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Mock Con Kickoff Conversations

Washington and Lee’s 2012 Republican Mock Convention is 279 days away. Thursday night, as part of the quadrennial event’s Spring Kickoff, and just before the first GOP presidential debate aired on TV, four seasoned political observers offered some valuable advice to the student conventioneers during a panel discussion in Wilson Concert Hall.

The conversation was as fascinating as it was wide-ranging. The panelists were Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics; Rhodes Cook, a political analyst who is a freelance contributor to the Washington Post and was previously a senior writer for Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report; Kellyanne Conway, founder and president of the polling company Inc./WomanTrend; and Mike Allen, of W&L’s Class of 1986, chief political correspondent for Politico.

Here is just a sample of the commentary:

• From Sabato: “I wish every college and university in Virginia had a mock convention. If they did, I think we would have a much higher average voter participation.”

• From Cook: “One thing to watch is, will there be a move from primaries to caucuses in 2012? Back in 2008, we had about 40 state primaries and maybe a dozen caucuses. Next time around there could be a substantial increase in the caucuses…. That would make a big difference in the process, because caucuses generally operate differently. Primary tests vote-getting appeal, while a cause tests your ability to organize and to energize.”

• From Conway:  “The most obsessive question, particularly in the Republican Party, is ‘Who can win?’… When people focus on who can win, they look at the wrong metrics. The average voter does not ask himself, ‘Who can win?’ He asks, ‘Who can lead?’ “

• From Allen: “To make a decision that you will not agonize over, trust your gut and stick with it. Washington and Lee students have good instincts. Back in 1984 — this will surprise you all, but W&L was pretty Republican in 1984 — we had a speaker come that year who was a Democrat and whom the students loved. They thought this was a person doing serious things. It was Joe Biden. W&L students loved Joe Biden, because they have good instincts.”

And finally, this exchange between Sabato and Allen:

Sabato: “You couldn’t have made it more difficult for yourself in 2012 with this unformed field, and then you’ll be picking the nominee between Iowa and New Hampshire. What were you drinking? Mike, did you tell them to do this?

Allen: “Washington and Lee never takes the easy way out.”