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Political Pundits David Keene and Jules Witcover Discuss Campaign 2008

April 9, 2008

David Keene Crain 2008-2.jpgApril 9, 2008, Greencastle, Ind. - Audio Link [Download Audio: "Picking Up the Fumble" - 161kb] "The only way that John McCain can, in fact, be elected president, given the ... atmosphere in which he's running, is if the other party boots it," David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told an audience at DePauw University this afternoon. "And so, I think what he's looking at from a strategic standpoint is to be ready in case the ball is fumbled, that he can pick it up."

Keene and veteran newspaperman and author Jules Witcover joined Ken Bode, Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at DePauw, for the final Gertrude and G.D. Crain Jr. Lecture of this semester. They discussed issues related to the 2008 presidential election, including the possibility that so-called "superdelegates" could decide the outcome of the Democratic contest in a way that defies the national delegate count and popular vote.Jules Witcover David Keene Crain.jpg

Audio Link [Download Audio: "Potentially Destructive" - 154kb] "The prospect of it is potentially very destructive for the Democratic Party," stated Witcover. Over a half-century-long career, he has written for the Baltimore Sun, the now-defunct Washington Star, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, and authored a number of books, including No Way to Pick a President: How Money and Hired Guns Have Debased American Elections.

Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to be "treading water" as she attempts to gain on frontrunner Barack Obama. But the ongoing war and deteriorating economic conditions make predicting the remaining primaries difficult, Witcover maintains. Audio Link [Download Audio: "Wild Card Issues" - 284kb] "It's very hard to go back to the demographics and try to decide how an election is going to turn out, because I think thoseJules Witcover Crain.jpg factors hit people individually and regardless of whether they're white or black, male or female."

Keene, who leads the nation's oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization, also noted how changing attitudes about an African-American candidate also make prognosticating difficult. Audio Link [Download Audio: "Changing Perspectives" - 316kb] "Some people will vote for such a candidate because he's black and some people will vote against him because he's black," he told the audience in the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media's Watson Forum. "In years past you could bet that more would vote against him. And I think it might be about even now in a lot of places, or it might be an advantage in some places."

The two experts offered their view of the process of selecting running mates, with Keene suggesting "very few people vote for a vice president." Witcover agreed, but offered the caveat that the selection of a Jules Witcover David Keene Crain3.jpgveep is important Audio Link [Download Audio: "Choosing a VP" - 355kb] "as a judgment of (the presidential nominee's) thinking and objectives" early in the process.

Both men say candidates will be looking for someone who -- first and foremost -- won't hurt their candidacies and will perhaps bolster them in a key region of the country or help to build a bridge with a constituency within the party.

Video Link [Download Video: "McCain's Choice" - 246kb] "I think the Republicans are kind of in a position that Walter Mondale was when he picked Geraldine Ferraro," Witcover stated, adding, "In football terms, he threw a Hail Mary and it wasn't caught." The writer believes John McCain could turn to Mike Huckabee, "who's still in the news" and appeals to the Republican's conservative base.John McCain.jpg

But Keene doesn't see Governor Huckabee as a good fit, noting, Audio Link [Download Audio: "McCain and the Right" - 405kb] "McCain's disagreements on the right, his problems within his party on the right, are not with the religious conservatives but with just about everybody else. And they don't stem specifically from issues but from the sense that John McCain wants to remake the party in a very different image. He said in 2000 that he was involved in what amounted to a hostile takeover of the party. And so part of the traditional base of the party is very leery of him." Keene offered three possibiilites for McCain: Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina; Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota; and Rob Portman, a former congressman from Ohio and one-time director of the Office of Management and Budget. [More from Keene on McCain: Audio Link [Download Audio: "Relying on Distaste for the Other Party" - 442kb]

The notion of McCain reaching out to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a running mate is an Audio Link [Download Audio: "Rice as Veep?" - 299kb] "idiotic idea," Witcover exclaimed, "because if you are hoping, as a Republican, to gain some footage out of the fact that you're running against a black candidate, why would you want to neutralize that as an issue?" 

On the Democratic side, Witcover believes its possible that either Obama or Clinton could reach out to former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley for the #2 spot, while Keene believes Campaign 2008 Button.jpgClinton could tap Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, while Obama might turn to James Webb, the freshman U.S. Senator from Virginia and a war veteran who served as Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.

Although signs point to an Obama-McCain showdown in November, Keene predicted, Audio Link [Download Audio: "Clinton vs. McCain?" - 250kb] "If Hillary is the candidate, I see it as a very traditional race that we've had in the last few cycles -- it's very close, she could win by a little, she could lose by a little; she's probably not going to lose by a lot or win by a lot, no matter what she does -- a very polarizing race, a very partisan race which comes down to a few states."

Endowed by Rance Crain, president of Crain Communications and a member of DePauw's Class of 1960, The Gertrude and G.D. Crain Jr. Lecture Series honors Mr. Crain's parents. FOX News Channel chief White House correspondent and 1992 DePauw graduate Bret Baier was a guest of the series on March 17. Richard M. Cohen, author of Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, a Chorus of Hope, spoke February 11. David W. James, Assistant United States Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs and 1994 graduate of DePauw University, was a February 18 guest, while MarchSamantha Power Bode.jpg 5 brought Peabody Award-winning documentary film producer David C. Taylor to campus.

Previous Crain Lecturers have included: Sarah Shepherd, senior producer for CNN's Larry King Live and 1997 graduate of DePauw University; Tim McCaughan, senior White House producer for CNN and 1993 graduate of DePauw University; Roger Wilkins, a noted civil rights leader, historian, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; Father Richard P. McBrien, Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and a consultant to ABC News for papal events; political analyst Charlie Cook; Wall Street Journal reporter and 1996 DePauw graduate Aaron Lucchetti; military sociologist Charles Moskos; Samantha Power (pictured), author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide; historian Douglas Brinkley, author of Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War; and Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's presidential campaign.

(photos by Alex Turco)

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