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"2012 Campaign" Session Seeks to Elevate City/Metro Issues in Presidential Debate

By Kevin McCarty
January 30, 2012

Politico's Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen led a lively discussion session where campaign experts with mayors delved into a range of political issues, including how to urge candidates to talk more about concerns before cities and metro areas.

At the January 19 plenary session, Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Obama, and Steve Schmidt, former senior campaign strategist to the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator John McCain, exchanged views on the current political discourse on issues of the day, offered insights on campaign strategies, and even talked about the mechanics of selecting a Vice President.

For mayors, Dunn offered her advice on how to press mayors' concerns into the debate, noting there is a "deafening silence on issues important to cities." In offering her suggestions, Dunn said, "I think it is critically important for mayors particularly to hold the candidates accountable, and both parties at every level. I think mayors command great megaphones in their communities. Members of Congress and Senators are increasingly sensitive to what they hear in their communities, much more than they used to." In providing her comments, she noted that "you can't separate cities from suburbs. You know how connected we are."

Communicating Issues Key to Success

In responding to Allen's questioning on what it takes to connect to Washington on issues, Dunn offered that "to connect to Washington is to connect at home first. Your collective voice is very important."

Noting that each party's candidates will continue to travel the country in search of votes, Dunn said, "All of these people are going to come looking for votes in your areas… Your collective ability to put issues on the national agenda is significant." She then urged the mayors to "pick a couple of issues and make your voices heard, with the candidates holding them accountable, and also your elected officials."

Schmidt agreed with Dunn on her challenge, but added that "you need to be publicly communicating your issues, as opposed to what is an antiquated approach that we can solve these with one-on-one meetings with your Congressional delegation and have a chat. This doesn't work anymore."

Both spoke about the disconnect between what happens locally and what happens in Washington (DC). "There is just a detachment between the reality that you live in and the reality that a lot of people in Washington live in. It is important that you communicate your reality in a way that makes them more accountable," said Schmidt.

Dunn noted that the news cycle has accelerated, indicating that "you [mayors] have an advantage — you can look at impacts of policies being described."

After covering a broad range of issues, the session concluded with comments on the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements, with Schmidt indicating that the Tea Party "does good for the Republican candidate" and Dunn predicting Occupy Wall Street "will have a significant impact on the national debate.

Dunn currently serves as a Senior Partner at SKDKnickerbocker Consulting and Schmidt is Vice Chairman, Public Affairs, Edelman.