Ticket Chat II: Ralph Reed, GOP strategist and author on the '08 race
This is Part II in a continuing series of conversations between The Ticket and people involved in many aspects of modern American presidential politics, exploring the inner workings of this complex business.
This is the second item of two in a conversation with Ralph Reed, a Republican political strategist who's been involved in seven presidential campaigns, including as senior advisor to both campaigns of George W. Bush. He has not endorsed or donated to any presidential campaign yet, but is on the host committee for an August John McCain event in Atlanta.
Reed was the first executive director 15 years ago of the Christian Coalition and currently runs Century Strategies, an Atlanta public relations firm that advises major corporations.
He's also the author of a new book, a novel titled "Dark Horse," published by Simon & Schuster.
In this item, Reed examines the Democratic side of the presidential race, the strengths and vulnerabilities of Barack Obama, and what kind of vice presidential running mate he needs to choose, and reveals a little bit more about his new political thriller.
TOTT: Many polls seem to indicate this is a strong Democratic year.
What's your overview of the presidential race at this point?
The country wants to elect a Democrat as president. But it's not clear
that it wants to elect Barack Obama.
The most recent Rasmussen survey shows the party breakdown if the election were held today as 41% Democrat, 31% Republican and 27% independent or unaffiliated. Obama has the wind at his back.
But McCain's reputation as a maverick and his unique ...
... appeal to independents makes him a very strong candidate. I think it will be a very close election, as 2000 and 2004, and it may come down to one state again, such as Florida or Ohio. Sorry about that!
TOTT: What most impressed you about the Obama primary/general
campaigns so far?
Reed: As a general rule, the Obama campaign has built its strategy around the candidate's natural strengths: podium presence, affability, articulate speaking style, and a representative of generational change.
A good campaign is like a good sports team: The game plan should be determined by the team's talents and abilities, not the other way around.
Of course, the flip side is the Obama campaign has run into some problems on substance, such as having to walk back a recent equivocation on his plans to withdraw troops from Iraq.
I also thought Obama mishandled the Jeremiah Wright controversy, effectively embracing him in his speech on race and later throwing him under the bus after Wright spoke at the National Press Club, then resigning his church membership.
But when you have a natural talent like Obama, you go with what you have, and don't try to reshape him into something he is not. That includes managing the occasional mistake or gaffe.
TOTT: What are the Democratic nominee's weaknesses this year? Or are there any?
Reed: Obama is a real political talent, but he has very liberal views for a general election candidate. I think he will be vulnerable on some of
the votes he cast in the Illinois state Senate, as well as some of his
past associations in Chicago.
He is already beginning to look like a fairly conventional, left-of-center Democratic presidential nominee as opposed to the unifying leader who could bring people together and end the politics of partisan bickering.
As that rationale for his candidacy collapses, McCain needs to keep coming back to the issues and the contrasts between the two candidates. McCain needs to make it about a choice: substance versus style, liberal versus conservative policies, higher taxes versus lower taxes.
TOTT: What are the top 4-5 criteria in your opinion that Obama needs to consider in choosing his running mate? Who would you guess might be on his list?
Like Bush in 2000, Obama lacks significant foreign policy and defense
experience. For that reason, Dick Cheney (who had served as secretary of defense during the Persian Gulf War) was a solid selection.
Obama needs something like that: a seasoned, wise man (or woman) to reassure voters that there's someone at his side who has been there when the tough calls of using U.S. military force have been made.
Remember that Obama was still in the Illinois state Senate when the Congress voted to authorize military action in Iraq. Eisenhower inheriting Korea he is not.
I would recommend former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, although there are many others. Some, most recently Bob Novak, have pointed to Sen. Joe Biden. He certainly passes the gray hair test, but the famously loquacious Biden would have to agree to stay on message and presumably walk back his earlier proposal to break Iraq into three autonomous powers, which Obama will not want to defend.
TOTT: Your new book, "Dark Horse," is a novel, but it has a hard-fought Democratic nomination, the first-ever African-American presidential nominee, a controversial African-American minister, the first woman on a national ticket since 1984 and a sex scandal involving a high-priced call girl.
This sounds vaguely familiar somehow. Did you write this whole thing in the last five months?
Reed: No. The main characters and the plot were created 32 years ago. I updated that plot to include some of the current contours of our politics: raising money on the Internet, the impact of YouTube and the blogosphere, cable news, etc.
I began writing in the fall of 2006 and finished the first draft in the middle of 2007. At the time, I assumed (like just about everyone else) that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. So I can't claim any particular powers of clairvoyance.
I suppose art is imitating life or the 2008 campaign is imitating my book. Not all of this is particularly pleasing.
In "Dark Horse," a lame duck president has to decide whether to take military action against a newly nuclear Iran and urges Israel not to act first. So it has been bizarre to see Israel conducting military exercises and Iran testing long-range missiles capable of striking Tel Aviv this week.
Scary stuff, and a reminder that politics is not a game."
-- Andrew Malcolm
Photo credits: Simon and Schuster