Election 2008: Both Sides
Monday, March 3, 2008; 10:00 AM
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and conservative publisher Alfred S. Regnery answered your questions and share their differing perspectives on the 2008 election, the candidates and the issues.
The transcript follows.
Brazile is chair of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Initiative, a superdelegate, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on CNN's "Situation Room." She was campaign manager of Al Gore's 2000 presidential run, the first African American to lead a U.S. presidential campaign. She is founder of the consulting firm Brazile and Associates and author of the memoir " Cooking with Grease."
Regnery is publisher of the American Spectator and the former president of Regnery Publishing, which bills itself as "the nation's leading conservative publisher." He is author of the recently published " Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism."
Alfred S. Regnery: I'm Al Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator and author of the new book "Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism."
Winnipeg, Canada: We often hear that the key to winning an election is to secure the uncommitted vote. To me, a clearer task is to win over people who are not politically aware but are easily motivated to vote based on an emotional appeal. In the past the Republicans have been effective with this group, using tactics such as the Willie Horton ads and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. These appeals did not stand up to examination, but for the easily motivated, this did not matter, because these voters do not pay that much attention. Do you think that this year the Democrat Party has trumped the malicious smear tactic with the "yes we can" rhetoric of Obama?
Donna Brazile: Thanks for your question. I believe a positive message will always enhance motivate more people to be "for" someone than the negative smear ads that turn voters off. In 2008, we are witnessing an historic level of participation, especially with youth. Let's see if "hope" triumphs "fear and smear" in 2008.
Alfred S. Regnery: Things will change drastically in the general election from the primaries. Given all the outside groups, PACs and 527 groups and whatnot, there will be the same amount of negative campaigning in the fall as there have been in past campaigns. Whether it has an impact is another question. I think it depends on the message. I think Barack Obama's message of "hope" will not withstand the barrage it's going to get. Republicans will paint him as another George McGovern or Michael Dukakis. What he spoken to on substance thus far has been lacking, and so I think it's a pretty good target at this point for negative campaigning.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Both Democratic candidates, seem to be promising a lot of expensive programs. Given the economy, how would they pay for any of them? As an example, how can they give health care to everyone, and yet nobody discusses the looming Medicare costs?
Donna Brazile: Great question, and both Democratic candidates address how they will pay for their health care plans. Some will come from savings with reform itself, other resources from ending the war and using the $10 billion or so outlays to invest in other priorities, and some of the money will come from allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2010.
Totally agree that the candidates must come up with real solutions to address the looming Medicare crisis -- with more than 78 million boomers set to retire in a few years.
Alfred S. Regnery: I would agree that Medicare and Medicaid haven't been discussed and will need to be. In terms of the health care packages that have been proposed, they haven't told you this yet, but they will raise taxes to do it. They'll have to. They won't challenge each other on it now, but it will need to be addressed in the general election. Just hasn't got much coverage yet.
Berlin: Despite George W. Bush's disastrous reign, does he deserve some credit for helping pave the way for Obama's possible occupancy of the Oval Office by his appointments of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to prominent positions of authority in the executive branch?
Donna Brazile: There's no question that President Bush, like former presidents Clinton, Reagan, Carter and others deserve some credit for appointing qualified women, people of color and women from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to serve in key cabinet positions, the U.S. Supreme Court and federal agencies. But let us all give the American people (the voters) credit for "making this historic" moment possible with a woman and a black man competing for the Democratic nomination.
Alfred S. Regnery: I agree with the point on the appointments George W. Bush has made, to some extent. I think he's made his appointments on the basis of specific abilities rather than other considerations. I think things definitely will change in the general election. The Democrats are running historic candidates, but whether that will stand up to remaining prejudice in this country, or whether the abilities of the candidates hold up under scrutiny, remain to be seen.
Chicago: I'm sure all the questions you are getting are about Ohio and Texas tomorrow, but we have an election for Denny Hastert's seat here in Illinois on March 8. The polls show the race is very close. Any insight on who will win? Will Obama show up and campaign in person if he has the nomination wrapped up on March 5? If the Democrat wins the former GOP speaker's seat, how significant a sign is that as to the GOP's troubles going into November?
Donna Brazile: Sorry, I have not been watching this congressional race. I am sure Obama would back the party's nominee when time permits, but I don't speak for his campaign, nor Senator Clinton's campaign. They both have PACs,S and perhaps you can check to see if they are assisting.
However, I find the number of retirements on the GOP side of the aisle to be very interesting. The Democrats will attempt to take advantage of these open seats to increase their majority in the House and Senate.
Alfred S. Regnery: I don't know anything about the district; certainly any election like that is some indication of what will happen, but the scope of the general election -- the presidency, a third of the Senate, the entire House -- will trump any individual election, which may be decided for a number of reasons. The press will certainly run with it any way it goes, but I don't think the significance is particularly large.
Chicago: Good morning and thanks for taking questions. It strikes me that in for the November election, if we have an Obama/McCain race, McCain has a really high-wire act to perform to be competitive. On the one hand, he has to shore up his conservative base and get it energized to counter the obvious enthusiasm the Democrats have garnered so far; on the other hand, he has to distance himself enough from the Bush administration and its policies to avoid the Democratic ads that will say "if you want four more years of Bush/Cheney, vote for McCain." Is McCain the right candidate to strike such a delicate balance? Could anyone accomplish this?
Donna Brazile: McCain has a number of chores once the nominating race is over tonight or in the next few weeks.
1. Unify the GOP base, which is shrinking -- explain his views on immigration, judicial appointments, etc..
2. Rebuild the GOP brand -- he needs to motivate conservatives.
3. Raise money to compete against Clinton or Obama. (McCain was for spending limits before he was against spending limits.)
4. Build an effective 50-state operations to compete against Obama or Clinton, who have proven to be effective in building and expanding the Democratic coalition.
5. Choose a running mate who effectively can balance the ticket, especially on domestic issues.
Short answer: McCain is capable or doing all of the above. He will be tough, but I still believe the Democrats are more excited, prepared and eager to run a positive campaign against the GOP.
Alfred S. Regnery: McCain has been good at attracting independent voters. He's been good at crossing party lines. He's loved by the press as much as any other politician. On the other hand, Obama has generated tremendous enthusiasm, although much of it from political neophytes who may not be able to help his campaign much. Obama could win with 60 percent or lose with 40 percent. He's very hard to predict. With Clinton it would be another 51-49 election. It's a very fluid situation right now. If the Democrats don't pick a candidate tomorrow and they chew each other up for weeks and weeks and spend a lot of money doing it, it certainly will make it easier for McCain.
Naperville, Ill.: What do you think of Mr. Penn's comments in the Los Angeles Times that he had very little control over Hillary's campaign? Is this another sign of the rats leaving a sinking ship?
washingtonpost.com: Still betting strength will sell (L.A. Times, Feb. 21)
Donna Brazile: As former campaign manager for the Gore-Lieberman ticket, I took full responsibility for both our successes (winning the popular vote) as well as failures (losing Tennessee and not having a sufficient voter protection component in place to deal with the mishaps on Election Day).
Campaigns are, by their very nature, tough and agonizing. After all, you're dealing with a large and complex organization, a multimillion dollar budget, personnel, and a candidate who is often tired and overworked.
Thus, running a campaign involves so many components that I am quite sensitive to the portrayal of both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. They are my former colleagues and I have the utmost respect for what they are doing, the sacrifices made by staff and volunteers and the roles consultants play inside all national political campaigns. (Note: I have not worked on a political campaign since 2002.)
So, I avoid reading the "palace intrigue," the gossip and the internal backbiting and, will not read Mr. Penn's analysis of what went wrong or what he did or did not to. In my opinion, Hillary Clinton is far better than her campaign, and I believe the staff and consultants should continue to work for her successes and leave the second-guessing and finger pointing until later.
Alfred S. Regnery: I don't know as much about it as Donna Brazile does, but what I read is that they completely miscalculated, Obama caught them completely off-guard. They planned a campaign that would coronate her under rules set up by Terry McAuliffe. The appearance of Obama on the scene made their campaign structure simply unworkable. It's always easy I guess to find fault with a losing campaign rather than praising a winning campaign, and I guess that's what the press is doing, but as a conservative Republican I can be somewhat amused and stand off on the sidelines watching it.
Birmingham, Ala.: Donna, this chat is as close as I will ever come to getting political advice from someone who has the quality of your insight and depth of experience. I'm a 28-year-old, white, male, Democratic politician in Alabama. I'm interested in state politics, but our state party isn't "progressive" in its actions. Aside from Reconstruction, the Democratic Party has controlled the legislature since the Civil War, and aside from two governors (including the present) the Democratic Party has controlled the governorship since Reconstruction. I've worked in washington for moderate Democrats like Artur Davis, but we lack significant numbers of individuals who national party members would consider "true" Democrats who are in some way progressive. Is it better for my independent career to continue to toil away in state politics, or move back to DC, build up political capital, and then return to the state with hopefully more influence?
Also, what in your opinion, happens to the Clinton legacy if Obama wins the nomination and the presidency, and is deemed to have a successful "term" in office?
Donna Brazile: Post-2008, I believe the Clinton legacy both home and abroad will be intact, and no one should ever question what they (yep, Al Gore was there too) accomplished on behalf of the American people. Let me state, I believe the Clinton-Gore legacy always will be reviewed with much admiration for balancing the budget, helping to reform the welfare system, putting people back to work and keeping America safe and secure.
As a young leader of our party, I hope you can help us rebuild and rebrand the Democratic Party as a party of opportunity for all, a party that will keep America prosperous and safe and a party that will help rebuild America's image abroad.
It's your turn to lead the modern Democratic Party -- a party of hope, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. It's your turn to help rebuild our party from the bottom up. We Southerners must do our part to ensure we get a Democrat back in the White House. It's a new electoral season -- let us all work to bring this party and the country together to fight a common enemy: apathy.
And you should be able to do this by highlighting progressive values. We're not godless or gutless, we are Americans fighting to preserve the rule of law, civil liberty, civil and human rights for all.
Thanks, and keep in touch.
Alfred S. Regnery: It's probably less competitive in the state, so that might be the better way to get ahead faster. In terms of the Clinton legacy, I don't think much of it anyway. It might improve because of the Obama election simply because it won't get any worse. Anyone who gets elected is going to have a very tough four years because of the economy and foreign policy issues. I think if Hillary Clinton were elected she probably would fail in a lot of that, which would make her legacy worse.
Washington: Assuming he gets the nomination, who are some of the names on Obama's shortlist? Does he accentuate the outsider theme by picking a governor like Kathleen Sebelius? Find a senator with a ton of experience like Joe Biden to counterbalance McCain's years of service? Or does he go with an anti-war general like Tony Zinni to make Iraq and his and McCain's respective stances the primary issue of the campaign?
Donna Brazile: The veepstakes will be interesting and rather tough decision for both Obama (he's not the nominee) and Clinton (she's still in the fight). Most candidates look for balance -- geographical, managerial, electoral, etc.... Because they are both senators, they likely will look at a number of Democratic governors, so I suspect we might see a host of governors on the list and perhaps some interesting people that might look like "Ike," and not simply a "politician."
Look, we have two historic candidates. It's time they depart from the usual status quo as well. Stay tuned, this will be interesting process that will unravel in real time once the battle for delegates ends.
Oh, you did not bother to ask me, but I am not interested in the job. I prefer to keep my day job. (Smile.)
Alfred S. Regnery: I agree that it can't be a member of Congress, it needs to be someone with executive experience. Vice presidents rarely win elections but they can lose them, so he'll have to be careful that whoever he chooses doesn't have a lot of political baggage. I think it also needs to be a governor for McCain -- he's got all the military experience you need on the ticket, so he doesn't need a general. I hope he picks a conservative, someone like Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and someone younger than he is so that he can train them to take over when he's done.
Minneapolis: Why is Farrakhan's endorsement of Obama (which he clearly denounced ... and rejected) a bigger deal than John Hagee's endorsement of McCain, especially given that McCain has embraced Hagee?
washingtonpost.com: McCain Seeks Distance From Pastor (AP, March 1)
Donna Brazile: You know what, Farrakhan and Hagee are not on the ballot. They should not become a distraction from discussing real and substantive issues like the economy, global warming and the war on terror. But once these issues are raised, the candidates must respond and clarify -- and then we should allow McCain as well as Obama to get back to work.
Arlington, Va.: What issues besides the war and terrorism is the McCain campaign going to focus on?
Alfred S. Regnery: I think certainly the economy. I think he probably will try to talk about some of the same things Obama has been talking about, working both sides of the aisle and that sort of thing. Also related things to the economy, such as jobs. But you're probably correct that national security will be his primary campaign theme.
Toronto: Hello -- I'm hoping to get a serious answer to a question I posed to Bob Novak in a washingtonpost.com discussion a couple of months ago but just got a smarty-pants answer. I don't understand why conservatives have such an aversion to paying taxes. How else can a country provide and maintain the physical, social and educational infrastructure necessary for long-term prosperity?
Alfred S. Regnery: Well, they don't object to paying taxes, just too much taxes. The answer is predicated on economic growth and the impact of taxes on the economy. Tax cuts, particularly on marginal rates, are about the best stimulus for the economy there is. People do things differently based on their tax situations, especially businesses. It has been demonstrated time and time again that that is good for the economy. Conversely, tax increases tend to be a drag on the economy, slowing things down more. Finally, conservatives oppose using the tax code to redistribute wealth. The believe people should be rewarded for the work, not their social situation. Whenever the Congress changes the tax code to suit social issues, there usually are averse impacts on both the economy and personal situations.
Arizona: I'd like to hear a conservative's opinion as to why, when the Republicans had the majority in Congress, they spent money like water and George W. Bush never used his veto pen. Is it really a conservative's dream to get the country into so much debt that they can then dismantle all entitlement programs?
Alfred S. Regnery: Well, that would be one theory, but I don't think it's a good one. I think they spent like they did because they thought that was how they could get reelected. Politics is basically about taking things away from people who don't support you and give it to people who do. I think it also shows that a divided government is better for people than a unified one. Bush refused to use his veto pen and Congress refused to fight him. There were no conservative principles at stake -- they simply were trying to accommodate each other, and the result was a disaster.
Reading, Mass.: Ms. Brazile, as a superdelegate, how do you see your role in the convention? What factors if any should a superdelegate consider in their independent role?
Donna Brazile: Thanks. I was appointed to the Democratic National Committee in 1998 for one of the at-large positions and reappointed in 2001 and in 2005. My seat will be up in 2009, and I have no clue if I will seek reappointment.
I see my superdelegate status with both pride and humility. Although we are independent and can remain uncommitted, support a candidate today, back away tomorrow, I have no intents on "picking" a date with either candidate.
As chair of the party's Voting Rights Institute, I wish to be fair to all parties -- although I have my own biases and cannot control the enthusiasm I often express when I see record and historic turnout of young people, women, minorities and other unaffiliated voters. Hey, I confess to being inspired by the possibility of the first female or first black as President. When Edwards was still in the race, he also inspired me because of his stance on eradicating poverty. He's also a Southerner, and I am a native of Louisiana.
Thus, I will not cast my ballot in the primary phase of the contest, but will wait until the convention. I would like to help "unite" the party and not take sides.
I like both Clinton and Obama. If Clinton wins, I will back her 100 percent; if Obama wins, I will campaign every chance I get. But until you the people decide, I am going to stay put for now. I did the same in 2004, but as you know, in 2000 I backed Al Gore for president.
It's about you in 2008 -- and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it's about the people down along the Gulf Coast states who still are suffering who I will think about when casting my vote. And those losing their homes to foreclosure, and our brave men and women in uniform. It's about the American people and not just the candidates. We need to select a strong, gracious and sincere leader in 2008.
Fairfax, Va.: Was Bob Novak's column last week blasting Tim Pawlenty a signal from conservatives to McCain that the Minnesota governor would not be an acceptable vice presidential nominee?
Alfred S. Regnery: I don't think everyone takes what Bob Novak says as scripture. He's probably right as far as conservatives are concerned that Pawlenty would not be accepted as a vice presidential candidate. Novak is a good friend and his columns are decisive sometimes, but not always. Does McCain listen to him? Probably not.
Washington: To the conservative: How can people who say they hate big government (Republicans) ... govern? Isn't this a fundamental conundrum?
Alfred S. Regnery: They can try to cut it back. Ronald Reagan governed pretty well despite hating big government. He reminded us that government was the problem, not the solution. He didn't cut it back as far as he'd have liked to, but he convinced a lot of us that big government was bad. What someone who hates big government generally will try to do is just try to keep the brakes on it getting any bigger.
Denver: Yes, it's great to see a woman vying to "make history," but the historic significance primarily would be in her being the first spouse of a former president nominated, rather than first woman who makes it there solely on her own credentials. It's a bit hollow, isn't it, given how she came to be in this position?
Alfred S. Regnery: Well, many people have said she's only there because she married Bill Clinton -- were she just Hillary Rodham, she wouldn't be running. That's probably true. And of course she comes to the campaign with 50 percent negatives, and that's unlikely to change much. As many people have said, I'm not against a woman being president, just this one. That's because when she was first lady she generated a lot of passion against her for a lot of different reasons.
Donna Brazile: Hillary Clinton has enormous credentials and would make a great resident. Al and I disagree on whether it's "this woman," or another woman. For now, we have Hillary to thank for demonstrating that women can compete effectively for the position. Women can hold their own in debates and women can command the attention of the media and voters as well. She has proven that if given the chance, we all can succeed despite the odds. The same holds true for Obama and others who have attempted to break wide the gates of freedom in this great country.
Harrisburg, Pa.: How are Democrats going to successfully unite after this campaign? I know you will give the usual platitudes, yet if you saw Sunday's article from pollster Schoen, Nader still poses a potential threat. How do you prevent defections to Nader which, while small, could still affect winning some states?
Donna Brazile: After a very historic election season, the party will unite behind a progressive platform that will ensure we end the war in Iraq, we invest in America's priorities and we unite the country behind a campaign that offers a change from the status quo. So, will it be easy? Nope. But with leaders like Pelosi, Reid and perhaps others, the Democratic Party will reunite and prepare for victory in November.
Alfred S. Regnery: With all due respect, Donna's answer sounds like a platitude to me. I think both Clinton and Obama worry about this. Obama has gotten such an overwhelming response that were Clinton the nominee, they might not get those voters. I think a "progressive platform," as Donna says, flies in the face of what the majority of the Americans believe, so if the Republicans have a decent campaign they should win. As I said earlier there are all kinds of reasons that campaigns fail, and in the 50 years of history in my book there have been all sorts of campaigns that started off one way and wound up another. It's pretty hard to predict a week ahead of time, let alone six or seven months.
Washington: Hi Donna and Alfred. We've heard reports of record numbers for early voting in Texas and Ohio. Do you have a sense for who is the beneficiary on the Democratic side? Thanks!
Donna Brazile: It's hard to say where the loyalties might be at this moment. If I had a precinct breakdown, perhaps we could demonstrate based on previous elections where the votes might be. But, we will know by tomorrow. It's very exciting to see the kind of record turnout on the Democratic side. Voters are proud to have two inspiring, engaging candidates, two very credible people to help lead our party.
Prescott, Ariz.: As to this comment about Obama: "What he has spoken to on substance thus far has been lacking, and so I think it's a pretty good target at this point for negative campaigning."
Mr. Regnery, have you been to Barack Obama's Web site? Do you know what a "white paper" is? And if you know what a "white paper" is, would you be willing to put those of Barack Obama and say, John McCain side by side and explore the amount of "substance" in them?
Alfred S. Regnery: I've glanced through them, haven't looked at them in detail. I'm basing that statement largely on what I've heard him say. In terms of McCain he has a long record in the Senate -- thousands of votes, chairing committees, substantively involved in a lot of legislation. So there's a long record in McCain's case. Regarding Obama, it's easy to draft white papers. If you look at white papers from campaigns and what actually get implemented once someone is elected, there can be a pretty good disconnect. A white paper largely is meaningless without a record to back it up.
Donna Brazile: Once again, we are hearing the same old arguments about "experience." What kind of experience led us to war in Iraq? What kind of experience has led our economy to this moment? And what kind of experience has led our allies to turn their backs on us and for people around the globe to question our leadership? It was the wrong kind of experience and the American people are voting with both ballots and their pocketbooks for two candidate who they believe will offer real leadership and experience that matters.
Washington: To Birmingham -- I am from the state and I have tried to volunteer with the Democratic Party there. To absolutely no avail. So perhaps you can do outreach. And make sure it works. What about staying around in the state to build local empowerment programs from the ground up? I've found that not enough Alabama Democrats want to do work that might get their shirt cuffs dirty.
Donna Brazile: If the party fails to reach you, you start the movement and they will come. For too long, people have looked for titles and then abandon the field when the work needs to be done. Go out and start the movement by getting voters involved, hold a town meeting, work outside the box and they will come. Let me know if I can call and stir things up as well. I love the deep South.
Fairfax, Va.: How does John McCain alter the electoral map? He seemingly has appeal to voters in New England states like New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut; he could be very effective at getting lower- and middle-income voters in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania; his support for immigration reform could help in places like Florida, Nevada and New Mexico; his moderate image could help win in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Delaware. No?
Alfred S. Regnery: I don't think he can run as a lot of different candidates -- he has one national campaign. Historically most presidential candidates don't change the electoral vote. As I point out in my book, Goldwater did change the map, moving Republicans from the Northeast to the South and West. Another thing I point out is the movement of the middle- and working-class, white, mostly Catholic voters known as Reagan Democrats, many of them in the Midwest, and I think McCain may draw those people, who make up a big chunk of the vote. Another segment of the electorate I talk about in my book is the evangelical Christian right. McCain doesn't have a lot of pull in that segment, and while they won't shift to the Democrat because of abortion stances, they will stay home. So he's got a delicate balance to bring those people behind him.
New York: I read this mornings article about the pressure on black superdelegates to get in line for Obama and found it horrifying. I think there are so many defective aspects to this election -- i.e. caucuses with same-day no-ID voting, blacks voting in lockstep for Obama, ridiculous primary/caucus states like Texas and Washington -- that I fear it will destroy the Democratic Party. If the Republican Party was not so monolithic in their war-mongering poor-people-cheating ways, it wouldn't matter -- but they are like that. When will someone (the DNC, the superdelegates) stand up to this?
Donna Brazile: We are all under pressure -- blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians elected and nonelected -- to back the will of the people. So, this is not unusual for these delegates to be under any more pressure than women are to back Clinton. Trust me, as a black woman, I am being pressured to back Obama as well as Clinton. Guess what? I have and will continue to back both candidates.
Thanks for your time. And many thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts and opinions. For those wishing to have me respond again, please send an e-mail to donnabrazile.com.
Los Angeles: If Obama was not in Washington in 2002 for the big vote, ducked out of voting for Kyle-Lieberman and otherwise voted the same as Hillary on Iraq, how are we to know what he stands for? All he has stood for so far, like all the Democrats handicapped by the mishandling of the Cowboy Bush administration, is Cowboy Bush.
Alfred S. Regnery: Well it has been said that Obama has the thinnest resume of anyone running for president since McKinley, I think. He does have a very liberal record in the Senate. When he was a state senator in Illinois he had a habit for ducking important votes. The question is a good one -- I don't think you really know what he stands for because he hasn't been talking about it. I think in the general he'll be pushed on questions of substance. Politicians have a habit of saying what it takes to get elected. That usually comes out in the wash, and I hope it will in this election too.
Raleigh N.C.: Good morning! In my opinion, there's a big issue that's getting limited play right now. Namely, the environment/energy policy. Yeah, it's getting some attention, but not nearly enough. Will that likely change in the fall as the contrast between McCain and whomever becomes starker than the contrasts within the two parties?
Alfred S. Regnery: I would be surprised if it becomes a very big issue. The economy is a big one and will be through the fall. People will talk about energy and global warming and things like that, but I don't think it's going to attract many voters either way. And again, the question is who's going to pay for it. If we adopted some of the global warming solutions being pitched, it would basically break the country. The money's not there.
Alfred S. Regnery: Thank you very much for this discussion. I've enjoyed it. I hope people will read "Upstream," which looks at the past 50 years of politics, conservatism's role in it and where the movement stands today.
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