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Moving beyond the conventions

The end of the Demo­c­ratic con­ven­tion in Char­lotte, N.C., marked the begin­ning of a new phase of the pres­i­den­tial race between incum­bent Barack Obama and Repub­lican chal­lenger Mitt Romney. We asked former Mass­a­chu­setts gov­ernor and 1988 Demo­c­ratic nom­inee for pres­i­dent Michael Dukakis, a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence in Northeastern’s Col­lege of Social Sci­ence and Human­i­ties, to weigh in on the race.

One of the highest-profile speakers at the DNC was former President Clinton. What can a former president communicate to voters that the nominee cannot? On the flip side, what message does the absence of a high-profile appearance by former President George W. Bush send to voters?

It all depends on who the former pres­i­dent is, obvi­ously. Clinton, in addi­tion to his pop­u­larity — which remains high — has an ability to talk about pol­i­tics and express him­self in a way that is very rare. And the older he gets, the better he gets at this. I don’t know how you can improve on the case he made for Obama, which I assume he’s going to make around the country with the campaign.

Clinton has this ability to talk to you as if he’s in your living room – maybe Michelle Obama has it too, but very few people in pol­i­tics can do that. It’s a speech only he could have given, some­thing that makes the case for the reelec­tion of Pres­i­dent Obama in a way that’s very per­sonal, that res­onates with voters.

But if you have a pres­i­dent who is pretty unpop­ular, like George W. Bush, I don’t think you want him at your con­ven­tion. You don’t want to remind people of the eight years that brought us into this mess we’re in. So it was that simple: The Romney cam­paign didn’t ask him and he didn’t come.

The Democrats had to hold repeated voice votes on revisions to its party platform, which originally omitted references to God and the position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. From an historical perspective, do these party platforms — for both Democrats and Republicans — play a significant role in elections?

Gen­er­ally speaking, plat­forms don’t have much impact on the average voter, but they may when there’s serious con­tro­versy about them. Even though there was some dis­agree­ment this year for the Democ­rats, it was nothing that exposed a deep divide in the party. We have had fierce or even quite divi­sive plat­form fights on the Demo­c­ratic side before, and I’m sure the Repub­li­cans have had them too. That wasn’t the case here.

If you have a big battle in the party over major issues, I don’t think that’s going to help your ticket. Usu­ally you work to address those before the con­ven­tion so you don’t have a fight in front of the whole country.

What points did both Obama and Romney stress in their respective conventions in order to woo swing voters? Moving forward, how will each candidate continue to target voters who are either still undecided or unsure if they will vote?

Even before you get to the issue of pol­i­tics, there is this very serious issue of voter sup­pres­sion, largely pushed by Repub­lican state leg­is­la­tors who are passing new voter ID statutes when there’s not even the slightest evi­dence of voter fraud. It’s an effort to sup­press people who don’t have voter ID because they don’t have driver’s license because they cannot afford to own a car. And those voters are not the kind to usu­ally vote for Repub­li­cans; they’re far more likely to sup­port Pres­i­dent Obama and Democrats.

Penn­syl­vania has one that could dis­en­fran­chise 750,000 voters — which is the margin of votes that could make a real dif­fer­ence in November. These statues have passed in Ohio, they’ve passed in Indiana — all bat­tle­ground states. They’ve passed in some southern states where the fed­eral courts have thrown them out already since changes are still sub­ject to over­sight under the Voting Rights Act. So one of the things that both the Obama cam­paign and the Democ­rats have to do is make sure that these people who will be poten­tially dis­en­fran­chised have access to photo IDs – and that will be a major task.

In terms of the gen­eral cam­paign, there’s no ques­tion the economy will remain the key issue. The Obama cam­paign has to com­mu­ni­cate, like Clinton did last week, that they inher­ited a dis­aster, but since taking office they cre­ated jobs and are on track to create more. Romney and Ryan have to com­mu­ni­cate that Obama’s poli­cies haven’t worked and that they’re not going to work. Romney is going to com­mu­ni­cate that the economy hasn’t recov­ered fast enough, so it’s time to make a change.

– by Matt Collette

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