Sunday, January 29, 2012

Carpet Bombing

Florida will be a critical battleground in the 2012 presidential election. So Republicans better hope that Florida voters forget all of the nasty things their candidates have said about each other in advance of this Tuesday's primary.

For several days former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney attacked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a man lacking in temperament, discipline and ethics during his time in Congress. Gingrich had been leading in state polls immediately following his victory in the South Carolina primary. But Romney and the pro-Romney super-PAC "Restore Our Future" have spent $6.8 million in television ads harshly critical of Gingrich.

As a result, Gingrich has fallen behind Romney in the latest Miami Herald poll released today. According to that poll Romney now has a 42% to 31% lead over Gingrich among Republicans going into Tuesday's state primary. Gingrich's poor performances in last week's two Florida debates, along with the tough Romney ads, have had a devastating impact on his campaign.

But Gingrich is a fighter. He told Fox News Sunday that Romney "has a basic policy of carpet bombing his opponents." Gingrich added, "He doesn't try to build up Mitt Romney, he just tries to tear down whoever he's running against." And in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation, Gingrich accused Romney of making false statements. "I think there's a very high likelihood we're going to win Florida because I think when people understand how many different times... he said things that weren't true, his credibility is going to just, frankly, collapse," Gingrich said.

Gingrich has zeroed in on Romney's credibility as his best chance for turning the tide in the primary's eleventh hour. On Face the Nation he defended his poor performance in the last debate. "I'm standing there controlling myself because I didn't want to get into a running fight at that moment when I knew what he was saying was so false when the better way to handle it is to get the data, lay it out, let people make the judgment on their own. I mean the election wasn't going to be the next morning."

Gingrich says he is going to take his fight all the way to the Republican convention where he predicts Romney will be challenged trying to get a majority of the delegates at the convention. "The Republican party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts," Gingrich said Sunday.

Meanwhile, Romney has refocused most of his recent attacks in Florida on President Barack Obama and left it to his supporters to continue the attacks on Gingrich. Two million Florida Republicans may vote in the state's primary on Tuesday. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Ron Paul trail the two leaders in the most recent Miami Herald poll.

Will all of the personal attacks the Republican candidates have made against each other have an impact in November's presidential election? Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said on Face the Nation, "In the end, in a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we're going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama who is abandoning the ship here in the United States." But it is the many Republican personal attacks on President Obama that have helped divide the country since he took office.

President Obama carried Florida by a slim margin of 2.8% in 2008. While that state is still feeling the impact of the 2008 recession economic conditions there are slowly getting better. And now President Obama's campaign will have plenty of soundbites to use in its political commercials this fall, perhaps ending with the words, "I'm Barack Obama and I couldn't have said it any better!"

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Here Comes Newt

On the eve of the South Carolina primary the Republican race has been turned on its head by two developments that may have a profound impact on the campaign. The question now is can frontrunner Mitt Romney beat off the surging Newt Gingrich to win his party's nomination?

Texas Governor Rick Perry withdrew from the presidential race because he was not getting any traction with South Carolina voters and he didn't want to help split the conservative vote and hand Romney a sizable win Saturday. Instead, he threw his support to Gingrich saying, "I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country."

Perry acknowledged that he and Gingrich have "had our differences," but he went on to say, "I have no question that Newt has the heart of a conservative... with the ability to rally and captivate the conservative movement." This was a clear message to voters that he believes Romney is not a true conservative.

Gingrich's record as Speaker of the House has been under assault by negative Super PAC ads in support of Romney. And questions have been raised about Gingrich's personal life, including a claim by his second wife the he asked for an "open marriage." Perry seemed to address these criticisms in his remarks. "Newt is not perfect, but who among us is," Perry said. "There is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption for it is a central tenant of my Christian faith."

Propelled by his recent debate performance, Gingrich has been closing the gap in recent polls taken among South Carolina voters. On the other hand, Romney has been seeing his lead erode over the past few days. To make matters worse for the former Massachusetts Governor, on Thursday the Iowa Republican Party revised their final caucus totals giving Rick Santorum a 34 vote lead over Romney. No longer can Romney claim he won an unprecedented victory in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Game on!

Gingrich wasted no time in embracing Perry's endorsement and in enlisting Perry to lead a "10th Amendment Enforcement Project" that, if successful, would ultimately restore more power to the states while curtailing the role of the federal government. The 10th Amendment says that, "Powers not granted to the federal government nor prohibited to the States by the Constitution are reserved to the States." This is a key issue for many conservatives who may see this as bold and imaginative leadership. But taking power away from the federal government and giving it back to the states is a most controversial and complex issue.

While Gingrich and Santorum both received a big boost to their campaigns on Thursday, Romney has suffered largely self-inflicted wounds over the past few weeks. For example, he fumbled his handling of when and if he will release his tax returns. Under immense pressure he finally admitted on Wednesday that his income tax rate was about 15%, or the rate paid on capital gains that is largely the source of his income from his Bain Capital investments. But are any of those investments parked offshore?

Romney supporters, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have urged the former Massachusetts Governor to release his tax returns as soon as possible. But the always-opportunistic Newt Gingrich seized the moment by releasing his tax returns on Thursday.

Republican voters in South Carolina now find themselves with a horse race. Will Romney be able to hold on? Will Gingrich be able to rally enough support to pull out a victory? Will Santorum be helped by is narrow victory in Iowa? Will Representative Ron Paul be able to capitalize on the chaos?

There is no question that Romney is now feeling intense pressure and he is on the defensive. In a heated exchange with a protestor on Thursday in South Carolina he called for unity and emphatically denounced those who were dividing the nation. Perhaps he should take a closer look at himself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Romney: The Politics of Envy

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has all but wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination following a strong victory in the New Hampshire Primary. Meanwhile, there is still a fierce effort by conservative candidates in the party to slow Romney in the South Carolina primary no matter the cost.

But Governor Romney has himself stumbled several times in his quest for the White House. Speaking in New Hampshire the other day, Romney gleefully said, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." He was speaking about an insurance company, but his words were most insensitive and played into the "job-killing" narrative being used by his opponents about his time at Bain Capital.

In his Tuesday night acceptance speech, Romney called President Barack Obama, “a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.” Romney was referring to the president's comments about fairness and income inequality, the 1% versus 99% argument. Rather than show any compassion on the subject, Romney defended his "politics of envy" comment on the Today Show Wednesday.

"I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms," the former governor said, "But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail." By "quiet rooms" does Romney mean boardrooms or the clubhouse?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who could spend $3 million in Romney attack ads in South Carolina, jumped on Romney's "envy" comment. "If anybody asks a question about (Romney's) record, he hides behind an entire framework and to question the facts is to be anti-capitalist. That is nonsense — baloney," Gingrich said. "That is the smoke screen of those who are afraid to be accountable."

Nonetheless, as Romney's opposition is beginning their attacks in the South Carolina campaign, he has a commanding lead in state polls. But unforced errors during unscripted moments, Romneycare, serial flip-flopping on key conservative issues and some actions he took as governor of Massachusetts, are all fodder for his opponents and fuel a lack of passion for Romney among many Republican voters.

Romney is not a people person. Romney does not work crowds well. Romney is not a good extemporaneous speaker. Romney is not an inspiring leader. Rather, he his is a successful business strategist and venture capitalist.

Yes, Romney has masterfully put together his run for the White House by having a well thought out plan, by raising big money and by getting support from many wealthy friends for "Super-PAC" attack ads. But more than 60% of those who have participated in the Republican nominating process so far have not supported Romney. He is not connecting with a majority of Republicans.

This means that Romney's running mate could play a critical role making up for what he doesn't have. But is that person Florida Senator Marco Rubio? Or could it be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?

Senator Rubio is Cuban-American, which is appealing because Florida is nearly 25% Hispanic and a critical state in the 2012 presidential election. Rubio is popular with the Tea Party, he served nine years in the Florida State Legislature and he is only 40 years old. Rubio survived a controversy around his biography, which said his parents fled Cuba because of Fidel Castro, when they really left before Castro came into power.

But Marco Rubio is the junior senator from his state and he has, at times, shown a lack of command of national issues. Also, a note of caution about the Hispanic vote: it is not monolithic. Cuban-Americans mostly vote Republican, not so other Hispanics. About two-thirds of the 50 million U.S. Hispanics are Mexican and about 4% are Cuban. Yes, Cubans dominate Florida, but Hispanics from Puerto Rico, Mexico and Central America are coming on strong.

There is no more exciting campaigner than Governor Chris Christie, who has been a forceful supporter of Romney. Christie puts the "bully" in bully pulpit. Christie speaks with passion and total confidence. He is fast on his feet for a big man, he is energetic and he doesn't back down from a fight. He remains popular in his home state because he connects with average blue-collar voters. His appeal would also spill over into Pennsylvania. You know, I’m just saying he could make a difference in both states—if you get my drift.

Over the next few weeks Governor Romney will be busy fending off attacks from his right while methodically rolling up convention delegates. But the general election will most likely be decided by how the U.S. economy is doing. That is why President Barack Obama is now out campaigning for his plans to increase jobs. If the unemployment rate continues to decline and the economy continues to grow, President Obama will likely be reelected to a second term.

Then Mitt Romney will find himself sitting in a quiet room stewing in the politics of envy.

Monday, January 9, 2012

LSU Memories

I attended Louisiana State University in the mid 60's, following in my dad's footsteps. He attended for a year just before World War II, but after he and his brother Leo worked on the construction of the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans. While my dad was born in New Orleans, the first Peyronnin settled in Baton Rouge back in the early 1800's. Jacques (Jacob) Peyronnin had come over from Bordeaux, France.

Although I was raised in Chicago, I had visited New Orleans many times in my childhood. I applied to LSU at my father's suggestion and entered in 1965. Baton Rouge was a far different place than Chicago's northern suburbs.

The LSU campus is beautiful. The Olmsted Brothers Firm of Brookline, Massachusetts, created the original design for the campus in 1921. It is admired for the 1,200 live oak trees that shade the grounds of the university and are filled with Spanish moss. The grounds also include azaleas, crepe myrtles, ligustrum, and camellias. Fifty-seven buildings on the LSU campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I began working at the campus radio station in 1966 which was located in the student union. "WLSU, Baton Rouge, Louisiana!", I would announce frequently as a disc jockey while spinning those platters. Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown were all popular. I was hooked.

I lived on campus in the North Stadium dormitory. I had a room on the fourth floor of Tiger Stadium. The rooms were spartan but pleasant. It was an all-male dorm with shared shower and bathroom facilities. I could look west out my window and watch the barges and riverboats slowly passing by on the Mississippi River. There was no air conditioning, so it was hot and steamy much of the year.

Mike the tiger lived in a cage about 100 yards to the northwest of my room. The frequent northwest breezes meant that the pungent odor of tiger poop wafted into my room. Thankfully Mike was the quiet type, only occasionally roaring when he was hungry. Mike was brought into Tiger Stadium for home football games locked in a portable trailer cage. The fans loved him.

My favorite Mike story was the time James Carville, former Clinton aide and LSU alum, stole the trailer cage one night in a memorable prank. They drove through neighborhoods screaming, "You’ all seen Mike the tiger?!?" What a hoot.

My roommate was from New Iberia, Louisiana, deep in Cajun Country. He took me to his hometown several weekends. I remember stopping at bars and restaurants where mostly French was spoken, Cajun style. One year I attended Marti Gras in Lafayette, Louisiana, which, although smaller than New Orleans' celebration, was still colorful and passionate. I ate a lot of crabs, crawfish and seafood gumbo and drank plenty of Dixie and Jax beer!

I learned a few phrases unique to the area. "How's yer mom and dem?" "Where you at?" "Who dat?" And my favorite cheer is, ""Hot boudin, cold coush coush, come on Tigers, poosh, poosh, poosh!"

LSU had more than 20,000 students in those days, but only a few hundred were Black. LSU, like many other southern state schools, had only recently opened up enrollment up to minorities. I shared my dormitory with several of them, and I found out that most had come from throughout the state in hopes of bettering their lives. Many were athletes, and the best of them got to live in a top tier dorm.

The football team had a winning record under Coach Charlie "Cholly Mac" McClendon. Cholly Mac had succeeded "Pepsodent" Paul Deitzel, who won a national championship in 1958 with the help of his tough defensive squad known as the "Chinese bandits." But news was being made on the basketball court where "Pistol" Pete Maravich was setting college basketball scoring records. He was simply amazing and went on to be a great pro.

I can't say LSU was a great educational experience for me. In fact, I spent most of my time at WLSU radio instead of studying in the library. But LSU was a tremendous learning experience for me. The times were a'changing with the speed of a coal barge drifting slowly down the
mighty Mississippi River to New Orleans. There, decades later, the "Honey Badger" will take the field with the "Fighting Tigers" one win away from being the greatest college football team ever.

Thank you dad! And “Geaux Tigers!”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Game On

Tuesday's Iowa caucuses resulted in a slim eight-vote victory for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, as well as an important win for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who finished second. Now, as the GOP candidates pivot to next week's New Hampshire primary, the war of words has already intensified.

Iowa claimed the campaign's first victim as Representative Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race following her poor performance. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich finished a disappointing fourth in Iowa after being bombarded over the airwaves by negative ads sponsored by supporters of Romney and Representative Ron Paul. He said he was “stunned by the volume of negative ads” and accused Romney of being untruthful.

Gingrich wasted no time aiming verbal shots at Romney, and a wounded Gingrich could be very dangerous for the former governor. "He's a Massachusetts moderate who will be pretty good at managing the decay of the country but will not change the culture," Gingrich told his followers Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday, after arriving in New Hampshire, Gingrich accused Romney of raising taxes in Massachusetts when he was governor, creating Romneycare, accommodating taxpayer funded abortions, funding Planned Parenthood and appointing liberal judges.

Romney has enjoyed a comfortable lead up to now in polls of New Hampshire Republicans, but Santorum's momentum and Gingrich's attacks could hurt him. Santorum, a Catholic, may be especially appealing to the large Catholic population in the Granite State. His family values message and very personal campaign style may resonate with undecided voters. A recent New Hampshire poll showed Paul and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman a distant second and third to Romney, but it also showed that Santorum was already gaining some support.

Romney built a firewall in New Hampshire, where he owns a residence, and a win there, along with his tight victory in Iowa, would make him the first person not already serving as president to win both. But a strong showing by Santorum would further energize his campaign as the candidates move to the South Carolina and Florida primaries.

The South Carolina primary takes place on January 21. Texas Governor Rick Perry was so disappointed in his Iowa performance that Tuesday night he said he would reassess his campaign. But on Wednesday he announced he was heading to South Carolina to resume his campaign. Santorum could be the beneficiary of Bachmann's withdrawal and Perry's wavering commitment in South Carolina. Meanwhile Romney has been polling in the low 20's and Gingrich has been hurt by negative ads.

The Florida primary, on January 31, may turn out to be a critical showdown. A poll in mid December showed Romney (27%) and Gingrich (26%) to be leading. But things are very fluid. Some candidates have begun airing ads in the Sunshine State and 370,000 Republican voters have taken out absentee ballots.

So the heated battle for the Republican nomination will continue for several more weeks. The party is divided between traditional center-right Republicans and the Tea Party and Christian right factions. They are fighting over the future direction of the party. It is unclear whether conservative Santorum's strong showing in Iowa will be enough to propel him into a commanding lead. But many conservatives note that three-quarters of Iowa caucus goers did not vote for Romney, the party's presumed frontrunner and leading flip-flopper.

Meanwhile, Gingrich told MSNBC, "By the time [Romney] gets to South Carolina and Florida it will be obvious, this is not a conservative Republican. He is not going to win the nomination and he is not the most electable candidate."

As Santorum says, "Game on!"