Barack Obama, shown here with a crowd of 10,000 on Earth Day in Iowa City,
has closed to within five points of Hillary Clinton in a new Wall Street Journal poll.
** DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: QUICK TAKES ON THE LATE AFTERNOON SHOW FROM SOUTH CAROLINA. A full report tomorrow morning before hitting the road for the California Democratic Party convention in San Diego, where nearly all the field will appear this weekend.
Hillary Clinton: Crisp, measured, modulated, focused, always employing the particular in the midst of the general, the embattled frontrunner did quite well. She was firm on ending the war in Iraq and firm on confronting future terrorism.
Barack Obama: Impressive but suffered from the debate format and its emphasis on brevity. His tendency to the abstract burns up precious time before getting to the answer. Stumbled on the hypothetical terrorist attack question.
John Edwards: A smooth performance, but he didn’t wedge himself in between Clinton and Obama.
Bill Richardson: Impressed with specifics and brevity on withdrawing from Iraq, and with candor on why he was last to call for Alberto Gonzales’s departure as attorney general as a fellow Latino.
Joe Biden: Beginning to pick up support for his plan to partition Iraq, and impressed with his one-word answer as to whether he would be a long-winded “gaffe machine.”
Chris Dodd: Tried to turn his 32 years in the Senate and House into the ultimate experience trump card.
Dennis Kucinich: Scored with his consistent point that he has been the only Iraq War opponent who has effectively moved to end the project by defunding it.
Mike Gravel: Very entertaining take on the bomb-thrower role, harkening to his ’70s vintage Senate role as opponent of the draft and the Vietnam War by proposing to have Congress proclaim President Bush to be a “felon.”
** JACK VALENTI DIES. The longtime head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a former top aide to LBJ who took the movie industry post back in the day of colorful power broker studio chiefs and held it till earlier this decade in the day of studio heads as division chiefs in transnational conglomerates, died today. He was 85, and had suffered a stroke last month.
** ARNOLD EDUCATION SECRETARY ON THE PPIC EDUCATION POLL. State Education Secretary David Long, who will help craft Schwarzenegger’s “Year of Education” for next year: “Governor Schwarzenegger firmly believes that the key to real education reform requires bringing people to the table early to discuss solutions in the same spirit of cooperation we have with other major issues.
“California’s highly regarded academic standards will continue to be the cornerstone of our K-12 system. Recent studies have confirmed that pouring more and more money into a broken system will not improve student achievement. Our focus must first be on these necessary changes before we can determine where additional resources may be needed. The Governor has said, and I agree, that students and schools benefit from a strong accountability system, teachers and administrators need more flexibility and parents need more information about how their children are performing.”
** REMINDER: PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE BEGINS AT 4 PM PACIFIC TIME. The Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina begins at 4 PM this afternoon, Pacific time, and runs until 5:30 PM. It will be cablecast on MSNBC and can be viewed on the Net at msnbc.com
** CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS, BUSH, AND IRAQ. As the House did yesterday, the Senate passed another anti-Iraq War measure today, on a 51-46 vote. This would begin a pullout of US troops this fall, but set no deadline for withdrawal. It’s tied to funding the war effort. President Bush will of course veto it, and then the process goes into another phase. Ultimately, it will lead to some negotiation and probably performance benchmarks for the Iraq effort. Which, given the state of the surge so far, won’t be easily met. In the end, the Democrats will force Republicans to vote again and again on Iraq.
** VICTORY LAPS IN THE CAPITOL ON THE PRISON CRISIS. Legislative leaders and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared at various press conferences this morning on their deal to defuse the California prison system crisis in advance of a potential federal takeover. I discussed the political implications of the deal this morning and last night.
** ANOTHER UPDATE, ANOTHER POLL. Here’s another poll on the California Democratic presidential primary, this from the organized labor-backed Working Californians. This one has Hillary Clinton leading with 38% to Barack Obama at 19% and John Edwards at 17%. Other polls have Clinton with a significantly smaller lead. The poll was conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. This will be a pattern in the race, incidentally, of interest groups producing horse race polls accompanied by questions and answers related to their agenda. Good bait for coverage of that agenda. An environmental group earlier this week did the same thing in South Carolina, in advance of tonight’s Democratic presidential debate. Here are the findings related to Working Californians’ issue agenda:
Nearly half (49%) say their family incomes are not keeping up with the cost of living, while only 14% say they’re getting ahead. (Some 35% said they’re “staying even,” hardly the American Dream.)
90% rank health care affordability as “one of the most important” (40%) or “very important” (50%) to their decision. And according to the average response, as opposed to the most intense, health care costs (4.29 on a 1-5 scale) actually outrank “dealing with the war in Iraq” (4.18.)
These voters are almost unanimous in wanting the government to take a larger or more aggressive role in fixing health care (93% agree, with 71% strongly agreeing), in reducing carbon pollution to address global warming (92% agree, with 65% strongly agreeing), and in making us independent of foreign oil (92% agree, with 63% strongly agreeing).
** OBAMA CUTS CLINTON’S LEAD, GIULIANI’S NUMBERS SLIP IN NEW WALL STREET JOURNAL NATIONAL POLL. As Democratic presidential candidates gather for today’s debate in South Carolina, Barack Obama has moved in a new Wall Street Journal national poll. Last month, Hillary Clinton led him by 12 points. Now her lead is five points.
The results are Clinton 36%, Obama 31%, John Edwards 20%. (Obama, incidentally, as you see in the video above, endorses the California program on greenhouse gases, coupling the low carbon fuel standard ordered by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with cap and trade on overall emissions.)
On the Republican side, frontrunner Rudy Giuliani has dropped five points in the last month. Now the results are Giuliani 33%, John McCain 22%, Fred Thompson 17%, Mitt Romney 12%.
Voters don’t believe that the Iraq surge strategy is working. And by a wide margin, they side with the Democratic-led Congress over President George W. Bush. 56% want a timeline for a US withdrawal from Iraq, while only 37% back the president and his more open-ended commitment.
** CALIFORNIA PRISON DEAL A WIN FOR LEGISLATIVE LEADERS AND SCHWARZENEGGER. Democratic legislative leaders Fabian Nunez and Don Perata, Republican legislative leaders Dick Ackerman and Mike Villines, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger all got a lot of what they wanted in the compromise deal on the state’s prison crisis. Losing out on some of their big demands were public employee unions and advocates of reduced sentencing standards.
Schwarzenegger got a program nearly as big as what he proposed, about $7.7 billion to his original $10.9 billion, and a big emphasis on construction in the form of 56,000 beds. He also got approval of his plan to reduce crowding by transferring thousands of inmates out of state. Democratic legislative leaders got what they wanted in phasing in the new construction and tying it to benchmarks on implementation of rehabilitation programs and management upgrades. Republican legislative leaders got what they wanted in the absence of automatic sentencing reforms or early releases. The unions, notably the big money prison guards union, which opposed Schwarzenegger and opposes this compromise, lost on the transfer issue and new emphasis on management reforms.
** Track global and national energy prices in near real time via Bloomberg. Crude oil prices are around $65 to $66 per barrel.