The following is a transcription of the presentation by political commentators Andy Taggart and Jere Nash at the October 16, 2012 membership meeting, prepared by Bowers Court Reporting.
MEADE MITCHELL: It's my pleasure to welcome Andy Taggart and Jere Nash to our program today. When I was arranging all of this and I was sending e-mails, it was right about the time of the Republican Convention, and there were a lot of great e-mails going back and forth with them about the Eastwood Chair and you may hear a little bit about that as they talk. Let me tell you a little bit about both of them.
Andy Taggart is a partner in the law firm of Taggart, Rimes & Usry. He was formerly chief of staff to Governor Kirk Fordice. He previously served on the Madison County Board of Supervisors and was president of that board.
He's a frequent speaker on a variety of topics. He's been instrumental in the Republican party over the last several decades, serving as the executive director of the party and the political director of the party.
Jere Nash is a consultant on matters ranging from political campaigns, marketing, public relations, to commercials. He previously served as the CEO of Stewpot. He was the former chief of staff to Governor Ray Mabus. Prior to that he served as deputy for the State auditor. He has been extremely involved in the Democratic party, included — including serving as campaign manager for Governor Mabus. Both Andy and Jere co-host the Red and Blue Review, a weekly program covering state and national politics on WLBT; and I'm glad to have WLBT here today to record this event. They've also co-authored a number of books including; Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, Mississippi Fried Politics: Tall Tales from Back Rooms.
I want to welcome both Jere and Andy to our program. Please give them a hand.
JERE NASH: I'd like to start this off with a moment of personal privilege. My son Oliver recently was awarded his Eagle Scout from First Baptist Church. Justice Waller and his brother Bob are big, big supporters of the scouting program at First Baptist Church.
Judge Waller, we're grateful for everything that you and your church and your family have done to make that such a successful program. I am — I was not a scout growing up, but I am a true believer in the scouting program now and we're grateful for what First Baptist Church and y'all have done with that program. That will be the only nice thing that I say about Republicans and other people for the rest of the day.
ANDY TAGGART: I was about to say, I always try to say nice things about the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
JERE NASH: But have I some good news for you, Mr. Taggart. Y'all may know that Kirk Fordice's daughter wrote a memoir of her parents, which just was published by the University Press. And, Andy, the good news is that you are not mentioned in this book.
ANDY TAGGART: The very first thing I did was go to the index to make sure I'm not in that book.
JERE NASH: You are not in that book.
ANDY TAGGART: Yeah, that's very good news indeed.
JERE NASH: I have to admit to y'all that this comes at a very, very bad time for me, emotionally and psychologically. Before Wednesday of two weeks ago, I was reading 20 blogs, newspapers, magazines about politics every hour on the hour. I could tell you the latest polls in every state and every race the minute you asked. I have not opened up my computer since Wednesday two weeks ago, the debate for me was that debilitating. And I've been sort of been able to get through life by not reading newspapers or magazines or the Internet for the last two weeks just hoping against all hope that things would turn themselves around.
But I felt like that we were asked to do this program, I should at least open up my computer and pull out my newspapers that are now two weeks old and review the shape of things so that I could carry on a conversation with Andy in front of everyone. And, Andy, it is not quite as bad as it could be. It's bad, but it's not quite as bad as it could be. The problem with this is before Wednesday of two weeks ago, the President of the United States had Governor Romney on the mat with his foot on his neck and could have just knocked him out Wednesday two weeks ago. Instead, he took his foot up off of his neck and reached down and gave him a helping hand and picked him off the mat and said, "Let's keep going for the next four weeks."
So it has just been very, very difficult to comprehend how that could happen. It is almost malpractice that a campaign manager would allow a candidate to walk off — to walk out into a debating situation and deliver that kind of performance. To this day, I don't know that anyone has an adequate explanation for it, and I'm sure in the books that follow, somebody is going to uncover how it happened; but be that as it may, if the vote were held today, President Obama would get re-elected with 289 electoral votes. You give the President everything that he won four years ago, Andy, and you give Romney Florida, Indiana and North Carolina.
ANDY TAGGART: And Virginia.
JERE NASH: So that leaves the President with 289 electoral votes. The states that matter, then, are Virginia, Colorado and Ohio.
ANDY TAGGART: I'll even give you a little more than that. If we don't win Virginia, we won't win the election.
JERE NASH: Well, the President could lose Virginia and still get 270 electoral votes; right?
ANDY TAGGART: Mathematically.
JERE NASH: Mathematically. So if the President loses Florida, if the President loses North Carolina, he can lose Virginia but he has to win Colorado and he has to win Iowa. And, ladies and gentlemen, that's sort of what it comes down to. It's at 289 electoral votes right now. Florida is neck and neck, Colorado is neck and neck, Virginia is neck and neck, Iowa is a little bit trending toward the President, Nevada is trending toward the President, North Carolina is trending toward Governor Romney.
This is a very, very close race, and it actually is going to come down to how these two campaigns run their campaigns over the next three weeks, how these two candidates perform in the two debates that follow, and then the entire get-out-the-vote operation that's going to take place on election day. There are a couple of things that we've learned from this campaign. We've learned what we already knew, which is that money, more than any other factor in politics and America today, is what determines the winner. As of September the 30th, these two candidates and their "superpacs" have raised and spent $1.6 billion, that's through September the 30th.
ANDY TAGGART: That's like one one-thousandths of the yearly deficit in the Obama administration.
JERE NASH: Anyway.
JERE NASH: I thought we were talking about politics and not policy.
ANDY TAGGART: And on your state analysis, let me respond to that. Think about it a little bit differently — and, by the way, I'm not suggesting that I think this is going to happen — but give Romney Florida, North Carolina and Virginia; which without the three of those, I don't think Romney can win. So I have to put those in my category. Then add Ohio, which I don't think we will win but if he were to win those three plus Ohio, that brings Romney 266, which means he has to win one of any of the other battleground states. I don't think we will win Ohio, so I think we've got a better chance than Wisconsin even though we're behind today. If he wins Wisconsin plus those other three, then he must win two of the other battleground states to break 270. Either scenario is perfectly plausible. I agree with Jere that if the election were held today, I don't think Romney would quite get there but the election is not going to be held today. So that's how the math works from Romney's standpoint.
JERE NASH: Well, here's something that's fascinating that we don't know about in the South, is that most of the other country allows for early voting. In most of these battlegrounds states, people are already voting and have already voted. In many of the battleground states, a substantial number of people have already voted before the debate two weeks ago, and there have been, obviously, a lot more that have voted since then. So in many ways, what is happening over the course of these last four weeks is not going to affect a substantial portion of the voters in these battleground states.
ANDY TAGGART: Well, we just don't know but it is an important phenomenon that we just haven't seen in the past, which is how many people are voting now that won't be affected by what's happening now.
JERE NASH: So, we've learned that money matters. We knew that going in and the Obama and the Romney campaigns have crystallized that once again. They have already spent $1.6 billion. By the end of the election they would have spent $2 billion. The congressional candidates and the independent pacs associated with the congressional candidates will have spent another $1 billion dollars. So in a period of 12 months, roughly $3 billion would have been spent on Washington politics, which is an enormous figure, but it's why all these races that we're talking about and all of these states that we're talking about are so competitive. It's because each one of these candidates is fully funded in order to get their message out and in order to respond to other messages that come their way.
The second thing that we learned that we already knew but it's been re-enforced is that negative ads work. It is literally the only way that you can communicate in today's world of politics, and that is talk about the other person.
The third thing that we learned that has been re-enforced from four years ago but it's been magnified is the importance of the nontraditional media, the talking heads on cable television, the blogs, the Internets. They have, to a large degree, determined sort of the ebb and flow of the national political scene in terms of the presidential race, not necessarily the congressional races because they don't focus on it. But more than any other factor, I believe, it was all of the outcry that you saw in the nontraditional media over the debate two weeks ago that helped define that narrative and that helped, I think, influence the polls.
ANDY TAGGART: Well, what a great point, Jere. I had said for many weeks leading up to the presidential debate that debates just don't matter, and I really do believe that's true. The last time you can really measure a debate having a direct effect on elections is probably 1960 when Richard Nixon looked sort of like a brooding, old guy against the fresh and vital J.F.K in those televised presidential debates. After that, unless somebody just completely self-destructs, they just don't matter. Well, who would have foreseen what was going to happen two weeks ago and, in fact, the debate had a profound effect, not only because of the point Jere just made, which is this extraordinary new wave of information that's just pumping all the time out of people's garages and kitchens just as well as out of the war rooms with the big networks, but also because the President did so unpredictably poorly. No one could have foreseen that sort of thing happening or measured the impact that it is already having in the election.
And if you don't mind, Jere, let me kind of jump from there to talk a little bit about where we think all of this is also affecting congressional politics. You know, all the focus, of course, from the national media is on — on the presidential race but we've got 33 US Senate races going on and 435 races for the House of Representatives, and the role of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at the top of the respective tickets affects all of that. Another thing that affects all of that is the 2010 census and 2011 reapportion and redistricting. We are not facing the same electoral map that we faced in 2008. Many of the states that Barack Obama one-handedly lost electoral votes and the members of Congress at the same time, of course. In the Midwest, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio lost two, and Pennsylvania all lost members and consequently electoral votes, Barrack Obama won all of those states. In the Northeast, Massachusetts lost, New Jersey lost, New York lost two, Obama won all of those states. In the South, on the other hand, Texas picked up four, Florida picked up two. We lost Florida but won Texas. Georgia picked up one, South Carolina picked up one, Arizona picked up one. So the electoral map itself is different, both in terms of members of the Congress and, of course, votes that are cast for the presidency. And the impact that this has in an election with a margin as razor thin as we think this one really might be, could really affect the results of the election. That is to say how the electoral votes actually have shifted since the last election took place.
The other place I think that is so important is what does that mean about the races for the Senate and the House of Representatives? Of course, popular votes don't matter in presidential elections, except on a state-by-state basis. Barack Obama got 69 million popular votes in 2008. We thought George Bush's record of 62 million in the election before that was earth shattering. Sixty-nine million? Put that into perspective just a little bit. Remember how badly Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in 1984? Mondale only won Minnesota and DC. In 1984, Ronald Reagan got 15 million fewer votes than Barack Obama got in 2008, that's what 69 million votes represent.
And, of course, that would have a profound effect if we ever thought that 69 million people were going out to vote for Barack Obama in November, it would have a profound effect on Senate races and House races all over the country, but nobody believes that 69 million people are going out to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. If I'm right about that, then give the House of Representatives roughly a push. Right now I think there are five vacancies, roughly 240 Republicans, 190 Democrats. I may be one or two off one way or the other but a margin of about 50 votes, give it a push. I don't think we'll win many, I don't think we'll lose many. Some would say, well, you picked up 62 or 63 seats in the election year in 2010, a lot of those were districts that Republicans really shouldn't win on paper; and so, you ought to lose those in a presidential election year.
Typically, I would agree with that premise but not in this presidential election year because of the points that I just made. The legislatures in those same states that were losing and gaining members of Congress were also being controlled by Republicans as a consequence of the 2010 elections. And so, districts that were redrawn both for states that were losing members of Congress and for states that were gaining members of Congress were seeing their districts redrawn primarily by Republican-controlled legislatures. So the districts within which members of Congress incumbents and challengers are running in November are different districts than we saw as recently as 2010, and that also inures to the benefit of the Republican. So even though we had the big, big pickup in 2010, it strikes me as very reasonable to believe that it will roughly a push, maybe gain. Or we might pick up or lose four or five seats one way or the other. And this will be my final point and then you can bash all on me if you want to about congressional politics, in the Senate right now we're behind 53 to 47. Fifty-one Democrats plus two independents that caucus with the Democrats, so 53 to 47. Give the Democrats pickups in Massachusetts, where I think we've still got a chance against the Native American but probably going to lose Massachusetts and give them Maine, where Olympia Snowe is retiring. Give us Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota, and most objective observers would say that's probably about right. So a net pickup of one: 52 Democrats, 48 Republicans. Then you've got sort of six battleground states — if I can remember them all: Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. What am I leaving out?
JERE NASH: Missouri.
ANDY TAGGART: And Missouri. Out of those six, three or four months ago I would have thought our chances are really good at winning more of those than we lose, then our candidate in Missouri went completely crazy; but, fortunately, he's running against an incumbent who is a really, really bad candidate. So Akin in Missouri's still got a chance to be elected. I think we've got a legitimate shot to win in Florida, we've got a legitimate shot to win in Virginia, we've got a legitimate shot to win in Missouri. Tommy Thompson has got a legitimate shot in Wisconsin. We're competitive, although I can't tell you I think we're going to win Ohio and Pennsylvania, but if I'm right about that — if we win three or four out of those six, then we end up with a net one or a net two Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. I think those are very plausible scenarios. I think a 50/50 tie is very plausible, which makes the election for the White House even more important because the vice-president would be, of course, casting the deciding votes. So, there you have it.
JERE NASH: One of the reasons Andy and I get along so well is we agree almost completely about political analysis, and you just heard a great analysis of the value of reapportionment. When the Republicans can gain 60 seats in 2010, and it's difficult, then, for Democrats to win the 24 or 25 that we've got to win this year in order to regain a majority, it's difficult for us to win back a third of it in a presidential year because of the way the district's lines have been redrawn in the last year. It's a very powerful analysis of the importance of reapportionment and I agree with him completely, nobody gives the Democrats a chance at winning 25 or 26 seats in these House races.
Andy, in the Senate races, gave you a great analysis of the Senate races. Although he is hoping against the trend lines that we now see in Wisconsin, that we see in Florida, that we see in Virginia, the way that those state polls are working, in those key states of Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, the Senate poll trend lines more or less mirror the presidential trend lines. So that right now the President is doing better than Romney is in Wisconsin, the President is doing better than Romney is doing in Pennsylvania and Ohio, so that the Senate trend lines are roughly the same. In Florida, the Democrat in Florida is doing better in Florida than Obama is doing in Florida and Tim Kaine in Virginia is doing a little bit better than Obama is doing in Virginia, but those are very, very close which brings me to the one thing that we have learned in this election, that we have never learned before, that we've never seen before, and that is the role of technology, and it's specifically the role at gathering data about individual voters and using that data to communicate with those individual voters, that these campaigns have invested millions of dollars with very smart people to design software systems that can track the habits of individual voters. Because people are on Facebook, they can attach a cookie to your computer and they know what you do on Facebook, they know the sites that you surf on the Internet, and they can link that to voter registration records and voter history records, and they can pinpoint who they need to target down to the person. And only until this year have we had the technology and the — the money to create the kind of voter tracking system that allows that kind of get-out-to-vote system to operate.
Here in Mississippi we typically can get voter history and we know when people vote and we can call them and we can talk to them, but when you spend $800 million in a campaign, you can create your own patented software to send out web crawlers, to get on people's Facebook pages and begin to accumulate this kind of detail that we've never seen before. And it is — it is, I think, going to make the difference in these battleground states. The campaign that has been the most sophisticated voter contact operation is the one that's going to turn out the votes, I think, in these battleground states.
ANDY TAGGART: All right. I've got about seven minutes until 1:00 if there are particular thoughts or issues on someone's mind that you would care for us to address, we're happy to do that, but we're perfectly capable of filibustering to the end as well.
JIM ROSENBLATT: I know Mississippi is not a swing state and we haven't had any media attention. We've got no statewide elections, except for judges. The congressional races seem to be conceded. What kind of voter turnout do you think we're going to get in Mississippi?
ANDY TAGGART: All of that is exactly accurate. The one point that I would say that makes me optimistic about voter turnout is that we always really do well in Presidential election years. Mississippians are patriotic enough to go vote in Presidential election years and I think that from a percentage basis, we will have a relatively higher voter turnout that we typically do, notwithstanding the fact that we just don't have many competitive races here. Although there certainly is an important race here in the Central Supreme Court District and I'm for all the incumbents, let me just say, as far as that.
JERE NASH: As you know, we were not a battleground state four years ago and Mississippi generated its highest turnout that it's ever recorded four years ago in the Presidential race. Whether that happens again or not, I don't know that you'll see that high a Democratic turnout. Andy swears to me that we'll see as high a Republican turnout as we had four years ago.
ANDY TAGGART: Well, Republicans are far more motivated to go vote now than we were four years ago. I promise you that.
JERE NASH: Right.
JOHN MCCULLOUCH: What do y'all see as the impact of the election of the respective candidates on lawyers and the legal system?
ANDY TAGGART: Well, that's a hard question to answer and — and one that I haven't really considered. I guess what I would say is, if you believe as I do that ObamaCare represents the biggest regulatory change instituted by the Congress really in my adult lifetime, then I think I would say if the President is reelected, that is sort of the fair employment act for lawyers for the rest of time, just in managing what ObamaCare means and it's rolled out from a regulatory perspective. If Romney is elected and both houses of the Congress become Republican, then in pretty short order, I think you'll see ObamaCare unraveled.
JERE NASH: Following what Andy said, if Romney is elected President and both houses of the Congress go Republican, I think you'll see some national tort reform.
CHAD HAMMONS: In the days after the election, do you think we're going to hear anything about the Bradley Effect? In terms of people not being honest with pollsters.
ANDY TAGGART: Frankly, I didn't know know there was a name for that. I've always found it to be the case, that people are a little disingenuous with pollsters and even exit polling; which is why I'm also always so reluctant to put much stock in exit polling on the day of an election; but do I think we'll hear something about it? I don't think that it's going to be much different than it typically is.
JERE NASH: I assume you're talking about this idea many, many years ago when Bradley, an African American, was running for mayor of Los Angeles, African and the polls showed him with a huge lead going into the election, and he won very narrowly and some claimed that the Bradley Effect was people are not going to tell a pollster that they're got going to vote for or against the African American for whatever reason, and that was talked about a lot four years ago, thinking that the polls had Barack Obama winning very handedly going into the election and they were wondering if the reality would agree with the polls and, in fact, it did. And and in some cases, the reality was better than the polls. So I think most professional pollsters this year discount that effect.
JOHN HENEGAN: Could y'all compare both candidates' Presidential campaign advisors this time with the ones that were in charge of the campaigns last time and tell us what kind of differences you see in what they're doing.
ANDY TAGGART: Of the key campaign advisors for both campaigns in 2012 as opposed to 2008? It's a little hard for me to do that because I know more about the team now than I knew in 2008 and I don't mean to sound cynical but in 2008, whoever the professionals were on the Republican side were working with sort of insurmountable odds both in terms of the juggernaut that Barack Obama represented and also the challenges of John McCain as a candidate. I think what I would say is that I think Romney's campaign staff have gotten a little bit of a bad rap leading up to the debate when people were sort of throwing off on why can't they get their message straight, why can't they get focused, all that sort of thing. My judgment was that the campaign staff and plan had a message and a focus, and our candidate was too defused in what he was saying. On Obama's side, I think the challenge that the campaign staff faces there is that he more or less listened to his advisors in 2008 and he's not listening to anybody in 2012, that's my assessment.
JERE NASH: I think campaigns matter, I think the competence of campaigns matter, and I think it's more than just the candidate. I think it's the organization of a campaign. Up until Wednesday of two weeks ago, it would be hard to argue that the Obama campaign was running an error-free campaign. Their decision to attack Romney, their reliance on technology, their fundraising, the convention that they held, all of that was campaign management superb. And the Romney campaign was unable to respond really to any of it, they were always being put on the defensive; but I operate under the principle that Democrats rarely win campaigns, Republicans lose campaigns. And I thought it was Romney's to lose until he chose Paul Ryan, and I think the day he chose Paul Ryan he flipped it and said, it's now Obama's campaign to lose. In the same way that I thought the McCain/Obama campaign four years ago was very close until McCain chose Sarah Palin, and I thought that one decision flipped it, and I still think that it's Obama campaign to lose, and tonight we're going to find out if they're still trying to lose it or not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Can you speak to the VP debate?
ANDY TAGGART: The vice-presidential debate between Biden and Ryan was one of the most entertaining political events I've ever seen, I really do mean that. I thought that the opportunities for Joe Biden to be lampooned would be driven by what he would say. In fact, I even made the observation before the debate that Barack Obama was relying on Biden to stop his campaign's freefall but it's a little like when Barbosa in Pirates of the Caribbean called out the crack and you never knew who was going to get destroyed by the monster, that's what I thought would happen with Joe Biden. Instead he gets lampooned for his mannerisms, not really for the content of his comments. I had a great time that night.
JERE NASH: I think the conventional wisdom is that Biden stopped the freefall and the polls would back that up.
ANDY TAGGART: In whose convention?
JERE NASH: Well, all you've got to do is look at the polls, Taggart, and you can see the way that they've turned around.
ANDY TAGGART: We'll see you on November 6th.
DAVID MARON: Thank you very much, Andy and Jere. And thank you to Bowers Court Reporting for recording this for us. It was entertaining and informative. I hope this evening's debate will be as informative and enjoyable as this one was. Thank you again, gentlemen.
CAPITAL AREA BAR ASSOCIATION DEBATE was taken on the 16th day of October, 2012, before Megan Reeves, CCR in and for the State of Mississippi, reported by machine shorthand, at the location of Capitol Club, 125 South Congress Street, in the City of Jackson, State of Mississippi.