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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

January 20, 2012 at 10:45 AM

The Spin Room

CHARLESTON — The Spin Room is the place that presidential candidates send their supporters and surrogates to unabashedly advocate on their behalf after presidential debates. Also in the room are pundits who have no candidate affiliation but are experts on certain matters. It’s called the Spin Room because each person puts forward their perspective — their spin — on who did well and why.

The Spin Room press crush around South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley/photo by Alex Stonehill

Here’s some sights and sounds on Mitt Romney’s top surrogates in the Spin Room at last night’s debateat the North Charleston Coliseum, hosted by CNN.

Attracting lots of attention was South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has endorsed Romney, the Republican frontrunner. Romney has stumbled in the past few days in the campaign and the momentum seems to be with Newt Gingrich heading into Saturday’s statewide primary.

Haley was unbowed, however, in her praise of Romney: “He looked like a visionary. He looked like a president on stage tonight. He looked like a jobs president. He looked incredibly presidential.”

What of Gingrich? Rule No. 1 of a spin surrogate is Say No Evil about their candidate.  That box was checked. Rule No. 2 is Say No Good about opponents. Thus: Haley didn’t think Gingrich kept it together when handling questions about his past and that was a bad omen for how he would handle a presidency.

I asked if Romney would be better able to debate President Barack Obama than Gingrich, who often infuses his statements with specific policy suggestions and examples from history. Haley minced no words: “We don’t want a historian for president.”

Staying on message, she said she wasn’t concerned about the Tea Party’s potential rally to Gingrich’s side. “The Tea Party never votes in a block. No one can tell them what to do.”

Ilona Idlis and others interviewing Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina/photo by Alex Stonehill

With reporters and recording devices surrounding her, I noticed an anomaly — a young boy, 8 or 9, clutching a note pad and looking up at the governor. Haley bent down to him and the young journalist asked permission to ask a question. The boy has a future in this business.

Romney has refused to release his tax returns, the boy said. Did the governor now think it was a mistake to endorse Romney?

Haley gave him the standard line on jobs and spending, smiled and thanked him. He retreated to his guardian. I broke away from the swarm to tell him “Good job.”

Next to Haley were two other Romney supporters, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. Pawlenty was calm and methodical in his advocacy. He was dapper in suit and tie, standing tall and confident — had he looked so presidential during his candidacy in 2011 he might have had Romney spinning for him.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in Spin Room/photo by Alex Stonehill

Sununu offered a diametrically different persona. He is much shorter, stocky, grey haired, and gruff. UWElectionEye colleague David Domke asked him if Romney’s unwillingness to release his tax returns and his difficulty to effectively explain why was hurting Romney. Sununu said “No,” and when Domke followed up, Sununu glared at him said “It’s not an issue, move on.”

Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu in Spin Room/photo by Alex Stonehill

Sununu then moved on himself to the point he wanted to make: Romney is “tired” this week and will be back in form next week when the primary shifts to Florida. “He looked tired at Monday’s debate and throughout this week. The most important thing on debate days is for candidates to get a three-hour nap.”

Isn’t that the candidate’s responsibility, Domke asked?

Sununu didn’t bite. Not Romney’s fault, he said; instead, it’s the people who schedule the debates. Too many of them. Indeed, Thursday’s debate was the 23rd since the Republican presidential campaign began.

That’s a lot of spinning.

David Domke contributed to this post.

Comments | Topics: CNN, debate, Gingrich


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