By Christopher Smith
With the three presidential debates and a vice presidential debate now concluded, two Dalton State College professors answered questions about the election on Wednesday as part of the college’s Lunch & Learn program, moderated by Sandra Stone, vice president for academic affairs.
Ken Ellinger, associate professor of political science, supports Democratic President Barack Obama.
Tom Veve, associate professor of history, backs former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the Republican.
What are the real challenges facing the presidential candidates?
Ellinger: “Two things: Where do you want to take the country and what do you have to do to win. You can’t govern if you don’t win. It truly is a tossup after Obama’s weak showing in the first debate. He really needs to get his base charged up before the election.
“Meanwhile, true conservatives are not happy with Romney because he is too liberal on social issues, vague on his plans, and his Mormonism is a concern to them.
“That said, watching debates are no way to elect a president. I don’t have an alternative way to engage people in a significant way though. Debates are unfortunately one of the closest ways in politics that we get to know the candidates.”
Veve: “If debates have caused any rallying on your side then a lot of your work has been done, but both sides get hurt by the battleground state mentality. For Romney, he needs to continue to present himself as an alternative president and the debates worked in that favor.
“Romney needs to present himself as a unifier and present Obama as having failed to bring the country together. I think Romney did exactly those two things at the final debate, but will it pay off?”
Is the economy what the election will be won or lost over?
Ellinger: “The general consensus says the economy is the most important issue. What motivates people is the question ‘Am I better off now than I was four years ago?’
“If Obama wins it will be because enough people think it will take more than four years for him to fix the economy and that they see some improvement already.
“The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is unassailable despite recent conspiracy theories (that say Obama manipulated the numbers), clearly says unemployment is down. There might be something to the hidden unemployment rate that comes from those who have given up on the labor force, but if Obama could manipulate the numbers he would’ve sooner.
“That said, if the majority of people believe they are worse off now than four years ago any incumbent has a slim chance of winning.”
Veve: “The issue (in the 2008 election) was foreign policy and terrorism and (Republican) John McCain’s numbers were really good until the economy went south. That’s when Obama got ahead and stayed ahead.
“Now, the numbers that go with this economy — even when they are up — are bad. Although people need to know that the economy just doesn’t go up. It bends and drops on a regular basis, but the president has to mediate the damage of those downturns.”
How big is foreign policy in the election?
Ellinger: “It doesn’t typically have a big impact unless we’re at war or we’ve had an attack on American soil. I don’t think (the September attacks in) Benghazi (Libya, are) the biggest issue in voter’s minds. I think it will influence maybe 5 percent of the vote. Even the latest polls say people still trust Obama with foreign policy more than Romney — even though Obama’s edge has dwindled a bit.”
Veve: “With the economy being as bad as it is, people overlook things like the Fast and Furious gun scandal, and the Keystone Pipeline System controversy. Those things would be bigger issues if the economy was not the central issue. What the Benghazi attack did was move foreign policy forward in people’s minds, but not by much.”
Who will win?
Ellinger: “I think Obama could pull a narrow victory but it might be wishful thinking. I guess the voters will decide on the effectiveness of what he’s done. I’m not sure Obama can unite the half of Americans that dislike him and Romney has given me zero reason to believe he could unite us after many people believe he revealed his soul when he remarked about the 47 percent (that he doesn’t worry about the 47 percent of the country that pays no income taxes).”
Veve: “If Obama gets his job again, his numbers in votes will be smaller than in 2008. It’s clearly going to be a close election and Romney will have to go to work at uniting the country. I think Romney will have to bring the (House of Representatives and Senate) together if he wins.”