On Those Town Halls...

Last week, I asked whether the concept of a long series of loosely-moderated townhalls between Obama and McCain would work.

The response in the comments was mixed.

Some thought the plan would benefit Obama:

...Obama should jump at it; he should have nothing to fear.  While McCain knows how to charm an audience, I don't believe he can match Obama in articulating policies. --corph

The more chances Obama gets to publicly undress McCain, the better. --nwgates

Some thought it would benefit the national political debate:

I think it's a great idea. For one thing, it allows both candidates to lay out their views without 'gotcha' questions, no time limits, and really allow them to expand on their answers. I really hope this comes to pass -- the one thing this country needs is genuine debate on the issues, not a continuation of the petty gotcha-game and soundbites. --VAAlex

But many more people thought McCain's proposal would largely benefit...McCain:

I think that this would serve primarily to give McCain free publicity, which is what his financially-challenged campaign needs.  I'm inclined to think that it's not a good idea, certainly not at this early stage.  Let us define him first, then we'll talk. --rfahey22

For audience reasons, McCain has more to gain from holding as many joint appearances as possible. --JoeFelice

McCain is old school politics and is only proposing this because he needs to. The candidate running behind always challenges the front runner, Clinton did it and McCain is following the same old pattern. If I felt that McCain had a shred of sincerity behind this I'd entertain the idea but he doesn't. --montana36

I'm inclined to agree with the last notion - that ultimately, this series benefits McCain. There's an inequity of resources between the candidates, and in that context the series benefits the candidate with the tighter budget. In the last couple cycles, we've seen just a few debates between the two candidates - and it's likely we'll see even more this cycle. But McCain's campaign is starting to use this proposal as a bludgeon, so it's good to see this statement from Plouffe:

Barack Obama offered to meet John McCain at five joint appearances between now and Election Day -- the three traditional debates plus a joint town hall on the economy in July and an in-depth debate on foreign policy in August. That package of five engagements would have been the most of any Presidential campaign in the modern era -- offering a broad range of formats -- and representing a historic commitment to openness and transparency.

It's disappointing that Senator McCain and his campaign decided to decline this proposal. Apparently they would rather contrive a political issue than foster a genuine discussion about the future of our country.

If McCain really wanted these townhalls, he wouldn't schedule them first and publicly hope Obama shows up (or deliver the invitation by courier, etc.) - he'd try and work with him behind-the-scenes and announce them together. So we'll see the candidates debate, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking McCain isn't trying to make a process fight out of it.

Update [2008-6-14 12:51:59 by Josh Orton]: A couple more thoughts...

As a benefit for McCain, the 10-townhall intensive schedule would also have a disruptive effect on Obama. Candidates don't just show up at debates - they take lots of time to prep for them, going over various angles of policy decisions, their opponent's rhetorical history, possible attack lines, etc.. Everything is gamed out and prepared for.

I don't think McCain really proposed the series with much expectation that Obama would agree even to most of the debates. But if Obama did agree, he'd have less time traveling the country and engaging voters personally.

Tags: Barack Obama, Election 08, John McCain (all tags)



Re: On Those Town Halls...

There is an excellent diary on DailyKos detailing how the first "town meeting" was staged and stacked with Republicans from a Democratic who attended.  He was going to ask a question, but when McCain didn't like the question preceding his, he left the stage.  

McCain's so called town halls are actually rallies hosted by the local Republican Party.  The host, Chris Myers, identified himself as a local leader and claimed that New Jersey is going to go red because of the 2000 people in the gym. (About 1% of us were Obama supporters, someone held a sign up at the end, no one interrupted McCain's speech.)  However if McCain can't fill a small gym in his only trip to New Jersey this month, his candidacy is in trouble.

The seating was staged.  There were about 20 people with Veteran's hats and all were seated directly in line with McCain's podium in the front and back.  Your cameras from home would make it appear that half the people there were veterans.  In reality it was about 1%.  Mixed into the Veterans was one angry woman who had a sign claiming she was a Hillary supporter voting McCain.
Then, all the local politicians getting stage time, including the Congressman in the area, and the Jersey candidates for the House and Senate.  Dick Zimmer, the former Congressman running against Frank Lautenberg, was received tepidly by what should have been a friendly crowd.  People in Jersey know what a nasty louse Dick Zimmer truly is.

Then Joe Lieberman took the stage claiming he was a Democrat supporting John McCain while taking pot shots at Obama in vague terms.  Joe is no Democrat.  Then it was Tom Kean, the whitewasher of the 9/11 committee, trying to give McCain credit for the commission which McCain and Republicans have sandbagged the American people with.  Then John McCain took the stage.  
McCain has his usual sound bites and the event was craftily staged.  Approximately 200 people were hand selected ahead of time to be in a separate VIP area behind McCain and in front of McCain.  This was a campaign rally not a town hall meeting and this needs to be emphasized.

Next came the questions and answers.  McCain had said how much he loves to do town hall meetings because he likes to answer tough questions.  But almost every questioner was picked out ahead of time or was about to be chosen because of a video image or the person appeared to be a rock solid Republican during McCain's speech. (That was me.  I had on a suit and a lapel pin. Even Holy Joe couldn't recognize me.)

The questions and answers were not chosen among random people. 5 of the 7 questioners came from the VIP section including a woman in a wheelchair who was placed there ahead of time by a senior McCain staffer and then pointed to for a question even though she never raised her hand.  They were plants.  A couple of them were reading from index cards.  A sixth questioner was also a plant in the bleachers about 40 feet to my right.  He was a local Republican mayor whom the locals were familiar with.

by PantsB 2008-06-14 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

He seems to learning the Bush campaign model. You must be a card carrying repug to get into these events.

by Hollede 2008-06-14 09:11AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

There's NOT an inequality of resources between the two campaigns. We need to get over that myth once and for all.

McCain's campaign has a LOT fewer dollars than the Obama campaign, but McCain isn't running the same campaign that Obama is.

McCain is depending a LOT on right-wing 527's that are "independent" of his campaign as well as the Republican committee, which has a lot more money than the Democratic committee.

The reason he doesn't NEED as much money is that his only hope is to launch an endless series of bewildering attack ads on everything from pure racism to more "Wolves" ads like Bush ran everywhere in 2004.

The Republicans only hope is to smear Obama so badly he won't be an acceptable President to enough of the American people.

This effort cannot be officially connected to the McCain campaign without McCain being accused of "mud-slinging." He needs to be able to sling mud and get away with pretending to take the "High-road."

So, he needs to be able to say "I can't control those independent groups. While I might deplore those attacks on Obama's Baby Momma, pointing out that she's a terrorist, our campaign had NOTHING to do with it."

His campaign is already spinning this line in preparation of a HOT summer and fall to come.

by Cugel 2008-06-14 08:58AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

I heard that McCain wants to share a plane with Obama to these debates. I know he's hurting for money, but now he wants his opponent to give him a lift? Heh.

by Hollede 2008-06-14 09:00AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

I thought he was bumming rides from his wife's jet. Don't tell me rising fuel prices have grounded the Cindymobile?

by Firewall 2008-06-14 09:20AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

Maybe she finally got mad at him for calling her a trollup and a c*nt.

by Hollede 2008-06-14 10:48AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

From what we've seen, Obama will counter every attack immediately and that's all it takes to blunt their effect.

And let's not forget that 527s will be helping Obama.

by Beren 2008-06-14 09:04AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...
And let's not forget that 527s will be helping Obama.

Very few, but thats an intentional campaign strategy.
by PantsB 2008-06-14 09:15AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

It's fairly clear McCain was hoping he could stack the deck against Obama in that first Town Hall.  The Obama campaign didn't beat the Clinton Machine by being stupid.

by SpanishFly 2008-06-14 10:07AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...
I haven't seen McCain in a setting where he has to think on his feet, like he would in an open debate, so don't know how he would do, but I have seen Obama and A. Lincoln hasn't anything to be concerned about. In fact some of Obama's unscripted talks are just plain embarrassing to watch, lots of ahs, uhs and way too many, you knows, for a graduate of elite schools to make. Listening to Obama speak "off the cuff", puts me in mind of another graduate of elite universities. GW Bush has to be an embarrassment to his professors at Yale and Harvard too.
Another problem for Obama, is his long drawn out, Kerry type answers. Voters don't have the attention span, that it takes to wade through all those words to find a truth. For any that doubt me,  just go back to the debates, and look at Obama's stumbles against Hillary, and especially Edwards, and he hasn't shown very much improvement since then. Note to Obama's handlers, keep him out of all unscripted gatherings.  
by muggle 2008-06-14 10:28AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

Don't get snookered, Barack

The Town Halls are gamed against you, beacuse you are smarter.

Smarter candidates lose.....a lot

Carter in 1976 and Clinton in 1992 are the only times in 32 years that the smarter candidate won (Dole, from a DC insider perspective, was smarter than Bill C).  The smarter candidate explains policy decision making, tells voters how choices are made politically.  The dumb candidate says "Ah shucks, this is what I think and what I will do"

When I was a political consultant in the 1990s, I theorized that the winning candiadte was the guy you wanted as a neighbor.  

Reagan --- the ultimate neighbor

Bush I ---- better neighbor than Mike

Clinton ---- great neighbor, friendly helpful easy-going, gets you motivated to do something

Bush II --- good neighbor, he's more likely to agree with you and would bnever tell you to your face you're wrong

Mondale, Dukakis, Dole and Gore ---- they're lecturers ---- "Hey, I don't want to say you're wrong, BUT YOU ARE."  Then why say it?

Gore and Kerry offered alternatives to Bush II of Smart Neighbor v. Seems like a nice guy Neighbor.

In 2008, we have no neighbors ---- I do not want Barack Obama as a neighbor and I definitely don't want John McCain as a neighbor.  So who are they.  

McCain is the former POW, a little crazy but he's okay. (I had a neighbor who was a POW and the personality and perception are the same. Not a huge negative.  McCain will probably implode in part owing to age and temper but largely due to 5 plus years in a POW camp.

Obama, he's the hard working lawyer (could be the CPA or exectuve).  Do you like him. Yes.  Trust him. Yes. Would you go to him for important advice. Yes.  He's not a neighbor.  He's the guy you and your neighbors go to for answers.  He's the guy across the street or down the road.  

by kmwray 2008-06-14 10:58AM | 0 recs
Re: On Those Town Halls...

I would like to see some of these town halls.  I wanted to see some of them in the last cycle, even in the primaries: from when I first attended some of Howard Dean's town hall style appearances in 2003, I wanted to see those adopted for some of the major appearances in the Democratic primary, and the general election.

From a partisan point of view, in the short term they might benefit McCain, but only because he's under-resourced and needs some attention, and frankly I really don't want to win by starving the opponent of attention when we can win so much better without doing so.  A real win ends up being much more effective.  However, I'm not sure that they would actually benefit McCain more.  Certainly there's some danger to Obama from appearing to spurn them, because it would go against his core message; therefore, doing some of these town halls could reinforce his message, which is more important than exposure.  Obama's got a better message, so if it's a trade where you give McCain more attention that he needs, while shoring up and reinforcing Obama's public message, it's not clear who wins out.

From a more general, not strictly partisan point of view, I think real town hall meetings, where the audience is not stacked, would do us all a lot of good.  Including the candidates themselves.

I don't like the way McCain's campaign is treating this as a my way or nothing, put up or shut up posturing opportunity.  Agreeing to have some town halls is not the same thing as saying yes to McCain's proposal as-is.  Or to saying yes to Obama's counterproposal as-is.  I'm sure it's possible to arrange high quality town halls in a way acceptable to both campaigns, if both campaigns are interested in doing so.

I see an amusing, even ironic parallel to another issue in this campaign: McCain thinks posturing is a substitute for diplomacy, and having the "right" position is more important than talking to the other side.

by cos 2008-06-15 10:54AM | 0 recs


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