The flashpoint debate exchange, triggered by Bill and Hillary’s
amusing claim that Obama really likes Reagan Republican ideas.
** QUICK HITS. 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry just sent an impassioned fundraising e-mail to his list of millions of Democrats decrying “Swiftboating” of Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries with phone calls, e-mails, and letters about his purported Islamic fundamentalism. While Kerry, a senior senator now, did not name the Clintons … As expected, Hillary Clinton, in California today, picked up the endorsement of the United Farm Workers. She also got the endorsement of Congressman Joe Baca before heading off to Cesar Chavez High in Arizona to try to counter the female governor’s support of Obama. … John McCain raises a million bucks tonight at a fundraiser in Manhattan, where he picks up the support of former New York Senator Al D’Amato. McCain now leads in New York Republican primary polls. … Mike Huckabee’s campaign is paring back financially, with top aides going without paychecks and no more press charters. He insists he is running hard in Florida and through the February 5th states … The world did not end today on Wall Street, despite yesterday’s global market meltdown and the cold shoulder from investors towards last week’s Bush effort at an economic stimulus. So he’s trying again, with the Democratic Congress. Suddenly, everybody’s for economic stimulus. But the Federal Reserve 0.75% interest rate cut was of much more immediate interest. … The perils of Pauline/rather Rube Goldbergesque Arnold Schwarzenegger/Fabian Nunez universal health care plan suffered a setback today. No, not the oft-predicted federal pre-emption notion, a court decision actually going the other way, but a defection of a needed Democratic vote on a state Senate committee. Citing Obama-like concern about requiring people to buy insurance they can’t afford. Tomorrow is the hearing.
** OSCAR NOMINATIONS. Not a great year for political cinema, 2007. The only explicitly political movie that’s a hit is Charlie Wilson’s War, much discussed on NWN. And this morning it picked up an Academy Award nomination, for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s terrific turn as maverick CIA officer Gust Avrakotos, a pivotal player in the takedown of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
There Will Be Blood, a non-hit which is certainly a politically-tinged drama, about the early days of the California oil boom, picked up a raft of nominations, including for best picture and as best actor for Daniel Day Lewis’s starring role as a wildcat oilman. Michael Moore also earned another Oscar nomination for his documentary on America’s misfiring health care system, Sicko. NWN covered the film’s world premiere.
** TRACKING POLL: OBAMA LEADS IN SOUTH CAROLINA. In a tracking poll last night by Public Policy Polling, Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina Democratic primary, 44% to 28%. John Edwards trails with 15%. Obama is now taking 70% of the African American vote. Among white voters, however, Obama runs third, with only 17% to Clinton’s 43% and Edwards’ 30%.
Obama continues to campaign today in South Carolina, in advance of the Palmetto State’s Saturday primary, while Hillary is in California to shore up her support among Latinos and other voters.
** FREDHEADS OUT OF THE RACE. Former Senator and Law & Order star Fred Thompson has withdrawn from the Republican presidential race.
“Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people.”
After fencing with a run for months, drawing enormous interest from conservative activists and commentators, Thompson pulled an Arnold three-and-a-half-months ago and announced his presidential run on The Tonight Show. That night, I stayed up writing a 2000-word analysis of his performance and prospects, arriving at a rather negative assessment. (This also told me I was taking things a bit too seriously.) Notwithstanding the fact that he is an amiable guy with a great speaking voice, who could have made a terrific political story.
Thompson performed rather diffidently after that, and his numbers began to plunge. He made, as reported here, two major last stands. In Iowa, where he finished tied for a distant third with John McCain. And in South Carolina, a state in which he led two months ago, where he again finished a distant third, this time well behind the winner McCain.
His numbers in Florida, where he also was once in very strong contention, as was the case throughout the South, have dropped to the mid-single digits, so his withdrawal will likely have only a marginal impact. However, it could be very useful with conservatives, as well on the margin in any close race in Florida.
Thompson was damaged not only by a widespread view that his candidacy was lacking in a certain oomph — a potency that many expected given his famous character roles in movies and television — but also by two other factors. First, the rise of Mike Huckabee preempted him with many social conservatives. Second, and this is a factor that also plagues Rudy Giuliani, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran put an end to a drumbeat on the right for war with that troublesome Islamic fundamentalist regime.
Thompson is a personal friend of John McCain, and was a co-chairman of his 2000 presidential campaign. He has not announced any endorsement.
** HILLARY COMES WEST, WORKS THE LATINO VOTE. As reported here yesterday, Hillary Clinton has left South Carolina following last night’s turbulent debate with Barack Obama and will be campaigning in California, where she currently leads but where her campaign is aware that a surge for Obama could occur.
Meanwhile, Obama continues campaigning in South Carolina today, where he leads and where former President Bill Clinton has arrived to keep taking the fight to the freshman Illinois senator.
At 2 PM, Hillary has an economic town hall meeting in the basketball gym of Hartnell Community College in Salinas. She is expected to pick up the endorsement of the Latino-based United Farm Workers union. UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta campaigned for Hillary in Nevada last week.
Tonight, Hillary is doing another town hall meeting on the economy, this time in Laveen, Arizona. The event will be held at Cesar Chavez High School, in case you’re not getting the symbolism. Clinton has a problem in Arizona, for the state’s popular Governor Janet Napolitano is backing Obama for president.
** FLORIDA TRACKING POLL: MCCAIN LEADS ROMNEY. A new tracking poll of the critical Florida Republican presidential primary, set for one week from today, finds John McCain leading Mitt Romney, 29% to 22%. Mike Huckabee third at 17%, followed by Rudy Giuliani at 16%. The poll by American Research Group was conducted on Sunday and Monday, and released this morning.
** MEG WHITMAN RETIRES FROM EBAY. Billionaire eBay CEO Meg Whitman is retiring after a decade at the helm of the famed ecommerce/online auction/cyber-marketing giant. What next for her? Not entirely clear. Some Republican strategists have talked her up as a potential Republican candidate for governor, fearing that former Governor-turned-Attorney General Jerry Brown is too formidable a prospect for any of their current crop of contenders to deal with.
For her part, Whitman, a friend of former Virginia Senator George Allen, is a national finance co-chair of Mitt Romney’s campaign. If he wins the nomination and goes on to win the presidency, she could be in the Cabinet.
** FIELD POLL: HILLARY LEADS IN CALIFORNIA. The new Field Poll of the California Democratic presidential primary shows Hillary Clinton with a 12-point lead, 39% to 27%, over Barack Obama, with John Edwards trailing at 10%. Private polling has the margin somewhat lower. In all polling, there is a large undecided vote. This explains why Hillary is campaigning in California today, as I reported yesterday. Ironically, I see that decades-long Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters wrote today that Hillary has the state locked up, and wouldn’t be bothering to campaign here. She and former President Bill Clinton both held rallies and roundtables last week around California.
From poll director Mark Di Camillo: Clinton leads by wide margins among women, Latinos, seniors, non-college graduates, and those with annual households incomes of less than $40,000. Obama is preferred by blacks, college graduates and those with household incomes exceeding $80,000. He runs nearly even with Clinton among liberals, men, and white non-Hispanics.
The poll was taken between January 14th and January 20th, a long time period for presidential primary polling, as much of it may be out of date in the quick-flash pace of this sort of campaigning. The number of respondents was less than 400. Polls like this are fine for state races, where the pace is slower and people form different sorts of impressions. It will be interesting to see where the other public polls — which will do one to three-day tracking runs, released the next morning — are when they turn their attention to the Golden State.
** TRIUMPH. OR NOT. You have to hand it to the Clintons. What other political pair would go into last week’s debate in Las Vegas and reintroduce the Iraq War — one of their greatest areas of vulnerability — as an issue in the Democratic campaign, repositioning a vote to authorize war as a vote for peace? What other political pair would think — on Martin Luther King Day, mind you — to claim in a nationally televised debate, that the first black man with a real chance to become president, and a pretty darn liberal one at that, is really an admirer of Reagan Republican ideas?
Yet there it was. Absurd, but true. Call it daring, call it chutzpah, I see it as an awesome will to power.
Now to the proximate cause of last night’s entertaining, yet frequently appalling, rumble. That would be the claim of Billary — and Obama has finally tumbled to and begun to deal with the fact that he is running against “two for the price of one,” as the old Clinton line from the ’92 campaign had it — that Obama showed in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal that he actually likes Reagan Republican ideas. It’s wrong, of course. Obama’s point — and any serious contemporary historian has to agree — is that Ronald Reagan was a transformational figure in American politics in a way that others, even relatively successful presidents such as Clinton I, were not.
While true, it’s a dicey point to make in a hyperpartisan environment. It’s very dangerous to do when confronted with ruthless opponents still acting out of desperation. Never forget that the Clinton hold on national Democratic politics was within an hour or so of ending on January 8th. Many of their friends were in absolute panic. Even Bill Clinton didn’t know how it would go. It was only through the employment of a kitchen sink of techniques at the end of the New Hampshire campaign — most notably, the descent of Bill Clinton from the role of global statesman to that of attack dog-in-chief — that a stunning end to the Restoration was averted.
There’s much to say about the ins and outs of policy — frequently employed, frankly, as a prop in politics — plus Hillary’s role on the Wal-Mart board and still hidden history as first lady and Obama’s relationship with a Chicago fixer, and all that stuff, as the governor of California would say.
But here’s another big takeaway. The Clintons’ goal, since getting blown out in Iowa and teetering on the precipice of oblivion in New Hampshire, is to muss up the pretty boy. They saw what happened to them in an “Iowa nice” campaign. They couldn’t win, even in a virtually all-white electorate. There are lots of other important goals still secondary to that: Consolidate the women, make Obama the black candidate, win the Latinos (those two are connected), neutralize Iraq, use economic insecurity and harken to ’90s good times to take blue collars from the more cerebral candidate, and so on.
It’s ironic, in that a quarter century ago, Bill Clinton was the pretty boy. Young, charming, funny and friendly, a weather eye ever peeled for the ladies, super-bright if not intellectual, out of office. He decided not to become Jerry Brown’s chief of staff. What it took to get back in the game, to restart the long march to global power, fend off vicious Republican attacks, keep a volatile marriage together, survive his tumultuous presidency and help launch his wife on the path to another presidency … It’s actually a great story, unless you’re quite tired of it, as much of the country is.
Yet I digress. In a sense. The Clintons need to make Obama less special. They’re doing that. He gave at least as good as he got last night against Hillary. She did not come off so hot, nearly snarling at him at one point. Yet he was losing his cool, as well. A little humor, especially at the chutzpah now involved, wouldn’t be a bad idea. And it’s not necessary to answer every attack, just the most obvious ones. But this is all very difficult to do, and everyone on that stage, including John Edwards — who in some ways is the best candidate of the three, particularly if he had not had to move rather far to the left to retain primary relevance — is a very capable figure.
The winner of last night’s Democratic presidential debate? John
McCain leads now in, amazingly, Rudy Giuliani’s New York, and
other big states, but he’s in a major dogfight in Florida, where
this ad is running.
Yet the Democrats can certainly blow this election, which should probably be theirs.
One great thing they have going for them, as the Democratic Party descends into serious infighting on lines of race, gender, generation, and the general psychodrama that surrounds the Clintons, is the Republican Party.
Will they actually nominate their best candidate to run against a Democrat? The only big-time Republican who can credibly defend the Iraq War to a majority audience, who appeals to independents, who can trump Hillary’s claims of experience and make Obama seem a naif? (Although he did actually lose a vodka drinking contest with the former first lady.)
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the new Russia Today channel.
You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti.
While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND U.S. ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Crude oil is trading below $88 per barrel range on renewed fears of a global economic slowdown and a general stock market meltdown around the world.
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