Obama Should Challenge Boehner to a Debate: How Democrats Can Win 2010 – Step 5

by Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin on September 30, 2010

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As we see it the Republicans have a lot of advantages heading into this election, especially when it comes the huge amounts of anonymous and unregulated corporate money that is buying attack ads from coast to coast due to the elimination of campaign finance rules following the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, but Republicans also committed four errors that give Democrats are real chance to “win” the election:

1)  Republicans over promised victory:  During their high-water mark in August, they set the bar as a takeover of both houses of Congress, for example when Mike Huckabee told the Values Voter Summit to rising applause, “I’m looking forward to ‘Recovery Fall’ when we take back both the House and the Senate.”  Now they will have fallen short if they take only one, and failed if they do not take either – a very real possibility.

2) They are going into an election where the top three issues are Jobs, Jobs, Jobs without anything new in terms of an economic policy.  They were for lower taxes and less government regulation before the economy collapsed losing 8 million jobs, and they are for lower taxes and less government regulation now.

3) They have embraced the opposition role to the point of saying “No” to everything, which adds up to a long record of voting against the middle class.  For example, they voted against extending unemployment benefits for workers who did everything right, and they have also voted against tax cuts for small business.

4) Their basic line of attack on Democrats is that we have done too much, rather than too little.  This is easily turned to the Democrats advantage.  Since their plan for the economy is to move forward by going back to Bush’s failed policies, our “do something” will be more attractive to independent voters than their “do nothing.”  When it comes to fixing a broken economy, it is a safe bet voters would rather we do too much than too little.

At the end of the day, the Republicans are hoping they can tap into voter frustration with the economy by saying the Democrats are doing too much to try to fix it, and we should thank them for saying “No!”  This is an election we can win.

Here is Step 5: [Steps 1-3 are here.  Steps 4 is here.]

Step 5: Debate Would-be Speaker Boehner

The White House has expressed doubts about it but President Barack Obama should challenge the would be next Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, John Boehner (R-OH), to a debate about the economy and jobs.  Yes we know it is protocol violation for the President, rather than Speaker Nancy Pelosi to issue the challenge, but Pelosi and Boehner debate on the House Floor quite often.  If Democrats want to shake up this election, they need an event, and you don’t have to be Don King to see the potential for promoting a Boehner versus Obama prize fight.

Conventional wisdom all year has been that Republicans want to nationalize the election while Democrats should try to win as many of the 435 local House races as possible on local grounds.  This is fine advice for Democrats who can win local contests and every campaign that can say confidently that it will win on local issues should do just that, but  Democrats can have the time and the message to move independent voters on the key question of this election: which party has a better plan to improve the economy and create jobs?

The location of the debate should be Miami University of Ohio, in other words, on Boehner’s home turf, so there will be no excuses or protracted negotiation about these sorts of issues.  Just like Rocky Balboa going to Russia to fight Ivan Drago after Apollo Creed’s death in Rocky IV, the debate challenge should offer Boehner no opportunity to delay by challenging the details.  The date should be Tuesday, October 17th, exactly two weeks before Election Day, November 2nd.

The strategic challenge for Democrats is to turn this election from a referendum on Obama’s leadership into a choice between two directions — the policies that got us into this mess versus the policies that are, admittedly too slowly, getting us out.  Obama can win this debate, the spectacle will draw viewers, and the event offers the potential to change the trajectory of this election overnight.

This can’t be just a debate about economic policies.  Instead, the key to winning this debate will be understanding the importance of connecting with voters’ economic uncertainty and pain and earning their trust to stick with the Democrats’ approach, but we will write about this in Step 6.

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