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Confronting the Realities of our National Debt

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Everyone in Washington seems to be proposing their own solution to solve the nation’s crippling budgetary woes.  The big issue: many of these so called solutions don’t actually solve our debt problems, and their math just doesn’t add up.  Few politicians are willing to address the numbers head on, but it’s important for Americans to realize the exact predicament our nation is in.  So let’s do something that politicians won’t, and examine the underlying numbers behind our nation’s fiscal failures.

Our fiscal year 2013 deficit is projected to come in at 901 billion dollars(1).  But that’s just a one year budget shortfall.  Our total national debt is around 16.4 trillion dollars and rising fast.  Clearly, monumental steps need to be taken in order to stabilize our budgetary failings.  Unfortunately, politicians are only focusing on the small solutions, and this shortsightedness is evident from both major parties.

Republicans have clamored that a smaller government is the right path to a balanced budget.  It’s a good argument on the surface, but dive further into the math and Republican proposals seem far from a panacea.  The reason for this is that Republicans are targeting too small of programs.  Take food stamps, a federal program Republicans have lambasted.  But when Republican backed legislation to curb spending on food stamps surfaced in the House last year, it was only able to trim about $16 billion of the $80 billion food stamp budget.  Simply put, proposed Republican budget cuts don’t have the ability to solve our nation’s fiscal woes.  Bigger reforms are needed.

That all being said, Democratic proposals for tax hikes have been far from a panacea as well.  While tax hikes can certainly ameliorate our budget woes, they are far from actually fixing the problem by themselves. On the surface, tax hikes also seems like a good idea- raise revenue while possibly lowering the income inequality gap. Yet, upon further examination, this plan runs into some problems. First and foremost is the breadth of tax hikes needed. Currently, federal taxes are about 18% of the United States’ GDP. In order to balance the budget, these rates would have to be hiked by about 10% over the next ten years. Not only is this a huge hike which could slow down economic growth all around, this only takes care of the deficit in 2023. By then, the United States will have picked up as much as 26 trillion dollars of debt.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can stick to the hard line on this issue. Simply spending cuts or simply tax hikes will make a little dent in the deficit, a smaller dent in the debt, and overall get nothing done. If Congress is serious about cutting our deficit and eventually lowering our debt, a comprehensive approach must be taken. Taxes must be raised, this much is evident. The Bush Tax Cuts have run their course and should expire entirely, perhaps even raising taxes across the board on this issue. Republicans will first have to break free from their Norquist-ian chains, reach across the aisle and admit it has to be done. Yet Democrats also have to give in some too. Programs like Social Security, Medicare and even defense spending have become wildly inefficient and are doomed to bring failure to the budget of the United States. An all-encompassing reform of revenue and spending must occur if Republicans and Democrats alike want to hold on to hope to truly ridding the United States of the shackles of debt.

 

(1) – White House Office of Management and Budget – http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/overview

Feb 5, 2013

General Election Liveblog

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Tomorrow evening, beginning at 7pm and going for as long as it takes, our extended panel here at RantAWeek will be bringing you coverage of the single most important event to political geeks everywhere: the general election. After a long primary season, two conventions and four debates, all of us here at RAW have been waiting all year for this day! Please join us!

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Nov 5, 2012

Breaking Down the Final Presidential Debate: A Whole Lotta Nothing

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This past Monday, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama met for the final presidential debate, moderated by Bob Schieffer. This round’s topic: domestic- er, foreign- policy. Yes, the debate came off as more of another domestic policy debate than foreign policy. As the election is truly heating up, and things are getting close, this debate could have been make or break. Instead, we had an incredibly boring debate with little new ideas presented, and no policies beyond what is already in the political stump speeches laid out.

At the onset of the debate, with a good discussion on the Libyan embassy issue, things seemed fine and dandy. Or at least, as much as they can when talking about such a grave issue. In the ensuing discussion over various parts of the Middle East, it seemed as if American foreign policy may have just entered a new era. With both candidates agreeing on not allowing another war, using diplomacy and mulitlateralism, both candidates came off as centrist and realistic. This was progress.

Yet, when forced to look back 20 months to the Tahrir Square protests, and Hosni Mubarak’s presidency in Egypt, things began to fall apart. Both candidates began to talk about the economy. And what started as a valid point about having domestic stability before concerning ourselves too greatly with foreign policy slowly devolved into a repeat of the two previous presidential debates and every speech given by the candidates. While the US populous does admittedly care more about domestic, specifically economic, policy at this point in time, this was a foreign policy debate, and seeing this level of divergence was a bit off-putting. When the candidates where asked an essential question, “What is America’s role in the world?”, one which should force the candidates to put a unified face on their foreign policy, the candidates once again simply talked domestic policy. The one connection between domestic policy and foreign policy that was made for much of the rest of this part of the debate was primarily military spending; Romney argued to increase military spending while cutting the deficit by cutting spending elsewhere. Romney essentially claimed that our Navy is the smallest it has been since 1917. In perhaps the most memorable line of the debate, responding to Romney’s claim to boost military spending, Obama said “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” After a long discussion about primarily the Middle East, Scheiffer turned the debate towards one of the most important geopolitcal powers- no, not Russia as Romney would allege, but China. Once again, both candidates expounded upon this opportunity to tout their domestic policy and destroy the other’s.

After discussing only a small handful of countries, including China, Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the debate was over. What started as progress, and a true discussion of foreign policy eventually devolved simply into both candidates making contrived connections to domestic policy, saying nothing that has not been said on the campaign trail since the conventions and earlier. There was no true winner here, but the true loser was any fan of foreign policy. Especially in ignoring key issues like the Eurozone debt crisis and Mexican drug cartels, any foreign policy fan got shortchanged. While the general public cares very little about this topics, Schieffer did nothing unexpected and therefore nothing to truly challenge the candidates. In all, this was a very disappointing and predictable debate; no new ideas were presented and no surprises came out. In all, this debate will likely have very little impact on the election as a whole. In the next two weeks leading up to the election, polls will likely remain close, but on election night, it will all come down to a few key states.

 

Speaking of election night, RantAWeek will be hosting an election night liveblog, complete with a large panel, and on-the-fly analysis of results as they come in. Pleas join us on November 6th for that!

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Oct 25, 2012

Analyzing the Second Presidential Debate

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Let’s be upfront.  The second presidential debate is unlikely to have nearly as much of an impact as the first one.  President Obama’s poor performance, coupled with Romney’s well used aggression, allowed Romney to win a significant swing in the polls following that first debate.  The more recent town hall debate, however, saw mediocre performances from both candidates, making it not nearly as big of a news story.

Even though Obama was labelled as a slight favorite in many polls taken after the debate had finished, this conclusion can be partially attributed to Obama’s poor performance in the first debate, which likely led many to lower their expectations.  And while Obama did successfully become more aggressive Tuesday night, Romney was able to sustain his offensive from the debate before.  All in all, neither candidate faltered or appeared weak.  Unfortunately, both candidates’ attempts to show strength by staunchly defending their positions often resulted in a contentious disagreement of what should have been mere facts.  Consider this discussion about oil production:

Romney: And production on private- on government land…

Obama: Production is up.

Romney: … is down.

Obama: No, it isn’t.

Romney: Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent.

Obama: Governor…

Romney: And production on gas…

Obama: It’s just not true.

Additionally, the candidates were so intent on maintaining form and style that the debate often lost substance as legitimate questions were transformed into talking points.  One question focused on what the candidates would do to solve the gender pay gap in the workplace.  Obama went first, diving into ‘storytime’ where he discussed his prior record on the subject but avoided the question at hand.  When he finally transitioned away from this backstory, he simply made some vague statements about education and Pell grants.  A plethora of platitudes does not equal policy.  Unfortunately, Romney also failed to answer the question, mimicking Obama and talking about his background on the issue.  And when Romney exited storytime, his platitudes were directed towards general economic improvement, not the condition of the modern woman.  Both responses sounded on-topic in the spur of the moment, but neither actually answered the question.

This debate will hardly stand out in the history books as a game changer, but it was disappointing to see an opportunity to discuss policy sacrificed to protect the candidates against risky statements or poor delivery.  Since this debate is unlikely to spur momentum for either candidate, we should expect the race to continue, more or less, with its current equilibrium in the polls.  A wash for this debate is actually a boon for President Obama, because his position as the favorite is benefited when Romney loses another chance to catch up in the polls.  Still, with one more debate next Monday and more than two weeks to the election, it’s important to remember that this race is not over yet.

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Oct 18, 2012

Breaking Down the Vice Presidential Debate

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Moderation

After the rather lackluster moderation of Jim Lehrer, with his obsession with “differences” last week, Martha Raddatz came out this week looking like a superstar moderator. Beginning with the fact that she was physically on the same level as the candidates, she was a more central part of the debate. Rather than allowing the candidates to take charge, Raddatz opened segments with broad questions, but then continually drilled the candidates to get specific answers. Raddatz made them debate, not give stump speeches. The one part where Raddatz could have taken a more active role was where Biden and Ryan were both citing different numbers about the same thing, essentially arguing about whose math was more correct. But as a whole, Raddatz very effectively drew the truth out of both candidates and was a good moderator.

Style

While many people in the US care deeply about the actual issues (we will get to those later), let’s face it, people care about style. Since 1960, how you appear in a televised debate matters. First, we will discuss Biden. Normally known as a self-sufficient gaffe-machine, Biden certainly did not bother to hold his tongue. He came out swinging, showing an aggression that Obama lacked last week. Yet, eventually it got to the point where Biden bordered on condescension. Chuckling and showing his toothy grin during many of Ryan’s statements, Biden seemed like he was simply hanging out with some buddies during the debate. Not to mention his continual use of the word “friend” to refer to Ryan.

Ryan meanwhile came off as much more composed, but almost to an off-putting degree. While Biden was full of fire, Ryan seemed very stoic and almost robotic. When he tried to sound sincere, he seemed not nearly as sincere as Biden. And while this may have turned many voters off, to many Ryan seemed much more knowledgeable and presidential. All in all, Biden seemed too comfortable, Ryan seemed to stiff. Stylistically, pick the lesser of two evils here.

Issues

The majority of the first volley of the debate had solely to do with foreign policy. Biden, being both the incumbent and seen as highly influential on Obama’s foreign policy basically paraded around in all of his foreign policy expertise and Ryan had a bit of a struggle to keep up. In this foreign policy exchange, Biden simply came off as much more knowledgeable and much more prepared, while Ryan seemed to struggle a bit to find his footing. However, soon the topic shifted to domestic policy. While this is something that should have played into Ryan’s hands since it dealt with key issues like the budget, social services and healthcare, in reality, much of this portion just became a jumbled mess. With Ryan, Biden and Raddatz all talking over each other and Biden and Ryan arguing over who had the better math, domestic policy made very little sense on either side. When things shifted to talking about Afghanistan, the debate came to an essential standstill. There is very little partisan disagreement over what to do in Afghanistan. When things turned to Syria, Biden once again seemed more knowledgeable and played to the sense of American war fatigue. Ryan also made an interesting comment that boots on the ground should only be used when it benefits American interests. From there, things took a very somber turn with a question about religion and abortion. Ryan essentially said he believes life begins at conception, while Biden said he agrees with the Catholic Church’s stance but does not want to impose that on others. Raddatz then asked an excellent closing question, forcing the candidates to look at their own campaigns and say how a veteran would respond to their campaign tactics.

Impact

In the end, it came out to pretty much a draw, with the winner being heavily dependent on what set of standards you use. In terms of just issues, because Biden was able to talk more about foreign policy and his expertise, he simply came off as more knowledgeable. However, in this debate, style played a big role, and many will likely look at Biden as too condescending, while Ryan seemed much more composed. On the other hand, Biden seemed much more aggressive at the same time. All in all, it truly depends on how you look at it, but the debate will likely help the Obama campaign recover from Obama’s seeming lack of preparation and aggressiveness.

 

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Oct 13, 2012

A Change in Polls as the VP Debate Nears

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Going into the first debate on October 3rd, President Obama was enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls and the bad press Mitt Romney was still receiving for his 47% comment.  It seems natural that his best strategy was to play it safe, as his advantageous situation made risky attacks both dangerous and unnecessary.

The president did indeed play it safe, but was perhaps not expecting Romney to be as aggressive as he was.  Ultimately, Obama chose not to refute many of Romney’s attacks.  His passivity, coupled with Romney’s well placed aggression, led many observers (including our liveblog panel) to declare Romney the winner.  However, what first appeared to be a small rhetorical victory has morphed into a large-scale polling shift.  While Obama was clearly leading before the debate, Romney has taken the lead in many polls collected afterwards.

This should not shift the perception that Obama is the favorite and Romney is the underdog.  A spike in the polls is meaningless if it is not long lasting.  And while this spike has also occurred in state polls, the shift in many key swing states has not been enough to clinch leads for Romney.  National polls are important, but unlike state polls, they can be tricky to adjust to the Electoral College.  After all, the presidential election is won state by state, and in an election this close national polls can be misleading.

Additionally, the news cycle has been favorable for Romney, and a solid jobs report that should have been good news for Obama was lost in the coverage of the recent swing in the polls.  The Obama camp is in a considerably more precarious situation than it was before the first debate.  The Democrats have lost their positive momentum, and it is now up to Joe Biden to recover it in the vice presidential debate Thursday night.

A win for Joe Biden and the Democrats will likely curb the Republicans’ positive momentum and bring some stability back to the polls.  However, if Paul Ryan is the big winner of the night, the news cycle may continue to favor the Republicans.  This positive coverage could help the Romney ticket cement its gains in the polls

But while Romney faced a passive Obama, Ryan should not expect the same from Biden.  The Democrats learned their lesson last time, and Biden is likely to be much more aggressive than Obama was in his first debate.

Even though the vice presidential position is often lampooned for its limited governmental role, all political eyes will be on the VP candidates Thursday night.  Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will control the news for the next couple days, and with polls as close as they are, their contributions may make all the difference.

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Oct 11, 2012

Breaking Down the First Debate

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Format

Wednesday night’s debate employed a new format in which the candidates had a longer time to both explain and defend their positions.  Positively, this allowed for the candidates to go more in depth than the usual campaign soundbites.  It should be considered a good thing that a presidential debate delves into such issues as the impacts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill.  We hear surface-level rhetoric all campaign long, and specifics are a rare blessing.  But while both candidates cited ample amounts of statistics to back up their claims, the dueling statistics had the side-effect of making the discussion often turn to a debate on the veracity of the other candidate’s claim.  Mitt Romney, perhaps realizing this war of numbers was occurring, had this to say:

“Now you cite a study.  There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it’s completely wrong.”

Still, dueling statistics are better than dueling platitudes, and the new format successfully allowed a civil discussion of important issues.  Even numbers that the opposing candidate questions are better than no numbers at all.

Moderation

Let’s be honest, moderator Jim Lehrer got cut off.  A lot.  As much as the new format allowed for a more in-depth discussion of the issues, it also made the candidates less accountable for going over time.  Jim Lehrer tried to tell the candidates their time was over, but often failed to stop them from continuing.  At one point, Lehrer told Obama his two minutes were up, but received this in reply:

“No, I think I had five seconds before you interrupted me.”

Obama continued making his point, and talked for much longer than five seconds.  The time inaccuracies added up, and Obama’s cumulative speaking time was considerably longer than Romney’s for the vast majority of the debate.

Issues

While both candidates tamed their attacks, Romney seemed to edge Obama out on the war of rhetoric.  Romney brought some new explanations to the table when talking about his proposed policies.  While Obama tried to bring some relatively new proposals into the discussion, Americans are already well versed with most of his policies.  Thus, Obama sounded trite whereas Romney sounded fresh.

Also interesting was that Romney appeared to move his rhetoric to the center.  While he governed as a moderate Republican in the traditionally liberal state of Massachusetts, Romney has espoused many conservative opinions so far on the campaign trail.  As an appeal to independent voters, this move made a lot of sense.  Romney’s poor position in the polls going into the debate proved that he can not solely rely on his base to win.

Romney also took a more combative tone towards Obama.  While both argued their respective stances well, Romney was able to more successfully put Obama on the defensive.  Not only did this happen with the actual verbal argument, but it also happened physically.  Romney often spoke facing Obama, whereas Obama rarely looked at Romney while speaking.

Impact

The general consensus in our liveblog last night was that Romney won.  However, Romney did not win a landslide victory.  Considerably behind in current polls, Romney needs a great deal of positive momentum.  His strong performance last night may help him a little, but he is unlikely to regain all of his lost ground.  Obama’s goal last night was to play it safe, and even though this tactic may have hurt his debate performance slightly, Obama should not expect to receive a large scale punishment in the polls.

Romney may have won the battle, but Obama remains slightly ahead overall.  Still, with three debates to go, there is still some time for Romney to play catch up.

 

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Oct 4, 2012

State of The Election

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The weeks before Election Day are looking awfully numbered.  Although the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney was rather close for much of the summer, the fall has brought a decided advantage for Mr. Obama.  It all started with the party conventions.  Both candidates received a burst of increased support from their party’s convention.  However, the Democrats held their convention second, blocking much of Romney’s momentum and having the opportunity to rebut the Republicans on many issues.  For this reason, Obama’s convention bounce has lasted much longer than Romney’s did.

Unfortunately for the Republican camp, the bad news does not end there.  The release of a candid video showing Romney speaking to attendees at a high-cost fundraiser has garnered the Republican candidate a heap of bad press.  In the video, Romney says that it is not his job to worry about the 47% of Americans who do not pay income tax.  The controversy surrounding this sound bite has distracted the Romney campaign and has hurt Romney in his attempts to relate to voters.

Of course, the effects of Romney’s rocky last few weeks go deeper than this.  A noticeable shift towards Mr. Obama has occurred in polling on both the national and state level.  As crucial states such as Florida and Ohio appear to be slipping away from Romney, his electoral math becomes more and more complicated.  We here at RantAWeek examined the electoral math back in April, and we still stand behind our conclusion that the most reasonable Romney win forces him to take both Florida and Ohio.  This means that if the election were held today, polls show a fairly dismal case for the Romney camp.

But the election is not today, meaning that Romney still has the opportunity to play catch-up.  There are a variety of ways for him to rebound in the polls.  However, many of these ways are beyond his control.  Bad economic data is possible, but not guaranteed.  An Obama gaffe is also possible, but shouldn’t be counted on.

This does not mean Romney is helpless.  A strong performance at the debates – the first is October 3rd – could help him gain positive momentum.  Additionally, Romney can benefit himself by putting an increased focus on the issues and policy.  By doing so, he can help put his gaffes behind him and relaunch a rhetorical offensive against Obama’s views.

Romney is certainly in an underdog position right now.  A combination of controllable and uncontrollable factors determine whether he will be able to make up lost ground.  And with election day rapidly approaching, that lost ground needs to be made up rather quickly.

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Sep 26, 2012

The Democratic National Convention, In Light of Jobs Data

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After the Republican National Convention in Tampa, President Obama and the Democrats made their case for a second term in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Political tradition dictates that the party in power holds their convention second.  This is considered an advantage, as the better timing allows for a rebuttal against the points brought up at the other party’s convention.  Attempting to take advantage of this, the Democratic Convention painted Obama in a much more positive light than the Republican Convention the week before.  Additionally, Democrats tried to shift blame for the slow economic recovery away from the executive branch and towards Republican leaders in Congress.

As far as speeches went, the Democrats lacked a speech as arresting (or controversial) as Clint Eastwood at the RNC.  However, former president Bill Clinton, in one of the DNC’s most talked about speeches, gave an impassioned defense of Obama’s presidential record.  Clinton focused on a variety of economic statistics that showed both Obama’s strengths in addition to potential weaknesses in Republican policies.

When Obama himself took the stage Thursday night, he focused on similar topics, touting his own record while criticizing Republican-proposed ideas.  Still, his speech represented a marked transition from earlier speeches at the 2008 and 2004 Democratic Conventions.  Of course, this was expected.  Obama’s prior convention speeches had focused on his desire to drastically change the political dynamic.  As an incumbent facing partisan gridlock and a sluggish economy, such optimism would be misplaced.  While Obama’s speech on Thursday remained optimistic, it focused on a simpler objective to continue moving ‘forward’ – his campaign slogan.

Obama’s confidence in the nation’s recovery was tested just hours later when the August jobs report was released.  In a stroke of luck for the Democrats, the unemployment rate decreased to 8.1%.  The harsh media attention from any increase in unemployment would likely have stymied any positive momentum Obama gained from the convention.

But even though the unemployment rate did drop, a deeper look at the numbers presents a less cheery picture.  The economy added 96,000 jobs in August, down more than 30% from the 141,000 jobs added in July.  Even more scarily, the 96,000 jobs do not fully correspond to the .2% drop in unemployment.  In fact, 96,000 jobs only corresponds to about .06% to .07% of the total civilian labor force.

Why then did the unemployment rate drop more than the numbers would imply?  The answer is due to the fact that the unemployment rate only includes individuals who are actively seeking work but can not find it.  As RantAWeek has previously pointed out, this makes the unemployment rate sensitive to workers leaving the work force.  In recent economic times, workers who decide to leave have often been discouraged from their inability to find a job.

Still, Obama has a good headline of the unemployment rate dropping.  His post-convention momentum will likely remain intact.  But an improving unemployment rate does not necessarily correspond to an improving employment scenario.

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Sep 7, 2012

Republican National Convention Update

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Clint Eastwood’s RNC speech involved the actor talking to an imaginary Obama in an empty chair, sparking an internet meme and laughs from both liberals and conservatives.

With Hurricane Issac essentially cancelling its first day, the Republican National Convention in Tampa got off to a rocky start.  But following several stirring speeches by up-and-coming Republican leaders such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, the party was still able to make its point clear.

The overall message was cleverly constructed: President Obama’s ideals have been ineffective and costly, so it will take a businessman to make government more effective and less wasteful.  Republican leaders also tried to humanize Romney, who has often had trouble connecting with voters on a personal level.

On the last night of the convention, Romney himself took to the stage, accepting his nomination in a speech that focused on both his family’s humble beginnings and on establishing a contrast between himself and President Obama.  However, the real attention grabber of the convention’s last night turned out to be Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood’s sublimely unusual speech involved him talking to an imaginary Obama in an empty chair as well as having the crowd join him in saying “Go ahead, make my day”, the famous quotation from his film Dirty Harry.

While some pundits expressed opinions that Eastwood’s antics could have a harmful effect on Romney’s campaign, the attention created by the incident seems to be more humor based than political.  After all, even though Romney’s speech may not have been the most memorable of the night, he has still received a ‘convention bounce’ of support.

But this convention bounce occurs with most candidates, and President Obama will likely receive one from the Democratic National Convention this week.  In order to see the final impact of the conventions on polling data, we will have to wait and see if the Democrats can erase Romney’s gains.

Still, a boost in support is not the only thing Romney leaves the RNC with.  As RantAWeek has previously explained, Romney was barred from spending certain campaign funds raised for the general election before the convention officially made him the party’s candidate.  With this stipulation behind him, Romney will be able to more effectively counter Obama’s advertising campaign.  Considering that Romney has been out-fundraising Obama, the true effectiveness of his monetary resources still remains to be seen.

The election is still two months away, but in such a close race, these conventions matter.  To complete our coverage, we’ll we back with an analysis of the DNC next week.

Filed under Domestic, Election 2012
Sep 2, 2012

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