Alumni Panels Discuss Midterm Elections

GW graduates involved in national politics talked about the November 2018 midterm elections in a series of events across the United States.

New York City Midterm Elections Panelists
In New York City, the midterm elections discussion focused on coverage of the elections and current administration in the media.
September 14, 2018

Residents of coastal cities in the United States, particularly in the nation’s capital, tend to be the driving force behind media coverage, according to Ann Stone, B.A. ’74, a former adviser to President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and CEO of the Stone Group in Virginia.

Voters who live in the middle of the country are often overlooked by the media, she said, and they count more in midterm elections.

Whether midterm elections around the country will serve as a referendum on Mr. Trump’s first two years in office was a top theme for a panel discussion at the Elliott School’s City View Room, focused on insights for alumni and constituents working on the Hill and “inside the Beltway.”

Moderated by Lara Brown, director of GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), the panel featured GW alumni involved in national politics, including Erin Cohan, M.A. '07, chief of staff and vice president at Center for American Progress; Cris Ramon, M.A. '14, policy analyst at Bipartisan Policy Center; Megan Whittemore, B.A. '08, M.A. '10, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.); and Ms. Stone.

Dr. Brown wanted to know “whether people should focus on local issues, distance themselves from Washington” instead of getting caught up with Mr. Trump being the center of campaign conversations.

“President Trump is better than anybody at energizing his base,” Ms. Stone said. “Obviously, he’s very good at energizing the other side as well.”

This was one of several events—titled “A Conversation on the 2018 Midterm Elections” —sponsored by the Division of Development and Alumni Relations in six U.S. locations including New York, Philadelphia, Orange County, Los Angeles and Denver.

The series brought together the GW community—alumni, current and prospective students and parents—for conversations on the state of the 2018 midterm elections. The events were an extension of a series held in advance of the 2016 presidential election that provided expertise and insight on local and national races, political divisiveness and domestic and foreign issues.

In New York City, the conversation focused on coverage of the elections and current administration in the media. The panelists were Kate Bolduan, B.A. '05, anchor and host of CNN's "At This Hour" and "State of America”; Reena Ninan, B.A. '01, correspondent and anchor, CBS News; and Mosheh Oinounou, B.A. '04, M.A. '06, executive producer, "CBS Evening News with Jeff Glor." Steven Livingston, professor of media and public affairs and international affairs at GW, moderated the discussion.

"Dissecting American politics is a favorite past time for many,” said Ms. Ninan. “Being able to do that with this group was both a joy and a necessity. So much is on the line with November midterms.”

While the conversation in New York City focused on large-scale coverage of the elections in the media, the discussion in Philadelphia explored the local implications of the elections and on Pennsylvania's current redistricting debate.

The conversation featured as panelists alumni Fiona Conroy, B.A. '04, M.A. '06, partner at Deliver Strategies, and Aaron Cohen, B.A. '96, president of Arena Strategies. Dante Chinni, research professor in GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, moderated the conversation.

“At GW, I learned the skills and tools to turn my passion for Pennsylvania politics into expertise,” said Ms. Conroy. “It was my great honor to serve on a bipartisan GW alumni panel with an expert GW professor moderator to share the Pennsylvania midterm election landscape and the challenges we all face in a changing media environment. Truly an #onlyatGW moment.”

In California, the topics included “techlash,” a term coined to describe backlash against tech companies for not filtering out bot- or foreign-influenced news; voter turnout; and Eric Garcetti, current mayor of Los Angeles who is reportedly considering making a run for a president in 2020.

Michael Cornfield, associate professor and research director of the Global Center for Political Management at GSPM, moderated a discussion in Orange County with Matt Klink, M.A. '95, owner and president of Klink Campaigns. In Los Angeles, Dr. Cornfield moderated a panel with Sarah Walsh, M.P.A. '01, lobbyist with Ek, Sunkin & Bai LLC; Travis Helwig, B.A. '09, senior producer for Crooked Media; and Tim Miller, B.A. '04, founder of Light Fuse Communications and previously the communications director for Jeb Bush 2016 and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Also in attendance in Orange County was Gil Cisneros, B.A. ‘94, who is running in this year’s election for the U.S. House of Representatives to represent California's 39th congressional district.

Dr. Cornfield shared the latest results from the GW Politics Poll, which showed that 81 percent of registered voter respondents are “definitely voting” in the midterm elections, which would be a modern record.  

When asked whether there was hope for a resurgence of compromising politicians like the late Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy, the Los Angeles panel was not hopeful, citing polarizing media channels and a fundamentally broken congressional system.

Back in Washington, Dr. Brown agreed that the changed political landscape has left few parallels with which to gauge these midterm elections.

“I think that this is a reality of our post-modern political world,” she said.

The final event of this series will be in Denver on September 26.

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