Thursday, November 29, 2007

Movement in the God-o-Meter

We're starting to see movement in the God-o-Meter among Democrats as well as Republicans.

Earlier this week, we reported that Mike Huckabee had achieved what no one had ever achieved. He scored a perfect 10 in the God-o-Meter.

And the distance between Huckabee and Mitt Romney in this particular area appears to be widening. Romney's rating went down when it was reported that his campaign had come to a conclusion internally to delay a "Mormon" speech (inspired by John F. Kennedy's speech in 1960 about being a Catholic) until after the holidays.

Meanwhile, Huckabee got a big boost from an endorsement from Jerry Falwell Jr. The former Arkansas governor seems to be on a meteoric rise these days. David Yepsen, political columnist for the Des Moines Register, says that Huckabee belongs in the top tier of Republican candidates.

On the Democratic side, the God-o-Meter's rating for Hillary Clinton went up when she got the endorsement of a group of South Carolina ministers.

The endorsement is being seen as a blow to Barack Obama's campaign. Obama had been actively pursuing the evangelical Christian vote in South Carolina.

Henry Hyde Passes Away

Former Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde, who retired from Congress last year, died early today at the age of 83. Hyde had heart surgery in July and his poor health was a big reason for his retirement from a House career that spanned more than three decades.

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Hyde was among the House leaders in the effort to impeach President Clinton in 1998, and he was a vocal opponent of abortion. But, while he was a conservative Republican in the days when the Republican Party was still dominated by moderates, Hyde wasn't a conservative on everything.

It's also worth pointing out that Hyde was raised a Democrat, but switched parties in support of Dwight Eisenhower's race for the presidency in 1952.

Many people felt that Hyde was a larger-than-life personality, but George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote, in the Chicago Tribune, that, rather than being larger than life, Hyde was "shaped by life and never forgot its lessons."

The Sixth District, the Chicago-area district that elected Hyde in every election since 1974, remained in Republican hands last year, but not as impressively as it did the last time Hyde was on the ballot, in 2004. Back then, Hyde was re-elected with 56% of the vote.

His successor, attorney Peter Roskam, narrowly defeated Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs in a helicopter crash. Roskam polled 51% of the vote, while Duckworth received 49%.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Justice in Massachusetts

Earlier this week, Mitt Romney said the Massachusetts judge who released a convicted killer from prison should resign, after that convicted killer recently was taken into custody and charged with the slayings of a young couple in the state of Washington.

The judge had been an appointee when Romney was governor of Massachusetts.

Romney's call for the judge's resignation smacked of "political expediency," in the words of a past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

In today's Boston Globe, columnist Scot Lehigh explores the case in more detail. The "official" local reaction has been "so muted as to defy belief," he says.

"There are important questions that need to be answered," Lehigh wrote.

Even more important, Mr. Lehigh, is asking the questions in the first place.

And that is precisely what he does in today's column.

Jennifer Rubin in The New York Observer writes abou† many problems that Romney is having, including the case of the murdered couple and the released killer. Rudy Giiuliani seized the opportunity to criticize Romney's law-and-order record as governor.

Romney's campaign counterattacked, but, as Rubin points out, comparing records on crime with Giuliani -- a former U.S. attorney -- is "an activity the Romney campaign will want to move on from as quickly as possible."

Romney should be ashamed of himself for trying to score political points from the tragic murders of two young people. But the officeholders in Massachusetts should be considered criminally negligent if they don't address the serious issues that have been raised in this case.

What About Iowa?

Republicans and Democrats will be making their way to the caucuses in Iowa on January 3. That's about five weeks from now.

And Rasmussen Reports says that, for the first time, a poll shows former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee leading the GOP pack.

Rasmussen's latest poll has Huckabee with 28% and his nearest competitor, Mitt Romney, at 25%. Everyone else is far behind. For Huckabee, that reflects a 12-point increase; for Romney, it's a 4-point decrease.

And what makes Huckabee's lead even more remarkable is that he hasn't spent nearly as much money in Iowa as Romney has. In that competition, it hasn't even been close.

Romney's been banking on a win in Iowa to give him momentum in New Hampshire. But it's looking like Huckabee might be the one who comes away from Iowa with the momentum for the New Hampshire primary less than a week later.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's Happening in Florida?

A couple of stories in the media today seem to be providing conflicting spins on what's happening in the Republican presidential campaign in Florida.

According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, just released today, Rudy Giuliani's lead in Florida is expanding.

That poll says the former New York mayor has the support of 38% of likely primary voters in Florida, 21 percentage points ahead of Mitt Romney, his nearest rival. John McCain and Fred Thompson each have 11%, and Mike Huckabee has 9%.

Keep that in mind. CNN says Huckabee has 9% in Florida.

Based on that, one has to wonder if CNN or Insider Advantage has the inside track on where the Republican candidates stand in the Sunshine State.

According to RealClearPolitics, a poll by Insider Advantage also says Giuliani is the leader, but with 26% (down 7 points since the last such poll in mid-October). And trailing the former mayor is none other than former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, with 17%, which is nearly double his showing from mid-October.

That poll shows McCain at 13%, Romney at 12% and Thompson at 9%. RealClearPolitics proclaims that Huckabee is "surging" in Florida.

But that's certainly not what the CNN poll says.

Who's right? I guess we'll find out when Floridians hold their primary in January.

Do you suppose this is the work of the Divine? Maybe. According to the God-o-Meter, which directs readers to Fred Barnes' latest column in The Weekly Standard, Huckabee has just achieved what no other candidate has achieved in the God-o-Meter before. He scored a perfect 10.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gore Visits Bush

As far as I know, it was the first time the two men have spent much time together since the 2000 election and Inauguration Day in 2001.

But former Vice President Al Gore, as one of the 2007 Nobel Prize winners for his work on global warming, came to the White House today for a photo and some presidential conversation.

Gore spent 40 minutes meeting with George W. Bush in the Oval Office. Neither Bush nor his aides would comment on the meeting, and all Gore will say is that the discussion was entirely about global warming.

When Gore was announced as a Nobel Prize winner, there was talk almost immediately about how it gave a boost to Gore's prospects for winning next year's Democratic presidential nomination. But that was nearly two months ago and Gore has made no efforts, as far as I can see, to make another run for the White House.

I think it would be unwise, at this point, for Gore to jump into the race. If he is the focus of a genuine draft movement that arises as the result of a hopelessly deadlocked Democratic campaign, that's another matter. But, at the moment, the Democrats don't face that kind of deadlock.

Trent Lott Leaving the Senate

Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott announced today that he will retire by the end of the year.

The announcement caught many people, including yours truly, by surprise. It's not that I think Lott's departure will affect the balance of power in the Senate -- I fully expect the seat to continue to be held by a Republican.

Recently re-elected Republican Gov. Haley Barbour will appoint an interim replacement for Lott. He says he will make that appointment within 10 days of Lott's resignation. A special election will be held next year to determine who will serve out the remainder of Lott's term.

Lott was re-elected last year, so his seat isn't due to go before the voters for a full six-year term again until 2012. Whoever wins next year's special election will be elected to a four-year term.

Speculation in Mississippi is that third district Rep. Chip Pickering, 44, who served as an aide to Lott from 1990 to 1994, is Lott's most likely replacement. Pickering announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election to the House in 2008, in part because he wanted to be able to spend more time with his family.

But Pickering has been regarded for a long time as Lott's heir apparent, and this opening will probably draw him into the special election race, whether Barbour appoints him as the interim replacement or not.

The third district slithers along the southern portion of Mississippi, touching the western boundary that runs along the Mississippi River and the eastern boundary that borders on Alabama. The voters there have given Pickering around 80% of the vote in the last two congressional elections. The district's population is more heavily white than the rest of the state (more than 63% in the district, compared to a little over 60% statewide), and it is the site of the infamous Neshoba County Fair, which has been mentioned in recent posts on this blog.

Based on the National Journal's ratings, Pickering isn't exactly a Trent Lott clone. But his record is sufficiently conservative to satisfy Lott's supporters. The National Journal rated Lott more conservative on foreign and social issues than on economic issues in 2006 -- although he was rated more conservative on economic issues in 2005.

Pickering's ratings are more moderate on economic issues and more conservative on foreign and social issues.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Willie Horton Redux?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took a position last night that, at first blush, appears to demonstrate the kind of character I'd like to see in the White House.

Romney acknowledged that a judge he appointed while governor "showed an inexplicable lack of good judgment" in a hearing that ultimately allowed a convicted killer to be freed.

Following his release, the convict fled to the state of Washington, where he murdered a young couple who lived near him.

Romney said the judge "needs to resign."

On the surface, that shows a quality that is needed in the Oval Office -- the ability to learn from and try to correct negative results from faulty decisions.

But Rudy Giuliani, citing crime statistics from the FBI, pointed out that murder and violent crime went up in Massachusetts while Romney was governor. The case to which Romney referred was not an aberration.

A past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association said the judge did the right thing based on state law "and for Romney to call for her to resign is nothing more than political expediency."

As I see it, what Romney did was make this judge the scapegoat for the failings of Romney's administration.

It also sounds like we're getting set up for the 2008 version of the infamous "Willie Horton ad" that contributed to George H.W. Bush's victory over another former Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, in 1988.

More About Huckabee

The Washington Post reports that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's surge in Iowa, which holds its caucuses in about five and a half weeks, "has further scrambled a race that already defied easy prediction."

Huckabee really began drawing attention as a candidate when he finished second in the Iowa straw poll back in August, despite making a minimal financial investment and earning, through his oratorical skill, the support of people who attended the event on Mitt Romney's dimes.

Christian conservatives are the key for Huckabee. If his campaign staff can get them to the caucuses in Iowa and produce a win, their hope is that it will create a groundswell that will carry them in New Hampshire and South Carolina and then translate into big victories in February when most of the big states hold their primaries.

Money has been coming in at a faster clip for Huckabee now that he's rising in the polls and getting more press attention. But he still trails Romney and other high-profile candidates in that department.

His success will depend, in part, on energizing his base, the evangelical Christians.

In the words of Christian conservative radio personality Steve Deace, "The most loyal and largest voting bloc the Republican Party has are pro-life voters . . . marriage issues, family issues. Those are issues of priority for us. Mike, by far -- and it's not even close -- has the most consistently positive positions."

The Post quotes Deace as urging big-name Christian conservative leaders to "stop playing games" and get behind Huckabee. "If we rally around him, he could win. Maybe you're like me. I'm tired of plugging my nose and voting for someone."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Holiday Football Brings Upsets, Firings, Resignations

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I got my bachelor's degree at the University of Arkansas more than 25 years ago.

If you grow up in Arkansas, you learn a few things at a reasonably early age. (1) The Razorbacks are the big-time team in Arkansas. (2) You don't have to be a student at or hold a degree from the University of Arkansas to be a Razorback fan. In fact, you don't even have to set foot on the U of A campus in Fayetteville. Ever.

And, I guess it goes without saying that this football season has been a disappointment for Razorback fans, after last season's success.

Last season, Arkansas won 10 games in a row, finished the regular season 10-2, played in the Southeastern Conference championship game and advanced to a New Year's Day bowl game.

And Darren McFadden became the first Arkansas football player to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. In fact, the then-sophomore halfback was the runner-up in the Heisman balloting.

Going into this season, McFadden was one of the favorites to win the Heisman and the Razorbacks were favored to return to the SEC title game. But things didn't work out that way. Although it still appears likely that McFadden will declare for the NFL draft, he did not have a Heisman-winning season and the Razorbacks did not win the SEC's West Division.

Consequently, going into yesterday's annual rivalry game with LSU, expectations for victory weren't too high. LSU was ranked No. 1 in the nation and was expected to play for the national title in January. The game against Arkansas was being played in LSU's home stadium in Baton Rouge, La. And the Tigers have one of the best run defenses in the country.

But, somehow, the Razorbacks overcame every obstacle and beat LSU in triple overtime, 50-48. (I say "somehow" because I had to work yesterday and I didn't get to see the game.)

The Thanksgiving holiday period always brings plenty of rivalry games and many upset opportunities. Unranked Arkansas' win over top-ranked LSU certainly qualifies as an upset.

Football news isn't made only on the field at this time of year. Today, it was announced that Nebraska fired head coach Bill Callahan. In the last 45 years, Nebraska has had only two losing seasons. Callahan was head coach for both of them, including this year's 5-7 campaign that ended Friday with a 65-51 loss to Colorado.

I've heard little about who is favored to replace Callahan, but during today's announcement, Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne stressed the need for "continuity" at the school, which suggests that someone from Callahan's staff could be selected. But the nine assistant coaches also were terminated, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. And the newspaper is reporting that former Nebraska assistant coach Bo Pelini has been contacted by a search firm, although no meeting has been scheduled between Pelini and representatives of the athletic department.

Another coach is leaving a high-profile job, but he's doing so apparently of his own choice and in the aftermath of a big win, not a big loss. Dennis Franchione ended his five-year tenure at Texas A&M Friday following the Aggies' 38-30 victory over Texas. Tommy Tuberville of Auburn is considered a top candidate to replace him.

Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News writes that Franchione never came close to fulfilling expectations in Aggieland.

The futures of both of the coaches in the Arkansas-LSU game were in doubt before kickoff and remain so today.

Houston Nutt, Arkansas' coach, has reportedly been on the hot seat since the slow start knocked Arkansas out of the race for the SEC title early in the season. His position may be better today, after the win over LSU. But ESPN's college football experts appear to believe Nutt and the school have reached a mutual decision that it's best for them to part ways.

LSU's coach, Les Miles, hasn't been on the hot seat, but he has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Michigan's departing head coach Lloyd Carr. Miles played football at Michigan and was an assistant coach there for awhile.

If you haven't had your fill of holiday football, there are several big college games today. Already under way, as I write this, are games between Miami-Boston College and Virginia Tech-Virginia. Later today, games are scheduled matching Tennessee and Kentucky, Alabama and Auburn, Georgia and Georgia Tech, Florida and Florida State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Clemson and South Carolina.

And, in a big game with conference title game and national title game implications (but it would never have been predicted to be that before the season started), fourth-ranked Missouri will play second-ranked Kansas tonight.

By the way, for you sports fans, there's a good website out there, RealClearSports, that tries to bring together each day's best sports articles from across the internet. Take a look.

More About JFK

The other day, I posted an entry about an article in The New York Times about the Zapruder film of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Although the film is an important record of the event, the article suggested that the camera didn't start to roll until after the first shot was fired.

The article in the Times was challenged by "Real History Lisa," who urged me -- and, likewise, anyone with an interest in the case -- to read the testimony that serves, in part, as the basis for the article. Amos Euins, a ninth-grader at the time, is cited in the article.

Unlike most citizens, I have read the Warren Commission's report. For those with an interest in reading it, you can find it here, at the National Archives website.

I have a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in journalism, and history was my minor in college. But, as an historian, I'm frankly an amateur in comparison to "Real History Lisa." I thought I had been studying the JFK case for many years (which I have) and I was familiar with most of the contradictions in the evidence, but you'll learn much more about it if you look at Lisa's blog.

Now that I'm aware of your blog, Lisa, I plan to keep an eye on it. I urge the rest of you to do the same.

A Cold Murder Case Heats Up

Usually, at this time of the year, the annual "Iron Bowl" football game between Alabama and Auburn dominates conversation in Alabama. This year, there is also the race for mayor in Birmingham to keep locals occupied.

In recent days, another topic has been introduced, one that most area residents probably thought had tumbled into the dustbin of history -- the case of missing teenager Natalee Holloway, who disappeared while on a post-high school graduation trip to Aruba in May 2005.

Three men whose names were mentioned in connection with the case in the early days -- Joran van der Sloot, Deepak Kalpoe and his brother Satish Kalpoe -- have been arrested and are in custody in Aruba, charged with "involvement in the voluntary manslaughter of Natalee Holloway or causing serious bodily harm to Natalee Holloway, resulting in her death."

The Birmingham News has devoted a section of its website to the case.

Aruba's chief public prosecutor, Hans Mos, said Friday that it is not necessary, under Aruba law, to have a body in order to prove that someone is deceased. "And any day that passes now is just more evidence that she is not alive anymore," he said.

Mos told CNN that investigators who were taking a fresh look at the case found some new evidence and have uncovered some discrepancies in earlier investigations.

The three young men have consistently maintained their innocence.

The wheels of justice turn notoriously slowly. We shall see what happens.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Musical Musing

During the Thanksgiving holiday, I listened to my CD of Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt.

And I was struck by how the music mirrors what is happening in our politics -- on both sides.

I suppose no other composition reflects the presidential campaigns in both parties as masterfully as "In The Hall of the Mountain King."

If each instrument is (metaphorically) assigned to a different candidate, you realize as you listen to Peer Gynt that each campaign is saying the same things, only in different pitches and tones. The Democrats speak their party line, and the Republicans speak their party line. On just about everything. Very little variation from anyone.

In politics as well as Peer Gynt, as the cacophony builds, so does the tension -- but also the agreement.

In the end, you have a resounding "Me, too!" from the final instruments.

There you have it. The state of our politics boiled down to a few minutes of classical composition and performance.

No answers, though. Those are harder to find.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giuliani Struggles With Social Conservatives

One of the most influential social conservatives on the scene today, Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, wrote in a column in today's Politico that Rudy Giuliani's pledge to appoint "strict constructionist" judges is not enough to make up for his more moderate views on abortion in general and Roe v. Wade in particular.

"Many of [Giuliani's] supporters are using the language of 'strict constructionism' to defend their dubious decision and to urge 'pro-life' Americans to join them," Perkins writes. "They are making the spurious argument that only judicial appointments matter."

Perkins points out that, during a Republican debate at the Reagan library in May, Giuliani said it would be "OK" if a strict constructionist judge repealed Roe v. Wade and he said, “It would be OK also if a strict constructionist viewed it as precedent.”

That's not the kind of language that will attract social conservatives and Perkins wanted to make sure that point was not lost.

"For us and for most Americans," Perkins wrote, "[strict constructionists] mean that decisions like Roe cannot stand. It is precisely on this point that Rudy Giuliani dissents, and it’s a fact that every 'pro-life' American should know and that every 'pro-life' commentator should frankly admit."

Clearly, if Giuliani appears to be on his way to the Republican nomination, there will be a battle among the ranks over abortion. Wait and see.

Some high-profile conservatives have been supporting Giuliani because of his credentials from 9-11. But the thing that a lot of people forget is that 9-11 was Election Day in New York City. The election was halted that morning when the attacks were well under way, and the voting was re-scheduled, to be held at a later date.

If the attacks had occurred 24 hours later, there would have been a mayor-elect in New York -- and Rudy Giuliani's political career might not have received the boost it received as a result of the attacks.

Someone else might well have been "Mr. 9-11." (Except, I guess that would be "Mr. 9-12.")

The Kennedy Assassination

Today is Thanksgiving, of course. It is also the 44th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy right here in Dallas.

In today's New York Times, Max Holland and Johann Rush speculate that an amateur filmmaker, Abraham Zapruder, did not capture every shot that was fired that day in his film of the assassination.

In the years since its release to the American public, the Zapruder film has been the key ingredient in the re-creation of the event because of the almost universal assumption that Zapruder captured every meaningful second on film. Therefore, it could be used to establish a timeline that could lend credibility to or discredit almost any theory.

But Holland and Rush offer a compelling argument that Zapruder may have started filming after the first shot had already been fired -- thus altering the timing sequence that has been relied upon for so long in this case.

I don't know how this affects my own belief in what happened. Clearly, if the first shot was fired before Zapruder's camera began to roll, it gives the assassin -- whether it was Lee Harvey Oswald or someone else -- more time to aim and then fire the second shot.

That would be beneficial, since the weapon that was found in the School Book Depository was almost unanimously believed to be awkward and difficult to operate. Additional time between the first and second shots would give the assassin more of a window of opportunity to become accustomed to it.

But it still wouldn't explain the length of time between the second and third shots. Or some of the other issues involved.

I've been studying the Kennedy assassination for many years. The point raised by Holland and Rush does answer some questions about the sequence and timing of the shots and provdes some "wiggle room" for those who theorize that Oswald acted alone.

But, like just about everything else in this case, it raises some new questions when it appears to answer other ones. There still are many troubling questions that remain unresolved.

And we'll never again be able to question a member of the Warren Commission about its conclusions because the last surviving member, former President Gerald Ford, passed away nearly a year ago.

My opinion is, simply, that too much time has passed. Too many people, witnesses and potential suspects, have died. We will never be able to bring anyone to justice or truly know how many people were involved.

Does that mean we should stop looking for the truth? No. But it does mean that we have to be realistic and accept the fact that there will never be universal agreement about what happened and who was to blame.

By all means, continue to look for the truth. Just don't be disappointed if it is never found. That kind of confirmation is rare in life.

After all, I'm still somewhat amazed that I lived to see the revelation of the identity of "Deep Throat!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What's New in New Hampshire

New Hampshire's secretary of state made it official today. The first-in-the-nation primary will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 8, which means the first primary is about seven weeks away.

New Hampshire had originally scheduled its primary later in January, but the change was made necessary by primary scheduling shifts in South Carolina, Michigan and Florida.

Iowa will hold its caucus on Thursday, Jan. 3, and Wyoming will hold its caucus two days later. Then, New Hampshire will hold the first primary in the nation on Jan. 8.

The announcement of the scheduling of the New Hampshire primary comes at a time when Hillary Clinton's lead there appears to be dropping, according to the latest CNN/WMUR poll.

In September, Clinton led Barack Obama in New Hampshire by 23 points, according to the poll results. In the latest survey, which wrapped up on Sunday, Clinton had 36% and Obama had 22%. John Edwards had 12% in September and he had 13% in the most recent survey.

As we've noted before, New Hampshire has a reputation for doing the unexpected. In 1968, Eugene McCarthy's surprisingly strong showing there forced President Johnson to drop out of the race. Four years later, the famous "crying in the snow" incident reduced front-runner Ed Muskie's vote total and opened the door for George McGovern to become the nominee.

In 1984, Gary Hart's victory in New Hampshire propelled him into the race for the Democratic nomination, a race that was eventually won by former Vice President Walter Mondale.

On the Republican side, President Gerald Ford won a narrow victory over former Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1976, a preview of what would happen at the Republican convention that summer. In 1996, Pat Buchanan stunned Bob Dole by winning the New Hampshire primary and, four years later, John McCain upset George W. Bush there.

With both nominations apparently up for grabs, watch for some political fireworks in New Hampshire in the next seven weeks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Presidential Debates -- the 2008 Schedule

The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the lineup and format for the 2008 presidential debates -- once the Democrats and Republicans have settled on their tickets.

The first debate will be held in about 10 months, on Friday, Sept. 26, 2008, on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford, Miss.

Other sites for the debates include Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008; Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008; and Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008.

St. Louis will host the vice presidential debate. The other cities will host the second and third presidential debates.

Noteworthy for its omission is New Orleans, which has hosted conventions since being devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but was rejected as a presidential debate site because it hasn't sufficiently recovered from the storm and the flooding.

Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is expected to face a tough fight for re-election next year, says the commission has “lost sight of the public interest it was chartered to serve.”

Landrieu, of course, is free to say and believe what she wants about how New Orleans was "slighted" in the selection of debate sites, but I can see both sides.

Democratic co-chairman Paul Kirk reportedly claimed the city wasn't ready to host a high-profile event like one of the debates, and Republican co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf reportedly said sites were selected based on technical factors and geographical balance and that politics played little or no role.

But, in the words of Forrest Gump, I think both are going on at the same time.

(Besides, the "geographical balance" bit doesn't really hold up for me. St. Louis, Nashville and Oxford, Miss., are from generally the same part of the country, and St. Louis is the only one [but just barely] that is west of the Mississippi River. Those three cities are even in the same time zone. Only Hempstead, N.Y., is in the Eastern time zone.)

Fahrenkopf is wrong if he thinks politics didn't influence the decision. Politics influences everything.

On the other hand, everyone saw how New Orleans was hammered by the hurricane, and we all know how difficult it has been for the city to bounce back. It's plausible to believe that it isn't ready to provide food and lodging for the thousands of people who come to a city hosting a debate. Including the candidates and the Secret Service agents who are assigned to them.

So, if the commission was simply latching on to a convenient excuse not to select New Orleans, it has one that is practically bullet-proof.

It would be nice to hold a debate in New Orleans. It reminds me of the talk six years ago of holding the next Super Bowl in New York in support of that city following the 9-11 attacks.

In both instances, the suggestions represent a desire for supportive gestures that are or were easier to achieve as abstract recommendations. In reality, there are too many obstacles.

For example, playing the Super Bowl in the Meadowlands in February 2002 would have meant traffic and a large crowd at an outdoor arena on what may have been a cold, possibly snowy, evening -- which would have made great TV but would have been a logistical nightmare for a city still on edge after the collapse of the Twin Towers less than five months earlier.

The presidential and vice presidential nominees won't be debating in New Orleans, but both parties need to define what the federal role will be in New Orleans in the next administration.

A country that is willing to spend $1 billion a week to capture, then lose, then re-capture, then re-lose much of the same territory in Iraq over and over and over again should be willing to invest money and manpower into rebuilding a city that has been made to suffer for more than two years.

And hopefully allow many of its displaced citizens to return.

That's the battle Landrieu needs to fight in defense of her Senate seat.

Monday, November 19, 2007

McConnell's a Target in 2008

CNN is reporting that Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican with four terms under his belt as well as experience as the Senate Majority Leader and a wife, Elaine Chao, who is Secretary of Labor and the only original member of George W. Bush's Cabinet who is still in office, is being singled out by Democrats in his home state.

It seems that Kentucky's Democrats feel emboldened by winning the gubernatorial race this year against scandal-plagued Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

But there are some significant differences, and Democrats needn't feel that the Senate seat is theirs for the taking, even though about 57% of the registered voters in Kentucky are Democrats. Beating McConnell will require a lot of effort -- and a lot of money.

CNN's report indicates that Democrats are short of charismatic candidates to challenge McConnell, and they're just as short of well-to-do donors who can help with the financial needs of such a campaign. And McConnell hasn't had to deal with the kind of scandals that doomed Fletcher's re-election bid.

McConnell, meanwhile, appears to be well supplied with campaign funds as he prepares to run for his fifth term in the Senate.

According to National Journal's rankings, McConnell is more moderate on social issues and more conservative on economic and foreign policy matters. That's not necessarily a bad thing in a state where more than two-thirds of its citizens have annual incomes of less than $50,000 and about 16% of its population lives in poverty.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

TVLand's Icons List

The Top 50 TV Icons were announced on TVLand Friday night. I don't want to spoil anyone's fun, so if you want to see the show for yourself, there will be a few opportunities to do so in the next few days.

In the meantime, you're welcome to look at the Top 10 from the list, as it was posted on TVLand's web site.

1. Johnny Carson

2. Lucille Ball

3. Oprah Winfrey

4. Bill Cosby

5. Walter Cronkite

6. Carol Burnett

7. Mary Tyler Moore

8. Jerry Seinfeld

9. Homer Simpson

10. Dick Clark

The other day, I did a little scattershooting, saying I was sure that certain people would be included. Most of them were, but Don Knotts ("Barney Fife" on The Andy Griffith Show) actually was # 58 on the list and therefore wasn't profiled on the TV special.

I must admit, I was a little surprised he didn't make the Top 50. After all, he was a five-time Emmy Award winner as a regular on The Andy Griffith Show and he won two more Emmys for his guest appearances on the show in the years following his departure. I mean, what else does one have to do to be considered a legitimate TV icon?

TVLand gives you the top 100 on its web site. The TV special gave you the top half of the list.

More About Ronald Reagan and 'The Slur'

It seems appropriate that David Brooks' column about Ronald Reagan's "I believe in states' rights" moment from the 1980 campaign is, once again, the subject of a column in The New York Times.

This time, the author is Lou Cannon, an op-ed contributor who also happens to have written five books on President Reagan and is the co-author of another book on George W. Bush's efforts to achieve a presidential legacy comparable to Reagan's.

Cannon appears to agree with Brooks, who asserted in a column a little over a week ago that those who still believe that Reagan was speaking in code language to reassure Southern whites are perpetuating a "slur" against the former president.

"It was one of many blunders Mr. Reagan made in August 1980 when he was an undisciplined candidate who lacked an effective campaign manager," writes Cannon. Among the "blunders" committed by Reagan, according to Cannon? Well, one was his much publicized statement to an audience of veterans that America's presence in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s was a "noble cause."

But the "states' rights" comment to a mostly white audience at the Neshoba County Fair, a short distance from Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered 16 years earlier, was more than a "blunder." And even the comment about Vietnam pales in comparison.

Cannon attempts to make the case that Reagan was not a bigot because he befriended a black teammate on the Eureka College football team who was denied admission to a hotel where the team was staying prior to a game in 1931 and because he opposed the segregation of major league baseball, quit a country club that wouldn't admit Jews and opposed a 1978 ballot initiative that would have banned homosexuals from teaching in California's public schools.

But, as I wrote a few days ago on this blog, Reagan had ample opportunity to set the record straight. After all, this same discussion on the "states' rights" assertion occurred during his lifetime. Indeed, it occurred at the time that Reagan made the comment in 1980.

I grew up in Arkansas, which borders on Mississippi. I was living in Arkansas when Reagan visited the Neshoba County Fair in 1980, and I was still living there when Reagan sought his second term in the White House in 1984. I knew many segregationists who were still Democrats when Reagan was elected in 1980, but they switched parties before he ran for re-election.

I know for a fact that these former Democrats weren't motivated by Reagan's lip service for the anti-abortion movement. Or even by his opposition to communism.

They were motivated by what they believed the Republican position was on civil rights. Reagan's 1980 speech at the Neshoba County Fair, as well as his opposition to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s, fueled their belief.

Reagan lived for nearly a quarter century after making that comment. He never once attempted to clarify it.

He was certainly old enough to remember Strom Thurmond's race for the White House as a "states' rights" Dixiecrat.

And he knew what that phrase meant in 1948. And what it still meant in 1980 and what it continues to mean today.

Faith and Politics, 'Push Polls,' and The Campaign in General

No matter who says it or how often it is said, church and state have never been separate in this country.

The God-o-Meter and its religious rankings for Democratic and Republican candidates for president is ample evidence of how intertwined religion and politics are in America. And there's plenty of historical evidence of the influence religion has had on political campaigns in the past. Nearly 50 years ago, for example, John F. Kennedy had to defend his right to be Catholic and also a candidate for president.

Kennedy wasn't the first Catholic to be nominated for president, but he was the first Catholic to be a serious contender for the White House -- and, as it turned out, he was the first Catholic (and, so far, the only Catholic) to be elected president.

The latest God-o-Meter says Fred Thompson's rating is inching up, thanks to the fact that he signed Shannon Royce as his campaign's grassroots director. If you're not familiar with the name, Royce has been the chief lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention and the executive director of the Arlington Group, a coalition of leading conservative Christian leaders, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer of American Values and Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association.

Wildmon recently announced his endorsement of Mike Huckabee for president.

The God-o-Meter also reports that Mitt Romney's rating has remained virtually unchanged lately, although it did get a slight bump from the endorsement of Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of the Moral Majority. In Friday's Washington Times, Weyrich defended his endorsement of Romney and gave his reasons for believing Romney was the best choice to be president.

Romney's campaign has been complaining recently about "push polls" being conducted in New Hampshire and Iowa by unidentified opponents who want to create the impression of widespread anxiety about electing a Mormon. Read the report in the Manchester Union Leader.

Hillary Clinton's rating remains unchanged, even though she announced last week that she has accepted an invitation from Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, to participate in his Global Summit on AIDS and The Church later this month.

Clinton's been getting some unfavorable press lately -- an unusual position for the New York senator, who has grown accustomed to the fawning adoration of the media as she has raced to the top of the Democratic public opinion polls. The unfavorable publicity, however, doesn't have anything to do with religion.

It has more to do with her gaffe at the debate last month in which she made statements supporting and opposing the policy of issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in New York.

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times says Clinton is a "control freak" whose insistence in the most recent debate that criticism of her shifts on issues amounts to "mudslinging" and character attacks and sets a "ludicrous standard."

To be sure, Clinton isn't the only presidential candidate, in this election or in previous ones, who has insisted on "ludicrous standards" by which to be assessed. But Dowd herself neatly summarized Clinton's propensity for this kind of thing in a recent column.

She called it Clinton's "Gift for Gall."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Does 'The King' Live?

CNN reports that Andy Key of Mississippi has acquired the memorabilia collection that operates under the name of Elvis Is Alive Museum, and he plans to move it from its current location in Wright City, Mo., to Mississippi.

Key lives in Mississippi, and Presley, of course, was born and raised in Mississippi. Presley's mansion residence at the time of his death, Graceland, is in Memphis, attracting more than half a million visitors every year.

The new site for the museum hasn't been selected yet. Tupelo, Presley's hometown, is about a 90-minute drive from Memphis, and it reportedly is one of the Mississippi cities being considered. Other possible locations include Laurel (240 miles southeast of Memphis), Jackson (nearly 200 miles south of Memphis) and Hattiesburg (more than 250 miles south of Memphis).

Key says he is "open to the possibility" that Elvis never died, but apparently, he's not a believer.

Nor am I, but this report intrigued me for a simple reason.

I taught journalism on the college level for a few years, and the article reminded me of one student who came to my editing class one day wearing a T-shirt that looked like one of those commemorative shirts one can buy at a concert.

It said "Elvis Tour" on the front, along with whatever year it was. On the back, it had a list of cities and dates, such as the ones that sometimes appear on the concert shirts.

Normally, these lists will name the arena where the individual or group was scheduled to perform. On this T-shirt, it had things like "Kalamazoo, convenience store, June 4" or "Along Route 66, August 3, 2:31 p.m."

I wish I could remember more of the entries. Many of them were very funny, especially when you think of the "Elvis sightings" that have been reported in the media in the last 30 years. I seem to recall that one of them said something like "Denver, hiding in a men's room at a roadside rest stop, October 14."

I can't help wondering if the Elvis Is Alive Museum sells those shirts. If it doesn't, maybe Key will consider selling them.

You can visit the Elvis Is Alive Museum here. I visited it but I didn't find any information about souvenirs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

TV Icons

TVLand will be airing a two-hour special Friday night devoted to the Top 50 TV Icons. It ought to be interesting.

Word has already gotten out that Johnny Carson will be honored as the No. 1 TV Icon, but it doesn't take too much thought to figure out some of others in the Top 10 -- certainly, Lucille Ball will be in the Top 10, as will Walter Cronkite.

And, of course, there are a few that you just know will be on the list, but you don't know where. Like Henry Winkler, who was "The Fonz" on Happy Days. And Carroll O'Connor, who was Archie Bunker on All In The Family. And Ed Sullivan. And Milton Berle. And Jackie Gleason. And Don Knotts. And Mary Tyler Moore. And Barbara Walters. And Oprah Winfrey. And ... well, you get the idea.

There are so many "icons" it's hard to know where each should be ranked. And it's hard to know which should be left off the list!

Revealing the list, which is co-sponsored by Entertainment Weekly, should be fun. And if you miss it on Friday night, I think it will be shown several times during the weekend and early next week, so watch it and enjoy the memories.

New Polls From Iowa

We've got some new polls from Iowa. Get used to it. With the caucuses due to be held on Jan. 3, 2008, we'll be getting these on a regular basis through the holidays.

The latest results are from American Research Group and KCCI in Des Moines.

We often seem to start our reports on surveys by telling you the Republican results first -- at least, that's what I've been told lately. So, to keep things balanced, let's start with the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton is the leader in both surveys and she has 27% in each. Barack Obama is second in both polls, but he is getting 25% in the KCCI poll and 21% in the American Research Group (ARG) poll. John Edwards is third in both surveys, with 21% in KCCI's poll and 20% in ARG's poll. Bill Richardson is fourth in both polls, by a wide margin. He has 10% in KCCI's survey and 12% in ARG's survey.

Clearly, on the Democratic side, it is a three-way race.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney is the leader in both surveys, but, like Clinton, he has a larger lead in one poll than he does in the other. KCCI shows a closer race on the Democratic side; ARG reports a closer race among the Republicans.

Like Clinton, Romney's total is consistent, and it's almost identical to the support level Clinton is holding in her party. Romney has 27% in the KCCI poll and he has 26% in the ARG survey. Mike Huckabee is second in both surveys, but he has 24% in ARG's poll. The KCCI survey gives him 18%.

Rudy Giuliani is third in both surveys, with 16% in KCCI and 11% in ARG. Giuliani shares the third spot with Fred Thompson in ARG. Thompson also has 11% in that one. Thompson has fourth place to himself in the KCCI poll, with 10%.

John McCain is fifth in both surveys. He's running close to Giuliani and Thompson in the ARG poll, with 10%, but he's farther behind in KCCI with 6%.

For the GOP, it's looking like a fight between Romney and Huckabee. For Giuliani, Thompson or McCain to make a difference in Iowa, they need to start making a surge soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Next Debate

The Democratic presidential candidates will hold their next debate tomorrow night (Thursday) at 8 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

The debate will be televised from Las Vegas.

No matter which party you belong to, you can't say you haven't been given ample opportunities to hear what the candidates have to say. I think this will be the eighth or ninth Democratic debate, and I think the Republicans have held seven debates.

And no votes have been cast yet.

If you miss Thursday's debate, the Democrats have scheduled another debate on Dec. 17 (Boston) in their lead-up to the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3 and possibly the New Hampshire primary (the date for the primary still hasn't been determined).

The Democrats also will hold debates on Jan. 21 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), and Jan. 31 (Los Angeles).

The Republican candidates are scheduled to hold another debate in two weeks, on Nov. 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla. They aren't scheduled for another debate until two months later -- on Jan. 30 in Simi Valley, Calif.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Who Will Win In Iowa?

Less than two months before the caucuses are held, Iowa, it seems, is in no one's pocket.

A couple of polls, Strategic Vision and CBS/New York Times, completed surveys of Iowa's Republicans and Democrats yesterday.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney was leading in the CBS/New York Times poll with 27%. Mike Huckabeee was second with 21%, and Rudy Giuliani was third with 15%. Fred Thompson and John McCain were in single digits with 9% and 4%, respectively.

In Strategic Vision's poll, Romney is at the top with 30%, holding a wide lead over Huckabee (19%), Giuliani (12%), Thompson (11%), and McCain (7%).

The Strategic Vision poll is also interesting for what it reveals about Republican attitudes about President Bush.

Republicans, we are told, are looking for "the next Ronald Reagan." Apparently, they didn't find the next Reagan in George W. Bush, no matter how many cowboy hats he wears or how many brush thickets he clears out on his ranch.

Strategic Vision asked Republicans in Iowa if Bush was "a conservative Republican in the mode of Ronald Reagan" and only 7% said yes while 74% said no.

On the Democratic side, both surveys have Hillary Clinton leading for the nomination, but by only 2 percentage points in both polls.

Strategic Vision found Clinton had the support of 29%, with Barack Obama close behind at 27% and John Edwards running third with 20%.

In the CBS/New York Times survey, Clinton led among Iowa's Democrats with 25%, followed by Edwards with 23% and Obama with 22%.

I think there's a relevant, yet touchy, question to be asked in the Democratic race. Polls constantly show that Americans are ready to vote for a woman or a black for president. The 2008 Democratic race will be the acid test for those poll results, the nearer either Clinton or Obama gets to winning the nomination.

For those who have been answering "yes," it's time to put up or shut up.

So, are the people who respond in the affirmative to voting for a woman or a black for president being honest and sincere, or are they being politically correct?

When the chips are down, will Democrats opt for a symbolic nominee -- the first woman nominated for president or the first black nominated for president? And, if they do, will the American public in general follow their lead next November?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Broadway John

In a style reminiscent of Joe Namath's "guarantee" that his New York Jets would defeat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, John McCain says he will win the New Hampshire primary, according to a report in The Hill.

McCain is quoted as saying “A lot of people haven’t made up their minds,” and polls indicate he's right about that. Recent polls show Mitt Romney with support around the 32% level. Rudy Giuliani is polling second with about 20% in several recent polls, and McCain is running third with support ranging from 14% to 17%.

But polls also indicate that perhaps one-fifth of New Hampshire's Republican voters are undecided and a healthy share of those who currently claim to support a candidate can be switched without too much persuading.

So McCain is right when he asserts that New Hampshire could still vote for anyone. But it's a big jump from suggesting that a lot of voters haven't made up their minds to asserting that “I can tell you right now I will win New Hampshire," as McCain appears to do in virtually the same breath in the article.

Of course, if you want to make a bet on McCain's prospects in New Hampshire, I think the spread between what his support level is today and what it needs to be by primary day remains quite wide.

Ronald Reagan and 'The Slur'

A debate is erupting at the New York Times.

Columnist David Brooks wrote a column last week that ran in Friday's edition. The headline was History and Calumny.

You can read it here.

In today's edition, the Times published some of the readers' responses. You can read them here.

If you don't have the time to read both, I'll try to give you the condensed version.

Brooks was referring to a campaign appearance by Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan went to Philadelphia, Miss., which was where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. In a speech Reagan gave, the soon-to-be-elected president proclaimed, "I believe in states' rights."

Since that time, the assertion has been that Reagan used the phrase "states' rights" with the knowledge that it was code language intended to mollify the Ku Klux Klan elements in the electorate, particularly in Southern states like Mississippi. Brooks' column alleges that anyone who continues to claim that Reagan made an appeal to racism in his speech -- or in his 1980 campaign in general -- is perpetuating a "slur" against him.

The readers whose comments were published today responded in the manner in which I would have hoped they would respond. They refused to stick their heads in the sand, as Brooks appears to have done, and deny that racism played any part in Reagan's speech or campaign.

As one reader wrote, "However sincere Mr. Reagan may have been ... there can be no doubt that 'states’ rights' is a racist doctrine, and one that the GOP continues to embrace. With all the major GOP presidential hopefuls clinging both to Ronald Reagan’s legacy and the old Southern strategy of Richard M. Nixon, the issue is as real and cogent today" as it was 27 years ago when Reagan went to Philadelphia, Miss.

I was in college when Reagan made his visit to Mississippi and, for one who is old enough to remember the event, this comment from a Times reader is perhaps the most relevant to the reality: "It wasn’t Ronald Reagan’s going to Philadelphia, Miss., that exposed the Republican racism, nor was it his speaking of states’ rights. It was doing the two things together that made the symbolism clear."


And, if I had the chance to speak directly to David Brooks, I would have this to say: We have plenty of people on both sides of the aisle who want to rewrite all sorts of historical events to suit their own agendas. There is no need to add to their number.

If Ronald Reagan wanted or needed to clarify his remarks from that day in 1980, he had a long time in which to do so, including the eight years he spent in the White House. He also had several post-presidential years before Alzheimer's began to rob him of his mind and his personality.

He did not choose to revise his remarks.

And I feel justifiably suspicious of anyone who seeks to do so nearly three decades after the fact.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Do Endorsements Matter?

In an interesting article, Michael Powell of the New York Times wonders if political endorsements really make a difference -- a question we've asked recently.

Powell recalls that Mayor Ed Koch endorsed Al Gore's presidential bid in 1988. Gore went from 7% in the polls in New York to 10% in actual votes on primary day and promptly dropped out of the race.

Koch, who is often sought for his endorsement, says, “I tell them: ‘I’ll be happy to do so, but I’m telling you, it doesn’t mean a thing.’ ”

That's not necessarily true, as Powell goes on to point out. But, in spite of "reporters who tend to type breathlessly about which candidate has taken the lead in 'the endorsements race,' ” endorsements really seem to be more important for the surprise value than volume.

Don't discount the numeric impact, however. As one Republican consultant told Powell, a flock of endorsements "creates a sense of momentum,” and Hillary Clinton can testify to the importance of that -- assuming she wins the nomination.

But if Clinton doesn't win the nomination, political pundits may be more inclined to talk about the surprise value of certain endorsements, such as Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani.

Powell begins his article with a reference to Robertson's endorsement:

"So the most unlikely pairing of the presidential campaign is unveiled, with the Rev. Pat Robertson flashing a television-practiced smile at Rudolph W. Giuliani, the thrice-married, pro-abortion-rights former mayor of New York. This same preacher once said that the terror attacks of Sept. 11 proved that God was lifting his protection from an abortion-giving, gay-loving nation."

Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune says Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani says a lot about the nature of politics in 2008.

Maybe this is the latest twist on the old "opposites attract" adage.

Or perhaps "politics makes strange bedfellows" is due for another revival.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer Dies

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer died early today at the age of 84.

Along with the likes of Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote, Mailer was regarded as one of the innovators of "New Journalism," a genre of creative nonfiction, which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. Mailer was part of the culture since 1948, when his semi-autobiographical World War II novel The Naked and the Dead was published.

For six decades, Mailer was a cultural icon. He won his Pulitzer Prizes for The Armies of the Night in 1968 and The Executioner's Song in 1979.

An anti-Vietnam activist, Mailer wrote The Armies of the Night about the October 1967 March on the Pentagon. It was penned at a time when other "New Journalism" works like Capote's In Cold Blood and Hunter Thompson's Hell's Angels had already been published and just before Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was published.

I was born more than 10 years after Mailer's debut with The Naked and the Dead. The first Mailer book I read was The Executioner's Song when I was in college. If you haven't read it, it is a riveting account of the story of Gary Gilmore, who was executed in Utah.

I thought the book was remarkable, and I thought Mailer's writing was astonishing.

Ultimately, he may be remembered by future generations and future writing students for coining the word "fug" to replace the four-letter slang word for sexual intercourse in The Naked and the Dead.

(For you trivia buffs, "fug" is referred to indirectly in some dialogue in an early episode of the M*A*S*H TV series. General MacArthur is supposed to visit the camp, and Frank Burns takes it upon himself to rid the camp of what he regards as evidence of subversion prior to "Big Mac's" arrival. One of the things Burns does is burn a pile of books he has gathered, including Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. The book is never mentioned by name. When questioning Burns about his selections for burning, Trapper John looks at him disapprovingly and says, "Norman Mailer." Burns replies, "It's got that word in it!")

Replacing "that word" was actually urged upon Mailer by his publishers, and Mailer reportedly said about the affair:

"... The word has been a source of great embarrassment to me over the years because, you know, Tallulah Bankhead's press agent, many years ago, got a story in the papers which went ... 'Oh, hello, you're Norman Mailer,' said Tallulah Bankhead allegedly. 'You're the young man that doesn't know how to spell ... ' You know, the four-letter word was indicated with all sorts of asterisks ... I thought she (Bankhead) should have hired a publicity man who had a better sense of fair play."

Undoubtedly, Mailer will remain controversial in death, almost as controversial as he was in life.

He was absolutely certain on one point. "I knew that there was one thing I wanted to be and that was a writer."

One man's life can't be summed up adequately in one newspaper article, but the obituary in today's New York Times does as good a job as can be expected. You can read it here.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Huge Endorsement for Huckabee?

If The American Spectator is correct, at a time when we have recently seen Pat Robertson endorse the candidacy of Rudy Giuliani and former presidential candidate Sam Brownback endorse John McCain, we may be on the verge of witnessing an even bigger endorsement among social conservatives.

According to The American Spectator, Dr. James Dobson is planning to endorse former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee within the next 10 days. The endorsement will include an appearance by Huckabee on Dobson's radio show, which is broadcast nationally.

Such an endorsement could be a real bonanza for the Huckabee campaign in terms of fund-raising. According to a source close to the Huckabee campaign, Dobson's endorsement "would help us get to the Thompson-McCain level (in fund-raising) if not higher. Dr. Dobson's endorsement means that much."

It didn't take long for the God-o-Meter to react. Huckabee's ranking is now the best among Republicans -- but, not, apparently, because of Dobson's impending endorsement. The God-o-Meter was responding to another endorsement of Huckabee, this one from Rev. Donald Wildmon of Tupelo, Miss.

Wildmon is the founder of the American Family Association and has been involved in protests against pornography and violence in the media.

Among Wildmon's targets have been the following TV shows -- Three's Company, Charlie's Angels, Magnum P.I., M*A*S*H and Dallas.

Do people pay attention to endorsements when making their voting decisions? Here in Dallas, the candidate who was recently elected mayor was endorsed by former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. Did Staubach's support make a difference in the election? Some say yes, some say no.

As far as what kind of impact Dobson's endorsement will have on the campaign is concerned, CNN contributor Roland Martin contends that the focus of evangelical Christians "was never really principles of the faith but the Republican Party" and they will line up reliably behind the eventual nominee.

Even if that nominee is Rudy Giuliani, with his record of being pro-gay rights and pro-choice? Martin says yes, because the evangelicals will be united by their concern about Hillary Clinton appointing Supreme Court justices.

Are evangelical voters that united in their views? We'll see.

Surveys have mixed results when it comes to the influence that endorsements have on elections. Newspapers issue endorsements every election season, but there is no solid evidence that such endorsements affect the outcome. There are always a few voters who vote for every candidate endorsed by a publication, and there are always a few who vote against every candidate endorsed by that publication.

Ultimately, though, it seems most voters make up their own minds, and it remains open to debate how much influence endorsements have on their decisions.

The main value that endorsements seem to have is the "buzz" value. The more publicity a candidate gets, the better off he is.

By that measuring stick, the big loser this week is Fred Thompson, who has seen his other rivals pick up big-name endorsements but has failed to gain a big-name endorsement of his own. Giuliani and McCain each snared big names this week, Mitt Romney recently gained the support of Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich and reports indicate that Huckabee is on the verge of getting one (Dobson) following the endorsement of another {Wildmon).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Brief Encounter

I don't mention this very often, in my blog or anywhere else, but I do have a John Edwards sticker on my vehicle.

Today, I stopped at the neighborhood grocery store. As I was on my way in, a lady who was parked next to me stopped me and said, "If you can get John Edwards nominated, I'll vote for a Democrat for the first time in my life!" She paused, then added, "I want to vote for a Democrat next year, but I just can't vote for Hillary Clinton."

There may be a lot of Republicans, here in formerly rock-ribbed Republican Dallas and elsewhere, who feel the same way.

There's an opportunity for the Democrats in Texas (where no Democrat running for president has won since Jimmy Carter carried Texas in 1976) and in other so-called "red" states, but it's an opportunity that may dissolve if Hillary gets the nomination.

Increasing Prices

It should come as no surprise that gas prices have been going up lately. Here, in my east Dallas neighborhood, the average price of gas has already gone over $2.90 per gallon and is likely to go up even more.

When transportation costs go up, it isn't long before the prices of commodities that depend on transportation go up as well.

And, for beer drinkers, that appears to mean at least a 10% increase in price for the average consumer by the end of the year, according to a report from

The cost of ingredients is largely to blame for the increase, but transportation costs will play a role, as they do in price increases across the board. And, in some cases, availability of some ingredients is curtailed by farmers' decisions to plant other crops.

There are shortages in wheat and barley for brewers to contend with, as more farmers are planting corn to meet the demand for ethanol and still other farmers are planting feed crops to replace acres lost to corn.

At least one brewer sees a trend toward $10 six-packs. But he asserts that's a trend that won't last long.

We'll see.

Religion and the Republicans

A return visit to the God-o-Meter finds that there has been some intriguing movement on the Republican side in recent days.

Pat Robertson's endorsement seems to have helped Rudy Giuliani's ranking. And the endorsement John McCain received from former Republican presidential rival Sam Brownback, who made no real impact on the race as a candidate but remains a favorite of social conservatives, gave McCain's flagging campaign a boost -- albeit one that was not generally noticeable in the God-o-Meter rankings, since McCain's rating already was about as high as it could go.

The highest-rated candidate in the God-o-Meter is Democrat Barack Obama, but his ranking hasn't been revised in nearly a month, in spite of the "40 Days of Faith and Family" tour of South Carolina sponsored by his campaign. There hasn't been much movement on the Democratic side, with all the religious activity apparently generating from the Republican side.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

How Will It Play?

With the negative reaction he received from social conservatives at the Values Voter Summit, Rudy Giuliani must feel pretty good about getting the endorsement of Pat Robertson, arguably the most influential social conservative in American politics, following the death of Jerry Falwell in May.

Personally, I would have expected Robertson to endorse someone like Mike Huckabee. Or even Mitt Romney, who aggressively sought Robertson's support.

But it is surprising to me that someone who is on the record as being in favor of abortion rights and gay rights would earn the endorsement of someone like Robertson.

How surprising is Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani? McCain summed it up pretty well when he said, "Every once in a while, I am left speechless. This is one of those times."

I have to wonder how this is going to play with social conservatives. They're not apt to be speechless at the ballot box. And that's where the impact of endorsements will be felt.

Huckabee May Gain Endorsement in New Hampshire

The Republican members of the New Hampshire State Employees Association (SEA) are planning to meet with presidential candidate Mike Huckabee at the end of this week with the apparent intention of endorsing his candidacy, according to a report in the Manchester Union Leader.

The group's Democratic members have already endorsed John Edwards for his party's nomination. If the Republican members endorse Huckabee, that will mean that the front runners in both parties have been ignored by the organization.

In other news affecting New Hampshire, Democrats in Michigan may make the date of their January primary official tonight. If that happens, it would clear the way for New Hampshire to schedule its primary date. By law, New Hampshire's primary must be the first in the nation.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Blood in the Water

James PInkerton of Newsday may have articulated the best reason for Democrats to think twice -- or even three times -- before handing the 2008 nomination to Hillary Clinton.

In today's column, Pinkerton reminds us of a Democratic debate in April 1988, when then-Sen. Al Gore criticized eventual nominee Michael Dukakis for the "weekend passes" that were given to convicted criminals, even murderers, in Dukakis' home state of Massachusetts.

The issue produced no mileage for Gore or any of the other Democrats in the race. Dukakis went on to win the nomination. But the Bush-Quayle campaign resurrected the issue in the fall, told voters nationwide about what Willie Horton had done, and Dukakis was roundly defeated in the general election.

Such a moment may have occurred in last week's debate, when Sen. Chris Dodd referred to the practice of issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants in Clinton's home state of New York. Dodd called Clinton's position supporting New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer "troublesome."

Pinkerton rightfully points out that the issue won't help Democrats who hope to halt Clinton's momentum in the race for the nomination, but, as in the 1988 race, he asserts that Republicans are smelling blood in the water.

And waiting until the general election next year to use this weapon to their advantage.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Latest 'God-O-Meter'

The latest ratings in the God-O-Meter have some surprises for a few of the candidates.

According to the latest assessment, Fred Thompson's "tenuous courtship" of evangelical voters is over. He has dropped to the bottom of the God-O-Meter's list after telling Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" that he does not support a Human Life Amendment that would, in effect, reverse Roe v. Wade. Thompson feels individual states should be free to make their own laws on abortion.

Rudy Giuliani has also dropped in his rating, presumably after re-stating his pro-choice views at the Values Voter Summit. Polls show that more than half of evangelical Christian voters would seek a third party option if Giuliani is the Republican nominee.

Mitt Romney has moved up slightly, but John McCain and Mike Huckabee remain at the top on the Republican side.

On the Democratic side, only Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have been revised in the last week, and neither candidate went up or down in the ratings.

A Noteworthy Date

November 4 has been a noteworthy date in recent years.

If you're old enough to remember, it was 28 years ago today that hundreds of Iranian students supporting the post-revolutionary regime took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran, starting a 444-day hostage crisis that ended on the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the successor to President Jimmy Carter in January 1981.

Twelve years ago today, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv.

There haven't been many presidential elections on November 4, but it's been a good date for Republicans seeking the White House -- which might be worth noting, since the 2008 presidential election will be held on November 4.

Calvin Coolidge, who became president in 1923 when Warren Harding died, was elected to a full term on his own on Nov. 4, 1924. Twenty-eight years later, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was elected to the first of his two terms as president on Nov. 4, 1952. In 1980, Reagan was elected president on the first anniversary of the embassy takeover in Iran. Coolidge, Eisenhower and Reagan all were Republicans.

November 4 is also the birthday for many noteworthy people, including first lady Laura Bush (61 today), former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite (91 today), M*A*S*H actress Loretta Swit (70 today) and comedian Kathy Griffin (46 today). Among the well-known people who were born on November 4 but have since died are Will Rogers, Art Carney, actor Gig Young and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Famous people who died on this date include gambler Arnold Rothstein, who was reportedly behind the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919, legendary baseball pitcher Cy Young and actress Sheree North.

Defining Moments

Apparently, we've reached a stage in the campaign where leading presidential candidates are having their "defining moments."

In today's New York Times, one of my favorite columnists, Maureen Dowd, makes a point about Hillary Clinton that is similar to the one I've made in a previous post in this blog. Basically, the thing that Hillary feels strongly about is winning.

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing for a politician to care about. A politician has to win elections in order to accomplish anything. But that seems to be where Hillary steps off the train. She wants to win. What she wants to accomplish once she wins is really anyone's guess.

Even hers.

In the aftermath of Hillary's have-it-both-ways on illegal immigration moment during last week's Democratic debate, Dowd observes that "there is nowhere she won’t go, so long as it gets her where she wants to be."

Dowd calls it the "Gift of Gall." I call it an absence of vision.

Karen Tumulty writes in Time magazine that Mitt Romney's defining moment actually occurred when he was governor of Massachusetts. And, although he might not embrace it readily today, that defining moment was his health care initiative that transformed the state into an example of universal coverage.

Tumulty says that the people around Romney assumed that his battle for universal health care coverage in Massachusetts, which included reaching out to one-time rival Sen. Edward Kennedy, would be the centerpiece of his campaign for the White House, illustrating his "data-driven, goal-oriented, utterly pragmatic side."

But Tumulty points out that "that other Mitt Romney, the one who wouldn't be satisfied until he found the answer himself" seldom emerges on the campaign trail.

One has to wonder if it will emerge more frequently if he wins the nomination and needs to run more to the center against the Democratic nominee.

For Mike Huckabee, the defining moment may be coming in a series of moments, starting with his surprising second-place finish in the straw poll of Iowa Republicans in August. That's when people really began talking about Huckabee.

Then, polls began to show Huckabee moving up in the standings. And then he made some waves with his speech to the Values Voters Summit in Washington, where he scored points with Christian conservatives, who are looking for the anti-Giuliani candidate who can successfully articulate their values and concerns.

If Huckabee can do well in Iowa, as Pat Robertson did a generation ago, it won't be necessary for him to win. Nor will it be necessary to win in New Hampshire, writes Charles Mahtesian of the Washington Post. After all, another Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton, didn't win New Hampshire's primary in 1992; he merely beat expectations before moving on to a series of primary victories that led to the nomination.

If Huckabee survives in Iowa and New Hampshire, it probably means one of the leading candidates didn't survive, Mahtesian, editor of The Almanac of American Politics, says. And that will mean a huge opportunity in the South Carolina primary, only days before Super Tuesday, when several Southern states with larger numbers of Southern Baptist voters (including Huckabee's home state of Arkansas) will be voting.

That will be Huckabee's time to shine, Mahtesian says. It's a tricky dance for the one-time Baptist preacher, but not one that is out of his range.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Does Daylight Saving Time Really Save Anything?

Don't forget to adjust your clocks tonight -- if you have the old-fashioned kind of clocks that you have to adjust yourself.

Some appliances, like computers, come equipped to change the time for you, when we shift to daylight saving time and when we shift back to standard time. That's a useful thing to have now that we start daylight saving time a few weeks earlier than we used to and we end it about a week later than we used to.

That's one of the problems we've had this year. Some of those appliances weren't equipped to extend daylight saving time into November. And that's caused inconvenience.

I, for one, have never been much of a fan of daylight saving time.

One of the ideas behind it was the notion that making this time shift would save people on their energy bills, but there's never been any conclusive evidence to show that consumers benefit financially. I was thinking about that today while I was filling up on gas that is now over $2.80 a gallon in my neighborhood.

I think $3.00/gallon will be coming along sooner than you might think. We might set a few more records before it levels off.

Read the editorial in today's Los Angeles Times. The Times says our insatiable thirst for oil simply enriches our enemies.

The Latest From Iowa

Polls can be conflicting -- and flat-out wrong -- so it's best not to put too much stock into them. At least until you see actual voting results that confirm what the polls have been telling you.

For example, take a recent poll from the University of Iowa that showed Mitt Romney soaring to a huge lead in that state with 36%. In that poll, his nearest rivals for the Republican nomination, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani, were more than 20 points behind, at 13% apiece. Fred Thompson was next with 11% and John McCain had 6%.

What made that poll unique among other polls taken in Iowa was Romney's total. Most polls in Iowa have shown Huckabee, Giuliani and Thompson in the teens, but most of those polls have shown Romney in the 20% range, not in the 30% range. A 23-point lead simply had not been established in any of the previous polls.

Last week, a poll from the American Research Group showed Romney's total back in the 20% range -- at 27%. Huckabee was second with 19%, Giuliani was third with 16%, McCain was next with 14% and Thompson rounded out the field with 8%.

These figures are more in line with what we've been seeing from Iowa's Republicans.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton's lead in Iowa appears to be growing. She has 32% in the latest ARG poll, followed by Barack Obama with 22% and John Edwards with 15%. Polls have been indicating that Edwards has been declining in Iowa at the same time that Clinton has been gaining in support. Obama's support level has varied from poll to poll, but he has generally been running second to Clinton in Iowa.

Pundits are virtually unanimous in their assertion that Democratic challengers need to establish an alternative to Clinton in the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary to have a chance of denying her the Democratic nomination.

Iowa and New Hampshire are always important in the races for presidential nominations because they come so early in the political calendar. As momentum builders, they are even more important this time, with nearly half of all states holding primaries a few weeks later.

If a candidate on either side can win Iowa, New Hampshire or both, he or she will be the established front runner heading into Super Tuesday, when larger states with more delegates at stake will go to the polls.

Both Iowa and New Hampshire have reputations as mavericks. Sometimes they can make a previously unheralded candidate into a contender, sometimes they can de-rail a front-runner.

In 1976, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter seemed to come from nowhere to "win" the Iowa caucus. Carter actually finished second to an uncommitted slate of delegates but nevertheless finished with more support than any other actual candidate, then went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency.

In 1980, George H.W. Bush defeated Ronald Reagan in the Iowa Republican caucus, but Reagan regrouped, won the New Hampshire primary and ultimately won the nomination and the presidency.

In 1988, Republican poll leaders Bob Dole and Bush were stunned when Pat Robertson finished a strong second with 25% in the Iowa caucus. Dole actually finished first in the caucus with 37%, and Bush came in third with 19%, but most people remember Robertson's finish and not the others. Bush wound up winning the nomination and the election.

In 1992, the Iowa caucus was rendered virtually irrelevant to the process. On the Democratic side, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin practically had the field to himself, and President Bush was unopposed in his bid for the Republican nomination.

The last three nominees from both parties have finished first in the Iowa caucuses.

New Hampshire can be just as fickle. For more than 50 years, New Hampshire has been the initial proving ground for candidates who wished to be their party's standard-bearer, going back to 1952 when General Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated his vote-getting ability by defeating Robert Taft there.

And, according to a state law passed in 1977, the New Hampshire primary must be the first in the nation. Thus, it has been continually moved up in the calendar to retain its first-in-the-nation status. Originally held in March, New Hampshire primary voters went to the polls in February in the 1990s and in January in 2004. The date for the 2008 primary has not been set.

In 1968, Eugene McCarthy finished second behind Lyndon Johnson, but his strong showing eventually forced Johnson to drop his bid for another term in the White House. Four years later, Ed Muskie came into New Hampshire as the Democratic front-runner to challenge Richard Nixon, but the infamous "crying in the snow" incident worked against Muskie and helped propel George McGovern to the front of the pack.

In 1992, Bill Clinton did not win New Hampshire, but he finished a strong second after trailing by a wide margin in earlier polls and proclaimed himself the "Comeback Kid." Clinton, of course, went on to win the nomination and the election.

And, in 1996, Pat Buchanan scored an upset victory over Dole in New Hampshire. Dole rebounded and went on to win the Republican nomination, but he lost the general election to President Clinton.

The point is, in both states -- and in both parties -- it ain't over 'til it's over.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Best You're Gonna Get

Michael Mukasey, President Bush's nominee for attorney general, is far from perfect.

And there are many people out there who are more qualified, more experienced and possess better legal minds.

But Mukasey is, in the words of Sen. Charles Schumer, "far better than anyone could expect from this administration." Or, in Sen. Dianne Feinstein's blunt observation, Mukasey is "not Alberto Gonzales." And that has a lot going for it.

This president has about 14 months left in office. And when you consider the people who have occupied the attorney general's office during Bush's tenure, Mukasey truly is as good as it gets.

If Mukasey is turned back, Bush will simply nominate someone more objectionable to Democrats.

So I would recommend to the Democrats in the Senate that, whatever their misgivings over Mukasey may be -- and there are plenty of misgivings to have -- it's best to avoid a showdown with Bush over this.

Let him have this choice for attorney general, live with the aspects with which you're uncomfortable and save your fights for the more important, longer lasting matters.

In a little over a year, Bush will be on his way back to Texas, and someone else will be preparing to move in to the White House. But policy decisions will have ramifications that can -- and probably will -- carry over into the next president's administration.

Learn from Bush's mistake. He squandered his "political capital" and had nothing left when a real crisis (Hurricane Katrina) came along.

It's essential that the Democrats in Congress hold on to whatever "capital" they still have -- in case a Supreme Court opening comes up or SCHIP is voted on again or something like that.

Drawing a line in the dirt over this will only make it more difficult to accomplish anything of substance between now and the next election.

In the last 14 months of a president's administration, you have to control the agenda or it will control you.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Wide World Of Sports

It's an interesting time to follow sports, whether professional or college ...

In baseball ...

* The Boston Red Sox wrote a somewhat predictable end to the fairy-tale saga of the Colorado Rockies. Colorado went on an astonishing winning streak just to get into the playoffs, then somehow got through the National League to qualify for the first World Series in its history. Yet the Red Sox went through the Rockies like a knife through soft butter, sweeping the series, 4-0.
* On the sidelines, the Los Angeles Dodgers apparently have wrapped up negotiations with former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre to fill their managerial vacancy. Since the Dodgers play in the same division as the Rockies, it ought to make next season even more intriguing.

In pro football ...

* Everyone's getting worked up about this weekend's clash between the unbeatens, New England and Indianapolis. It should be an entertaining game, featuring the two premier quarterbacks in the AFC, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. And the winner will have the edge in gaining home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs.
* The Colts-Patriots game is only the latest marquee battle. A few weeks ago, the showdown between the Patriots and Cowboys was the big story. And, in a few more weeks, the big showdown will be Dallas and Green Bay. Whoever emerges victorious, the Cowboys or the Packers, is likely to be favored to have home field through the NFC playoffs.
* But the NFL can be unpredictable -- and we're not quite to the midway point of the season. So keep watching!

In college football ...

* It's been interesting to watch most of the teams that were getting all the preseason hype get knocked from their respective perches -- starting with Michigan's early season home loss to lowly Appalachian State.
* For those who like to watch big-name battles, November always has plenty of those, and this weekend features one from the SEC (LSU vs. Alabama), one from the Big 12 (Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma), one from the ACC (Florida State vs. Boston College) and a couple from the Big Ten (Wisconsin vs. Ohio State and Michigan vs. Michigan State). They should provide plenty of memorable moments.
* But, last weekend, on a day when football fans' attention was supposed to be on Ohio State-Penn State, the play of the year, if not the decade (and possibly the century) was being witnessed in the form of Division III's Trinity's 15-lateral game-winning touchdown play against Millsaps.

After several years of working among the most grizzled sports writers you can imagine, I think it's safe for me to say that only the most hard-boiled sports writer would not feel his pulse quickening at the sight of that Trinity play.