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GOP uses convention debt clock to play up President Obama’s red ink

TAMPA, Fla. — Republicans unveiled a giant debt clock at their convention on Monday to measure the red ink the government will accumulate during the four-day event. 

Republicans are giving the $16 trillion debt an unprecedented top place in their presidential campaign because they believe it is one of the strongest issues to use against President Obama, who has seen the debt rise dramatically in his four years in office. 

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Less than four hours after the giant clock was started by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, it totaled $400 million. That would put it on track to exceed $8 billion by late Thursday night

“This clock reminds every delegate and every American why we are here in Tampa — because America can and must do better,” Priebus said. “Every American’s share of the national debt has increased by approximately $16,000 during the current administration.”

Republicans said the emphasis on the debt was a way to keep the focus on government spending, which they argue was out of control when Democrats were in charge of Congress and the White House. 

They also say the strategy will make it tougher for Obama’s campaign to direct attention to other issues — such as abortion, or Romney’s background in private equity. 

“Because of the distraction strategy of the Obama campaign, this is a way of keeping the focus on what is truly important,” former presidential candidate Herman Cain told The Hill.

Cain said the figures would resonate with voters anxious about the economy and deficit. 

“The future destruction of America is not boring to the American public,” he said. 

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the GOP strategy reflects the demands of constituents.  

“Everywhere I travel around the state of Wyoming, people talk about three things: jobs, the economy and the debt,” he said.

He said the election will come down to three numbers: the $16 trillion national debt, the number of workers without jobs and the amount of money President Obama “has taken out of Medicare” to pay for his healthcare overhaul. 

Republicans argue Obama has raided Medicare to pay for the healthcare law. Obama argues that the $700 billion reduction in Medicare provider payments is an efficiency that vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) kept in his own budget.

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advised the 2008 McCain campaign, said Republicans saw how worries about deficits could lead to votes when the issue was played up in 2010 and the GOP won back the House. 

“Politics is all about product differentiation,” said Holtz-Eakin, who predicted Democrats would not be talking about deficits at their convention. “There isn’t going to be a debt clock at the Democratic convention,” he said.

Talk about the debt is also meant to appeal to independents who care about America’s finances even if they disagree with conservatives on issues like abortion.

“Independents are just Republicans with different views on social issues — that’s my point of view — and this appeals to them,” said Holtz-Eakin.