David Axelrod, senior strategist for President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and 2012 reelection campaign, and Beth Myers (LA ’79), senior strategist for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential bids, came to Tufts yesterday for a discussion on “How to Win Elections.” Audience members filled the Alumnae Lounge for the event, which was co-sponsored by the newly-renamed Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the Department of Political Science.
Alan Solomont, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of Tisch College, began the event with opening remarks.
“In this fascinating election year, it’s only appropriate that we focus on politics,” Solomont said.
Jeffrey Berry, the John Richard Skuse professor in the Department of Political Science, moderated the discussion.
“I promise you that at the end of this hour, you will know exactly what’s going to happen at the end of this year,” Berry joked before he began.
The first part of the discussion involved a question and answer session between Berry and the two guests.
Berry began by asking Myers her thoughts on a hypothetical Democratic presidential loss in November. Myers said she believes that the Democrats will have to demonstrate bipartisan cooperation and that they must also figure out why they do not hold as many state offices as Republicans, given that Republicans currently hold most other political offices, including Governorships and U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives positions.
“There’s something that the Democrats need to learn about what’s going on these days,” Myers said.
Before answering the same question about a hypothetical Republican loss, Axelrod explained why he came to Tufts to have this conversation.
“I’m in the business now of trying to encourage young people to be involved in politics and the public arena,” Axelrod said in an earlier interview with the Daily. “So any chance I can get to talk to young people interested in politics is something I would do.”
He acknowledged a poor overall performance in the state elections but explained that he still believes the Democratic Party is generally more coherent today than the Republican party.
While addressing why the Republicans are performing poorly in elections and why Romney did not perform better, Myers emphasized that her party does not always use the best language and that they need to change their policies to appeal to a more diverse electorate.
“We have to do much better at convincing every American that we are the party of opportunity,” she said.
Myers also stressed the importance of a campaign message.
“Nothing demonstrates this better than Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again,’ propelling him to great heights so far,” she said.
Axelrod emphasized the importance of the overall campaign.
“By late spring, we had pretty good control of the race,” he said, referring to the 2012 presidential election. “We traded basically within the band of two-to-four points from May to Election Day.”
He then cited the seven percent increase the Obama campaign got after Romney’s 47 percent video leaked.
“Then in the spirit of sportsmanship, we went to Denver and threw the debate,” he joked, after which the Obama campaign led by three-to-four percent through Election Day.
When asked about a possible contested Republican convention, Myers still believes that one of the three remaining Republican candidates will be the party’s nominee.
“The reason that people go to Romney and [Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul] Ryan,” she said, “[is] that you can’t just look at one of our very abled Governors in the middle of July and say ‘Hey, meet Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders‘” and expect them to be the nominee and run a campaign.
Axelrod, on the other hand, noted the irony of how Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, someone who originally bashed the Republican establishment, is now the party’s last hope.
“I think it’s hilarious what’s going on out there,” Axelrod said.
When asked about how Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can energize her Democratic presidential campaign, Axelrod cited her language and image.
“I do not believe that she will galvanize Democrats around her or her vision,” he said. “[But] I think a lot of Democrats are going to be very excited if Donald Trump is the candidate of the Republican party.
Following Berry’s questions, the forum was opened up to questions from the audience. Sam Berzok, a senior studying political science, asked about the impacts of data journalism and analytics on campaigns.
While Axelrod believes analytics are better than polling despite him relying on polling data, he did mention its negative impact on campaign coverage.
“I think it’s kind of a shame because it’s made coverage lazy,” Axelrod said.
Myers, while believing analytics are important, said that they do not replace talking to voters.
Solomont then closed the conversation by thanking notable audience members as well as Berry.
In an earlier interview with the Daily, Myers emphasized the importance of remaining involved in the political process.
“I love talking to young people now, and I think a career in public service and getting involved in politics is one of the most exciting and important things for young people to do because the policies that are made today are going to affect you guys for a lifetime,” she said.