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Romer and Mehlman join forces on education reform

The Former Democrat and Republican party chairs want education to be a bigger part of the 2008 campaign.

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While there are clear benefits to improving the US education system, making the issue a centerpiece of a campaign will not be easy. "Part of our challenge is the eventful nature of 2007-2008. You have got a war. You've got real economic concerns, economic challenges that are unique at the moment. That all happening makes it hard to cut through on the education issue," Mehlman said.

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A USA Today/Gallup poll released in February found education ranked as the third most important issue out of 14 in selecting a president. Education trailed the economy and Iraq but came in ahead of healthcare, government corruption, and energy prices.

To maintain its bipartisan stance, Strong American Schools carefully avoids many of the hot button issues in education that divide along party lines, including school vouchers and the fate of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation.

Despite potential political minefields, there is a pressing need for greater national coherence on education, Romer said. "I don't see any other industrial nation in the world that has left their education as decentralized as we have. Now I'm not trying to federalize education but you simply put yourself in the position of the next president. You cannot move this nation into the next century unless you get more coherence and national unity on what we are going to do with education, how we are going to measure it, how we are going to get the right kind of teachers in the classroom, and how we are going to measure our success," he said. "There is a need for us to have a national understanding about where we are going."

When the conversation turned to politics, Romer was closely questioned as he is one of the Democratic Party's uncommitted superdelegates who could tip the balance in the party's tight nomination battle. He was co-chairman of President Clinton's reelection campaign and Bill Clinton was in the White House when Romer was head of the Democratic Party.

His comments will probably give more comfort to the Obama campaign than the Clinton team. "Any decision that goes against the delegate count is a difficult decision," Romer said. At the moment, Barack Obama leads Hillary Rodham Clinton in the number of elected delegates. The "math is very compelling."

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