Dr. Gary Rose Discusses Presidential Politics To Sacred Heart University Homecoming Crowd
With just six weeks until the presidential election, Gary Rose, professor of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, captivated an audience at the Schine Auditorium during Homecoming Weekend in a lecture titled “The 2012 Presidential Election: Issues, Candidates and Why it Matters.” Rose is a prolific author and noted political pundit whose scholarly insights and expert knowledge are often sought by the media.
For many alumni who were in attendance, Saturday’s lecture was indeed a homecoming, a step back into time when they were students at Sacred Heart University and regularly listened to Rose’s words. “Dr. Rose’s lecture was fantastic and one of the more informative lectures I have attended on campus,” said Matthew Reale ‘89. “Having been a student of his in the 1980s, he made a tremendous impression on me as a student.” Reale was also an adjunct professor of Political Science at Sacred Heart from 2006 to 2012.
“I took a class with Dr. Rose and what I always admired about him was that you never knew what side he was on with an issue. You just get the facts,” said Elaine Cleary-Phipps ’92 of Madison, Wisconsin. “He’s gifted, and he’s always on target.”
Dr. Rose began his lecture with a brief overview of the country’s two main political parties, their evolution into their respective ideologies and how they play in today’s presidential politics and political climate. He also laid out the challenges that President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney face as they close in on the election.
“The Democrats are more liberal and ideologically cohesive compared to the current Republican Party, and it is difficult to detect the presence of a conservative or even moderate faction within the party,” Rose said, adding that the so-called “Blue Dog” coalition that largely identifies itself as moderates are less of a presence today within the party. “There are approximately 25 Blue Dogs now in Congress. The Democratic Party is a party united behind the president. If you look at the 2008 nominating campaign between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, it was really about personalities because there were no real policy differences.”
Just months ago, Romney was one of nine presidential candidates vying for his party’s nomination, with each representing a faction of the GOP from the tea-partiers to those in the more moderate and establishment wings of the Republican party and candidates who possessed hardline conservative stances on both the economy and social issues.
During those fierce primary contests, the former Massachusetts governor faced a great deal of internal division within his own party, and the divide remains, Rose said. “Mitt Romney was the designated front runner from the beginning, and during the debates between all the Republican candidates, he was the targeted one,” said Rose. “While President Obama runs with a united party behind him, Romney remains in a bruised and weakened position because of the contentious nominating process…Romney was a lightening rod and has been a prime target. All President Obama had to do was watch.”
While Rose doesn’t predict outcomes of elections, he believes President Obama is in a stronger position then Romney is. The race, he said, is “Obama’s to lose.
“Today as we speak, if you study the electoral map, 42 of the states, plus Washington, D.C., are in the Democratic or Republican column. Not all of them are necessarily deep red or blue, but states have become increasingly predictable and there are only eight states currently in play as swing states,” Rose said. “Together, these swing states carry 100 electoral votes.” To be victorious, Romney must win practically all of the swing states or most of the swing states and one or two blue states,” Rose said.
“President Obama has already amassed a huge share of the Electoral College votes and could get 270 [electors] quite quickly. His job approval rating has risen for the first time to 50 percent. That’s not great, but every president who gets re-elected has a job approval rating of at least 50 percent.” Rose referenced polling data that indicated the President’s favorability ratings have increased as well.
Romney, Rose said, failed to capture the traditional post-convention bump – a boost that candidates typically see in the polls following their party’s nominating convention. Conversely, President Obama enjoyed a five percent rise in favorability following the Democratic convention, although Rose noted that the President’s convention bump was short-lived.
“For Romney, the convention didn’t help, but it didn’t hurt; he gave a straight-forward but less than electrifying acceptance speech. But I think the days of the huge bumps are gone. The electorate is so evenly divided; very few voters are in the middle anymore, and it is difficult to sway voters one way or another,” Rose said. “There is intense polarization in the country and there is not a lot of room for play.”
However, that doesn’t mean the election is a foregone conclusion. There are still developments in Romney’s favor, such as the prolonged economic recession and a recent poll suggesting close to two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as a running mate could also play a part as the 42-year-old closes a generation gap for Romney. He could also sway the Catholic vote and influence fiscal conservatives. “Ryan was a good selection. His geographic background in Wisconsin also helps strengthen the ticket and compliments Romney’s experience as a New England governor,” Rose noted.
“The upcoming debates could also help Romney. He is very good on his feet. During the primary contest, Romney debated 20 times while President Obama hasn’t had a debate since 2008,” he added.
Some key voting blocs that Rose believes are important to watch and vital for candidates to court are women, who comprise 51 percent of the electorate and who tend to vote in higher numbers than men, and the Latino population, a rising vote in American politics. “Latinos tend to favor President Obama, but they also have a strong position against gay marriage,” he said. Evangelicals, who according to a recent report comprise 26 percent of the electorate, are also a force. “The evangelicals can be mobilized and it could count. The evangelical vote could be the decisive vote in several swing states,” Rose added.
The role of SuperPACs is also something that will help shape the election results as they can spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates. Additionally, corporations and unions can also donate unrestrained cash to SuperPACs from their treasuries. Rose noted that SuperPAC spending in swing states has thus far been extraordinary.
“It’s a new force. This will be the first presidential election to have SuperPACs, and it will be interesting to watch their impact,” said Rose.
Additionally, the controversial Affordable Health Care Act cannot be discounted going into Election Day, Rose said. “The Affordable Health Care Act mandates that religious-affiliated institutions provide employees with insurance plans that cover contraceptives. In places like Ohio, where the Catholic vote is quite pronounced, it could be a factor.”