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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Greatest Hits in the Modern History of Republican Conventions

Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing,” October 27, 1964

As the Republican Party convenes in Tampa (albeit a day late), it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on past gatherings.  Here are my nominations for greatest hits of GOP conventions in the modern era:

1. Barry Goldwater, acceptance of 1964 presidential nomination

A touchstone in the history of the Republican Party and the American conservative movement, the Arizona Senator’s unapologetic speech rallied the faithful and exacerbated the GOP’s internal ideological split.  It also diverged from the standard acceptance speech formula.  Goldwater’s address pulled no punches and was devoid of the customary vapid overtures to one’s political opponents.  Instead, “Mr. Conservative” reminded the country that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

2. Pat Buchanan, 1992 Keynote Address

In a now-infamous speech delivered after Buchanan’s failed attempt to wrest the GOP nomination from sitting President George H.W. Bush, the former Reagan staffer alleged a “culture war” was on.  The enemy was clear: “the malcontents” at the Democratic convention, “environmental extremists,” the media, “radical feminism,” and the Clinton agenda calling for “abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, [and] women in combat.”  Many Republicans argued that Buchanan should never have been given such a prominent speaking role and were convinced his nationally televised remarks cost the Bush-Quayle ticket independent votes in November.

3. Zell Miller, 2004 Keynote Address

The Georgia Senator filled the unofficial Disillusioned Democrat slot at the Republican Convention eight years ago.  With the Iraq War in full swing, Miller’s scathing address focused on foreign policy and his party’s alleged abandonment of national security and capitulation to terrorists:  “I can remember when Democrats believed it was the duty of America to fight for freedom over tyranny…Time after time in our history, in the face of great danger, Democrats and Republicans worked together to ensure that freedom would not falter.  But not today.  Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today’s Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator.  And nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators!”

4. Sarah Palin, acceptance of 2008 vice-presidential nomination

It’s easy to forget that there were several days when John McCain’s running mate selection appeared to be the stuff of political genius.  The high point for the Alaska Governor—and perhaps for the 2008 McCain campaign—was her riveting convention speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.  Even those who didn’t like the message were impressed with the delivery, and the Obama-Biden campaign was reportedly concerned that they’d been outmaneuvered by her surprise addition to the GOP ticket.  Despite Code Pink protesters in the audience and a broken teleprompter, she didn’t miss a beat.  Of course, the wheels came off shortly after the Straight Talk Express pulled out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Palin never fully recovered from her interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson and her discussion of newspapers with Katie Couric.  But for one night at least, Palin appeared to be just the game changer McCain was looking for.

Honorable Mention: Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing” aka “The Speech,” 1964

Technically, the most legendary Republican convention speech wasn’t a convention speech at all.  It’s a common misconception that this Reagan classic was delivered at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco.  In fact, the Democrat-turned-Republican and future president actually gave his most famous address in a made-for-TV special in the campaign’s closing days.  And while “The Speech” may not have been enough to save Barry Goldwater from an historic landslide defeat at the hands of President Lyndon Johnson, it made Reagan a GOP star and became a manifesto for the conservative movement.

Will there be any additions to the list this week?  We’ll know soon enough.  The best bets: “Hurricane” Chris Christie’s Keynote Address tonight and Paul Ryan’s Vice Presidential acceptance speech tomorrow.

Do the Party Conventions Matter Anymore?

Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan at a Rally in Manassas, VA. August 12, 2012.

Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan at a Rally in Manassas, VA. August 12, 2012. Photo by Monkeyz_uncle. CC-SA.

This week Riding the Tiger will feature daily updates live from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL by Robert Saldin, Associate Professor of American Government and Politics at the University of Montana and a former Miller Center Fellow.

TAMPA, FL -- A hurricane has prompted the Republicans to cancel the opening night of their convention…again.  Four years ago, with Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf Coast, the GOP scrapped day one of their convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  Not that anyone seemed to notice.  Most first night speakers were simply reassigned to Tuesday.  And with the star power backloaded into the final two nights, it wasn’t clear that anything substantive was lost.  This time is different only in that the Republicans find themselves in the storm’s path.

But with tonight now an official a no-go, it’s hard to find anyone here in Tampa who is too upset by the cancellation, even—or, perhaps, especially—among the delegates.  After all, the restaurants and bars are still open, and the hundreds of parties throughout the bay area are proceeding as planned.  Many attendees are enjoying some time on the beach in between rain showers.  And the television networks had never been planning to show up for the opening night.  Of course, the mood could change considerably if evacuations are announced or additional nights of the convention are curtailed or cancelled.  But as of now, the assembled partisans continue their party, now unburdened by tonight’s session at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Which raises the question: What’s the point of these conventions in the 21st Century?  Decades ago, party conventions played a substantive role in the presidential selection process, but now they’re routinely derided as overly-scripted, phony, campaign commercials.

Scholarly Response: “Remember the 1990s? Partisan Rancor, Volatile Electorate, and Balanced Budgets”

On Sunday, August 19, the Miller Center partnered with ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on the third of six special episodes examining some of the key issues heading into the 2012 Election.  On Sunday, six distinguished panelists discussed and debated whether or not the U.S. is headed towards bankruptcy.  Today’s guest post is from political scientist and former Miller Center Fellow Jasmine Farrier offering her assessment of the arguments presented in the debate.

Let’s reconcile the harsh sound bite and glib wrap-up – both telling moments in the Miller Center panel this past Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week”.  First, Grover Norquist called President George H.W. Bush a liar for breaking the infamous 1988 “no new taxes” pledge in 1990.  Second, despite profound disagreements over entitlements, revenue, and discretionary appropriations, some of the other panelists concluded that somehow America will muddle through the current economic and political crises and stave off European-style bankruptcy. 

While this final sentiment may strike some as naïve in light of the deep partisan and policy divisions showcased on the program, Norquist’s barb inadvertently served as a reminder that it is OK to indulge in this bit of optimistic fantasy.  

Scholarly Response: “Tax Increases Essential to Fiscal Balance”

On Sunday, August 19, the Miller Center partnered with ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on the third of six special episodes examining some of the key issues heading into the 2012 Election.  On Sunday, six distinguished panelists discussed and debated whether or not the U.S. is headed towards bankruptcy.  Today’s guest post is from historian and former Miller Center Fellow Molly Michelmore offering her assessment of the arguments presented in the debate.  

The exchanges during the Miller Center’s debate “Is America Headed Toward Bankruptcy” proved one thing: the supply-side faith is still alive and well in the United States.

Friday Roundup: The Candidates Views on Energy

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

The candidates are stumping on energy policy, but what do their positions and records tell us? In this post, we provide an overview. Spoiler alert: the key differences between the Republican and Democratic tickets are over clean energy, climate policy, government regulation and the Keystone pipeline expansion.

Join the Debate: Is the U.S. headed toward bankruptcy?

This Sunday, August 19, the Miller Center is once again partnering with ABC’s “This Week” for a debate on the question, “Is the U.S. headed toward bankruptcy?” Panelists include:

·         Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)

·         Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

·         Neil Barofsky, Former Special Inspector General for Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)

·         Austan Goolsbee, Former Obama Economic Adviser

·         Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

·         Kimberley Strassel, Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

Jake Tapper, senior White House Correspondent at ABC News and a regular contributor to ABC programs “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” and “World News with Diane Sawyer” will moderate.

The panel will take questions via twitter and Facebook. Join the conversation by posting your question by Friday on Twitter to @ThisWeekABC and @Miller_Center and on Facebook here and here.

Check ABC’s This Week for airtimes in your area (scroll down to the bottom of the web page).

Be sure to also check out additional background materials prepared by the Miller Center, including information on the panelists.

Romney’s Veep: Attack Dog or Tonto?

Romney, Ryan, and Va. Governor Bob McDonnell campaigning in Ashland, Va. on Saturday, August 11.

Romney, Ryan, and Va. Governor Bob McDonnell campaigning in Ashland, Va. on Saturday, August 11.  Photo by tvnewsbadge, CC BY 2.0.

 

If all goes as it should, Paul Ryan will spend two weeks in the national spotlight: this week and the week surrounding the vice presidential debate on October 11 at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.  That debate will come eight days after the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney and five days before their second encounter, and Ryan’s job will be to attack Obama in gloves-off, full-throated ways that Romney, as the Republican nominee for president, will need to show more restraint in doing.  That’s the nature of a vice presidential candidacy—attack, attack, attack.  And not, incidentally, attack the other candidate for vice president, which would strike most voters as tangential to the real choice they are making.

This week, Ryan’s job will be different: to appear to all the world as Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Robin to Batman—that is, as the junior member of a high-powered team that is greater than the sums of its parts.  

And the Winner Is?: Romney Announces Ryan as VEEP choice

Paul Ryan speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011.

Paul Ryan speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC SA.

This morning Mitt Romney announced he selected Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his GOP runningmate. Romney's veep choice is just another affirmation that this election is a duel over competing visions for the economy and the government's role in economic affairs. In a speech this morning, Congressman Ryan made the case for why he's ready to be veep:

I believe my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Governor Romney's executive and private sector success outside Washington. I have worked closely with Republicans as well as Democrats to advance an agenda of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and job creation.

While the Romney-Ryan ticket certainly makes the election a clear choice over approaches to economic affairs, it's still unclear how the pick will impact coalitional differences within the party - particularly between conservatives and more pragmatically-minded Republicans - and how independent voters will respond. 

We'd like to congratulate "RTT's Political Junkie of the Week," Joseph Emerson, who correctly predicted Ryan as Romney's choice in our VEEPstakes contest. Joseph noted in his entry that Romney would choose Ryan for the following reasons:

1) Keep the focus on the economy 2) Attempt to steal a solid “blue” state 3) A budget has already been developed 4) “Teapublicans” love him 5) He’s not old 6) There’s also an alliteration factor “Romney-Ryan”

Joseph also noted that Ryan's last name will fit nicely with the campaign's "R" logo.

Well, done, Joseph, well done.

Stay tuned for a new contest and chance to win the title of "RTT Political Junkie of the Week" and a coveted Miller Center shirt! 

Friday Roundup: Top Ten Articles from the Campaign this Week

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

As the race to the bottom continues to spiral, this week, we offer our top ten campaign news stories. Add your suggestion!

  1. Is Harry playing dirty with his pants aflame? We’re not sure, but apparently his fearless allegations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for ten years are a winning ploy for team Obama.
  2. Where’s Gepetto with his strings when you need him to rein in the candidates? The noses of both the Obama and Romney campaigns grew this week as the ad wars escalated
  3. Money, Money, Money…President Obama, according to the New York Times, “has spent more campaign cash more quickly than any incumbent in recent history.” The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have spent about $400 million from the beginning of last year to June 30 this year, investing in field offices, voter registration efforts, and high-tech campaign infrastructure (but a fancy campaign app also has some privacy advocates concerned). Meanwhile Team Romney once again out-fundraised Team Obama in July - $101.3 million to $75 million.
  4. Conservative critics accused Romney of betraying right-wing supporters after the campaign sought credit for the health-care law he signed as Massachusetts governor.
  5. Biting our lips…The veepstakes have narrowed and the top contenders are certainly earning their spot.
  6. Speechify…The Republican convention is “all about Mitt,” according to Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Romney campaign is carefully controlling convention speakers. Neither George H. W. Bush nor George W. Bush will attend, but Donald Trump is set to have a “memorable” role. On the Democratic side, Jimmy Carter will speak to the Convention on the front end by video, while Bill Clinton will play a central role and formally nominate Obama. The Democratic convention will also feature Republicans and a “nightly ‘social contrast’ in which two people describe their personal experience with a hot-button issue — one person lauding the president’s actions, the other taking Romney to task.”
  7. The great crossover that isn’t…A new Gallup poll shows that 86% of voters who say they voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are backing him again this year, while 92% of 2008 John McCain voters say are supporting Romney. The poll also finds that 9% of 2008 Obama voters have switched to supporting Romney this year, while 5% of McCain voters have switched to Obama. While voter partisan identification remains remarkably stable, it is also more polarized now than it’s been since 1988. Eighty-four percent of Republicans view Obama unfavorably, while 80 percent of Democrats feel the same about Romney, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
  8. Too clever by half? Romneyhood vs. Obamaloney.
  9. Putting a young face forward... In attempts to appeal to a younger generation, the Republican Party is de-emphasizing social issues while returning to an emphasis on libertarian values like limited government and individual freedom.
  10. OK, this one isn’t really a campaign news story, but for your entertainment pleasure, this video blast from the past is a good reminder that liberals and conservatives should still share humor. 

MC Switchboard

On August 10, 1927, Calvin Coolidge dedicated Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. In his remarks opening work at the new national monument, Coolidge said:

No one can look upon it understandingly without realizing that it is a picture of hope fulfilled. Its location will be significant. Here in the heart of the continent, on the side of a mountain which probably no white man had ever beheld in the days of Washington, in territory which was acquired by the action of Jefferson, which remained an unbroken wilderness beyond the days of Lincoln, which was especially beloved by Roosevelt, the people of the future will see history and art combined to portray the spirit of patriotism.

Why Aren’t the Candidates Addressing Poverty?

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Poverty Bill (also known as the Economic Opportunity Act).

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Poverty Bill (also known as the Economic Opportunity Act) on August 20, 1964. LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. PD.

This month marks the anniversary of the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the legislative centerpiece of President Lyndon Baine Johnson’s War on Poverty.

President Johnson declared the War on Poverty in his State of the Union Address on January 8, 1964:

This administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join me in that effort...

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and local level.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

Very often, a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom.

Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty but to cure it–and above all, to prevent it.

No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.

Johnson made the War on Poverty the central concern of the nation, but as he noted in his SOTU address, it also required several bills and acts to create programs meant to alleviate poverty and improve the living standard for the poor. It also required presidential leadership and partisan compromise.

A half a century later, poverty has fallen off the national agenda. Furthermore, according to a recent Associated Press survey of economists, think tanks and academics finds that the poverty rate is set to rise to 15.7 percent this year, the highest levels since the EOA was adopted. What’s more, the presidential candidates aren’t addressing the poor in this election. Instead, both the Obama and Romney campaigns are battling for the middle class.

Friday Roundup: It’s Economy + Personality, Stupid!

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Today, the Bureau of Labor statistics released its monthly jobs report, which is the last report before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are held later this month and in early September. As in June, July brought mixed results. One the one hand, payroll employment increased by 163,000, a promising rise after three straight months of disappointing job gains. On the other hand, unemployment ticked up slightly, from 8.2% to 8.3%. Romney reacted to the unemployment in a statement calling it a “hammer blow to struggling middle-class families.” Focusing on the positive aspects of the report, Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement on the White House blog:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

So, with less than 100 days until the election, just how important is this jobs report for the presidential race? First, we know from a Gallup Poll released this week that voters rate job creation as the number one priority for the next president to address. However, Romney’s campaign has so far been unable to capitalize on the stagnant economic performance. Even though voters believe that Romney would be a better manager of the economy, personal image is playing an important role in this election. Because the campaigns are primarily being waged in the battleground states, we might look there to get a better sense of the candidate prospects, rather than just relying on the national averages. The table presented below compares the unemployment rates in key states with the most recent Gallup Poll January-June 2012 presidential approval ratings released this week. Read on for more!

 

Toss-ups

June 2012 Unemployment

Obama Job Approval

Colorado

8.2

43

Florida

8.6

46

Iowa

5.2

46

New Hampshire

5.1

43

Nevada

11.6

45

Virginia

5.7

46

 

 

 

Leans Democrat

 

 

Michigan

8.6

49

Pennsylvania

7.5

46

Wisconsin

7

49

 

 

 

Leans Republican

 

 

North Carolina

9.4

45

 

Taxation Without Persuasion

Ronald Reagan addresses the nation on federal tax reduction legislation, July 27, 1981.

Ronald Reagan addresses the nation on federal tax reduction legislation, July 27, 1981. PD.

Just about everyone is talking taxes this week. On Capitol Hill, Congress has been feuding over tax rates that are part of the “fiscal cliff” towards which the nation is headed post-election. Republicans want to keep the Bush-era tax rates for all individuals, while Democrats seek to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, largely repeating the president’s tax message.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, President Obama is making the case for tax equality and framing Romney’s plan as a tax burden on the middle class. Citing a Brookings Institution study while stumping in Mansfield, Ohio, President Obama told supporters that Romney “is not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit. He's not asking you to pay more to invest in our children's education or rebuild our roads or put more folks back to work. He’s asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut.” The Obama campaign is also launching a new campaign ad that will air in eight key states. Citing a report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the ad argues Romney has paid a lower proportion of his income in taxes than many people of lesser means: “He pays less, you pay more.”

Mitt Romney isn’t taking the punches sitting down though. Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom called the report “a joke,” challenging its impartiality and methodology. (Ezra Klein has a worthwhile post on why Romney’s tax plan and the campaign’s response to report are problematic here.) The Romney campaign is also attempting to shift the focus away from the tax issue to the economy, charging that the president has not fulfilled promises made in the 2008 campaign.

Although Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution gives Congress the power of introducing bills to raise revenues, a brief survey shows that modern presidents have been a powerful force in proposing and selling tax policy to Congress and the American public, especially as part of broader plans for economic recovery. Presidential persuasion is requisite when it comes to attempts at major tax reform. The Miller Center has compiled an online exhibit demonstrating how presidents have used the bully pulpit over the years to sell tax policy -- sometimes successfully, but not always. Although modern presidents have played an important role in crafting and selling plans, since the Kennedy administration, compromise with Congress and across party lines was necessary to achieve major policy reform.  Check out the exhibit or read on for highlights.

Ain’t No Party Like the Revived Tea Party

 Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas.

Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC-SA.

In a new WaPo article, Miller Center Forum Chair and Washington Post Contributing Editor Douglas Blackmon documents how the Tea Party has been transforming itself into a more viable political operation. Many eyes are on the GOP run-off election for the Senate nomination in Texas today, where thanks to intense Tea Party efforts, young conservative Latino star Ted Cruz appears likely to win against an establishment-supported candidate. But, as Blackmon documents, the Tea Party’s revival and transformation goes beyond today’s race. Indeed, Tea Party efforts have helped oust GOP incumbents or to force primary run-off elections. According to Blackmon:

The movement has retooled into a loosely organized network of field operations that, as in Texas, pushes Republicans toward more strident conservative positions and candidates, while supplying ground troops across the country for candidates and big-money conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.

Meanwhile organizations affiliated with the Tea Party are actively recruiting and mobilizing voters in support of party-backed candidates in state and local elections, including in critical states such as Ohio. Perhaps even more impressive and a telling sign of its future viability are efforts to raise funds. According to Blackmon: 

FreedomWorks says that almost 190,000 activists have joined its “FreedomConnector” online network and that it expects fundraising in 2012 to exceed the approximately $21 million it collected last year. Through the end of May, tea-party-associated political action committees had raised almost $18 million.

Tea Party Patriots, an organization that says it is affiliated with more than 3,500 local tea party groups, reported raising $12 million in donations in 2011 and says it is on track to match or surpass that number this year.

It remains unclear, however, whether and how these mobilization efforts will play out in the presidential contest. There are divisions within the Tea Party over its alignment with the establishment GOP and many have been critical of Mitt Romney. Yet their “preference for any alternative to President Obama” could be enough of a motivating force to boost pro-Romney efforts.

While the Tea Party is more of a loose network of organizations than a centralized structure, it remains a force with which both Republicans and Democrats alike will have to reckon, certainly in this election cycle, but perhaps over the long-run as well.

W.I.M.P.: Why Ignore Media Personifications

President Ronald Reagan endorses then-Vice President George H. W. Bush for President of the United States, May 11, 1988.

President Ronald Reagan endorses then-Vice President George H. W. Bush for President of the United States, May 11, 1988. Photo courtesy The George Bush Presidential Library. PD.

Is Michael Tomasky’s characterization of Mitt Romney as a “wimp” unfair? The 1987 Newsweek article and the 2012 Newsweek article have this common: At their core, both articles demonstrate how the candidates, both of whom hail from the Eastern wing of the GOP, have had to navigate a party with a thriving ideologically conservative base and at the same time appeal to a broader electorate. This is perhaps why both George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney appear eager “to be liked,” “risk averse” and to lack “principle” or “political identity” in the context of the campaign. But, we should look beyond commentariat characterizations of candidates in electioneering persona and instead examine the records of how the candidates performed in actual governing situations. Of course, the greater the record, the more voters have to go on in terms of evaluating how a candidate performs under varying institutional settings and political contexts.

In this post, we highlight Miller Center Oral History Program interviews with several of George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign staff regarding the so-called “wimp factor.” The interview excerpts are a great reminder that voters are inundated with media frames of the candidates, and, during the campaign season, there is a publicity battle between the commentariat and the campaigns to define the candidate.

Do the Candidates Really Want to Wake the Sleeping Issue of School Reform?

 Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind

Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind Act. White House photo by Paul Morse. PD.

Education is a sleeper issue in the 2012 election campaign. But do the candidates really want to wake it? Given the struggling nature of the economy and the ongoing risk of economic meltdown in Europe, perhaps it is no surprise that the issue has received relatively little attention from the mass media. If recent public opinion polls are to be believed, however, education is highly salient in the minds of voters. Indeed, according to a recent CNN poll, 78% of Americans report that education will have a major impact on their vote in the presidential election.

At the same time – and despite sharp partisan conflict between Democrats and Republicans in Congress – education has been an area of major, albeit submerged, programmatic reform in 2012. While major statutory reforms to federal education policies have not been forthcoming, behind-the-scenes administrative changes have profoundly altered the premier federal policy affecting elementary and secondary education: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Indeed, using its waiver authority, the Obama administration has, over the past few months, released more than thirty states from some of NCLB’s most controversial provisions, including the requirement that all students reach academic proficiency by 2014.

Given the level of public interest and the significance of recent policy changes, will the sleeper awake in time for the upcoming October 3 presidential debate on domestic policymaking? So far, neither Obama nor his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has made much of the issue during the campaign. Still, it’s possible that education could play an important part in the debate, because the issue fits into the broader narrative that each campaign wants to tell voters going into the election. For the Obama team, the waiver decisions represent yet another pragmatic presidential response to partisan Republican intransigence, and thus highlight the president’s responsible leadership style. Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, suggested as much in the statement announcing the most recent waiver requests. “More and more states can’t wait any longer for education reform,” Duncan intoned. “A strong bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as these states have demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to Act.” Additionally, by touting his willingness to allow “states the flexibility to use local solutions to improve their schools”, as he does on his campaign website, Obama may be hoping to inoculate himself against charges, made repeatedly by his Republican opponent, that his administration has aggressively centralized political power in the federal government.