Candidates will try to avoid mistakes, win swing voters

Published: Tuesday, October 02, 2012 @ 6:45 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 @ 7:24 AM

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We will have coverage of the debate in Thursday’s newspaper. On Friday, we’ll examine the accuracy of what the candidates said. On Sunday, we’ll have a roundtable discussion with local voters about the debate.

We all remember those moments: President George H.W. Bush glancing at his watch in 1992; Vice President Richard Nixon’s sweaty face and loose shirt collar in 1960, Vice President Al Gore’s long sighs in 2000 and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in November 2011 trying in vain to remember what cabinet department he wanted to eliminate.

Those are just a few of the debate blunders etched in the public’s memory that both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will try to avoid tonight in the first of three presidential debates that could decide one of the most contentious elections in American history.

“It only takes one mistake or one extraordinary comment before some important people re-evaluate the race,’’ said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “A majority of Americans don’t have to change their minds based on the debates. We’re talking a few swing voters in a few swing states.’’

Both candidates enter tonight’s debate with competing objectives. Obama will try to poke holes in Romney’s plans to overhaul Medicare and the tax code, while Romney has an opportunity to persuade undecided voters that he has a plan to ignite the nation’s sluggish economy.

“No matter how the campaign downplays it, it is a very important night for Mitt Romney and his campaign,’’ said Curt Steiner, a Republican consultant in Columbus. “There is a potential for a brand new ballgame at this stage and while the Romney campaign is down by a touchdown, there is still plenty of time left.’’

Dan Birdsong, a lecturer of political science at the University of Dayton, said that Obama’s “challenge is not to remind people, but solidify with people that what he’s been trying to do is the right course and that things are turning around, albeit slowly.’’

Unlike the Democratic and Republican conventions this year — which failed to generate massive TV audiences — the presidential debates tend to attract millions of viewers.

More than 63 million people watched the second debate in 2008 between Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain while 62.5 million watched the first debate in 2004 between President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Yet even with huge audiences and the networks endlessly replaying in the following days any mistakes committed by the candidates, some are convinced that presidential debates are simply not that decisive in deciding the outcome of an election.

They point to Nixon’s dreadful appearance in the first of four debates with Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. Three physicians at the time told reporters Nixon looked as if he had suffered a coronary. Yet polls showed the race tight before the debates and Kennedy eventually prevailed by less than 120,000 votes in one of the closest elections in history.

In the 1980 debate in Cleveland, Republican Ronald Reagan’s dismissal of President Jimmy Carter – “There you go again’’ – was regarded as a moment of high drama. But even before that debate, polls showed that Reagan had crawled into a lead which he never relinquished.

In an interview last week in Ohio, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said that “in the final analysis when we get past the impact of some extraordinarily inaccurate attack ads on (Obama’s) part and when we get a chance to actually talk about the real issues in the debates, then people will make an informed decision.”

Romney said he hopes to get the audience to focus on Obama’s record, saying that “these have been very difficult years for the people of this country and I think I can make peoples’ lives a good deal better. People understand that the president’s policies have not worked.’’

By contrast, Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said that “we’ve heard Governor Romney has prepared some zingers. We will leave that to David Letterman. We don’t think that’s what the American people want.’’

Instead, LaBolt said that Obama’s “goal is to lay out the economic choice between building the economy from the inside out and not from the top down.’’ He said that viewers will be “looking for specifics from Governor Romney and he should explain how he will be paying for a $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest without raising taxes on the middle class.’’

But even as Romney and Obama say they will focus on issues, Birdsong of Dayton said that viewers “learn from the debates and it’s not just necessarily issue-based learning … What people learn in the course of debate is candidate characteristics or in some sense, character.’’

Joe Hallett of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

Senate panel hears call for better hurricane prep at nursing homes and assisted living facilities

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 10:44 AM

Citing the deaths of seniors at a nursing home in Florida after Hurricane Irma, and a viral photograph of seniors in waist deep water at a facility in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, a U.S. Senate committee was urged on Wednesday to support stronger regulations for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to better protect older Americans during hurricanes, floods, and other emergencies and natural disasters.

“We need generators to support medical needs and air conditioning to cool reasonable temperatures, as well as fuel,” said Kathryn Hyer, a professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Aging Studies.

Hyer said her past research has shown that it is better for seniors at nursing homes and assisted living facilities to shelter-in-place, rather than go through evacuations during hurricanes – as she told the Senate Special Committee on Aging that better planning is needed for those facilities.

“Nursing homes and assisted living must be built in places that minimize flooding, and they have to be built to standards that allow administrators to shelter-in-place, if at all possible,” Hyer added.

The Senate hearing came as finger pointing continued in the Sunshine State over who was to blame for the deaths of nine seniors at a Broward County, Florida nursing home, after Hurricane Irma caused widespread power outages in southern Florida.

“Older citizens should not suffer for days and then die, in the unbearable heat,” said Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA).

“So many of us were both outraged and enraged when we saw what happened in Florida,” Casey added.

“We must ask ourselves, can we better protect the most vulnerable members of our communities?” asked Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

The hearing was convened as Hurricane Maria was bearing down on the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico.

“We have a big one going right now,” President Donald Trump said of the storm during a meeting at the United Nations with the King of Jordan.

“I’ve never seen winds like this – in Puerto Rico,” Mr Trump said. “You take a look at what’s happening there, and it’s just one after another.

“But I think we are doing a good job,” the President added about the federal response.

Overnight, the storm raced just to the south of St. Croix, sparing that part of the U.S. Virgin Islands from serious devastation, though widespread damage was being reported.

Back to the east, there were still few reports from the island of Dominica, which suffered a direct hit from Maria on Monday night.

With communications down, amateur radio operators in contact with the island were getting reports of major damage on Dominica.

Senate leaves town with GOP still short on votes for last-ditch health overhaul bill

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 9:21 PM

With the support of the White House, Republican leaders in Congress are once again engaged in a full court press to squeeze out 50 votes for a new GOP plan to overhaul the Obama health law, but in what’s almost a repeat of the last showdown vote earlier this year in the Senate, the decisions of a handful of GOP Senators will make or break this latest effort on Obamacare.

“My message today is I want to make sure that members of the Senate know the President and our entire administration supports Graham-Cassidy,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who interrupted his work at the United Nations General Assembly to fly back to Washington, D.C., so he could rally GOP Senators behind this new health care push.

“There is positive momentum,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters about the plan, named for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), as Republicans were envisioning a vote next week, before a September 30 deadline for action in the U.S. Senate under the expedited rules of ‘budget reconciliation,’ which does not allow for a Senate filibuster.

But as of now, there still aren’t enough votes for Graham-Cassidy, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday made no guarantees that the plan would get a vote in the full Senate.

“We would have to act before September 30,” McConnell told reporters. “Everybody knows that the opportunity expires at the end of the month.”

The plan would send chunks of money to the states, and let them figure out how best to provide health insurance to people who don’t get coverage through their jobs, or the non-group insurance market, an idea that has received strong support from GOP lawmakers in the Congress.

“This is an entirely different bill,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who said he hoped some of those who had voted “No” in the summer would change their minds.

“This is a much better step forward than staying with Obamacare,” Perdue said.

But as with an earlier attempt to approve a health care bill this year in the Senate, a handful of familiar Senators will determine the outcome: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

Paul has repeatedly said he cannot embrace the Graham-Cassidy plan, arguing that it leaves in place too many of the Obama health law’s taxes and structure, and simply shuffles large amounts of money to the states.

Collins has said she is leaning against the bill, Capito remains publicly undecided, McCain has agonized about the process, but not ruled out the possibility of voting for the bill, and Murkowski – who cast a crucial vote against the GOP ‘skinny’ bill – remains on the fence.

“This chamber is deeply divided on what to do on health care policy,” Collins said on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.

Some Republican Senators are still pushing for changes in the Graham-Cassidy plan, trying to prevent states run by Democrats from using the money to set up a single-payer system in their own states.

Outside the Capitol, a bipartisan group of Governors made clear their opposition to the plan, arguing against a solution from just one party.

In a letter signed by 5 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and one Independent, the Governors endorsed “bipartisan efforts to make health care more available and affordable for all Americans.”

“Only open, bipartisan approaches can achieve true, lasting reforms,” the Governors of Colorado, Montana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont and Alaska wrote.

With floor activity truncated this week by Rosh Hashanah, the Senate will not have votes again until Monday, and it still isn’t clear when – or whether – the Senate Majority Leader will try to move to the Graham-Cassidy bill next week.

But the clock is ticking.

With Yom Kippur starting on September 29, the Senate will only have a few days next week to act on health care before the special “budget reconciliation” authority runs out in the Senate.

And it’s still not clear if the GOP can find 50 votes.

Despite plea from Kasich, Portman may back Obamacare overhaul plan

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 5:34 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 5:34 PM

Despite plea from Kasich, Portman set to back Obamacare overhaul plan
Despite plea from Kasich, Portman set to back Obamacare overhaul plan

Despite a plea from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rob Portman may support a Republican measure that dramatically revises Obamacare by allowing states to design their own health-care programs, although he acknowledged he has yet to make a firm decision.

Just hours after Kasich and nine other governors urged the Senate to reject the measure co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Portman said he is “supportive of the idea of getting the flexibility back to the states.”

But in a conference call with Ohio reporters, Portman, R-Ohio, said was “reviewing the bill because I want to make sure the numbers work for Ohio.”

If Portman votes for the Graham bill, it would amount to a rebuke of his home state Republican governor. And he could also provide one of the key votes Republicans need for passage.

RELATED: Ohio senators help kill plan to repeal Obamacare without replacement

Because President Donald Trump has said he would sign the bill, Vice President Mike Pence could cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate by a 52-48 margin.

Kasich and the nine other governors Tuesday pleaded with Senate Republicans to drop the Graham bill and rally behind a bipartisan approach being developed by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.

That measure, which could be unveiled next week, would be designed to stabilize the federally subsidized individual insurance markets created by the 2010 health law known as Obamacare.

“Improvements to our health insurance markets should control costs, stabilize the market, and positively impact coverage and care of millions of Americans, including many who are dealing with mental illness, chronic health problems, and drug addiction,” Kasich and the governors wrote.

Kasich worries that the plan pushed by Graham would ultimately take money from the Medicaid program, which the Ohio governor has relied upon to provide health coverage to more than 700,000 low-income people in the state. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program which provides health coverage to low-income Americans.

Graham and Cassidy are offering Republicans on Capitol Hill one last chance to scrap Obamacare. After years of vowing to repeal the law, the GOP effort collapsed this summer when Republicans could not rally around an alternative.

The Graham bill, in essence, would tell the states they could stay in Obamacare or take billions of federal dollars to design their own programs.

In particular, the bill would repeal the law’s requirements that individuals buy federally subsidized insurance policies set up through the states and the federal government.

The measure also ends the expansion of Medicaid which allowed Kasich and governors from 30 other states from offering health care to families of four earning as much as $34,000 a year.

Instead, the federal government would supply states with per-capita grants, which might not be enough to pay for the expanded programs.

In a floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer assailed the Graham bill, charging it “would cause millions to lose coverage.”

Schumer said the Graham bill would “radically restructure and deeply cut Medicaid, ending the program as we know it. The dream of the hard right — get rid of Medicaid —could happen, even though that’s a program that affects the poor and so many in the middle class.”

Portman: Pelosi & Schumer’s DACA meeting with President Trump ‘helpful’

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:26 AM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:28 AM


            Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol September 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol September 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said a recent meeting between President Trump and top Democrats over the immigration provision known as DACA was “helpful.”

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Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., earlier this month. After the meeting, the two Democrats announced a deal with the president that would include border security, but no wall.

“Frankly, I think the meeting the other night with President Trump and the Democratic leaders was helpful,” Portman said in an interview at the Dayton Daily News offices. “Some Republicans thought it wasn’t good he was meeting with them, I think it’s fine, because I think that’s how you get an agreement at the end of the day.”

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“I think the agreement is going to be making DACA permanent so these kids that came here through no fault of their own before the age of 16 will be able to stay,” Portman said.

DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — was created under President Obama in 2012. DACA allowed children brought to the U.S. illegally to apply for the right to live, work and go to school. If approved, deportation was deferred for at least two years, with a chance to renew the legal status.

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Portman said Obama’s policy change was “not within his rights as an executive.” Portman also said he believes legislation on DACA will be coupled with border protection and other enforcement.

“It will be coupled with additional enforcement, and let’s face it there’s a lot of opportunities there,” Portman said. “I’d like to do better enforcement in the workplace, where it’s like a sieve. People have fake documents and they can get jobs.”

Staff Writer Max Filby and News Center 7’s Jim Otte contributed reporting.