Schieffer Symposium talks 2012 election

The imminent battle between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the focus of conversation Wednesday night at the eighth annual Schieffer Symposium on the News, which featured three White House correspondents, POLITICO’s co-founder and Bob Schieffer, CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent and university alumnus.

The panel included 1959 graduate Schieffer, moderator of CBS News’ “Face the Nation”; Norah O’Donnell, CBS News chief White House correspondent; Jake Tapper, ABC News senior White House correspondent; POLITICO co-founder and Editor-in-Chief John Harris and NBC News chief White House Correspondent and Political Director Chuck Todd, who also hosts “The Daily Rundown” on MSNBC.

Given former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s announcement Tuesday that he suspended his campaign, the panelists’ discussion honed in on the competition between Obama and his likely opponent in the general election — Romney.

Todd said he sensed Obama and Romney had respective advantages and an almost equal financial playing field, which could lead to a bitter, intense race.

“I think it’s going to be a very close election,” Todd said. “I think it’s going to be a very negative election. I think it’s going to be an election where the turnout is down, not up.”
Schieffer agreed with Todd and said the results would not be a landslide.

Tapper said he believed the election would come down to the decisions of about 5 or 6 million voters, given his predictions that Obama could never poll better than 53 percent and Romney worse than 47 percent.

Citing a poll conducted last month by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, O’Donnell said more than 40 percent of Americans had very negative feelings about Romney. No candidate has fared so poorly so early in the election cycle since former President Bill Clinton, she said.

Much of this negativity, she said, was due to voters’ feelings that Romney was out of touch with average Americans.

Both candidates had their respective weaknesses, the panelists said.

Todd said he felt Romney was unable to open up to the public, given his scrutinized faith background, Mormonism, and his voting record, which some say was too moderate.

“What’s wrong with being moderate?” Schieffer asked, answered by laughter throughout the audience.

The panelists also agreed health care would be a hot-button issue throughout
the election.

O’Donnell said one of the strongest arguments Republicans could make against Obama was the Affordable Care Act, which she said many people deemed complex and burdensome.

“Do you think anyone in America knows what’s in the health-care legislature?” Schieffer said. “In all my years in Washington…I haven’t run into anybody who seems to have a good grip of what’s in it.”

Todd said he did not think health care would be a concern for the majority of voters, however, because many people had health coverage. O’Donnell disagreed, pointing out that many people disliked their health care.

As for the next steps in the election, Todd said the focus would turn to swing states, which were neither staunchly Republican nor Democrat. He projected these battlegrounds would include Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.

Later in the symposium, the panelists fielded questions from the audience, two of which regarded the popularity among young people held by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. Tapper said he did not believe Paul would run as a third party candidate.

The journalists also discussed political polarization.

“To me, the whole idea [that] compromise has become a dirty word…I just don’t think that’s helpful to a democratic society,” Schieffer said.