Answers To Your Questions

Due to Hurricane Gustav, the first day of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., was cut short to only include the official business of the convention. But we still got CBS News anchor Katie Couric, chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield and chief political consultant Marc Ambinder to answer some of the questions you have submitted to us in the past week. You can read their answers below.

When the convention returns to a full schedule, be sure to check out our special RNC Convention Webcast online at CBSNews.com following nightly CBS network coverage from 10-11 ET, where we will answer more of your questions. You can submit more questions here..



QUESTION: Do you think this election will be more "civil" than past elections or will it degenerate once again into a negativity fest? (from Mike in Chula Vista, Calif.)

KATIE COURIC: This is an interesting question, Mike, because both candidates pledged early in the race that this would be a high-minded campaign and both indicated they wanted to stay clear of mudslinging. But both campaigns have already gone negative to some extent, whether it be McCain's "celebrity" ad or the Obama camp picking up on McCain's gaffe about the number of homes he owns.

While we were in Denver I ran into former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and talked to him about just that. I asked him what he thought about James Carville's criticism that the Democrats weren't tough enough on McCain early in the week. Dukakis said, "you've got to make it a character issue about the guy you are running against."

By Tuesday night the Dems on stage, including Hillary Clinton, were taking shots at McCain. I expect we'll see the same from the GOP in St. Paul.

QUESTION: Katie: Is the convention more than just a formality? If not, then why does it consume an entire week? (from gc3182)

KATIE COURIC: We actually discussed this in an editorial meeting in Denver, or some version of it. With the nomination all but a done deal well before the convention, there was no need for brokering in a smoke-filled back room.

But nowadays when presidential elections can come down to just a handful of swing states, or in the case of the 2000 election just a handful of votes, it isn't about the 80,000 cheering fans. It's about the viewers watching it on TV at home, sitting on the fence and unsure about where their votes will go this year. I'm not saying this is a definitive answer, but I think the conventions are as much for the Independents and undecideds nowadays as they are for the party loyalists.

QUESTION: Many young people feel that their votes do not count. They believe what ever happens nothing will change. How do you reassure voters that this is not the case? (from FzBravozf)

KATIE COURIC: It saddens me to hear this, FzBravozf. Is that screen name some kind of anagram, by the way?

The truth is, turnout among young voters was extremely high in the primaries compared to previous elections. In some states, triple or even quadruple the number of young voters turned out. Check out the site civicyouth.org for some good stats and information.

We spoke to Heather Smith from Rock the Vote at the Big Tent in Denver, and I was actually encouraged by her optimism about participation among young people in 2008. That said, I told her we should talk again after the election and see if all that blogging and twittering actually turns into votes on November 4.

QUESTION: I found your call for questions on UrbanBaby.com. One of my biggest concerns regarding our youth, is the problem of childhood diabetes. What specific plans does the Democratic Party have for addressing the devastating surge of childhood obesity and diabetes? (from Tara Kompare of North Carolina)

KATIE COURIC: I definitely agree that childhood obesity is a serious concern. We, as parents, do have a responsibility to make sure our kids are eating right and getting outside for some physical activity. You don't exactly break a sweat updating a MySpace page. That said, this is one of the few areas where both parties have come together in the past. Do you remember when President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee joined forces to fight childhood obesity? A lot is being done on the state level, as well. For example, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has lobbied his state lawmakers and teamed up with other governors on the issue.

QUESTION: St. Paul is NOT Minneapolis. Thank you for acknowledging that. (from Craigb05)

KATIE COURIC: OK, that was more of a comment. Someone posted that on my YouTube channel. I did make a mistake a few weeks ago on the broadcast when I said Sen. McCain's big night would be in Minneapolis. I corrected myself, but later learned I was only one of many to mistake the Twins. Even Minnesota politicians have done it. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was considered to be on the very short list for McCain's VP pick, and Rep. Michele Bachmann have both referred to the conventions as being in Minneapolis at one point or another.

QUESTION: Are you having fun at the convention? It looks exciting and energetic! Compared to other conventions you've attended, how does the tone of this one hold up? (from Lauren in New Hampshire)

BOB SCHIEFFER Lauren, I'm having the time of my life and I always do. Conventions are one of my favorite things. I thought the convention in Denver ran about as well as the Democrats could've hoped. The production was flawless and the speakers were some of the best I've ever heard. And seeing 84,000 people in one place to hear a political speech was really remarkable.

QUESTION: How is it decided which political party's convention goes first? (from Charlotte in Alabama)

BOB SCHIEFFER Charlotte, as a general rule the party out of power goes first.

QUESTION: How realistic is it that John McCain's VP pick could sway Hillary Clinton supporters? (from Rick in Texas)

BOB SCHIEFFER: Rick, this was the fighter pilot side of John McCain -- the guy who's not afraid to take a risk and put it all on the line. Sarah Palin has a compelling biography that will really appeal to the right side of the Republican Party. But even McCain's strongest backers know it's a gamble. He has said from the beginning that Barack Obama does not have the experience to be president. He can hardly put as much emphasis on that after having picked someone with even less experience as his running mate.

QUESTION: Do you think Obama really has a chance in the South and why? (from Evan in Birmingham, Ala.)

BOB SCHIEFFER: Evan, it depends on two things: a huge turnout of African American voters and a huge turnout of young people. Truth is, that will be to key to an Obama victory. If he doesn't get a huge turnout of those two voter groups, he's going to have a very hard time.


QUESTION: Considering the fact that most American's knew who was going to be presidential candidates in June, would you like to see the conventions held earlier? (from RMichem)

BOB SCHIEFFER: What I would like to see is shorter campaigns. These campaigns are going on so long that they've become counter productive. They wear out the voters and the candidates. They should be long enough to give us a good sense of who the candidates are, but most of what we need to know we should be able to find out in three months. I know it's a pipe dream, but I think that would be best.

QUESTION: Do you think (Hillary Clinton) was posturing for a possible presidential run in 2012? (from Carol in Wisconsin)

JEFF GREENFIELD: I'd say she was "positioning" herself for a possible run--by doing exactly what she would have done if she had not been positioning herself.

Unless she was planning to retire, her role in the Democratic Party required that she give full support to Obama; and I think she did it in a way she could feel comfortable with -- not praising Obama to the skies, but arguing that what she fought for required the election of a Democratic president.

QUESTION: Should third party candidates be allowed in the presidential debates? (from whatthehell9

JEFF GREENFIELD: I think they should be invited in on the basis that they already are: if they can meet a threshold level of support. There is any number of fringe candidates who are on various state ballots but have no real support. But in 1980, the League of Women Voters, which then sponsored debates, set a level of support based on a sampling of polls. Rep. John Anderson qualified and was invited in, but President Carter refused to debate him, so Anderson and Ronald Reagan debated; later, Anderson's support level fell below the threshold, and Reagan and Carter had their one debate.

In 1992, -- either the League or the Commission on Presidential Debates (I can't remember if the Commission had come into existence then) set a similar threshold. Ross Perot qualified, and was in all three debates.

You can argue that the threshold is too high, but unless you want ten or fifteen people in the debates, you have to set limits.

QUESTION: The executive branch has seen an unprecedented rate of growth and increase in power over the past eight years through expanded bureaucracies and the use of line item vetoes. What are your thoughts on this? (from gwaggy12)

JEFF GREENFIELD: First, the line-item veto was declared unconstitutional shortly after the Congress passed it and the president signed it. Most governors have it; they're still trying to work out a constitutional way to let the president have one. I'm agnostic on this -- i.e., I don't have enough knowledge to know if this is a good or bad thing. The growth of executive power has been a story as old as our country (see Andrew Jackson, known as "King Veto"). It grew big time during and after World War II, and people's opinions often depend on whether their party's in power. But clearly the Bush Administration's assertion of broad executive power has kicked the debate up to a new level, and my guess is there will be a real effort to trim back their definition, whether Obama or McCain wins.

QUESTION: Unless the candidate is the incumbent president running for a second term, no candidate has experienced handling national and foreign policy as the
president. Why does the question of experience weigh so heavily on the
Obama candidacy? (from Jo in Washington, D.C.)

JEFF GREENFIELD: First, Obama is a relative new guy on the block compared with past candidates. Second, both his primary and general election opponents have a lot more "official" experience than Obama has had -- and whoever has the most experience argues it's crucial. It became less important between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, which is how two governors won against far more experienced opponents.

Michael Kinsley on Slate.com wrote a neat piece -- from the liberal viewpoint -- of how this experience argument is used and misused, especially now that Sarah Palin has been chosen.

QUESTION: How do the Democrats and Barack Obama plan to fund new initiatives such as Universal Health Care when our federal government is in a deficit position? (from Johnny in California)

MARC AMBINDER: Neither candidate has been forthcoming, although Obama has hinted that he would be willing to deficit spend. Obama will raise money by raising some taxes and repealing the Bush tax cuts for richer Americans. McCain has vowed to cut spending and get rid of unspecified inefficiencies. Americans deserve more details.

QUESTION: I know Mr. Obama hasn't been in office very long and is not really experienced, but can you give me any examples of where Mr. Obama crossed party lines to work with Republicans to get legislation passed? (from Joan in Ohio)

MARC AMBINDER: He did support the 2008 FISA compromise, much to the consternation with Democrats, and there are a few instances in Illinois where he worked with Republicans, but there aren't many of examples of him breaking with his party. McCain's career has been full of them -- until very recently.

QUESTION: What are the McCain and Republican weaknesses that the Democrats can best draw to the attention of voters? (from CBS_Oliver)

MARC AMBINDER: Well, the biggest weakness is that Americans clearly want a different direction, and until his vice presidential pick, McCain hadn't shown any willingness to give them one. Principally, McCain's three weaknesses are his age, his party, and his lack of felicity with economic issues. The Palin pick may allow Democrats to raise the age issue more frontally -- do Americans really want an average hockey mom from Alaska taking over if McCain dies -- and next week, remember, is the REPUBLICAN National Convention at a time when the party's brand is at an all-time low. As for the economy, it will continue to bedevil McCain unless it suddenly improves.


QUESTION: What state do you think will make the difference in who wins this election? (from Larry Pringle in Las Vegas Nev.)

MARC AMBINDER: Colorado. Just a hunch.