A crowd of some 40 students headed to Lilly Library Wednesday night for a expert talk before the presidential debate.
Public policy associate professors Don Taylor, a health policy expert, and Mac McCorkle, a former Democratic campaign consultant, framed the key issues in the first debate between President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney before the event was streamed live from the University of Denver.
McCorkle began the talk by framing the debate in terms of his career as a consultant in 29 states and highlighted the importance of Romney’s success in convincing voters that he is the future of America. Much like Obama’s 2008 campaign, the Romney campaign can reach undecided voters with a message of change.
“One way for Romney that would be really important in this debate is to prove that he wants to go forward, that it’s not just Bush, not a Bush redo,” McCorkle said.
Taylor traced the history of support for the individual mandate, a highly controversial part of the Affordable Care Act. Contrary to popular belief, the Republicans played a paramount role in the birth of the concept as an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s employer mandate plan.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney implemented the individual mandate as a means for expanding coverage at the state level. Taylor also highlighted that in his 2008 election campaign, Obama did not support such a law.
“In the 2008 Democratic primary, who was against the individual mandate was President Obama,” Taylor said. “What Governor Romney would have said four years ago is the individual mandate is the responsible way to do health reform.”
Attended predominantly by freshmen, the pre-debate talk had to be moved to a larger room within the library to accommodate the attendance. The event was the first of six in a series called Lilly Presents Election 2012—Debates, Election and Beyond.
True to Taylor’s predictions, health care took center stage in the evening’s debate. The tax increases or cuts that accompany each candidate’s health care policy were also a key issue. A third issue, job creation, tied directly into tax rates. Obama believes the federal government has a pivotal role to play in the expansion of health care, whereas Romney supports state-based reforms like the one he orchestrated as the governor of Massachusetts.
“The right answer is not to have the federal government take over health care and start mandating to the providers across America,” Romney said.
How each candidate proposes to approach the federal deficit was also a strong talking point. The candidates could not reach agreements about the facts of Romney’s alleged $5 trillion tax cut and $2 trillion increase in defense spending. Each candidate claimed the other’s plan would increase taxes on the middle class, a key segment of voters.
“Independent studies looking at this said the only way to meet Gov. Romney’s pledge of not... adding to the deficit is by burdening middle-class families. The average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more,” Obama said of Romney’s plan.
The overarching theme of the post-debate chatter in Lilly was surprise at each candidate’s unusual self presentation. Both Democrats and Republicans commented that Romney dominated the discussion and ultimately won the debate while Obama seemed less confident than in past debates.
“I thought Gov. Romney did the best,” Taylor said.
He added that he was surprised that the president “stayed general” on some important issues.
Students present also shared what issues will affect their votes in the upcoming election. The important issues to these first-time voters were both social and fiscal.
“I wanted to see their health care sides, and education is definitely a big one for me. I was actually kind of disappointed because neither of their health care plans are going to cut it for me,” said freshman Briana Jackson.
Freshman Samit Patel said his vote is “more based on the economy over everything,” and particularly on cutting the deficit.