Burton on why Obama’s money won; Sweeney on Hillary exceptionalism

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"I think we had a measurable impact on this race, and in helping people understand the truth about Mitt Romney's business record in a way that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise, probably," said Bill Burton, one of the founders of Priorities USA, President Obama's unofficial super PAC, at a panel discussion on Wednesday night.

"And I think the super PACs on the Romney side could have been a lot more effective, but I don't think they had a clear strategic direction on where they wanted to go and the story they wanted to tell about the president and about Mitt Romeny. And as a result, I think that they were much less effective."

Burton's comments came in response to an audience question at a discussion in Midtown hosted by the law firm Orrick, and moderated by local political operative Evan Stavisky of the Parkside Group.

Burton was joined by his Priorities co-founder Sean Sweeney and two Republicans, Boston lobbyist and Romney adviser Brad Card, and Nick Ryan, who ran the super PAC supporting Rick Santorum.

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The election, in which the Democrats were seemingly unaffected by massive Republican spending, left the independent groups on both sides seeking to justify their existence.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Karl Rove, the bandleader for Republicans' independent expenditures, said his group would review what went wrong, but "that Democratic attacks aren't weakening the commitment of conservative Super PAC benefactors."

Sean Sweeney, who co-founded the Priorities USA PAC with Burton, joked that "our ads bought Matt Lauer's summer house," and Burton said the effect of Republican spending would have been greater if not for the spending by Democrats, even though it was relatively minor compared to the hundreds of millions spent by Republicans.

"You know, if one side had not spent and the other side spent, you would have seen a much bigger impact on the election," he said. "But the fact that we were spending, even at a much smaller level than what the Republicans were doing, there was some parity, and as a result, the numbers aren't as huge as they very well could have been."

And while Republicans scramble to figure out how to attract a broader base of voters, Burton said he took a counterintuitive lesson for Democrats.

"I look to 2016 and I've got deep concerns about what happens for a Democrat running for president," he said. "Because I guarantee you the next Republican nominee is not going to get just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote and he sure as hell's not going to get just seven percent of the African-American vote.

"President Obama had very specific canvassing, and he as a person was able to get more people out to vote from all sorts of groups."

"So I think that Democrats have to be very concerned about who are next candidate is going to be, our nominee," he added. "And what sort of appeal Democrats will have to a much broader part of the electorate."

After the panel, I asked Sweeney, who worked on campaigns for Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton and was a legislative aide to Clinton in the Senate, what he made of the Hillary 2016 buzz.

"She's the only person in politics who doesn't have to decide until she decides," he said. "And I'm sure she'll avail herself of every bit of that time she gets. Even if she says she's not going to, likewise, she's one of the few people who really won't be tainted by that.

"She's had a long consecutive run of difficult, consecutive service. That's the hardest job in show business."