Debate 2012: Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, on debate and Colorado
Inside the University of Denver's giant press filing room -- where reporters in town for the presidential debate are already typing away -- we had a chance to sit down with Stephanie Cutter, President Barack Obama's deputy campaign manager. We asked her about the latest attacks on the president as well as some key issues relevant to Colorado, including voter suppression, the importance of this state as a battleground, and marijuana.
Here's our interview, edited for length.
Westword: Obviously, this location is no coincidence. Colorado is key in the race. From your perspective and the campaign's perspective, how important is Colorado at this point?
Stephanie Cutter: We were thrilled that the debate commission chose Denver to have this debate. As you remember, we had our convention here just four years ago, because of the importance of Colorado. And we had great results from it. For the first time in a long time, Barack Obama, a Democrat, won Colorado. And we're counting on winning it again this time. So having the debate here, it's a good investment. We've got hundreds of debate watch parties across the state. The president is doing a big rally here tomorrow. So we're excited.
SC: Well, we are up slightly here, but we're not taking it for granted. We've got weekends of action. We're registering people to vote. We are driving out early vote.... We are getting people ready and primed for early vote. The president has been here...I want to say, ten times since the beginning of this year. And we'll be back.
WW: How high are the stakes tonight, and where do you think the president can really show the difference [between him and Romney]?
SC: You'll see the president really talking, having a conversation with the American people about where we've been as a country over the past four years, what we've accomplished together, but also where we need to go, what a second term of an Obama administration would look like...similar to what we did at the convention. Speaking directly to -- not the people in the room, necessarily, or the pundits on TV, but to the people sitting in their living rooms watching the debate tonight. I think that we'll have probably a record number of folks tuning in, and at the end of the night, I think you'll see a pretty stark difference in terms of two very different visions of where Barack Obama wants to take the economy, build it from the middle out and not the top down, and where Mitt Romney wants to take the economy, back to the same top-down, trickle-down economics that crashed our economy in the first place.
WW: Can I ask you about this 2007 video [of Obama, promoted by Fox News and Matt Drudge] that came out yesterday that everyone's talking about? [The clip shows Obama introducing his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in glowing, familiar terms.] What's your perspective on that and why it's coming out and what it means to voters?
SC: My perspective is, it's a desperate attempt to change the conversation. It's a speech that the president gave, open press, covered by many of the same people, including Fox News, all of the networks, five years ago. And at the time, he was talking about the Bush administration's inadequate response to [Hurricane] Katrina. And he talked about that constantly -- 2005, 2006 and 2007. Because it was inadequate, and there's no doubt about that. It's interesting that Mitt Romney's allies want to go back to a conversation to defend the Bush administration's Katrina response. It's an odd strategy if they're trying to actually help Mitt Romney.
WW: Some of the backlash I've seen is people talking about the president putting on a voice and "changing his accent," and that's something they said on Fox News.... Some people say they are offended by that.... Do you have a perspective on that?
SC: I don't think the American people are offended by that. There's no secret that Barack Obama is black. I think the American people understand that. But they also understand that he was doing the right thing by making a point that we've got to take care of our returning veterans who come home with PTSD. We've got to take care of those kids who grow up in foster care, who know no other life than what they have, in terms of working hard, getting a good job. It's that type of message that he was delivering back then, and he would do the same thing now. This is all a desperate attempt to change the conversation for Mitt Romney's comment...that he said behind closed doors to his top donors about writing off half this country, the 47 percent. Those are the same veterans the president was talking about, the students the president was talking about, the seniors the president was talking about. Mitt Romney has written them off, and that's caused his campaign great damage, because it's confirming what people already thought -- that he is not out to take care of the middle class.
WW: The other thing that you've been responding to is Joe Biden's comments that the middle class has been buried, and I know in Colorado, the Romney team has been pushing that comment. Do you have thoughts on that tactic?
Sam Levin Stephanie Cutter at the University of Denver.
SC: I think that the Romney campaign is really good at taking a comment out of context and going on attack. What they're not good at is describing what they would actually do for the middle class. So, Joe Biden was saying what he says every single day on the campaign trail, that the middle class bore the brunt of this economic crisis for one particular reason -- because the decks were stacked against them for decades, before we came into office. The one thing that we have done -- the president has woken up every single day during this administration to figure out how we can get the middle class back on its feet, strengthen middle-class security. And you'll hear more about that tonight.... The only way to grow an economy built to last, not the economy that crashed when we were coming into office, is with a strong middle class at its core. And we have specific policies to do that. Mitt Romney doesn't.
Continue for more from our interview with Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.