Jackson native Stuart Stevens - author, television writer, political ad creator and senior advisor to Gov. Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign - addressed the Overby Center for Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi in April. If you missed it, like I did, the video is now available online courtesy of Ole Miss.

Stevens agreed the high point in the campaign against President Barack Obama was the first debate. But Hurricane Sandy slowed Romney's progress - internal polls on momentum shifted 40 points in three days - and the campaign went from huge rallies and driving a message to sitting in a hotel room. He says you can't blame the storm, but it had a major impact and like in a competitive basketball game, it all comes down to control at the end and the storm prevented control.

Meanwhile, Obama was able to control the message by virtue of being an incumbent president during a crisis, in addition to his fundraising and spending advantage.

"Incumbent presidents usually win," Steven said, "It's very difficult. Now, I think we made a lot of mistakes in the campaign but every campaign I've ever been involved in has a lot of mistakes, both Bush campaigns had a lot of mistakes. When you win you look smarter, when you lose you look dumber."

Stevens said he believes candidates opting out of federal funding for presidential campaigns will be a major negative on Obama's legacy. During Obama's first presidential campaign in 2008, despite his promise to stay within the federal funding program, he opted out because his campaign knew it could do so and raise more money. Once elected, he was able to raise money as President for his reelection beyond federal funding limits, something not done since Richard Nixon's 1972 reelection. Stevens said Obama raised $1.2 billion and he expects the next incumbent to raise $2 billion. "We've come close to abolishing a four year term under this system," said Stevens who noted any challenger coming out of a competitive primary is unlikely to be able to compete financially with an incumbent president. Over sixty percent of Romney's time between the nomination and Election Day was spent on raising money, Stevens said.

"Super PAC" ads can't drive a message that requires events, speeches and the candidate because they can't coordinate with campaigns. Stevens argued that makes "super PAC" ads less effective. About 40 percent of pro-Romney ads were campaign generated with 60 percent by outside PACs. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign produced 80 percent of its ads: creating a more effective message.

That message, Stevens believes, has been undersold because of the turnout narrative. While Democrats get a lot of credit for their turnout machine, they turned out fewer voters than they did four years earlier, more people voted for Romney than John McCain, and only among Hispanic and African American voters did Obama's turnout increase: Democrats got fewer younger voters and fewer senior voters. Meanwhile the Romney campaign metrics far exceeded any other Republican campaign.

Unfortunately, Stevens said, Obama's message doesn't fit the nation's need from a leader, "[Obama] is very much a cause politician. He didn't go into politics to get two point five economic growth; he went into politics to bend history's arc - very compelling to some people, but I think it's fair to ask, 'does the moment demand a different focus?'"

Stevens continued, "We live in a very Dickensian moment of the best and worst of times. The stock market is at an all time high and we have levels of poverty not seen since the 1970s. The number of people that have gone on food stamps in the last four and half years has increased by 16 million - 16 million people and its continuing to rise. A new study came out last week that showed that 46 percent of the people living in New York City are under the poverty level. This is extraordinary."

Stevens believes a Republican renaissance will be driven by policy and candidates who can speak to the great economic stress Americans are feeling with the most compelling message, will win.

Stevens doesn't blame reporters and said there is no liberal conspiracy in the press, but the nature of the news business has decreased the number of experienced reporters and many current political reporters lack context for coverage. Couple that with more and more reporters based in Washington DC and New York City - where wealth in centralizing - and coverage is necessarily affected. Less isolated reporters in major papers in Iowa and Florida, Stevens said, are doing better reporting.

Stevens plans to continue in politics and writing. He said there is a thrill and honor to "being involved in something bigger than yourself" although "the pain of losing is much greater than the pleasure of winning."







Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.