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Shields and Brooks on the Importance of Ohio, Microtargeting Voters

October 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Judy Woodruff talks with NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks for the top political news of the week, including the significant role Ohio is playing this election cycle, microtargeting of key voter blocs and the candidates' last-ditch efforts to break the stalemate and take the advantage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we just heard the professor say, Mark, whoever wins Ohio is going to win the election. Is that how you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: I never argue with a tenured professor.


MARK SHIELDS: No, I think he’s absolutely right.



JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I often argue with tenured professors. But this one happens to have stumbled upon the truth.


DAVID BROOKS: No, I do think it’s very hard to see Mitt Romney winning without Ohio. It’s possible to see Obama winning. But Romney really has to win.

And the paradox of the election, one of them, is, if Barack Obama does win, he should give Steve Rattner, who successfully ran the auto bailout, some sort of high-level government job, or at least a big case of wine to thank him.


DAVID BROOKS: And the second real irony is that if Mitt Romney wanted to carry Ohio, he should have given a lot of money to the environmental groups who were trying to stop fracking.


DAVID BROOKS: The fact that they were unable to stop fracking means that the job growth in — especially in Eastern Ohio has been pretty sensational, not only the energy products itself, but because of the cheap energy it’s generating, you are beginning to see fertilizer plants and other things like that.

So, you are getting some pretty broad prosperity out of that, and more to come. And that is as a result of the shale gas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, you know that state well. Does one candidate or the other have more going for him at this point?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, I mean this is the year, truly. You can forget the Big Apple and forget big D. and L.A. It is Chillicothe, Zanesville, Steubenville that really is — this is the big casino of this election.

I don’t see how either one of them wins without Ohio. I will be very blunt about it.

And I think that what is interesting about Ohio is it is whiter and older than the country. And that’s been — the Republican growth area has been among white, more white and older voters.

And so it is sort of counterintuitive. Ohio has one-sixth the percentage of Latinos or Hispanic voters than the country does at large. I mean, it doesn’t have the minorities that you associate with sort of Democratic growth or the Democratic coalition.

And I really do think David’s right. Steve Rattner did a great job, but it was Barack Obama. And Mitt Romney was wrong. And they’re still on the defensive about this.

As recently as Thursday night in Defiance, Ohio, Rob Portman, senator from Ohio and the surrogate debate substitute for President Obama, introduced Mitt Romney, saying let’s get this straight.

Mitt Romney was the first guy — Barack Obama took GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy. Mitt Romney was for guaranteeing loans. I mean, they’re still trying to explain it.

And he’s very much on the defensive. So Obama is running better with whites and white males in Ohio than he is elsewhere, in large part because of the auto bailout, and they have got a great ground game in Ohio too.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. We should emphasize it’s not a slam-dunk for Obama.

MARK SHIELDS: Not at all.


DAVID BROOKS: If you look at the polls, it’s pretty — it’s been a very steady two-point advantage in the state for Obama.

And one of the oddities of the race so far is that the national numbers, probably a slight Romney favorite right now. The state numbers, like Ohio, an Obama favorite.

And I don’t know too many experienced political hands who expect that to continue, that you get a disjunction between the national numbers and some of these swing state numbers.

Usually, they come together. It’s possible that if — say, Romney gets a plurality or a majority of 50.6, it’s possible to see him losing the Electoral College. If he’s up over 51 or 52, it’s hard to reconcile a two- or three-point win with an electoral loss. The numbers have got to be pretty close.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because the two are more likely to go in tandem is what you are saying.



MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, it’s a crazy system. And David and I can have that debate. This Electoral College is indefensible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We can talk about that next week.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, in the off-season.

But let’s understand this. There is a Republican advantage in Ohio. Ohio is more Republican than the nation. And, internally, there is one Democratic statewide officeholder, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. All the other offices are held by Republicans. Republicans have strong majorities in both houses of the state legislature.

And the congressional delegation is 12-4. The lines are drawn 12-4. It may end up 11-5 because Betty Sutton may win a district where she’s running against Jim Renacci. But that’s — it’s 12-4.

So it’s a Republican state going in. The irony is for Mitt Romney is that John Kasich, who you saw in the piece, the governor…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The governor.

MARK SHIELDS: … is extolling all this good news that we just heard.

And the Romney people don’t want to hear that, because part of their message is, we have got the economic key, and it can’t have already happened in Ohio under Barack Obama’s watch.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s broaden it out.

You said that — you were talking to David about the difference between Ohio and the rest of the country. What does it look like across the country right now in this campaign?


DAVID BROOKS: You know, I have read so many very confident people over the last 24 hours totally confident that Obama is going to win or totally confident that Romney is going to win.

I don’t think we can know. I think something is going to happen in the last three days. There will be a shift and something will happen. I do think there has been a contrast in how the campaigns are operating in the last couple of weeks.

And Romney’s trying to go big, with big change. Paul Ryan gave, I think, quite a good speech on social mobility and poverty earlier in the week. Romney gave what was billed as a major speech on the economy. I’m not sure how new it was. But they are trying to go big and talk about big issues.

The Obama campaign, I think, is going small and going even deeper into microtargeting. They have got this Lena Dunham video targeted to single women. They have got a series of more tightly targeted. They’re doing the binders. They’re still doing the binders full of women, so much more negative stuff.

So, I — personally, I don’t know if it will be effective. Personally, I like the way the Romney campaign has tried to go a little more substantive, while the Obama campaign is still, I think, overwhelmingly negative.

MARK SHIELDS: I just come back to the Walter Mondale race with Gary Hart. Where’s the beef?

I have heard Romney talk about big change, big change, big change. I know he is large bills, but I didn’t know he was big change.


MARK SHIELDS: This is just — I mean, it’s just an adjective and a noun.


MARK SHIELDS: As far as Paul Ryan’s speech on poverty, I mean, Paul Ryan’s budget, 62 percent of the cuts in his budget came from programs for poor people on increment maintenance.

I think it’s wonderful to talk about social mobility. I think it’s great to talk about community. But, I mean, when the rubber hits the road, who’s going to pay for it? I mean, who is going to pay the cost?

I mean, there wasn’t a single pit of burden imposed by Paul Ryan in his budget on those — the luckiest, the most advantaged, the most privileged of all of us in this country. So, I mean, yes, you can say he is taking on entitlements or whatever else.

But, you know, let’s not talk about poverty, when in fact we’re cutting the lungs out from those at the very bottom.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you are saying they are walking away from what they…

MARK SHIELDS: I just — well, listen, the Obama campaign has been silent on the subject of poverty. I mean, middle class is their mantra.

And I think David’s point about they’re single issue is absolutely true. I think that they have been one-dimensional in their approach to women. It’s been all about reproductive rights.

They haven’t talked about the issues of equal pay. They haven’t talked about our daughters’ rights, I mean, who might be flying a helicopter in Afghanistan or be a special education teacher or be…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, why do you think they’re doing that?

MARK SHIELDS: I think — I think they are very much in the segmentation of the electorate. I really — I mean, that’s — they were going to assemble a majority this way. And I don’t — I think — to me, you know, if it wins, then I guess it’s a successful strategy.

But the problem it is, Judy, when you do win, what have you won? I don’t think either of these campaigns has been constructed, that if they do win, they’re going have any kind of a mandate they can point to.


I agree with some of Mark’s criticism of the Paul Ryan speech. But at least it was sort of a substantive speech. I went back.

I said, am I imagining the way old campaigns used to be? I went back and looked at some of the 1980 speeches, or the debates, Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan.

They actually were talking about the major issues of the day, the Soviet Union, and inflation and stagflation.

If you look at the major issues of the day, well, widening inequality, well, that has not really been talked about. A wage stagnation, that has barely been talked about. Global warming, you go down the list of the big issues of the day, and this — this campaign I think more even than real-life campaigns, it’s not imagining some…


… campaign, even more than recent campaigns, has ignored a lot of those issues.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you think that is?


DAVID BROOKS: Because the consultants have taken over.

And I think both of the candidates are not particularly sincere, especially Mitt Romney. And so they’re not running on things that sort of motivate you to get into public life. They have decided they have got strategies of how to do it, and the candidates are playacting out those strategies.

MARK SHIELDS: I challenge either one of them to tell — President Obama doesn’t have grandchildren — but tell his daughters what he is proud about in this campaign, I mean, or to Mitt Romney, that huge, handsome, wonderful family of his, and say, this is what grandpa stood for in 2012.

Judy, when you win — whatever you say about Ronald Reagan — and I said a lot — but he ran on double the defense budget, cut taxes by a third. So when he won in 1980, there was a mandate to do it. And I don’t see any mandate coming out of this election, unless I’m missing…

DAVID BROOKS: And even — one of the things that offended me this week is Barack Obama running — Obama running an ad, I think in Ohio, that ends with, Mitt Romney, he’s not one of us.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. That was…

DAVID BROOKS: And that’s code. That’s an old code language.

And, you know, you just — as a sense of principle, you just don’t run that ad with that sort of slogan. And so, it is again part of the dispiriting part of…

MARK SHIELDS: And we saw the debate on Monday night.

We saw the old Mitt, who said, Iraq war, I was for it, I supported it then, I support it now. What does he say on Monday night? We don’t want another Iraq. I’m not Dick Cheney. I’m George W. Bush.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a lot of talk about peace.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, peace, peace, peace, the new Mitt. We had the new Nixon in ’68.

I mean, the new improved Mitt, he did the same thing on Iran sanctions. He was talking about an aerial strike. He was talking about an invasion or an attack upon Iran as recently as months ago.

And now he is saying, no, I’m all for sanctions. We have to do it peacefully and diplomatically. So, I mean, who is this man? Who are you? You know, that is…


And I feel like we’re coming to the end of this campaign with the two large questions unanswered, crucial questions. Would Mitt Romney buck the Republican Party at any time if he were elected president? And, secondly, does Barack Obama have sort of a second wind, a second burst of policy creativity?


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, he did put out this 20-page statement of his.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but that was a rehashed statement of small things that — frankly, if you go to his book that he wrote in 2007, I bet most of those things are in that 2007 book.

And so they’re fine. They’re, you know, community colleges, more math and science teachers. I’m for all that kind of stuff. But it’s not exactly a huge agenda.

And so you trying to — you’re a voter. You are trying to imagine, what’s the next four years going to look like? I think it’s very hard because those big questions have been unanswered.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s only 10 days to go after this. And I was going to ask you about the ground game and all kinds of other things. But this has been better than that, better than the ground game.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s important for us to vent emotionally.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

And there is more politics talk with Mark, David, and Hari on The Doubleheader, recorded in our newsroom. That is going to be posted at the top of The Rundown later tonight.