As the race for the GOP presidential nomination heats up with the entrance of Texas Governor Rick Perry, campus political organizations await the high-stakes debates that traditionally mark the autumn months of the campaign season.
For Raj Kannappan ’13, chair of the Cornell Republicans, the next few debates will be essential in separating the candidates and determining the nomination. More than five million people tuned into the Fox News Debate on Aug. 12, and with Perry’s entrance into the race, that number is only expected to grow.
“Romney really has to go after Perry in order to take back his position as front runner,” Kannapan said, referring to the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate. “Perry needs to avoid making any big gaffes. I think we’re also going to see some of the lower candidates start to fade fairly fast.”
While Perry has won several prominent polls since announcing his candidacy three weeks ago, Kannappan remains skeptical of the Texan’s chances of winning the nomination.
“I think people in the Republican party will come around to realizing that Perry can’t win the general election,” he said. “Romney has a much better shot of winning.”
Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, agreed.
“Generally speaking, the leading contender at this point in the campaign never wins the nomination,” he said. “[Perry] is in trouble.”
Lowi explained that, historically, the nomination goes to the most widely shared second choice, which at this point is Romney.
“The two parties are not national parties,” Lowi said. “We have 50 state parties that come together to form a national party every four years, and whoever can effectively form that party deserves the nomination. Right now, Perry hasn’t shown that he has that level of support in the 50 states.”
Hallie Mitnick ’12, director of public relations for the Cornell Democrats, agreed that Romney seemed to be the most serious challenger to President Obama.
“Of the frontrunners, I think he probably has the biggest national profile and the best chance of winning a general election,” she said.
As the summer turns into fall, the Republican campaign shifts from what one Washington insider, Todd Gillman, deemed “the honeymoon stage,” where most attacks are directed at the incumbent president, to a political “trial by fire,” where the candidates begin to trade barbs and jockey for position.
There will be five debates in a period of six weeks, which commenced with the Republican debate Wednesday at the Reagan Library in California and will culminate on Oct. 19.
But Lowi hesitated to call them debates.
“Most Cornell debaters are better than those guys,” he said. “It’s not a debate — it’s an exposé. They project the conservative platform and attempt to get the approval of the plebes.”
Lowi, however, said he was looking forward to hearing what some of the “lower-tier” candidates had to say.
“It’s amusing to listen to the end of the pack. They’re great entertainment, because they know they can’t necessarily win,” he said.
Both Lowi and Kannappan, however, agreed that there was a sense of excitement among Republicans about the possibility of a GOP victory in 2012 in light of Obama’s sagging poll numbers — the lowest of his presidency — and the state of the economy.
“There is a lot of vigor in the Republican field right now because of the troubles that Obama has been having — much like George Bush the first,” Lowi said.
Cornell Republicans is one of the groups that has shown excitement about Republican prospects.
“Most of us are pretty excited about the field and the election, we think there is a legitimate chance that Republicans can win,” Kannappan said.
Mitnick of the Cornell Democrats acknowledged the recent troubles of the President, but added that “his chances for reelection are still very strong.”
The latest poll numbers seem to vindicate the Republican excitement. Perry, the Republicans’ frontrunner, and Obama are in a statistical dead heat in several hypothetical general election match-ups, while Romney fares only slightly worse than the Texas Governor.
Lowi, however, cautioned against taking polling data too seriously at this point in the contest.
“I’m dubious about the polls. I’m not saying the polls are wrong but they mask how each state is its own separate domain. And we’re still about five months from the primaries and over a year away from the general election,” he said.
While the race is certainly gaining traction, the Cornell Democrats and Republicans are not yet in full campaign mode.
The Cornell Republicans are focused on their upcoming speakers, such as Congressman Richard Hannah (NY-24), Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-20) and Marc Thiessen, President Bush’s former chief speechwriter. Hannah and Gibson will focus on issues “more relevant to upstate New York and the local area,” Kannappan said. They will also be campaigning in the Ithaca mayoral race.
While several Cornell Republicans have formed Cornell University Students for Mitt Romney, the group will not formally endorse the GOP candidate until the general election.
The Cornell Democrats are keeping an eye toward 2012, Mitnick said, but are “more focused on issue-based activism such as the voter ID legislation,” which they oppose because it would limit the voting ability of students and the poor.
While the political groups on campus are well-versed in the candidates, many seem to be apathetic towards the process as a whole.
“I haven’t watched a single debate and I don’t plan on it,” Julian Day ’14 said. “I don’t really care about the Presidential election till the month before.”
Original Author: Will Ryan