Dean, Santorum Vegas Face Off

Former candidates agree country, c-store industry facing big problems, disagree on solutions

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

Howard Dean (left), Rick Santorum

LAS VEGAS -- Both Howard Dean and Rick Santorum have favorite convenience store products: the former governor of Vermont enjoys York Peppermint Patties while the former Pennsylvania senator goes for chocolate milk.

Other than a fondness for chocolate, the once-Democrat and Republican presidential candidates agree on very little--making for a lively sparring match to close out the 2012 NACS Show in Las Vegas.

Moderated by political analyst Michelle Bernard of The Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, Dean and Santorum butted heads on a number of issues directly impacting c-store retailers including:

The American Dream

"The American dream is about opportunity--the opportunity to get ahead," said Dean, who expressed concern that it has gotten difficult for many Americans to realize this dream. "There are people at the bottom who no longer believe it's possible to get ahead."

While Santorum agreed that there's a problem with people not being able to achieve the American dream, he believes the problem is cultural, not economic.

"It's the breakdown of the American family," said the former senator, referencing the high number of broken families suffering poverty in the United States. "It's not just about succeeding, but succeeding as a family."

Childhood Obesity

Bernard asked both Dean and Santorum to comment on the childhood obesity epidemic--which is often blamed on retailers, especially when a c-store is the only option for groceries in impoverished areas.

"First thing you should say is you're there--other businesses are not," said Santorum to a wave of applause from the audience. "Be proud that you're part of the solution."

"It comes down to individual choices," Dean said, calling for more education about healthy eating habits, especially for consumers. "If someone buys a pack of beer and french fries, that's not the store-owner's fault--unless the person is under 21!"

Healthcare

In what was easily the most heated discussion of the session, Dean and Santorum sparred on whether or not President Obama's healthcare reform program will work and whether it will help or hurt retailers.

"If the Democrats control the Senate, healthcare won't get repealed," Santorum said, firing up the crowd. "If the Senate goes Republican, 'Obamacare' will be repealed--it's a tax, not a mandate."

"You should hope 'Obamacare' passes," said Dean, pointing out that retailers could choose to pay the tax rather than provide their own healthcare plan, allowing employees to get coverage through the government--meaning employees would not be looking for jobs that do provide insurance. "It's morally incomprehensible to let people die or go bankrupt to pay for healthcare."

Even if the current healthcare reform remains in place, Santorum argued it would not solve the rate of the uninsured in the United States. "Not everyone is going to do what the government tells them to--we're Americans."

Countered Dean: "22% of children in Texas don't have insurance. That's scandalous. Responsible adults can choose not to have insurance--it's different with children. If the private sector can't solve this problem, the government has a moral responsibility to step in."

And while Santorum certainly didn't agree with Dean's beliefs, he also expressed displeasure with how his own party's presidential candidate has handled problems like healthcare.

"The campaigns have not been about big issues," he said. "Neither party has laid out how to effectively deal with the problems we're facing as Americans."