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John Zaring: What Rogers can learn from Obama’s weak debate

Posted: October 9, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 9, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The consensus of professional pundits and casual observers alike is that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared more energetic, confident and aggressive than President Barack Obama in last week’s first debate, and for those reasons, “won” the debate.

Much to the surprise and chagrin of many Democrats, President Barack Obama was timid and, at times, flat out disinterested. Perhaps Obama made a decision to stay above the fray, to remain presidential no matter the circumstances, and instead offer solutions without wasting time arguing with Romney? If that was his strategy, it didn’t work.

Shockingly, Obama failed to attack the etch-a-sketch inconsistencies of the former governor’s positions and as a result often ended up looking weak. And in times of calamity, nobody wants their president to act like a wimp.

Romney won, but what the casual observer misses — and what the news media far too often failed to point out — is that winning a debate isn’t the same thing as winning the argument. There was a difference in substance on display at the University of Denver, and certainly, Obama presented a vastly different approach to solving the challenges facing our country.

Still, given the beating the president has been taking, I expect that the next time around he’ll more passionately illuminate the stark differences found in his approach versus that of his opponent (especially when that opponent is changing positions mid-debate like a teenage girl changes outfits). And in the coming weeks, President Obama will have two more face-to-face chances to win over the few undecided voters who remain in the nine so-called swing states that will likely determine the real winner.

But here on a local level, 25th Congressional candidate Lee Rogers doesn’t have that luxury; the Democrat only gets one debate with longtime Republican incumbent Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, which will come tomorrow morning at the Hyatt Valencia.

So what should Rogers learn from the first presidential debate? That the challenger must be the aggressor. Call Buck out for his leadership role in the “do nothing” Republican House. Don’t let him spin his inaction on the Cemex Mine, Santa Clarita’s biggest local issue, or his lack of support for the Veterans Jobs Bill (or any jobs bill, for that matter). Call him out on his sweetheart loan deal with Countrywide. Ask why he pays his wife and son far above what others pay their staffers, and contrast it to what most people who do those same jobs get paid. Ask what they actually did for their large salaries. Hammer him on his sequestration flip flop. Make McKeon defend his cushy relationships with the defense industry contractors who not only contribute to his campaign at obscene levels but also pumped real cash into his wife’s recent primary run for the California State Assembly (folks, when has a national defense contractor ever donated to a local politician in a primary race?!).

In other words, make Buck sweat. Because let’s be honest, he’s never had a serious challenger before, certainly not one as intelligent and principled as Rogers. Heck, he’s never even broken a sweat while winning his way back to Congress over two decades. McKeon has also never faced an opponent with the financial resources to mount a real challenge — this is new territory for him. For these and other reasons, I’m willing to guess McKeon will struggle to defend his record and will be ill-equipped to defend some of the things he’s done and said while in office, things that even confound centrist Republicans (remember his predictions of calamity when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was ended, or all of his uneducated blubbering in Town Hall meetings about the Affordable Care Act?).

McKeon has over 20 years in the House of Representatives and yet has very few real accomplishments to show for it beyond bringing home the bacon for the defense industry, which let’s be honest, given the record expansion of the Pentagon’s budget thanks to the two unfunded wars Bush waged, was going to happen anyway. In reality, he’s done very little for his constituents, which is why so many Republican leaders in the city of Santa Clarita have publicly lambasted him on several occasions and he faced multiple challengers from within the GOP in the primary.

Let’s also not forget that the 25th District has turned purple during Buck’s many years of a cushy life in Washington, and with the recent redistricting, his is no longer in the safe Red zone he first ran in. Does the politically moderate Rogers have a tall task unseating McKeon? Absolutely. But with legitimate questions of integrity swirling around McKeon, a Rogers victory is now more possible than it once was.

Take the fight to McKeon, Dr. Rogers, and you just might win.

John Zaring is a delegate to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party in the 37th Assembly District. He is a founding board member of the Hart district WiSH Foundation and serves on the Castaic Middle School’s Site Council and the strategic planning committee of the Castaic Union School District.


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