A Foreigner Reflects on the US Presidential Election

As some readers know, I covered the U.S. elections on Canada’s CTV News Channel from their Toronto headquarters. They may also know that I am not an American, and neither are the viewers of Canada’s largest and most watched network.  

Still, up here, polling has shown that over 70% of Canadians were discussing U.S. politics in the weeks leading up to the November 6elections. So CTV assembled a team (about four times as large as the one dedicated to the debates) to provide live coverage to our audience up here.

I am not just a Canadian viewing from afar. I became interested in U.S. politics when I was 9 years old and vacationing on Sanibel Island in Florida. During my spring break in 1981, Ronald Reagan was shot and there was considerable coverage on the television about what might happen if he died. I don't remember much from that time, but what I do recall was what I now call “the power of the presidency.” 

I also recall learning about George H.W. Bush and the possible transition of the vice president into the presidency. While it didn't happen then, I began following H.W. Bush throughout the years, especially during his own term as president, and admired his strong relationship with Canada’s former prime minister, Brian Mulroney. 

Throughout my youth, our family continued to vacation in Florida, and as a result I started to follow President Bush’s son Jeb’s career. After Jeb lost his first gubernatorial bid, I also started following H.W.’s other son, George's career.

Much later in life, and after I had worked on several political campaigns in Canada, it appeared that George W. Bush was going to mount a presidential campaign. I spoke to a former colleague about volunteering. Not only did I want to help George W. Bush, but also I wanted to learn about U.S. presidential campaigns—arguably the biggest political game in the world.

When I decided to use my two weeks of saved up vacation time plusholiday time off during 1999-2000, my friend connected me with the team in Iowa. I soon found myself on the ground in Des Moines, helping to build a campaign army for the 2000 caucuses. By the time I returned home, I was hooked, and I committed to donating some additional time to re-join the team for the Super Tuesday in Ohio.

I helped to win that, and was asked to assist at the 2000 GOP Convention. Then I volunteered in Michigan for three days of get out the vote in the midst of Canada's own federal election. While we lost that state, I won an invitation to then-President-elect George W. Bush’s Inauguration. 

For the next five years, I helped the RNC in an off year, two midterms, another convention and during the Bush/Cheney re-election. I also helped with the famous California recall of 2003 and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign. In 2008, I covered the McCain fiasco for the CBC Calgary morning radio show. So, I do have some experience in U.S. politics. 

A year ago, I became intrigued with Tim Pawlenty’s failed presidential bid. In 2004, I had been deployed to Minnesota to help with GOTV and became impressed with him. When Pawlenty failed to beat Michele Bachmann in the Iowa straw poll last year, he dropped out. This left me without a candidate and not really sold on any of the other candidates.  

However, about two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, I started to solidify my support around Mitt Romney. Asked to appear on CTV to discuss the Iowa caucuses, I found myself making a case for a Romney candidacy. By the time he captured the nomination, I was behind him 100%. 

Mitt Romney managed to accomplish the virtually impossible in this race: poll highly amongst Independents, and gain the active and enthusiastic support of the Tea Party. That is no small feat. The choice of his running mate, Paul Ryan, was superb. It motivated the fiscally conservative base, and the voters who elected the freshman Congress. Romney was articulate, confident, and statesman-like in the debates. And he worked hard! I genuinely believed that he would win.

Election night started off as I predicted. The red states were declared for Romney and the blue for Obama. But then Hew Hampshire was not turning out how I had predicted, and North Carolina was in question. Then there was Ohio! I started getting early numbers from Hamilton County, the bellwether county that all eyes were on, and things didn't look good.  

Still, I was on the air for the Republicans and I believed the Republican numbers. “Ohio would come our way. Obama’s early votes were being counted first. Florida would be fine! It always starts off showing a Democrat lead!” These were comments I kept repeating. But around 11:30 p.m., it began to emerge that the United States would not be swearing in a 45thpresident for another four years.

This morning I am truly happy for my friends who were supporting Obama to the extent that I was rooting for Romney. But I must say that it is a horrible feeling to lose. I do hope that lessons can be learned from this loss. I've written before about what the Republican Party must do to address their inability to attract the Latino and the immigrant vote. But they also have to look at core issues on which they want to stand.  

The RNC needs to do a much better job at working with the grassroots networks to ensure that strong candidates, who know how to communicate, send consistent messages to voters through the media. While most Americans appreciate that different issues resonate in different parts of the country, candidates with widely offensive (and yes, even politically incorrect) beliefs ought either be seriously challenged at the primary stage or worked with by competent media trainers.

These are just some thoughts, musings and sharing, in part to fill the void that exists because this election is over and my guy lost. But also because I've had to do that kind of naval-gazing and re-building up here too. In 1993, my Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was decimated in a federal election that left us holding only two seats in the entire country.  

Over the course of 10 years, I worked inside the party to try to change it before finally giving up and joining what was called the United Alternatives—a joint party that no longer exists—made up of unhappy P.C. and Reform Party of Canada members (a party not unlike your Tea Party, but ours was a formal political party).  

Together we worked to found what became the Canadian Alliance—another party that no longer exists. It became what is now our Conservative Party of Canada. All this happened under over a decade of Liberal rule. Finally, after a lot of difficult grassroots hard work, business-like branding, and open and democratic candidate selection processes, we finally won a majority Conservative government. 

I have no doubt that the Republican Party can win the White House in 2016.  All they need is a strong, conservative candidate at the top of the ticket, and disciplined, articulate, conservative candidates for the House and Senate who are in sync with their messaging. They also need to be inclusive in the process.  Good luck and get to work.  

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Katie Robinette

Katie W. Robinette got her start in US politics in 1999 in Iowa volunteering on then-Gov. Bush’s Presidential campaign. Since then, she has served on Republican campaigns in 10 states – always in a volunteer capacity. She has also worked on many dozens of political campaigns in Canada. In her professional life, she works at an Executive Search firm in Toronto, Canada.

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