Strategists reflect on election at UNO forum

Joining more than 700 people for a “living room” chat, the city’s own popular pair of political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin shared their thoughts on the outcome of the presidential election Thursday evening at the University of New Orleans.

Matalin joked that the bipartisan couple doesn’t talk on election night and hadn’t talked since — though there was little debating or disagreeing between the two over the course of the casual, good-humored conversation.

The event was part of UNO’s “Week of Excellence,” and was the inaugural talk in the Homer L. Hitt lecture series.

In terms of what happened with the election, the consensus seemed to be that it’s just too soon to tell, with the larger ramifications still needing to be digested.

“Obama got his vote out, and we didn’t get our vote out,” Matalin said.

She threw out some numbers from the 2008 election, making the point that conservatives who turned out for Republican nominee John McCain did not turn out in the same numbers for Mitt Romney.

Carville’s overall assessment for the Democratic Party was a “ground game winner” and an “air game” loser. “Never have so few spent so much to accomplish so little,” Carville said.

Carville commented on the “fascinating human dynamic” of all elections. Romney had hopes and dreams, Carville said — “The guy really wanted to be president.”

Matalin said even Romney “internals” were surprised as the returns rolled in Tuesday night, and pointed out that Obama is the first president who received fewer electoral votes and won by a smaller margin than in his first election.

In terms of the Senate, Matalin attributed the losses of two Republican seats to the two candidates who made unpopular comments about abortion and rape.

Moderator Clancy DuBos asked about the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the election.

Carville said any positive impact from Obama’s response was in large part due to “smart personnel choices” and that FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was a result of putting “the right man in the right spot.”

Matalin said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “big fat wet French kiss” likely had a significant impact, referring to the Republican’s praise for the president during the response to the storm.

On the topic of hurricanes, Carville pointed out that New York is a “dangerously situated city,” and that “people should shut their mouth about talking about New Orleans as an irresponsibly located place.”

The discussion also meandered on topics of campaign finance, the fiscal cliff and the Obama campaign’s use of sophisticated technology and social media strategies on the ground.

DuBos noted that the two donated their speaker’s fee back to UNO, and Carville urged the community’s continued support of the university.

The conversation ended with a harmonious tribute to their home town.

Carville talked about the difference between New Orleans and other cities — primarily in terms of its rich and unique culture — and the fierceness in protecting it.

Matalin talked about initial uncertainty on whether the family made the right decision to move to the city following Hurricane Katrina.

“Look what we’ve done in this city,” she said. “I find it the most compelling, heartening, optimistic model for the country I’ve ever seen.”