LAFAYETTE -- Judging by the friction generated at a Commonwealth Club gathering at Lafayette's Veterans Memorial Building Monday night, the 2014 midterm election is unlikely to break up the country's partisan logjam.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former California Republican Party chairman Duf Sundheim and a vocal Commonwealth Club audience lit sparks while discussing the political campaign season's key battles during an often volatile back-and-forth moderated by Bay Area News Group political reporter Josh Richman.
The primary order of business -- identifying "who" and "what" will define November's election -- rendered few surprises, with their positions falling into Democrat-versus-Republican channels.
Granholm said that although Democrats fear losing key states like Montana, South Dakota, Louisiana and Georgia, she believes Senate Democrats will "stay in control." The $18 million she said North Carolina has spent on commercials pounding President Obama's Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") is "too much," Granholm said, and has resulted in public fatigue with the issue.
Addressing minimum wage increases, lack of investment in education, underserved minority communities and immigrants, Granholm repeatedly drove home her central point that Republican actions in Congress have led to an "utter hollowing out of the middle class."
Not surprisingly, Sundheim disagreed. He said the "national mood" would play out in congressional seats going to Republicans.
"Obama is not popular in a lot of the country, even though he's popular here in California," he said. "The way Obamacare is being implemented is having a huge impact."
Arguing that the marketplace should determine which insurer a citizen selects and insisting that raising the minimum wage would result in lost jobs -- a statement the audience greeted with calls of "You're wrong!" -- Sundheim said what bothers him most is that solutions in place aren't winning the war on poverty.
Granholm and Sundheim fell into alignment on the importance of several subjects, like the need for immigration reform, damage done to the Republican party by the Tea Party's far-right positions, the large role they believe the Keystone XL pipeline decision will play in 2016 and big money super PACs' influence on political campaigns.
Sundheim paraphrased Yogi Berra, saying "I'm reluctant to make predictions, especially about the future," but then predicted Jeb Bush will "be on the forefront" of the immigration issue and is likely to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
Granholm resisted Sundheim's assertion that Obama "has deported more people than all other presidents combined," predicting the importance of immigration in the presidential race and saying, "You know, if (Obama) didn't follow the law, they would have impeached him in year two."
Asked who she felt would be the Democratic candidate in 2016, Granholm said, "If not Hillary (Clinton), who?" She said Clinton wasn't campaigning, but wasn't "hiding in a bunker" either. Joe Biden is her favorite pick for the top job, should Clinton or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (a candidate she named, but said was unlikely to want to run) chose not to enter the campaign.
Climate change is one issue tboth said would be a front-burner item in both elections. Granholm said industrialist billionaires Charles and David Koch are "sending to Congress" people who have blocked action on the issue and "the Tea Party has prevented consensus." Surprising even Granholm, Sundheim agreed with the latter statement, and said the solution to big money's influence was to be found in an app he is developing.
"I'm working with people in Silicon Valley to get an app that hooks up an average person with a candidate. (It will) shift the balance to get an average person to compete with big money. (By contributing directly.)"
Granholm said the volume of money involved is "poisonous," and both speakers urged "anti dark-money" transparency.