Congressman Neal remarks on election politics

On Thursday, the Williams College Democrats and the Williamstown Democratic Town Committee brought Representative Richard Neal to the College to speak and give a Q-and-A session about his expectations for the coming election season and his political views as a whole. 

Congressman Richard Neal
Congressman Neal shared his thoughts and expectations for the upcoming presidential election. Photo by Caleb Baer.

Neal currently represents Massachusetts’ Second Congressional District, and is running for the new First District that will be created during the course of the redistricting of Massachusetts. The redistricting will go into effect with the 2012 election. This new district will include Williamstown, Mass.

Neal was introduced by Jim Mahon, professor of political science, unofficial advisor of the Williams College Democrats and head of the Williamstown Democratic Town Committee. To start, Mahon emphasized that the event was intended to be non-partisan and then gave a brief biography of Neal’s political career. Following his tenure as mayor of Springfield, Mass., Neal took office in 1989 and has since served on the Ways and Means Committee in addition to fulfilling the other responsibilities of a state representative. “[Taxes are] the riskiest thing the government does,” Mahon said.

Neal is the only incumbent seeking reelection in the newly-created First District. He opened his remarks by commenting on the current political climate. He noted that as elections draw closer, many campaigns have lost sight of the general rule that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.”

As Neal discussed the upcoming presidential election, he identified the states that would be the most critical in determining the results of the race. “There are 25 districts that will matter,” he said, stressing the importance of winning both Florida and New Hampshire. “Without New Hampshire, [Al] Gore would have taken the oath.”

According to Neal, Mitt Romney was always going to be the Republican nominee: Romney has a distinct advantage thanks to his experience with infrastructure and finance. “Whatever the flavor of the month, it was going to be Romney,” Neal said. The representative then spoke to the demographic weaknesses of both prospective candidates, citing women as Romney’s key loss and men over 55 as the most difficult demographic for President Obama to win over.

Neal then noted the shifts that candidates make in their campaigns for the election season. At the moment, Romney is beginning to work towards garnering votes from the independents, having previously been forced to lean right for the nomination by Rick Santorum. For his part, Obama must reenergize the democratic base, as his key supporters have lost their enthusiasm for his campaign since his election in 2008. Obama will also need to fight Romney for the independent votes, as this group makes up approximately eight or nine percent of the total voter pool.

According to Neal, Obama wanted to be a post-partisan president, but pressure from Senator Mitch McConnell closed that route back in 2009. Instead, Obama now has to attack Romney in order to win back the youth turnout he had in 2008. He also needs to “remind people that the bailout was in October 2008,” which Neal believes will be a challenge. However, Neal maintains that Obama is in a “much better place than [he was] six months ago.”

Neal went on to explain that Santorum’s commitment to staying in the race has forced the GOP into a “long, ugly battle.” To his advantage, Obama faces no challengers for his party’s nomination and so has been able to focus his energy on fundraising. He will, however, have to watch out for SuperPACS, which Neal predicts will greatly hurt his cash advantage.

Next, Neal discussed the quality of governance in recent years. In 2001, Bill Clinton left behind a 10-year budget surplus, which was fully erased during the course of $2.3 trillion in tax cuts and the two wars that followed, both decisions that Neal clearly stated he personally opposed.

In addition, during the course of Obama’s presidency, “Republicans have treated every revenue issue as a gauging of the American people,” Neal said. He claimed that America needs to let tax cuts expire, as the Reagan-era idea that “tax cuts pay for themselves” is “a theology” that has no basis in fact. In terms of revitalizing the economy, Neal emphasized that a drop in unemployment to pre-war levels will also make a huge difference. While Neal admitted that the Obama administration is currently “speaking in generalities” in terms of proposed economic policies, he believes that by October, Obama will articulate more clearly his plans for the economy.

Neal’s faith in the Democratic Party is founded on the institution’s belief that “you get a chance.” This emphasis on allowing everyone to reach the same starting line economically is what allows Democrats to win on the economic issues; this strength is where Obama is taking the debate, according to Neal.

Following Neal’s remarks, the session opened into a Q-and-A, during which Neal offered his opinion on a number of key issues. He attributed the stagnation of the Senate to six-year terms and also expressed his view that the House should regulate against Citizens United. Neal also noted his opposition of a debt ceiling and his support of Obamacare. Finally, members of the audience thanked Neal for his support of lesbian, gay and transgender rights.