Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services
Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 | 12:47 p.m.
Tom Mann is in the business of predicting elections, especially presidential elections.
“But I get them as wrong as anybody else,” admitted Mann following his speech at UNLV's Greenspun College of Urban Affairs Thursday.
Mann was commissioned by Brian Greenspun, president and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, and the College of Urban Affairs Interim Dean, Dr. Lee Bernick to speak at the first official event at the Greenspun building.
A senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Mann is a political scholar and expert in campaigns, elections and the U.S. government, specifically the congressional branch. In 2006, Mann co-authored “The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track” with Norman Ornstein.
College of Urban Affairs staff members, City Councilman Ricki Barlow, state Sen. Bob Coffin, University Regent Jack Schofield and representatives from both U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Jon Porter were present to hear Mann speak about the upcoming election.
“Well it’s such a boring year, I don’t know where to begin,” Mann said, joking in his opening, “Nothing is happening in the world and the country, everything is cruising along and all we have to talk about is lipstick on a pig.”
The crowd laughed, but Mann went on to prove that the humor in that statement could exist only during a time when nothing could be further from the truth.
“It’s important to laugh, you’ve got to laugh in this political year,” said Mann.
He described an environment rife with voter frustration: a discredited president, serious economic strain and instability, a war that has declined in violence but still is wholly unpopular among Americans, a majority of people who believe the country is not on the right track and an unprecedented negative outlook.
Mann described these conditions as “structural advantages” to the Democratic Party that, when combined with the shift from a 50-50 divide in voters towards greater Democratic Party identification, created a perfect storm for a Democratic victory in November.
“And, Barack Obama is a compelling and inspiring candidate, demonstrated clearly in his ability to come out of nowhere and ultimately defeat perhaps the strongest candidate Democrats could have imagined like Hillary Clinton,” said Mann.
But Mann wasn’t convinced that these conditions alone were sufficient enough to clench a victory in November.
“It takes a campaign to seize the opportunity created by these conditions,” said Mann.
Although Mann doesn’t believe in getting tied up in the poll numbers and the “melodrama” of both conventions Mann voiced two areas of concern regarding a Democratic victory in November:
According to Mann, John McCain’s reputation as a maverick – despite his endorsement of President Bush in 2004 – and even his unpopularity among his own party makes a plausible case that McCain offers different Republican leadership than Bush.
“It was serendipitous, but it produced the one candidate who had any possible chance of being competitive in this electoral environment, for the Republican Party,” said Mann.
“The second other really goes to the personal profile of Barack Obama . . . you have to acknowledge he’s relatively new to the national scene, to national politics and policy making; relatively little experience in politics,” said Mann.
But he pointed out that Sarah Palin’s nomination to the vice presidential seat may have inhibited the Republican’s ability to make this argument.
“In my view, it’s the most irresponsible action by a major party presidential nominee in my lifetime,” said Mann, “If your argument is that the role of commander in chief is critical, that Obama doesn’t have the knowledge or experience or judgment to carry out that responsibility . . . but now to make the case that she’s (Palin) ready destroys that credibility and weakens the case.”
Ultimately though, Mann called upon history to substantiate his prediction of an Obama victory on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008.
“If you look back at history and ask yourself the question, ‘What experience do we have when we have a party, a president in office for two terms leaving office, bad economy, difficult war and discredited president has that party been able to hold on to the White House?’” Mann asked. “Bottom line is, you have to go to 1876 to find an example in which a McCain-like candidacy won.”