Gillespie, McAuliffe Speak at Congressional City Conference

March 19, 2012
by Sandi Burtseva

Ed Gillespie, former counselor to the President and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former chairman of Hillary Clinton for President, addressed NLC members during the morning general session at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 12. The speakers provided attendees with insights on the upcoming election and the current political climate in Washington.

Gillespie and McAuliffe agreed that the presidential race in November will be a close one, and that the next nine months will be interesting to observe. Both also agreed that Romney is the most likely candidate for the Republican nomination, although McAuliffe was more confident of Obama's eventual victory, noting the advantage of an incumbent president and citing concerns that the fractious primary would hurt the Republican candidate in the general election. Gillespie outlined several scenarios: a status quo, in which Obama wins and Congress remains split; a Republican takeover of the White House and Congress; or an Obama victory balanced by a fully Republican Congress. McAuliffe predicted Democrats making gains in both the House and Senate, but not sufficiently for a super majority.

Both speakers addressed the issue of polarization in Washington. Gillespie noted that there was no longer any overlap where the parties meet in the middle - every Republican in Congress today, he said, is more conservative than any Democrat in Congress, and vice versa. McAuliffe echoed these concerns, noting that the stalemate has the nation bogged down, unable to make progress on restoring jobs or putting sustainability infrastructure into place, allowing other nations to pass the U.S. in these and other important markers of economic stability and success. The speakers pointed out that Washington could take a page from local leaders in this respect. Local officials are respected and respectful, not crassly partisan, Gillespie said. "The more local, the less partisan divide," he added.

Both McAuliffe and Gillespie emphasized the significance of engagement from local leaders. "These candidates need you," McAuliffe said, not vice versa. He encouraged local leaders to discuss important issues with their national representatives, while also prompting their own constituents to vote and get involved by outlining the importance of national politics and their capacity to have direct impact at the local level.