels, Pawlenty (if he stayed).

Dave Weigel: A number of reporter friends have raised that scenario. The starting point: “Hell, if Santorum could go this far, could someone else have won?” That underrates Santorum a little. He crashed spectacularly in 2006, but he remained a young-looking, tireless, sharp campaigner with a loyal campaign team that put together strong ads/mailers. Jeb Bush is the only candidate who would have had a clear advantage over Romney, in part because non-Florida primary voters have never seen him campaign. (He’s good.) I think Christie would have been weak with social conservatives and ended up losing the first three primaries. Palin would have found some way to lose. Daniels and Pawlenty—ah, those are the real missed opportunities. They would have worn quite well.


Jan Bowers: I have a fantasy. Neither Obama nor Romney is an ideologue. Any chance that in addition to the traditional debates, they could sit down for a moderated roundtable discussion of the issues, maybe with Jim Lehrer or someone neutral of that stature? Would the campaigns agree to that? What a plus for the voters.

Dave Weigel: I like your idea, but historically, Obama has been debate-shy. Remember McCain challenging him to seven forums right after he won the nomination? Yeah, that didn’t happen. I fear, sadly, that the campaigns prefer to do their talking through earned and paid media snowball fights.


Alex Knobel: Is there a previously uncontested state you think will be competitive this year, or will the map, assuming it’s close, almost identically resemble the Bush elections?

John Dickerson: I think it’s identical. There will be some flirting with Ariz. for Dems (big Hispanic vote!) and Mich. for Rs (Romney’s from there!) but in a month or so we’ll be back to talking about the traditional six-12 states.


Andrew Walker: What are the odds that the liberal pipe dream of Hillary stepping in as VP for Biden happens? And is there any precedent for that kind of thing happening? Would it even help Obama’s odds?

Dave Weigel: Is that a liberal pipe dream? I thought it was a politics magazine ad manager’s pipe dream! I’m no fun, and no good at selling ads, so I think it’s a bunch of baloney. There’s no static between Obama and Biden, no polling showing Biden hurting the ticket, and at the local level Democrats and labor love the guy.


Fake Bogardus: I supported President Obama for reducing the disparity between prison sentencing mandates for crack vs. powder cocaine crimes. What I’d like to know is, when will he take action against the grossly unfair practice of issuing longer prison terms for serial murderers compared to ordinary murderers? And why hasn’t Romney spoken out about this issue, which is vital to many Americans like myself.

John Dickerson: He’s going to do it tomorrow. Huge. Starts at 6 a.m. Tune your tinfoil hat into the usual frequency.


Christian Moyer: Of all the months between now and the election, which is the most important for economic data? Does job news now have more influence on campaign tone, or are voters more interested in data right before Election Day?

John Dickerson: You tell me! I’m not sure. The standard line is that it takes 6 months for people to feel an economic turnaround. But what does that mean? Feel it how? New job? Better wages? Friends who were fired getting jobs? Or is a great jobs report enough to help people think things are turning around? Given the pace of this recovery it’s probably safe to say that no boffo report is coming in for August 2012 or September. I think the best the president can hope for is a good report this Friday and steadily better ones ‘till Election Day. Seventy percent of people in Fla. and Ohio think we’re still in a recession. Tough to crack that.


Stan Weddle: Ron Paul supporters still believe he can get the nomination. Are they wasting their time? Just curious, I’m not a Ron Paul supporter.

Dave Weigel: The short answer is “yes, they are wrong.” They will get more delegates via the state convention system than many lazy media bean-counters thought they could. (Seriously, it’s weird that the AP projects delegate counts from non-binding caucuses.) But Romney will have an overwhelming majority of pledged delegates from states that assigned them in primaries. He hasn’t even pulled in those Texas or California delegates yet, for example. Also, a lot of states that assigned delegates to Santorum and Gingrich will give those slots to “uncommitted,” further reducing the chance of a floor fight.


Seth Archer: What I find the most upsetting is the wide acceptance that these Rove-ian (splintering votes from Romney because he’s wealthy; questioning Obama’s citizenship) techniques are now considered par for the course. Is there any way for U.S. democracy to move past such politicking without the elimination of the Electoral College?

John Dickerson: You give Karl too much credit. That kind of thing has been around forever. Used to be worse. In the early days of the republic it was MUCH worse.


Martha Dunkelberger: Do you think the “War on Women” meme will flame out? Even over the last two weeks, the fury seems to have died down.

John Dickerson: The War on Women always confused me. It was an overreach from the start. Now with the fight over student loans the Democrats have gotten even nuttier with it. Is it working? Obama’s up by double digits with women in Ohio but tied with Romney for them in Fla. so it’s not clear. I find the whole thing tiresome, lazy and pointless on both sides. Welcome to this election!


Kevin McSpadden: How does Mitt Romney have a chance when he doesn’t seem to be relevant in the urban environment? Are there enough people outside of the cities to overcome that?

Dave Weigel: Romney actually did well in the primary in the swing suburban areas. No Republican in a very long while has won urban areas. The goal is to win the exurbs and keep the suburbs close, like George W. Bush did. And the polling suggests that Romney is doing it.


Brad Evans: While talking with a friend about the upcoming presidential election, I let slip that, while certainly hoping for another Obama term, in the final analysis Mitt Romney appears to be about as centrist a GOP candidate as I could hope for. My friend responded that “but he’ll be beholden to the extreme right wing if he wins.” This is what Republicans would say to anybody thinking about voting for Obama. By that logic, you can never vote for anyone of another party. Wondering what your guys’ take was.

John Dickerson: Romney would presumably be more “beholden” than Obama, who would not be up for re-election. Romney has already endorsed the House Republican budget so on the issues that people care about you pretty much already know where he lives. How much Romney would be beholden on social issues I’m not sure. They are not his deep passion.


John Dickerson: Okay everyone, I’ve got to go get ready for my podcast. Thanks for joining in and thanks for asking questions.

Dave Weigel: Thanks for all the great questions! (Except for the one from Fake Bogardus.) Keep reading.