Election 2008: Technology Issues Will Play a Key Role

What will the key technology questions be for the 2008 presidential candidates? Taxes, education, math and science training and trade issues will heat up in this election, says the former RNC chairman.

Politics in 2008 won't be more of the same, says one prominent Republican party strategist. 2008 will be "the biggest, most open election of our lifetime," Ken Mehlman, a political strategist and former Republican National Committee chairman, told attendees at the CIO|08 The Year Ahead conference in San Diego this week.

Mehlman, who helped run President Bush’s successful re-election campaign in 2004, expects a close race, decided by only a few percentage points. Consider this: "The last time there was no real frontrunner a year before the election was 1940," says Mehlman, now a partner at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. Candidates will also spend more on advertising for the February 5 "Super Tuesday" primaries than was spent in the whole 2004 election, he says. (More than $660 million, according to campaign finance website Opensecrets.org.)

Technology concerns play into key issues ranging from the war on terror to education and healthcare, Mehlman says.

Two overarching issues are shaping the campaign debate, Mehlman claims. First the country wants change, as evidenced by approval ratings for George W. Bush’s performance hovering near 30 percent and Congressional approval ratings nearing 20 percent, he says. Second, the country's at war. "These two trends have the potential to run contrary to each other," Mehlman says, noting that in wartime situations, the United States has historically elected a hawkish presidential candidate. Both parties have an easy road to follow, but maybe they shouldn’t, Mehlman says: If Democrats push the "Bush is bad" message and Republicans push the "Let's not elect another Clinton" message, they'll both alienate independent voters, he says.

The candidates of both parties are pursuing themes out of synch with American’s lives, Mehlman argues. The Democrats in 2008 are backing "a paternalistic model in an iPod era," Mehlman says. "All the things people used to rely on institutions for they can do for themselves."

Republicans, meanwhile, are talking about modeling themselves after President Reagan. "Ronald Reagan was president 27 years ago," Mehlman says, noting that when Republicans say they want to be the next Reagan, he thinks it's a mistake, because the set of challenges facing the United States is so new. Second, he adds, "Our party is too white, too male and too southern." The party needs to "look more like America," Mehlman says.

Both parties face tough core issues in the election, starting with the global war on terror, Mehlman says. "This is where technology has a big role to play," he says, noting that mass production helped win WWII, and specialized missiles, NATO and Radio Free Europe helped win later battles. What will the next equivalent be? That's still unclear.

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