Soap Box: The Fall Race We Deserve (But Probably Won't See)

Monday, February 1, 2016
While Clinton and Kasich are their respective parties' most qualified candidates this campaign season, their capabilities are being eclipsed by voters' preference for style over substance.

Our copy of The New York Times arrived on the driveway early yesterday morning and, because of the  current internet-based paradigm of "pushing" news before it's seen in print, I already knew what it contained regarding today's Iowa caucuses. On the eve of this long-awaited start to the 2016 presidential primary process, the paper's editorial board announced its choices for endorsements--the time-honored political practice of publicly bestowing support to or approval of a person or position. With a long history of endorsing presidential candidates that goes back to Abraham Lincoln's first run for the White House in 1860 (and an overall 61 percent--24  out of 39 times backing the winner--accuracy rating for those general elections), the receipt of  "The Gray Lady's" auspicious sanction was seen by many politicians as a needed boost to a flagging campaign or as yet another example of the inevitability of their cause or candidacy to the voting public. In today's social media-dominated world where everyone can have a platform and express an opinion, newspaper endorsements have diminished in importance but are still seen as "bellwethers" to gauge support within the media "establishment".

In that Sunday edition, the editorial board unveiled Hillary Rodham Clinton as its favored Democratic candidate in a glowing piece that clearly highlighted the attributes and qualities that make her the better choice over her main primary rival, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders (former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Martin O'Malley--the other podium occupier now that Lincoln Chafee and Bob Webb both dropped out--did get a one paragraph mention). Endorsed on three earlier occasions (her 2000 and 2006 successful US Senate runs and her failed 2008 presidential bid), Clinton is seen by them as "one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history." Adding her tenure as Secretary of State to her previous resume (where she was in charge of nearly 70,000 employees and oversaw a budget in excess of $60 billion--a little over twice the gross state product of the constituency Sanders represents in Washington) helped cement their case that she would be ready to lead the country on her first day in office. She is not a perfect candidate in their eyes (the on-going email server/classified documents issue "deserve forthright answers") but other recent and perpetual problems (Benghazi, her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky) only seem to matter to her most ardent opponents.

Hillary Clinton waves to well-wishers after a June 2014 booksigning event in Beavercreek, Ohio.

Not to sound like I'm mimicking the Times but I brought up similar observations in a piece I posted here when Secretary Clinton came to a local bookstore for a signing event in June 2014. Back then, there weren't any announced opponents and I provided a "placeholder" for any unforeseen events (emails) that might derail her move back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In comparing 2008 to this year's campaign, there are certainly some similarities between the two. Like President--then candidate--Obama did during her first run, Sanders is running to her "left" and he is similarly attracting the attention and, if recent polling is correct, the support of younger voters (those aged 44 and below). Unlike 2008 when Clinton had over half a dozen competitors for the nomination, it's really down to just two (although O'Malley's supporters could decide the result in Iowa's extremely convoluted delegate selection system) so no one will be coming out of nowhere to overtake her (she finished in third place behind Obama and former senator John Edwards). Neither Iowa or New Hampshire are "do or die" states for her but wins in one or both would make her task a lot easier when progressing to the 13 contests to be held on/around March 1st and the four delegate-rich primaries on March 15th (to include Ohio). It's hard to imagine that she would lose support in the states that she carried eight years ago and for Sanders to have the same impact in the states that Obama won in 2008. Unless something drastically goes wrong in the math (or outside events intrude upon the campaign), she should have a fairly clear path to securing the nomination and making history in already historic Philadelphia this summer when she becomes the first female presidential candidate from a major US political party.

In contrast to their near wholehearted endorsement of Clinton, the one given to John Kasich can be seen as almost backhanded in its presentation. As a near wholesale rebuke of the GOP's tactics and messaging so far in the 2016 campaign, the board's support/approval of the Republican governor of Ohio only shows up in the third paragraph from the end. Entitled "A Chance to Reset the Republican Race", they eventually arrive at Kasich through a process of elimination and attrition among the top-tier contenders (no ink was wasted on  Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul or Rick Santorum). When compared to the unabashed exchanges between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz--two supposed "outsiders" slugging it out for dominance with a compliant media hyperanalyzing and spooning out their statements to their respective audiences, the Times calls Kasich "the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race."

John Kasich poses for a photograph with supporters at an October 2014 "Get Out the Vote" appearance in London, Ohio.

Back in 2014, I provided some commentary about the Ohio gubernatorial contest between Kasich and Ed FitzGerald, a Cleveland-area county executive who was that election's "sacrificial lamb" to go up against the incumbent. An early August poll had the challenger suddenly in the lead and many started to feel that he could be on his way to the upset--that is, until the bottom fell out of his campaign due to personal oversights concerning his drivers license and potential whiffs of extramarital scandal that happened far too late to recover prior to the general election. In an historic result, Kasich won by nearly a 2-to-1 margin and captured all but two of the state's 88 counties. I attended a "get out the vote" event for Kasich in London, Ohio and got to see him up close and personal among the voters. Although it was a "friendly" audience, the governor did not back away from some of the achievements that have supposedly tarnished his conservative "cred" (expansion of Medicaid and his support for the poor and mentally ill that is directly derived from the faith he proudly wears out on his sleeve). With the importance of Ohio ingrained into Republican lore--namely that their candidate cannot win the White House unless they carry the "Buckeye State", Kasich might be the right guy at the right time for them.

While having fewer electoral votes than Florida (home turf of both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio), nominating Ohio's sitting governor for the top spot or VP candidate on your ticket at a convention in that same "swingiest of the swing states" might provide the unifying optics that modern campaigns and candidacies seem to crave above party platforms or policy positions. That is an unfortunate reality that we seemed to bring upon ourselves ever since the first Nixon-Kennedy debate back in 1960 where attention to visual details for the television audience may have swayed just enough voters to support the Massachusetts senator instead of the sitting vice president. Both Clinton and Kasich seem to have "issues" when measured by modern media metrics. As a woman, the Democrat's appearance will always be critiqued to a greater degree to any male that she runs against (even with an older--and frumpier-looking--Sanders). While Kasich is a good speaker and appeared to be cordial during my personal observances, many who have worked with him closely characterize him as "abrasive", "unpleasantly arrogant" and "prickly" (although I don't know why those qualities would disqualify him after witnessing the unbounded braggadocio of both Trump and Chris Christie on the stump and the debate stage). Pundits and personalities are now fixated on soundbites and rally attendance to gauge a candidate's ability to "connect" with voters instead of what they would do after they win. In a media environment that cares more about the number of eyeballs on their screens or the total clicks for their content, positioning the most qualified people to assume the mantle of the world's toughest job doesn't seem to be a priority anymore.

Each party's personal preferences expressed in this Bob Gorrell cartoon (courtesy of

So here we are...the start of the "Road to the White House". I'm hoping that the number of candidates doesn't shrink too far before they appear in my local area. I also wish to see two competitive races that spark even greater interest in the fall's general election (and the first presidential debate that happens right down the road from me at Wright State University in late September). We owe this not only to those who will come after us but to honor the traditions that were given to us by our predecessors dating all the way back to the Founding Fathers. Democracy is not just a topic in civics class--it is a lifestyle that must be exercised regularly and Iowa begins our nation's quadrennial routine tonight.

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