IOP Hosts Election Debate

Former party National Committee

Facing off at the Institute of Politics last night, the former Democratic National Committee chairman predicted a resounding victory for his party in the elections next month, while his former Republican counterpart voiced confidence that the GOP would hold on to its Congressional majority.

In a lively and congenial debate at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ed Gillespie, who both ended their tenures as national committee chairmen in 2005, presented opening speeches, fielded questions side-by-side, and occasionally agreed.

McAuliffe opened the debate, cheerfully ticking off potential Democratic electoral victories and cracking jokes at recent Republican blunders.

“If the election were held today, we would win 25 to 35 Republican seats. There are 50 to 60 Republican seats in jeopardy and we only really need to win 12 seats,” McAulliffe said. “We’ve got the House, we’re in great shape in the Senate.”

Gillespie mildly disagreed in his own opening statement.

“I acknowledge that we have a headwind today,” he said. “We have something called ‘the six year itch’ that’s coming into play. I concede to you that the Republicans will give back some of the seats they won in 2004, but not enough to give up the majority.”

Both speakers agreed that the central question in the Nov. 7 election was Iraq—but disagreed on how voters should interpret it.

Responding to questions from the audience, Gillespie said that failure in Iraq wasn’t a foregone conclusion and added that American national security hinged on the outcome of the war.

A safe situation for Iraqi citizens, he said, would be “a positive byproduct of what I see as the principal goal. This is about the American people.” Giving up on Iraq “would be worse for us—not on a day-to-day basis, but as a terror threat.”

McAuliffe, however, said success was impossible and advocated a slow withdrawal of troops: “a five percent reduction every three months to send the message we’re not going to be there forever.”

McAuliffe attributed Republican political success to strong media connections: “The Republicans have a very effective, what I like to call ‘echo chamber’: Fox News, The Washington Times, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh. We don’t have anything of the sort, the daily repetition that keeps the story going.”

IOP Director Jeanne Shaheen moderated the 90-minute-long debate, which some members of the audience later called startlingly well-mannered.

“I was surprised at the degree to which they agreed,” said Anna Bell T. Farrar, a second-year KSG student. “It was a lively, entertaining, funny debate.”