MACKINAC ISLAND — Maybe all the Republicans were off doing business.

President Barack Obama easily won an unscientific election of the crowd Wednesday night after an evening political panel discussion at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. Obama swept the vote of the crowd in the Grand Hotel’s theater, 71 percent to 29 percent, over his all-but-certain Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.

But while Obama won the vote, Donna Brazile stole the show. The salty-tongued Louisianan, veteran of numerous national political campaigns, fired zinger after zinger at Republicans in general and her debate opponent Wednesday night, former George W. Bush adviser Tucker Eskew.

Brazile said she attended 10 Republican debates over the past year to learn more about her party’s opposition, joking that “I was for Herman Cain until I heard he was pinchin’ other women, not myself,” and that “Newt Gingrich has had three wives — maybe his fourth would have been a black woman.” Oh, and “Mitt Romney is an interesting character — every time he looks at me he calls me (PBS newscaster) Gwen Ifill.”

For his part, Eskew said Romney needed to pick a great vice president, have a great convention, and rise above petty politics in order to win the presidency. “He needs to be bigger than the politics of petty name calling, and I think he will be,” Eskew said. Dissatisfaction with Obama’s health care plan, persistently high unemployment and mounting federal debt makes this election winnable for Romney, Eskew said.

Brazile said that for the incumbent to win, Obama needs to hammer home a story of economic recovery from a harrowing recession, and point out that “companies are now bringing jobs back home from overseas, and manufacturing is coming back,” and point out that the troops are home from Iraq and coming home from Afghanistan. And she accused the Republicans of putting party above country by saying early and often that they wanted Obama to fail.

For his part, moderator Harold Ford Jr., a former five-term Democratic Congressman, predicted that moderates and independents will decide the election, not the partisans of both parties’ bases.

Brazile also briefly locked horns with Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson after Johnson pointed out from the audience that recent studies had shown evidence of voter fraud in Michigan, and she asked the panelists if they thought requiring a photo ID or signing an affidavit of eligibility was an acceptable safeguard. Brazile launched an attack on recent mostly Republican efforts to require photo ID to vote. Ford quickly cut off the debate.

In terms of the unprecedented amount of money pouring into this year’s campaign in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, Ifill — oops, Brazile — predicted that “it’s going to be like the SciFi Channel on every channel” this fall, a festival of scary messages. Eskew said he was in favor of people and corporations being allowed to donate unlimited money to campaigns — but that it also ought to be “immediately transparent on the Internet” who’s giving money to whom.

After the vote, Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO thanked the crowd “for attending tonight’s meeting of the Democratic National Committee.”

Just before the political program, Baruah and 2012 conference chair Nancy Schlichting announced that the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference will be chaired by Joseph L. Welch, chairman, president and CEO of ITC Holdings Corp.

Baruah also released the dates for the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference, which will be held Wednesday, May 29 through Friday, May 31, 2013.


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