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.

Same income, but not taxes in GOP plans

Published: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 3:42 PM
Updated: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 3:42 PM


            Same income, but not taxes in GOP plans
Same income, but not taxes in GOP plans

In most places, a dollar is a dollar. But in the tax code envisioned by Republicans, the amount you make may be less important than how you make it.

Consider two chefs working side by side for the same catering company, doing the same job, for the same hours and the same money. The only difference is that one is an employee, the other an independent contractor.

Under the Republican plans, one gets a tax break and the other doesn’t.

That’s because for the first time since the United States adopted an income tax, a higher rate would be applied to employee wages and salaries than to income earned by proprietors, partnerships and closely held corporations.

The House and Senate bills vary in detail, but both end up linking tax rates to a whole new set of characteristics, like ownership, level of involvement, organizational structure or even occupation. These rules, mostly untethered from income level, could raise or lower tax bills by hundreds or thousands of dollars for ordinary taxpayers and millions of dollars for the largest eligible businesses.

“We’ve never had a tax system where wage earners were substantially penalized” relative to other types of income earners, said Adam Looney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Treasury Department official.

So a decorator, an artist or a plumber would have a higher tax rate than an owner of a decorating business, an art shop or a plumbing supply store. A corporate accountant could have a higher rate than a partner in an accounting firm. In the House bill, the head of a family business who works 60-hour weeks would have a higher rate than her brother, who gets an equal share of the profits but spends his days playing “Call of Duty.”

The proposals’ impact rises steeply as paychecks grow. High-income earners — roughly the upper 10 percent — who can take advantage of the new distinctions would be rewarded with substantial gains compared with those who can’t.

Supporters argue that the revised tax regime is an attempt to update the code to reflect changes in the economy. Rather than depend primarily on individual rate cuts to further power the economy, the Republican plans focus on cutting taxes on certain types of business income. The idea is that these businesses will reinvest those higher returns and stimulate growth.

“This is a radically different approach,” said Fred Goldberg, commissioner of internal revenue under President George H.W. Bush.

Corporations and other types of businesses get the biggest cuts. Employees don’t.

“Theoretically, this makes a certain amount of sense in a vacuum,” said Jared Walczak, a senior policy analyst at the conservative Tax Foundation. “It’s just difficult to define what constitutes wage income compared to business income.”

Indeed, economists and tax experts across the political spectrum warn that the proposed system would invite tax avoidance. The more the tax code distinguishes among types of earnings, personal characteristics or economic activities, the greater the incentive to label income artificially, restructure or switch categories in a hunt for lower rates.

Expect the best-paid dentists to turn into corporations so they can take advantage of the new 20 percent corporate tax rate, instead of having to pay a top marginal rate of nearly 40 percent on some of their income. Individual income taxes can be deferred on profits left inside a corporation instead of deposited in a personal account. What’s more, corporations can deduct local and state taxes, which individual filers can’t.

Look for a wave of promotions as staff lawyers on salary suddenly turn into partners to qualify for the 23 percent deduction the Senate bestowed on pass-through businesses.

Pass-throughs, which range from an ice cream stand to multibillion-dollar operations like Georgia-Pacific (a Koch Industries subsidiary) and Fidelity Investments, don’t pay corporate taxes. Instead, they pass through income to their owners or shareholders, who pay taxes at the ordinary rate on their individual returns.

The Republican provisions applying to pass-throughs have been singled out for some of the greatest scorn. Writing about the House version, Dan Shaviro, a professor of taxation at New York University …(Continued on next page)

Law School who worked on the 1986 tax overhaul, said it “might be the single worst proposal ever prominently made in the history of the U.S. federal income tax.”

Uneven treatment is compounded by other rules that unintentionally introduced preferences.

To prevent certain professionals and specialists like investment managers, doctors, athletes, performers and others from reorganizing themselves as pass-throughs, the Senate excluded households with joint incomes of $500,000 or more (and $250,000 for single taxpayers). But the peculiar way the income scale is phased out means that solo practitioners and partners who earn roughly $529,000 to $624,000 could face a tax of up to 85 percent on income between those two thresholds, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

“Wage income will be the highest taxed income,” said John L. Buckley, a chief of staff for Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation in the 1990s. “I think it’s grossly unfair. Somebody working for a wage gets a higher tax rate than somebody doing the same job under a different legal structure.”

Trump trying to help push Moore across Alabama finish line

Published: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 2:19 PM
Updated: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 2:19 PM


            PENSACOLA, FL - DECEMBER 08: U.S. President Donald Trump walks on stage as he holds a rally at the Pensacola Bay Center on December 8, 2017 in Pensacola, Florida. Mr. Trump was expected to further endorse Alabama Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore who is running against Democratic challenger Doug Jones in the adjacent state. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
            Joe Raedle
PENSACOLA, FL - DECEMBER 08: U.S. President Donald Trump walks on stage as he holds a rally at the Pensacola Bay Center on December 8, 2017 in Pensacola, Florida. Mr. Trump was expected to further endorse Alabama Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore who is running against Democratic challenger Doug Jones in the adjacent state. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***(Joe Raedle)

President Donald Trump is trying to push embattled GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore across the finish line in Tuesday’s election in Alabama by contending the Democratic nominee would oppose “what we must do” for the nation.

Trump, in a tweet early Saturday, hours after boosting Moore’s campaign during a Florida rally, framed the race as a referendum on his efforts to reshape the country and said Democrat Doug Jones would work in lockstep with his party’s leaders on Capitol Hill to oppose the Trump agenda.

With Moore denying allegations of sexual misconduct that have arisen late in the campaign, Trump basked in what he called “a big contingent of very enthusiastic Roy Moore fans” at the Friday night event in Pensacola, the Florida Panhandle city near the state line with Alabama.

In a rally cry to Alabama voters, the president tweeted that “we can’t have” a liberal in the mold of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holding the seat in a Senate where the GOP holds a slim 52-48 edge.

“Need your vote to Make America Great Again! Jones will always vote against what we must do for our Country,” Trump wrote.

At the campaign-style event in Pensacola, Trump claimed Jones was the Democratic leaders’ “total puppet and everybody knows it.”

Trump’s wide-ranging speech also touched on the immigration system and the nation’s economic performance since he took office. As Trump spoke about Moore, the Republican candidate tweeted Trump’s comments to his own followers.

Trump also taunted Beverly Nelson, one of Moore’s accusers, who had presented a yearbook inscription by Moore as a key piece of evidence that the candidate knew his accuser. Nelson said Friday she had added a notation marking the date and place where it was signed.

“Did you see what happened today? You know, the yearbook? Did you see that? There was a little mistake made,” Trump said, shifting to singsong. “She started writing things in the yearbook.”

Nelson’s attorney, Gloria Allred, said a handwriting expert has found Moore’s signature in the 1977 yearbook to be authentic.

Moore, who is 70, is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including accusations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. Moore has denied the allegations.

During the rally, Trump also crowed about stock market gains and other upbeat economic indicators. He said he was confident he’d win re-election in 2020, despite his dismal approval rating.

The White House said the rally was a campaign event for Trump. But the location — so close to Alabama and feeding its television markets — stoked speculation that it was a backdoor way for the president to boost Moore’s campaign without actually setting foot in the state.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president and White House have made clear that the Moore allegations are “troubling and concerning” and “should be taken seriously.” He also noted that Moore has maintained his innocence, and said that should be considered as well.

“Ultimately his endorsement is about the issues,” Shah said.

Trump, who overcame allegations of sexual misconduct to win last year’s presidential election, looked past the charges against Moore and formally endorsed the former Alabama judge this past week for the seat once held by Jeff Sessions, now U.S. attorney general.

Friday’s campaign rally was Trump’s first since September, when he went to Alabama to campaign for Sen. Luther Strange, who lost the GOP runoff election to Moore.

Republicans step up attacks on FBI officials over handling of Clinton, Trump probes

Published: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 9:33 AM

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and any ties to the campaign of President Donald Trump, Republicans in the Congress have joined Mr. Trump in stepping up attacks on the FBI, raising questions about political bias inside the top ranks of that agency, an effort that could well form the basis for partisan opposition to the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Those sentiments were on full display last Thursday at the first Congressional oversight hearing for the new FBI Director, as Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee repeatedly pressed Christopher Wray for answers on GOP allegations that partisan bias among top FBI officials had infected both the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the review of any ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

At the hearing, it didn’t take long for Republican frustration to boil over, as the FBI Director repeatedly refused to give detailed answers about the Clinton and Trump probes, saying – accurately – that the Inspector General of the Justice Department was reviewing how those matters were handled, as Wray sidestepped GOP requests for information.

But that didn’t matter to GOP lawmakers.

“I think you’re walking into a Contempt of Congress,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) snapped, criticizing Wray for fending off a variety of questions, as a number of GOP lawmakers all but asserted that the FBI was illegally withholding information from Congress on a number of fronts.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCJsU39AMQk&w=640&h=390]

Republicans also pressed for more background about two leading FBI officials, who were involved in both the Clinton and Trump probes, demanding more information about Peter Strzok and Andrew Weissman, who GOP lawmakers say expressed anti-Trump feelings to others inside the Justice Department, impacting both of those probes.

Tied into all of this is the contention of some in the GOP that the FBI wrongly used the controversial “dossier” put together about President Trump during the 2016 campaign – which the GOP says was paid for by the Democrats – and possibly funneled to the FBI for its use.

“I mean, there are all kinds of people on Mueller’s team who are pro-Clinton,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), as some Republicans suggested a top to bottom review of key people in the Russia investigation to see if they are harboring anti-Trump sentiments.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR4o_I-NNUQ&w=640&h=390]

During the over five hour hearing, Democrats asked Wray several times about President Trump’s recent assertion that the FBI was in “tatters” after the stewardship of former Director James Comey.

“I am emphasizing in every audience I can inside the bureau, that our decisions need to be made based on nothing other than the facts and the law,” Wray said.

But judging from the reaction at this oversight hearing – which could have covered any subject – the biggest concern for Republicans right now is pursuing allegations that the FBI was too lenient on Hillary Clinton, and too quick to investigate Donald Trump.

President Trump gives boost to Roy Moore at Florida rally

Published: Friday, December 08, 2017 @ 9:21 PM

Just fifteen miles from the Alabama border, President Donald Trump used a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida on Friday night to make the case for controversial GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, telling cheering supporters that his administration needs to keep that Senate seat in GOP hands, to insure that Mr. Trump’s agenda can move through the Congress.

“We can’t afford to have a liberal Democrat, who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” the President said of the special election on Tuesday for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

“Responding to someone in the crowd who was chanting Moore’s name, the President heartily agreed.

“This guy is screaming, ‘We want Roy Moore!’ He’s right,” Mr. Trump said, as he made the case for Moore in a next-door state.

In his rally, the President gave a familiar campaign stump speech, mixing attacks on the news media with a pitch for a variety of proposals, like tougher measures on illegal immigration, and money for his proposed border wall.

But to achieve that, the President said it was imperative that Republicans win in Alabama on Tuesday.

“Get out and vote for Roy Moore!” Mr. Trump said to cheers.