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Experts debunk 10 myths heading into election

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Sunday, March 18, 2012
 

In politics, rumors and speculation easily can turn into truisms.

Since the Republican presidential primary officially began with the Iowa caucuses in January, myths often have obscured facts. Typically, political analysts manufacture them to keep people talking about the campaigns.

The Tribune-Review asked several strategists for the most egregious myths circulated in social and mainstream media outlets.

Myth 1: The brokered convention

Because the primary process has lasted longer than Washington observers expected, they've concluded the GOP is heading toward a brokered convention in August.

They're wrong, says Villanova University political scientist Lara Brown.

"It would be the fastest way to end the GOP's hope of winning back the White House in November," she said.

Brown believes it is highly unlikely that Republicans, who want a candidate who can defeat President Obama, would willingly engage in an intra-party "death match" at the Tampa convention.

"Don't be fooled: A brokered convention is really just another phrase for a bored commentator," Brown said.

Myth 2: The contested primary helps Obama

The latest political fad predicts the winner of contested GOP primaries will be so bruised that he'll limp into the general election and lose.

It's a fabrication that has plagued both political parties over the years and won't go away, says Arkansas University political scientist Bob Maranto.

"I recall much the same thing said of the Democratic nominees in 1992 (Bill Clinton) and 2008 (Obama), each of whom recovered quite nicely," he said.

Because political activists are passionate creatures, they like to predict that a candidate who loses a primary won't get over it.

"That makes for a great headline but ... they nearly always do get over it," he said. "In fact, politics is the art of getting over it."

Although a few moderate Republicans might bolt to Obama if the party nominates a hard-line culture warrior, far-right Republicans would have nowhere to jump.

Maranto once researched statistics and found that even in congressional races, contested primaries rarely hurt nominees.

Myth 3: Low approval ratings and a weak economy mean Obama will lose

The sluggish economy and rising gasoline prices anger Americans, and those factors contributed to Obama's voter approval ratings falling below 50 percent. His party's power remains shaky after its trouncing in 2010 elections, so that means Obama is a politically weakened president who will lose when people can weigh in on his policies, right?

Not necessarily, says Kevan Yenerall, a political scientist at Clarion University.

Pundits who predict the certain demise of a president after his party's drubbing in midterm elections forget that two years can be a lifetime in politics -- and that a presidential election may not be a referendum on the incumbent but a careful weighing of two electoral choices, Yenerall said.

"Bill Clinton's decisive win in 1996, after Democrats' huge losses in the 1994 midterms, and Ronald Reagan's landslide in 1984, after terrible 1982 midterms, illustrate that presidential elections are very different than midterms on several profound levels," Yenerall said.

Yenerall says he can easily debunk that theory with this one:

Myth 4: An electoral bloodbath for Republicans

An equally common myth is that Obama is on track to electorally wipe out Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee.

The truth is, says Yenerall, it's too early to prognosticate.

"A host of political/cultural indicators -- enhanced by our Electoral College system, niche media, political fragmentation, ideological divisions, the new campaign finance system and our demographic 'sorting out' -- all conspire to make it virtually impossible for any electoral trouncing in 2012," he said.

Obama is hardly an anemic candidate on electoral life support, but he isn't poised for a landslide either, Yenerall said.

Myth 5: The impact of the Citizens United case on elections

The biggest myth is the belief that the Supreme Court's ruling in a federal court case from the District of Columbia, involving Citizens United, would not cause people to flood money into the presidential selection process, says Michael Genovese, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University.

In 2010, when justices struck down provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act prohibiting for-profit and nonprofit corporations and unions from broadcasting electioneering communications, experts claimed it would minimally impact federal elections.

"We will end up spending over $3 billion on the 2012 race, giving either the illusion or the reality that we have crossed a line and have become a kleptocracy," Genovese said.

Myth 6: The Tea Party runs the Republican Party

To Curt Nichols, a political scientist at Baylor University, this oft-repeated notion is an obvious myth: The conservative, values-driven base of the Christian right or of Tea Party traditionalists controls the Grand Old Party.

"It isn't the champions of religion or exceptional culture that dominate the Republican nominating game," he said. "It's still the socially moderate, internationally realist, market libertarians who run the show."

Myth 7: Delegates are all that matter

It's not that delegates don't matter, says Bruce Haynes, a Republican strategist for PurpleStrategies in Washington.

Technically, winning pledged delegates to the national convention is the only way to "win" the race, he said. "But connecting with voters should not be forgotten along the way."

This is the problem for Romney's campaign today, he said: "He's running a methodical, delegate-driven campaign but is not connecting with the core voters of the party that he'll need to write $50 checks for his campaign, to stand out in freezing rain and hold signs, and to eat leftovers and man phone banks in October."

If these people don't believe in something bigger than delegate counts, you don't really have a campaign, Haynes said.

Myth 8: A GOP rival could beat Romney for the nomination

Six times so far, this myth has taken the stage in this race, lasting about a month each time, says Alison Dagnes, a political scientist at Shippensburg University.

She points to the rise of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota after the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, last summer; the skyrocket of Texas Gov. Rick Perry; the ascent and ugly downfall of Atlanta businessman Herman Cain; the hinted-at-but-abandoned potential of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; the two-time comeback of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and the latest surge by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

"The media have framed this as Romney's (race) to lose, but with each plucky, promising opponent posing a temporary threat, the possibility is raised and then completely destroyed by the media, by money and by delegate math," Dagnes said.

Myth 9: Romney is 'buying' the election

Usually Democrats complain about the GOP buying elections but, this year, candidates Santorum and Gingrich, along with some Republican activists, grouse that one of their own is doing so.

Arkansas University's Maranto says although it's true that without great fundraising Romney likely would not lead the pack, it doesn't mean he's buying elections.

"Money flows downhill to candidates who seem viable, and the smart money in the GOP says that Santorum is weaker in a general election than Romney and there is no way that Gingrich or (Texas Rep. Ron) Paul can be elected president," he said.

If that perception changed, so would fundraising fortunes, Maranto said.

"And while we're on the subject of money, we should add that President Obama has held more fundraisers than any president in history, with more than a little of the cash coming from 'green energy' and other sectors dependent on federal largesse," he said.

Myth 10: Everyone is paying attention to politics

From Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina, Florida, Alaska and all points in between, many Americans are not as obsessed with the political process as those who cover it, study it or opine about it in Internet tweets.

People are more attuned to pocketbook issues -- planning how they might pay for their children's college educations or fill their car's gas tank at prices close to $4 a gallon, says Chris Coucher, a voter in Toledo, Ohio.

Coucher attended her son's wrestling tournament in Columbus days before the Buckeye State's primary. That was the ballyhooed Super Tuesday, when voters in 10 states cast ballots, yet on March 6 Coucher, a teacher wearing her son's team colors, struggled to name any of the Republican candidates when asked. She's "kind of" sure she'll vote for Obama again this fall.

"I've been busy with day-to-day life," she explained.

 

 

 
 


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