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Here’s What Democratic Operatives Thought of the Republican Debate

4 minute read

During Wednesday’s Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, Democrats huddled in war rooms, in front of television screens and laptop monitors, and blasted off pre-prepared fact sheets to reporters and on social media to undermine the GOP candidates.

At the heart of the Democratic public relations operation are veteran organizations that include Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and three super PACs supporting Clinton, including Correct the Record, American Bridge and Priorities USA Action, among others.

In conversations with Democratic strategists and researchers after Wednesday’s debate, a few moments came up as ripe for either attacks or advertisements. (Note that there are not, as of now, any plans to use these exchanges in ads.)

Carly Fiorina and Hewlett Packard. The former CEO was asked pointedly about her record at Hewlett Packard, which lost half its value during her tenure. She laid off 30,000 employees and the company’s market share plummeted during her time there.

Fiorina turned the question around, saying the stock market was harsh on all technology companies, not just HP, and claimed that she actually saved 80,000 jobs at the company.

“We saved 80,000 jobs and we went on to grow to 160,000 jobs, and scores of technology companies literally went out of business—like Gateway—taking all their jobs with them,” said Fiorina. “I will run on my record all day long.”

That moment, Democrats said, could be ripe for an ad featuring employees talking about what they lost when Fiorina laid them off.

“Fiorina delivered a number of sound bites about saving jobs. That would be the perfect foundation for an ad featuring former employee testimonials,” said Jon Summers former communications director for Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and veteran ad maker. “The ad opens or closes with her saying, ‘I’ll run on my record all night long.’”

Sen. Marco Rubio and debt: The Florida Senator joked that part of his early struggle after college was explaining to his wife the concept of paying off student loans. It was a line in a heartfelt explanation of Rubio’s up-by-the-bootstraps story that featured his hardworking immigrant parents, a maid and a bartender.

“Trying, early in my marriage,” Rubio said, “to explain to my wife why someone named Sallie Mae was taking a thousand dollars out of our bank account every month.”

Rubio meant it as a joke, and the audience laughed. But Democrats argued that Rubio’s moment revealed the patronizing attitude in the GOP’s attitude toward women. They claimed the statement showed that Rubio doesn’t think women understand how family finances work.

“The condescension there shows exactly why Republicans have problems connecting with women voters,” said Jessica Mackler, president of American Bridge.

Donald Trump and the law. In explaining his business’ Atlantic City bankruptcies, Trump said he did the best he could with a bad recession and laws that are designed to help struggling businesses.

“I used the laws of the country to my benefit, I’m sorry,” he said not-apologetically.

Whether Trump is the nominee or not, Democrats said, it’s a rich line that they argue speaks to his character.

“His communications people had to have cringed when they heard it. It just sounds icky,” said Summers.

Rubio and the millionaires. At another point, Rubio answered a question from moderator John Harwood about his tax plan, which he says will give a big break to middle class families but critics say is aimed at helping the rich.

HARWOOD: Senator, the Tax Foundation said after-tax income for the top 1 percent under your plan would go up 27.9 percent.

RUBIO: Well, you’re talking about — yeah.

HARWOOD: And people in the middle of the income spectrum, about 15 percent.

RUBIO: Yeah, but that—

Democrats argued that was a shaky moment, and said that could convert well to hit Republicans on fiscal policy.

“That was not a helpful moment,” said Justin Barasky, communications director at the super PAC Priorities USA. “I could see that answer going into some ad at some point.”

Some other lines mentioned by Democrats:

Ben Carson: “They shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe. And this is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society, and this is how they frighten people and get people to shut up.”

Mike Huckabee: “I’m not anti-Wall Street.”

John Kasich: “I was a banker and I was proud of it.”

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