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.

Portman will vote against plan to repeal Obamacare without replacement

Published: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 @ 12:31 PM
Updated: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 @ 12:31 PM

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

Sen. Rob Portman said he will vote against an amendment Wednesday that would scrap the 2010 health law known as Obamacare without including a substitute to replace it with.

Although Portman, R-Ohio, said he remains hopeful that a bill to revise Obamacare can pass the Senate and a compromise be reached with the U.S. House, he told Ohio reporters before the vote that he does not “support only repeal. I support repeal and replace. If you repeal only, it would be disastrous for Ohio.”

The vote is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The amendment is expected to fail.

RELATED: Portman criticizes health care deadline

With his expected vote, Portman will reverse himself from 2015 when he supported a measure which dismantled Obamacare without devising a substitute. But at the time, Senate and House Republicans knew President Barack Obama would kill the measure with a veto.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week concluded that scrapping the 2010 health law without devising a replacement would send seismic tremors throughout the insurance industry.

The CBO concluded the number of uninsured Americans would leap by 17 million next year and 27 million by 2020. By 2026, the CBO calculates those without insurance or government health coverage would skyrocket by 32 million by 2026.

Obamacare cut the number of people without health coverage by 40 percent in two ways. Families of four earning between $34,000 and $98,400 a year can receive federal tax credits to buy individual insurance policies through the federal or state marketplaces, known as exchanges.

In addition, the law expanded Medicaid eligibility by providing billions of dollars to the states to cover a family of four earning as much as $33,948 a year, which is 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Ohio Gov. John Kasich accepted the federal dollars to provide health coverage to 700,000 people in Ohio.

RELATED: John Kasich slams House GOP over health-care bill

Wednesday’s scheduled vote followed a vote late Tuesday in which the Senate rejected the Republican health bill championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

That bill included Portman’s proposal to add $100 billion for those moving off Medicaid and a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to allow insurers to sell stripped-down, inexpensive plans on the individual markets.

In a conference call Wednesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, directly criticized Portman’s proposal of adding $100 billion to those kicked off Medicaid as “spitting in the ocean.”

“You don’t take away the insurance of cancer patients and then provide a federal grant to pay for oncologist,” Brown said. “It simply doesn’t work.”

In his conference call with Ohio reporters, Portman expressed hope that his amendment eventually be included in a compromise between House and Senate negotiators. But it is unclear whether Republicans have enough votes to pass even a slimmed-down measure that could end up in a conference committee with the House, where differences in their competing bills would be reconciled.

The CBO report last week concluded that by eliminating the mandate that people buy insurance, fewer Americans would enter the federally subsidized marketplaces to buy individual policies. And by ending Medicaid expansion, states would be forced to find billions of dollars to continue the program or be forced to scale eligibility.

The CBO report did conclude that scrapping the law would reduce the federal deficit by $473 billion during the next decade.

Senate GOP fails to repeal Obamacare in late night vote

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 @ 12:38 PM
Updated: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 @ 10:13 PM

Senate GOP fails to repeal Obamacar
Senate GOP fails to repeal Obamacar

UPDATE 10:14 P.M.: After the Senate narrowly voted to open debate on the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, their coalition fell apart in minutes when a vote to pass the Better Care Reconciliation Act - along with amendments added by Ted Cruz and Rob Portman - were voted down, with nine Republicans joining the Democrats in opposing the bill.

Portman voted to support the bill, his Ohio Senate counterpart Sherrod Brown voted no, along with every other Democrat. The nine Republicans to vote against the bill were: Rand Paul (Ky.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Mike Lee (Utah), Dean Heller (Nevada), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Susan Collins (Maine), Susan Collins (Tenn.).

The Senate needs 51 votes to open debate, but to pass a bill it would need 60 to get around a filibuster. 

At around 10 p.m., the chamber went to a vote, and the plan quickly failed. The New York Times wrote the plan will need to be substantially rewritten for it to become law. (Jessica Wehrman)


3:29 P.M.: Sen. Rob Portman Tuesday backed his GOP leaders voting to allow the full Senate to debate and amend a bill aimed at scrapping and replacing the 2010 health law.

It was a stunning and dramatic shift for a lawmaker who had expressed strong and consistent doubts about the specifics of how the GOP plans to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise would also impact opioid addicts in his state.

The vote capped a dramatic afternoon on the Senate floor – nearly every Senate desk occupied, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., flying in after revealing last week that he has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Senators from both parties stood and applauded and McCain hugged both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

RELATED: Gov Kasich slams GOP over health care bill

With 50 Republicans voting to proceed while Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joining 46 Democrats and two independents in voting to kill the effort. Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie.

The proceedings were interrupted by a long, restrained protest from the Senate galleries – chants of “Shame, shame, shame,” and “Kill the bill” ringing through the chambers. One protester pointed at individual senators as he shouted “kill the bill.”

Portman – who, along with a handful of other senators, has been under intense pressure from both opponents and supporters of repeal – presided over the Senate as the chants dragged on, often drowning out his attempts to bring order to the Senate.

For Portman, the deal was sealed: He had already called Ohio Gov. John Kasich to inform him of his decision, a source close to Kasich told The Dispatch.

After the vote, Portman said his goal is “to create a more workable health care system that lowers the cost of coverage and provides access to quality care, while protecting the most vulnerable in our society.”

“With more and more Ohioans facing higher costs and limited options, I am committed to repealing and replacing this law with better solutions,” he said. “But as ObamaCare is replaced, it must be done in a way that gives all Ohioans access to affordable health care.”

He said the most recent Senate bill is an improvement over the first Senate bill, including $45 billion in new resources for states to address the opioid epidemic.

RELATED: Democrats reach out to GOP senators to come up with health care deal

But he said he still has concerns about the Medicaid policies in the bill. He is pushing an amendment that would add $100 billion to help pay for those transitioning off the Medicaid expansion.

For those who have followed Portman’s career, it reinforced his image as a conservative Republican. One Republican said the votes “questions the notion that so many in the national media so many latch on to that R is some kind of moderate. He’s a conservative with strong conservative principles, but he’s fighting at the same time to ensure the best possible outcome for the state of Ohio.”

According to a GOP source, McConnell will plan to move forward on a Senate repeal bill, Portman’s amendment as well as a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow insurers to sell stripped-down, inexpensive plans on the individual markets.

But those three proposals would, under Senate rules, require 60 votes for passage, and the Senate only has 52 GOP senators.

The Senate would then move forward on a “skinny” repeal – one that GOP leaders hope will include a repeal of the individual mandate, a repeal of the employer mandate and a repeal of the medical device tax.

Portman said he was heartened that he’s received a commitment to push his amendment.

The Senate would push the Cruz and Portman amendment in order to later push for those amendments when the Senate and House iron out differences in their respective bills.

Portman’s decision to move forward seemingly counters the months of concern he has expressed about GOP proposals to dramatically alter the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare.

During a speech Saturday night before Ohio Republicans, Portman spoke strongly against the option of repealing Obamacare without a replacement. But he also opposes the most recent Senate plan to be made public.

As a key swing vote, Portman has been involved in talks with President Donald Trump and Pence about altering the Senate proposal.

Portman also opposes the version of the bill that the House passed. In fact, he has signaled supreme discomfort with how virtually every GOP repeal bill has rolled back the Medicaid expansion, which would put Ohio’s ability to treat its opioid addicts at risk. Kasich also has objected to the bill for much the same reason. Ohio has added more than 700,000 to the Medicaid rolls under the expansion.

Trump has ramped up the pressure, jokingly threatening to fire his health secretary if it doesn’t pass.

The president, who is scheduled to appear in Youngstown on Tuesday night, tweeted Tuesday morning that “the American people have waited long enough. There has been enough talk and no action for seven years. Now is the time for action.”

Senate easily defeats first GOP plan to overhaul Obamacare

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 @ 10:32 PM

Hours after Republicans barely mustered enough votes to start debate on a House-passed GOP bill designed to overhaul the Obama health law, the Senate easily rejected one plan put forward by Republican Senators, as GOP leaders continued to struggle to figure out how to forge a health care bill that could win final approval on the Senate floor later this week.

The first casualty was an amended version of the “Better Care” plan from GOP leaders – along with additions from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who wanted to add back $100 billion in Medicaid funding, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who pressed for his ‘Consumer Freedom Amendment,’ which would let insurance companies that sell regular Obamacare plans also offer lower-cost plans with less health coverage.

“What we know won’t work is Obamacare,” Cruz argued on the Senate floor.

But the Cruz plan ran afoul of strict Senate budgetary rules, and needed 60 votes for approval. Republicans were not even able to muster a majority, getting only 43 votes, as nine GOP Senators voted against the plan.

“We can’t give up,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), as Republicans fully acknowledged they weren’t sure where the debate was headed in terms of the details of a GOP health care overhaul bill.

“It will depend on what’s in the final bill, which nobody has any idea as to how that’s going to end up,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

Opponents of the Republican effort were still ramping up their efforts to push back against GOP health care plans, worried that something will pass late this week by the narrowest of margins.

“The voting now means nothing,” said Andy Slavitt, who ran the operations of the Obamacare exchanges under the Obama Administration. “The backroom deals mean everything.”

Pence breaks tie as Senate votes to start debate on GOP health care bill

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 @ 3:11 PM

With no votes to spare, Vice President Mike Pence used his Constitutional power to cast a tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, allowing Republicans to begin debate on a House-passed GOP bill that would overhaul the Obama health law, as Republicans scrambled to figure out how to cobble together a plan that could be ultimately approved in coming days by the Senate.

The narrow victory was a big win for GOP leaders and the White House, as President Donald Trump had repeatedly pressed Republican Senators in recent days to keep their promise to act on Obamacare – but this was only an initial victory.

In a speech just before the vote, and after a lengthy closed-door meeting of Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell implored fellow GOP Senators to stick together, arguing they had promised the American people that they would make dramatic changes to Obamacare.

“They didn’t send us here just to do the easy stuff, they expect us to tackle the big problems,” McConnell said.

“We can’t let this moment slip by,”McConnell declared.

Two Republicans voted against the motion to start debate: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

A number of other key GOP moderates voted for debate to begin, but did not guarantee they would support a final product.

In the end, the crucial vote was cast by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was just returning to the Capitol for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer; also pivotal was Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who held his colleagues in suspense by waiting an extended period of time before casting a vote in favor of beginning debate.

Johnson though has made clear his frustrations with the process, and with the details of the various GOP plans – it still isn’t clear how GOP leaders will find a solution that satisfies him, and several other Senators who voted to begin the health care debate.

Johnson and McConnell spoke for an extended period of time on the Senate floor, mainly just the two of them – while other Senators waited to see what Johnson would decide.

Democrats waited until Johnson and McCain had voted to vote; then each Democrat registered their opposition, to reinforce their stance on the GOP effort.

Starting debate was difficult – now comes the tougher assignment of putting together a magic formula that can pass the Senate.