Key women advisors to the Thompson, McCain, Rudy and Romney campaigns met for a panel discussion moderated by Kate O’Beirne at the National Press Club. There was a stark absence of whining, complaining or fretting about the life of a female campaign advisor and a consensus that Washington pollsters and pundits have missed the boat in labeling certain issues as “women’s issues” and trying to pigeonhole women voters. Each voiced the main themes and appeal of their candidate and in some cases tried to highlight the weaknesses of their opponents.
From Karen Hanretty, Thompson’s Deputy Communications Director, came the most memorable line of the event: We need not worry that “Fred will rush to war because Fred does not rush to anything.” She stressed Thompson’s themes of limited government and toughness on illegal immigration and explained his appeal as “thoughtful and methodical, not fire and brimstone.”
From Jill Hazelbaker, Communications Director for John McCain: she described her candidate as “motivated to lead” and who has “broad and deep experience.” She repeatedly made the pitch that McCain can keep the traditional Republican base united while reaching out to Democrats and Independents. Taking exception to Hanretty’s suggestion that Iraq was fading from the headlines and “Iran is the new Iraq” she stressed McCain’s determination to keep Iraq front and center in the war on terrorism so that terrorists do not “follow us home.”
From Katie Levinson, Rudy’s Communications Director, the message was:” authentic, someone you can trust, a deep vision and leadership.” The message of coming to Washington “to get it done” and the main themes of the war on terrorism and the economy were familiar to those following Rudy’s campaign.
From Barbara Comstock, advisor to Romney, there was the famed “three legged stool.” Asked about the role of personality she, unlike her counterparts, reverted to the policy message, saying “good policy is good politics.” She did tout his experience in business and the Olympics, a message he has recently stressed in ads.
On Hillary Clinton, all argued that the “woe is me” routine from the last debate was not going to fly. Comstock contended her staff “did her a disservice” playing the gender card and Levinson contended that unlike Hillary’s complaint when Rick Lazio approached her podium in her first senate run “I don’t think people will give her a pass this time.” Hazelbaker and Hanretty agreed that the campaign had overplayed the gender card.
On healthcare both Levinson and Hanretty took a shot at “mandates”– a swipe at the type of measure Romney enacted in Massachusetts care. Hantetty cited the California experience of employer mandates and when pressed cirticized Massachusetts which, come November 15, will enact a tax fine for those who do not meet the individual mandate requirement.
On abortion, Hanretty stressed Thompson’s pro-life voting record while Comstock said Romney had “been up front” about his abortion record and now had a multi-pronged platform on social issues. They both pledge not to sign efforts to codify Roe v. Wade(the Freedom of Choice Act) by statute. Levinson stressed Rudy’s strict constructionist credentials, his support for parental notification, record of increasing adoptions and his commitment not to tamper with the Hyde Amendment or the GOP platform, but reiterated that he “ultimately believes in a woman’s right to choose.” Hazelbaker reiterated McCain’s support for a pro-life constitutional amendment and the view that the GOP remains a “pro-life” party.
So in a nutshell we saw a microcosm of the race: Romney is running on the three legged stool while his opponents make the argument he is not a credible messenger. Rudy runs on leadership while his opponents focus on his positions on social issues. Thompson runs on an aura of comfort and McCain on foreign policy expertise. Now, if the candidates were only as polished, likeable and effective as these advisors the GOP would have 2008 in the bag.