5 views on the campaign from the U.S. ambassador

The American ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, wasn't allowed to participate in the election campaign because of his diplomatic duties, but he weighs in from the sidelines on why the result matters to Canada.
Unlike the 'historic' campaign in 2008, in which he was personally involved for the Democrats, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson has had to watch this year's fiercely fought campaign from the sidelines. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

America's ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, has had to sit on the sidelines of this election because of his diplomatic duties, but that doesn't mean he can't weigh in on how the campaign unfolded.

In an interview with CBCnews.ca on the eve of the election, Jacobson shared his thoughts on the campaign and what its result will mean for Canada.

How was this campaign different than 2008?

On a personal level, Jacobson said he was highly involved in the last election and that it's been tough for him to sit this one out. As an ambassador he has to stay non-partisan in the campaign. He describes the 2008 campaign as not just one for the history books, but "perhaps the greatest campaign there ever was in the United States — or certainly since Lincoln's time.

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"It was an extraordinary opportunity for me to be there and to witness history being made in front of my eyes. I was in so many places where I saw things that were just extraordinary and it was very special," he said.

On a broader level, the ambassador said the biggest difference between now and then is how big a role the state of the economy played in the campaign. It wasn't the dominating issue back in 2008, as the economic collapse happened near the end of the campaign period, but this time around the economy has been the constant issue. Jacobson said the economic situation has changed the tone of the campaign, and the electorate in general.

Was this the nastiest campaign the U.S. has experienced?

Jacobson said every campaign has its nasty moments.

"Politics is a contact sport and I don't think this year's been any exception. There's been some rough moments on both sides but I'm not sure I would characterize it as the meanest campaign in history or anything like that."

It has been the most expensive though. What influence has money played in this campaign?

"I'll be able to tell you a lot about the impact money had on Wednesday, today I'm guessing," Jacobson said.

The ambassador is one of many critics of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision known as Citizens United. It lifted restrictions on corporate and union donations in political campaigns, and Jacobson said the amount of money spent by third-party organizations known as super PACs in particular is "terrible."

"I think it was a very bad decision of the Supreme Court because it has the potential to undermine the democratic process in the United States. If somebody gives $2,500 to a candidate, I'm sure the candidate is appreciative of it, but in a campaign that costs $1 billion it's probably not going to buy you anything. On the other hand, if someone gives $100 million, I bet you they get their phone calls returned."

Jacobson, however, said the enormous amount of money spent in American campaigns isn't necessarily all bad for the country. "The overwhelming amount of money that is spent in a political campaign in the United States does not go away — this isn't like you're buying TV sets in China — this is money that's going from the pockets of donors into the pockets of television stations, and consultants and newspapers and folks like that. That money is still there, it's money that is still in the U.S. economy. It's money that can eventually be spent on schools and highways and hospitals. It is not as wasteful as some people sometimes make it out to be."

Can you buy an election?

"I sure hope not and I don't think you can, but I do think [the Supreme Court ruling] was a bad decision and I side with the president on this one."

Why should Canadians care about who wins on Tuesday?

In Jacobson's view, because of the economy. He said the single most important thing the United States can do for Canada is "to get our economic house in order."

Romney and Obama have "very divergent views" on how to go about that, according to the ambassador.

"Gov. Romney has made it clear that he thinks that the path to reviving our economy is to cut spending, to cut taxes. The president believes it's important to invest in infrastructure and education and try and grow our economy in that way.

"Depending on who you think is right and who you think is wrong, that's going to have a big impact on Canada, because when the United States does well, Canada does well."