Thursday, January 31, 2008

Remembering Gandhi

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

To pay homage to the memory of this remarkable man, who introduced much of the world to the concept of nonviolent civil disobedience, I recommend watching the 1982 movie about his life, directed by Richard Attenborough.

Turner Classic Movies will be showing that film this Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern.

It's a great history lesson and a magnificent reminder of what is possible, even if one doesn't direct great armies and isn't blessed with an important title.

If nothing else, it's an opportunity to recall the words of Albert Einstein after the death of the amazing little man in the loincloth.

"Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one, as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

One and Done

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was gambling that he would get a strong showing in the Florida primary that would propel him to an even greater showing in next week's "Tsunami Tuesday" primaries and caucuses and, ultimately, to the Republican nomination.

But the numbers told a different story. The gamble didn't pay off.

Following Giuliani's distant third-place finish in Florida, the word is out that he will withdraw from the race today and endorse John McCain, the winner of the Florida primary.

"I'm proud I ran a positive campaign," he told his supporters in Florida Tuesday night. "I ran a campaign that was uplifting."

He also ran a campaign that was about one issue -- terrorism.

Certainly, there are voters whose only concern is terrorism/national security. And there's no disputing the importance of fighting terrorism and making sure the nation is secure.

But what Giuliani apparently never realized was that a presidential candidate cannot be, essentially, a one-trick pony and appeal to enough voters to be successful. There are too many other issues that voters care about.

It's fine to be concerned about fighting terrorism. And, given Giuliani's experience as the mayor of New York City during the September 11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, it's understandable that his top priority would be fighting terrorism.

But what was his answer to the millions of Americans without health insurance? And what was his answer to escalating energy costs, which led to escalating food costs?

It's for the best that Giuliani appears to be on the verge of dropping out of the presidential race, even though the New York media, especially the New York Post, appears to be mourning the end of his candidacy.

"The dream New York match -- Rudy vs. Hillary -- is not to be," writes the Post. "And that's too bad."

Of course, it remains to be seen if Hillary will keep her date with destiny.

And now, let's listen to tonight's Republican debate and find out what the remaining candidates propose to do about the many issues that face this country.

The Democrats will hold their final pre-"Tsunami Tuesday" debate tomorrow night.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kennedy and Reagan Aren't Running -- Get Over It

Barack Obama was endorsed by Caroline Kennedy and her uncle, Edward Kennedy, this week, while Robert Kennedy's offspring endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Obama, of course, has been compared (favorably) to Caroline's father, John F. Kennedy, although, as Washington Monthly's Ted Widmer points out, Obama is no JFK.

Nevertheless, Caroline and Ted held a rally for Obama Monday that the New York Times' David Brooks found "astonishing" in its ability to revive memories of past glories and transfer those good feelings to Obama's campaign.

I really wonder if all this would be possible if Hillary and Bill Clinton hadn't managed to sabotage their own efforts with their behavior of late.

Sure, Robert Kennedy's children -- Kathleen, Robert Jr. and Kerry -- penned their own endorsement of Hillary Clinton that was published in the Los Angeles Times. They very charitably allowed that "Our party is blessed with the most impressive array of primary candidates in modern history. All would make superb presidents" before going on to make their case for the election of Mrs. Clinton.

But this yearning for a proven leader from the past is no more seemly coming from Democrats than it has been coming from Republicans who crave a return to their glory years of the 1980s and the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

Let's all get on the same page on this one, shall we? The year is 2008, not 1960 or 1980. The issues are different. The challenges are different.

Let's judge this year's candidates for president on the experiences they bring to the table. And let's have a serious, in-depth discussion of those experiences and how they can benefit our nation in these troubled times.

Before we elect our next president, it is essential that we discuss the issues and decide how we, as a nation, want to proceed.

It may be too late if we have to wait until 2012.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bush's Final State of the Union

George W. Bush will give his final State of the Union address Monday night.

It will be interesting to hear how he evaluates the state of the union in his final year in office. This is the record his would-be successors will have to deal with.

This is an especially important speech for the Republicans who are contending for their party's presidential nomination. This is the country they seek to inherit from a fellow Republican, and it is his record on which they will have to run, like it or not.

It had been generally assumed that Bush would leave office with the economy strong, if overshadowed by the war in Iraq.

Now, as the New York Times points out, Bush could well leave office in much the same way his father did in 1993, "on an economic sour note, with a reputation for spending so much time worrying about foreign affairs that he forgot about the problems of ordinary Americans at home."

It is expected that the speech will focus on the $150 billion "economic stimulus package" Bush and congressional leaders discussed last week.

One question that hasn't been answered to my satisfaction is -- how will this be paid for?

Bush gives his address at 9 p.m. Eastern on Monday night.

Two nights later, watch the final Republican debate prior to "Tsunami Tuesday" and find out how the State of the Union speech affects the GOP campaign.

And, if you live in Florida, don't forget to vote in the primary on Tuesday.

Kennedys Supporting Obama

Some have compared Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy.

Now, Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, has endorsed Obama's candidacy in an article in today's New York Times.

"My reasons are patriotic, political and personal," she writes. "Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible."

Caroline isn't the only Kennedy supporting Obama's candidacy, which is all the more surprising when one considers the cozy relationship Bill and Hillary Clinton have enjoyed with the Kennedy family.

Her uncle, Ted, President Kennedy's youngest brother and the senior senator from Massachusetts, also is supporting Obama.

Still, there's a bit of a split in the Kennedy clan these days. Bobby Kennedy's daughter, Kathleen, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, is supporting Hillary Clinton.

"I respect Caroline and Teddy's decision, but I have made a different choice," she said.

Massachusetts hold its primaries on "Tsunami Tuesday," Feb. 5.

Maryland holds its primaries a week later, on Feb. 12.

A Package Deal

Lately, there's been a lot of discussion about Bill Clinton's presence in his wife's campaign for the presidency.

We're in uncharted waters here, since this is the first time an ex-president's spouse has sought the presidency. But, as long as Hillary Clinton is part of the political landscape, you can expect Bill Clinton to be wherever the spotlight is.

And there are those who believe that Bill Clinton is a loose cannon, taking aim at constituencies that have been enthusiastic Clinton supporters in the past.

Take, for example, his charge about Barack Obama and his claims of consistent opposition to the Iraq War. In the words of CBS News' Vaughn Ververs, "[M]any blacks heard more than policy criticism. They heard a dismissive attack on the first black with a real chance of winning the White House. They heard echoes of racial battles of the past. And they heard it from someone who was supposed to be on their side."

The South Carolina primary offered proof of how the black community responded. More than half of Saturday's Democratic voters in South Carolina were black, and nearly four-fifths of them voted for Obama.

The final totals showed Obama with 55% of the vote in South Carolina. Clinton was second with 27%, and John Edwards was third with 18%. The latest delegate count has Obama with 63 delegates, Clinton with 48 and Edwards with 26.

And if you've found yourself being turned off by the talk of political dynasties -- following the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush in the last two decades -- isn't Clinton's candidacy just more of the same?

In a way, that's the point that Obama tried to make when he observed, in the most recent debate, that he didn't know who he was running against, Bill or Hillary.

Frankly, the situation is exactly what they told us it was 16 years ago -- two for the price of one.

That part hasn't changed. What's different is the experience level. And, for both of them, that includes eight years in the White House.

It's a record that needs to be fully investigated. To this point, America's voters have been asked to accept it on faith, much as they were expected, 40 years ago, to accept on faith Richard Nixon's promise of a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War.

Hillary Clinton claims to have gained invaluable experience as first lady, but we've been given no details of that experience. Was it confined to sitting in on high-level meetings? Was she given a vote on policy? If so, on whose authority?

To my knowledge, she was neither elected nor appointed to any position that permitted her to participate in making policy.

As a lawyer, she should know -- as I'm sure she does -- that there are laws prohibiting the assumption or execution of any power or privilege unless the source of that authority is legitimate.

Legal authority. That's how things work in a democracy.

The presidency is not a fraternity or sorority. When the word "legacy" is mentioned, it does not mean the automatic right of a president's spouse or offspring to assume presidential power after the president leaves office.

And, to this point, we have no evidence of the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton's White House experience.

Maybe Hillary Clinton didn't have a vote. Maybe she was allowed to speak at meetings, but wasn't given any other privilege. What did she say? How did she influence decisions on policy?

I'm sorry, but it's just not enough for me to be told that "she was there." Potted plants were there, too. But no one has suggested that the potted plants played a role in policy making.

Earlier this week, Maureen Dowd wrote, in the New York Times, that "It’s odd that the first woman with a shot at becoming president is so openly dependent on her husband to drag her over the finish line."

The Economist puts it more bluntly: "Is Mr. Clinton damaging his wife's presidential chances as well as his own reputation?"

And Bill's influence certainly won't end there. It's becoming clear, from sea to shining sea, that his involvement is more about him than it is about her.

Vanity Fair has already concluded that Bill is running for a third term. Vanity Fair says Bill Clinton's behavior has been "sordid and undignified. And his de facto backdoor attempt to retake the presidency is nothing short of unseemly."

Jonathan Chait wonders, in the Los Angeles Times, if "the conservatives might have had a point about the Clintons' character. ... They do seem to have a feeling of entitlement to power."

If Hillary is nominated, this won't end on Election Day.

"Any Democrat who seriously thinks that Bill will fade away if Hillary wins the nomination -- let alone that the Clintons will escape being fully vetted -- is a Democrat who ... believes in fairy tales," writes Frank Rich in today's New York Times.

"For better or worse," writes Michael Tackett in the Chicago Tribune, "Bill Clinton [is] in the race."

Say what you will about George Wallace. But I preferred it when his first wife, Lurleen, ran for governor of Alabama more than 40 years ago because George was barred by the existing state law from succeeding himself. Everyone in Alabama knew who would be the real governor if Lurleen Wallace won.

At least the voters knew the nature of the deal they were making.

Who will be the real president if Hillary Clinton wins? Do we know the nature of that deal?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kucinich Drops Out; N.Y. Times Endorses Candidates

* It didn't exactly clarify things on the Democratic side in the race for the presidency, but Dennis Kucinich made it official today -- he's no longer a candidate for his party's nomination.

Kucinich, 61, faces a fight for his party's nomination for his House seat in March. Apparently, four Democrats are challenging him in his bid for a seventh term and at least one of those opponents, a Cleveland councilman, feels Kucinich has neglected his responsibilities while running for president.

"We're elected by terms not by decades, and you look at his last term and he's missed over 130 votes," the councilman said.

* South Carolina's Democrats go to the polls tomorrow. The black vote is expected to be high, and Barack Obama appears to be a beneficiary of that.

The latest poll from American Research Group shows Obama with 39%. Hillary Clinton is second with 36%. John Edwards, who was born in South Carolina and won that state's primary four years ago, is third with 22%.

And talk is that turnout could be higher than it's ever been for a South Carolina Democratic presidential primary.

Rain and snow may have played a role in keeping Republican turnout down last weekend. The weather is supposed to be better tomorrow, with milder temperatures and only a slight chance of rain.

A big turnout for Democrats might be a real morale boost for the party in a state where Republicans have dominated for decades. But it's hard to say whether that would help Obama or Clinton.

* It wasn't all bad news for Clinton today. She received the endorsement of the New York Times.

Recalling the New York senator's bid for re-election in 2006, the Times said, "When we endorsed Mrs. Clinton in 2006, we were certain she would continue to be a great senator, but since her higher ambitions were evident, we wondered if she could present herself as a leader to the nation."

Now, the Times concluded, "She is the best choice for the Democratic Party as it tries to regain the White House."

On the Republican side, the New York Times endorsed John McCain's bid for his party's nomination.

"We have strong disagreements with all the Republicans running for president," wrote the Times. "Still, there is a choice to be made, and it is an easy one. ... [McCain] would offer a choice to a broader range of Americans than the rest of the Republican field."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fred Thompson Bows Out

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination today.

The decision doesn't seem to be much of a surprise.

There was a time when some Republicans thought they had found the next Ronald Reagan in another actor-turned-politician. But the Thompson experience proves, as nothing else could, that Reagan was unique.

Thompson didn't even get close enough to get a whiff of victory in the primaries and caucuses held thus far. And the most crushing disappointment must have been a lackluster showing in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

After the expectations that had been established, it was hard to imagine Thompson's campaign going anywhere with the lack of support it received.

Thompson was counting on a strong showing in South Carolina to keep his campaign going, but he didn't get much traction in the Palmetto State. And the outlook isn't any better in the primaries that are coming up on the political calendar.

So Thompson made the wise decision and chose to drop out.

In writing about Thompson's withdrawal, the New York Times observed, "His speaking style swung between folksy and laconic to the point of sleepy."

I have a friend who admires Thompson and wanted to see him run for president. But even he sensed a certain hesitance in Thompson to make a commitment to the campaign in the months leading up to his announcement.

Maybe that was Thompson's "Hamlet factor." He never could decide if he really wanted to be president.

Maybe now, he has decided.

Monday, January 21, 2008

All Politics Is Local

It was the late Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, longtime respresentative from Massachusetts and speaker of the House, who said, "All politics is local."

In a neat, easy-to-remember, four-word sentence, O'Neill summed up the nature of politics. We're provincial creatures, and we translate what is happening locally (in our province) into our vote selections on the seemingly higher state and national levels.

In truth, the level doesn't get any higher than your own backyard or the route you take to work each day.

Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times understands this in her article headlined "A California primary that matters."

For those of us who don't live in California, it may seem odd that a primary held in a state with a population of more than 36 million and holder of one-fifth of the electoral votes needed to win the general election wouldn't matter. But, in truth, it has been a long time since there was a primary in California that had a significant impact on the outcome of national nominating contests.

In the last 50 years, when it hasn't had a native son in the race (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in five general elections, Reagan and Jerry Brown in other contests for the nominations), California's spot on the calendar (typically in early June) has rendered it meaningless because the nominees have already secured their nominations in the earlier primaries and caucuses.

Among Republicans, the last California primary that mattered was between its former governor, Ronald Reagan, and then-President Gerald Ford, who were locked in a battle for the 1976 nomination that went down to the wire.

The last truly memorable contest for California's Democratic delegates was in 1968, when Bobby Kennedy won the primary against Gene McCarthy but lost his life to an assassin's bullets.

This time, Californians will vote in February on "Tsunami Tuesday," Feb. 5. Neither nomination will be wrapped up by that time, so California will play an important role in deciding the nominees in both parties.

The primary also will include ballot initiatives that will influence the political landscape in California. The initiatives could have been put on the ballot for the June primary that will nominate candidates for statewide office, but proponents want to take advantage of the interest that they expect will be generated by the races for the presidential nominations.

So, while this primary will have a distinctly national flavor, it is proof that in California, all politics truly is local.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Three Events, Three Winners

Democrats and Republicans alike participated in caucuses in Nevada on Saturday. And Republicans voted in a primary in South Carolina.

Three events, three different winners.

It was a split decision on the Republican side, where Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucus (even though he was largely unopposed there) and the resurgent ex-insurgent, John McCain, won the South Carolina primary.

The results may have had the effect of winnowing the Republican field a bit.

Rep. Duncan Hunter dropped out of the race last night. And there are questions about the plans of Rep. Ron Paul.

But the biggest name that may be leaving the campaign is Fred Thompson. His showing Saturday was dismal compared to his expectations.

Thompson was banking on a strong showing in South Carolina, but McCain has 33% and Mike Huckabee has 30% of the vote there with 97% of the precincts counted this morning. Thompson is a distant third with 16%.

In Nevada, 51% of Republicans gave their support to Romney. His nearest competitors were Paul with 14% and McCain with 13%.

Hillary Clinton had the support of 51% of Nevada's Democrats. Barack Obama was second with 45%. But Obama emerged with the edge in Nevada's convention delegates, 13 to 12.

So, in the race for Democratic delegates, Obama now has 38 and Clinton has 36. John Edwards is third with 18.

Among Republicans, Romney has 66 delegates, McCain has 38 delegates and Huckabee has 26. But despite Romney's nearly two-to-one advantage in the delegate count, John Dickerson writes in Slate that victory in South Carolina essentially makes McCain the "front runner."

What's next on the political calendar? South Carolina again. Only this time, it will be the Democrats who are in the spotlight as they hold their primary next Saturday, Jan. 26.

According to American Research Group, Obama has staked out a lead in South Carolina. The latest survey shows him at 45% while Clinton is second with 39%.

Although the individual numbers vary slightly, Obama has been in front consistently by 6 percentage points.

The Democratic candidates will hold a pre-South Carolina primary debate Monday night, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time, on CNN. The debate will be held in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Republicans won't have another electoral contest until Jan. 29, when Florida's voters go to the polls. Giuliani has been leading in Florida, where independents can vote in either primary. His strongest challenger for Republican votes appears to be McCain, but his chief rival for independent votes is Thompson.

If Thompson chooses to drop out in the next week and a half, where will his supporters go?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Outlook in Nevada

The Las Vegas Sun endorsed Hillary Clinton in today's Democratic caucuses in Nevada.

But you couldn't tell it from the first sentence of the editorial. That first sentence was: "One word can sum up George W. Bush’s presidency: incompetence."

In fact, Clinton's name wasn't mentioned until the seventh paragraph. Not the seventh sentence. The seventh paragraph.

I'm not suggesting the Sun isn't sincere in its support for Mrs. Clinton. The complaints are valid, but they don't exactly lay out a case for nominating the New York senator.

It's more like a case against Bush -- and he'll be leaving the White House in a year anyway.

The Elko Daily Free Press gave its endorsements to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

After discussing Obama's and Romney's positions on mining issues, the Daily Free Press went on to assert: "[T]his will be the make-or-break issue for northeastern Nevada voters in November. Our next president must be committed to preserving the hardrock mining industry in the United States."

The Ely Times didn't endorse a candidate, but it made its opinion of the caucus system crystal clear: "We urge the Democrats and Republicans not to resort to the caucus system in 2012," the Times said in an editorial on Thursday.

"We thought we had progressed and taken candidate selection away from party hacks in their smoke-filled back rooms. But apparently all we got rid of was the smoke."

American Research Group reports that its latest survey shows Clinton holding a narrow lead over Obama in today's Democratic caucuses, 35% to 32%. John Edwards is third with 25%, and 8% are undecided.

The rest of the story is that, since December, Clinton's share has dropped by 10 percentage points while Obama has gone up by 14% and Edwards has gone up by 11%. In that time period, three Democrats (Joe Biden, with 4% in the last survey, Chris Dodd, with 2%, and Bill Richardson, with 2%) have dropped out of the race and the undecided share has dropped by three percentage points.

Also, in Nevada, "non-partisan" voters, who are not affiliated with either party, may participate in whichever caucuses they wish. According to American Research Group, the share of likely participants in the Democratic caucus who are regarded as "non-partisan" is 11%. Among those voters, Edwards is the leader with 42%. Behind him is Obama, with 34%. Clinton is trailing badly with 17%.

But, among Democrats who will participate in their caucuses, Clinton is in front with 37%. Obama is second with 32% and Edwards is third with 23%.

And, according to the poll, nearly 90% of the caucus participants will be Democrats, which is good news for Clinton. After all, if the Democrats are supporting her and nearly nine out of 10 participants in the Democratic caucus will be registered Democrats, she's likely to win.

But the bad news is, if the numbers are correct not just in Nevada but nationally as well, she has a lot of work to do to persaude independents to join her campaign. Assuming she wins the nomination.

It hasn't drawn a lot of attention, but a Republican caucus is scheduled in Nevada today.

Among the Republicans, Romney leads with 28%, says American Research Group. Running second is John McCain with 21%. In third place is Fred Thompson with 13%, and fourth place belongs to Rudy Giuliani with 11%. Mike Huckabee is sixth with 8%, trailing Ron Paul with 9%.

The survey indicates that about 94% of likely Republican caucus participants are, indeed, Republicans.

And the numbers suggest a significant shift in preferences among Republicans since December.

A month ago, Nevada's Republicans favored Romney, as American Research Group says they still do today, with 29%, but the second choice was Huckabee, with 23%. And the third choice was Giuliani, with 17%.

So, the bottom line, as they prepare to hold the caucuses, is that Obama and Edwards have been on the way up while Clinton has been on the way down in Nevada's Democratic caucuses. Obama and Edwards seem to have benefited from the withdrawals of Biden, Dodd and Richardson. And the undecideds have started making up their minds.

On the Republican side, Romney appears to have remained constant, but McCain and Thompson are on their way up, while Giuliani and Huckabee are on their way down.

We'll see what the eventual bottom lines turn out to be.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Goodbye to the Leader of the Piece Movement

Chess master Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess players the world has ever seen, died today at the age of 64. At this point, no cause of death has been disclosed.

I will never forget those days in 1972, when Fischer faced off against Russian chess master Boris Spassky in Iceland and became America's first world chess champion.

Not long after Fischer's triumph, he published a book about playing chess. Titled "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess," the book sought to teach chess players how to play like Fischer.

Of course, that was impossible. You were no more going to become the next Bobby Fischer by reading that book than you were going to learn to hit like Stan Musial from reading a book by the St. Louis Cardinals great.

But every boy in my seventh grade class in 1973 (and even a few of the girls) had a dog-eared paperback copy of that book that he carried with him -- and I was no exception to the rule. Everyone was playing chess, and everyone wanted to be Bobby Fischer.

There's no doubt that chess became popular after Fischer won the world championship. Everywhere you looked in the early 1970s, you saw people, young and old, male and female, black and white, carrying miniature chess sets with them, always ready to play a game.

And Fischer was the leader of what I now like to call "the piece movement."

Fischer was a controversial individual, though. He was reclusive and mysterious, moving to Iceland, the scene of his triumph over Spassky, in 2005.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Fischer allegedly told a Philippines radio station that reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon were "wonderful news." He also was quoted as saying the attacks had been provoked by American foreign policy.

And, despite having a mother who was Jewish, Fischer was known to be anti-Semitic.

Even the cause of his death is shrouded in mystery today.

But this afternoon, I'm not thinking about his political and social views. Or his self-imposed exile to Iceland.

Today, I remember the Bobby Fischer who was responsible for inspiring my friends and me to learn the game of chess and develop our strategic skills.

For that, I will always be grateful.

Republicans Whistling 'Dixie'

South Carolina's Republicans go to the polls tomorrow, and the tunes being sung by the Republican presidential hopefuls have shifted to "Dixie."

Abortion is a much larger issue in South Carolina than it was in New Hampshire or Michigan or Iowa. So is gun control. So is pornography. So is gay marriage.

So is the Confederate flag on the Statehouse dome.

Former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee plays up his faith more than his experience as a governor. Fred Thompson, from nearby Tennessee, has been much more vocal in South Carolina than he has been elsewhere lately.

Domestic issues are important in South Carolina. Foreign policy still matters, though, as John McCain told listeners in Aiken, S.C., Thursday. "I will get bin Laden if I have to follow him to the gates of hell," the Aiken Standard quoted McCain as saying.

Things seem to be moving in favor of McCain, who appears to have swept the newspaper endorsements in South Carolina -- and appears to be on the verge of a victory in tomorrow's primary.

The Charleston Post and Courier endorsed McCain, saying, "Eight years ago we urged voters in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary to support John McCain. His record since then has left us even more convinced that the Arizona senator should be the 2008 Republican presidential nominee."

The Columbia State also gave its endorsement to McCain, telling its readers, "John McCain has shown more clearly than anyone on the American political scene today that he loves his country and would never mislead or dishonor it."

The Greenville News added its voice to the chorus supporting McCain. The News said, "No issue is more important than this nation's security, and no Republican on Saturday's ballot is better qualified to offer steady, tested, reassuring leadership."

Likewise, the Rock Hill Herald expressed its preference for McCain. "If McCain is his party's nominee," the Herald says, "he would have the ability to attract not only conservatives but also moderates and independents. As president, we are confident he would be willing to cross the aisle to work with Democrats to get things accomplished."

The Greenwood Index Journal hasn't endorsed anyone, but offers a worthwhile reminder to citizens who are considering not voting in either tomorrow's Republican primary or the Democratic primary on Jan. 26. "Some voters sometimes get a little lazy. They know they should vote but convince themselves that so many other people will be voting that one vote won’t make a difference. Too many times, though, history proves that elections have been won or lost because of one, two, or three votes."

An editorial in the Hilton Head Island Packet urges "simple steps" to take before going to the polls -- steps everyone should take to make sure they're registered and eligible to vote, whether they live in South Carolina or not.

What are the polls saying on the eve of the primary?

The Columbia State reports that McCain and Huckabee are running "neck and neck" for the lead, with McCain at 27% and Huckabee at 25% in the latest McClatchy-MSNBC poll. Mitt Romney is battling Thompson for third place -- Romney receives 15% and Thompson receives 13%.

The poll reports that the electorate is "volatile," with nearly one in 10 voters saying they were undecided and one-third of those expressing a preference saying they could change their minds before they vote.

American Research Group says McCain enjoys a much larger lead over Huckabee, 33% to 23%. Romney is third, it reports, with 20%, and Thompson is fourth with 13%.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Romney vs. Clinton and Obama

At this point, it's tempting to believe that Mitt Romney has gained the traction he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination, but that's only based on his victories in the caucus in Wyoming (where he was practically unopposed) and the primary in Michigan (where Romney grew up and his father was governor for six years).

Upcoming primaries for the Republicans are not necessarily hospitable to Romney, and the outcome in those states could -- probably will -- shake things up in the GOP.

Nevertheless, Romney is the current leader in committed convention delegates on the Republican side.

So Rasmussen Reports has been conducting surveys to see how Romney might fare against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the general election.

The news isn't good for the former Massachusetts governor, although the news is slightly better when Clinton is part of the equation.

Against Clinton, Romney comes up short, 47% to 41%, Rasmussen finds.

Against Obama, the margin is greater. Romney loses that contest, 49% to 37%.

(By the way, these surveys were conducted before the voters went to the polls in Michigan on Tuesday.)

Rasmussen says that both Democrats enjoy leads of about 20 percentage points among women. The story of the margin is told in the results among men. Romney defeats Clinton among men by double digits, but he loses the male vote to Obama.

Rasmussen has more bad news for Romney:

"A separate survey shows that 47% of likely voters would definitely vote against Mitt Romney," Rasmussen finds. "Among major candidates, only Hillary Clinton faces the same high level of determined opposition.

"Romney is favorably viewed by 36%, a 12-point decline since early January; unfavorably by 50%. Clinton is at 45% favorable, 53% unfavorable. Obama is at 53% favorable, 45% unfavorable."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Avoid the Rush

As Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers prepare to face the New York Giants in Sunday's NFC Championship game, all Jim Baumbach of Newsday can say is that Favre "could have -- maybe even should have -- been a Jet."

If Baumbach is correct, the Jets had a deal in the works with the Cardinals that would have given them the draft spot two positions ahead of Atlanta, the team that drafted Favre in 1991. But the deal fell through, Atlanta drafted Favre, things didn't work out, and he was traded to Green Bay.

And the rest, as they say, is history.


In fact, Favre's career has been so historic, so legendary in nature that, when you see things like the Packers' overwhelming triumph over Seattle in snowy Green Bay on Saturday, it's tempting to ask, "Why not suspend the rules and just go ahead and induct Favre into the NFL's Hall of Fame?"

We all know it's going to happen. We all know that, when we see Favre playing on TV, we're watching a Hall of Famer near the end of his career who is still playing well and clearly having the time of his life.

With a lot of players, you need to wait until their careers are over and then assess what they did. But that's not Brett Favre. We know he'll wind up in Canton, Ohio. The question is when.

Why should we wait until a few years after his career ends -- whenever that turns out to be?

We probably could have gone ahead and put him in the Hall of Fame four years ago, when his father died and Favre played maybe the best game of his life the next night against Oakland. In that now fabled Monday night game, Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns.

Or we could have done it three years ago, when Favre, at the age of 35, led the Packers to a winning streak that wrapped up the division title before the other teams knew what had hit them.

Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says Favre is an "ageless wonder." He reports that a young woman in a bar ("young enough to be carded") observed, while watching the graying Favre on TV last Saturday, that "He looks like he's 58."

"Actually, Brett Favre acts like he's 8, throws like he's 18, plays like he's 28 and understands football like he's 68," Craig writes. "But in reality, he was born Oct. 10, 1969, which makes him too young for those who feel the need to help him across the street or lay a blanket across his lap."

This year, the guy has practically rewritten the NFL's passing record book. He already held the record for most consecutive games started -- a streak that continues to this day. Think of any great quarterback who ever played in the NFL, and his name now comes after Favre's in just about every passing category. Whether it's touchdowns, completions, completion percentage, yardage, you name it. Whether you're talking about Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Unitas or John Elway.

The one exception is total Super Bowl victories. Favre has one Super Bowl win to his credit. I think the most for a starting QB is four, held by Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. So even if he wins this year's Super Bowl, Favre would need to win the next two as well to match the record.

In the process, of course, Favre would set a couple of other standards for future quarterbacks. He would become the oldest quarterback to start in a Super Bowl and the oldest quarterback to win one.

If you're wondering about Tom Brady, he can join that elite group if he wins this year's Super Bowl. But he might have to get past Favre to do it.

And defeating Brady and preventing the Patriots from finishing the season with a perfect record would certainly be another memorable chapter in Favre's Hall of Fame career.

Who Are The Front Runners?

Adam Nagourney, in today's New York Times, points out that, on the Republican side, "three very different states -- with dissimilar electorates driven by distinctive sets of priorities -- have embraced three separate candidates" in the party's pursuit of a nominee to succeed George W. Bush.

Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary last night, capturing 39% of the vote. New Hampshire primary winner John McCain came in second with 30% and Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee was third with 16%. Romney's delegate total is now 36; McCain and Huckabee each have 19.

As a result, Nagourney concludes, "[T]his is a party that is adrift, deeply divided and uninspired." The coalition that was cobbled together by Ronald Reagan, and was held together for many years by Bush, has fractured, with elements scattering to different candidates.

The New York Post, in its blunt manner, asserts that "The GOP race has now descended into total chaos."

Is the situation any clearer on the Democratic side? Not really.

With the names of Barack Obama and John Edwards absent from the Michigan ballot, Hillary Clinton figured to cruise to an easy victory. And, while she staked out a lead and held onto it through the night, Clinton finished with only 55% of the vote. Michigan's Democrats who opted for an "uncommitted" slate of delegates numbered at 40%. A weak field, including Chris Dodd who dropped out of the race more than a week ago, accounted for the rest of the votes.

National polls show Clinton leading among Democrats, but the margin seems to be disputed. Reuters reports that Clinton and Obama are virtually tied nationally, with Clinton claiming 39% and Obama claiming 38%. The USA Today/Gallup Poll gives Clinton a wider lead, 45% to 33%.

Interestingly, despite all of the talk after the Iowa caucuses about a "movement" in Obama's direction, none of the major national surveys have shown him in the lead.

But, even with all the states that are holding primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5, states still vote individually, and polls are showing a statistical dead heat between Obama and Clinton in the next Democratic confrontation this weekend in Nevada's caucuses.

And South Carolina, which holds its Democratic primary a week from Saturday, is leaning to Obama, 38% to 33%, according to Rasmussen.

The only thing that seems clear to me at this point is that neither party is likely to have chosen its nominee by the time the dust settles on what is now being called "Tsunami Tuesday."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Race and Politics in America

Today is primary day in Michigan. Unfortunately, only the Republicans are holding a meaningful primary. Because of intraparty squabbles, Barack Obama and John Edwards are not on the Democratic ballot, so Hillary Clinton appears likely to finish first in a highly diluted field.

The next meaningful battle for the Democrats will occur this weekend. While Republicans are holding the South Carolina primary on Saturday, Democrats will be looking for delegates in Nevada. With nearly 20% of its population Hispanic, Nevada has far greater ethnic diversity than either Iowa or New Hampshire.

Democrats in South Carolina (where nearly 30% of the population is black) will hold their primary on Jan. 26.

That, combined with the observance of Martin Luther King's birthday next Monday (his actual birthday is today), practically guaranteed that the emphasis in the campaign would shift from gender to race in mid-January. And so it has.

The Washington Post has devoted much space on its web site to the discussion of race and politics.

Joseph Califano, once secretary of the now defunct Department of Health, Education and Welfare under President Carter, says in today's Washington Post that it took the partnership of King and Lyndon Johnson to make civil rights advances a reality in this country.

"That's an example the presidential candidates and civil rights leaders of 2008 would be wise to follow," writes Califano, who was special assistant for domestic affairs in Johnson's administration.

But not all the articles about race and politics strike such a positive note as Califano's. Some raise some troubling questions.

Take, for example, Richard Cohen's column in today's Washington Post.

Cohen observes that Barack Obama's church in Chicago is Trinity United Church of Christ. A magazine that was launched by the church gives out awards annually to worthy recipients. Last year, it gave one such award to Louis Farrakhan, and it said he "truly epitomized greatness."

Cohen points out that the daughters of the church's minister serve as publisher and executive editor of the magazine.

That opens up a hornet's nest of issues.

Farrakhan has been responsible for a "rancid stew of lies," Cohen says, particularly about Jews, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Cohen acknowledges that he does not believe Obama shares Farrakhan's views. But Obama has declined to criticize the award because it was given to Farrakhan by the magazine, not by the church that started the magazine.

"This is a distinction without much of a difference," writes Cohen. "And given who the parishioner is, the obligation to speak out is all the greater. He could be the next American president. Where is his sense of outrage?"

Meanwhile, Adam Nagourney and Jennifer Steinhauer write in the New York Times about the Obama-Clinton battle for Hispanic voters in Nevada. Historically, there has been "tension" between blacks and Latinos, and even though Obama has been campaigning in a race-neutral way, they write, race clearly will be a factor when Latinos go to the caucuses in Nevada -- and the polls in other states.

The Hispanic vote could be even more important in the next three weeks, when primaries will be held in California, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona. And the black vote will be a factor in Southern primaries like Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.

Neither race nor gender has ever been as important in evaluating candidates as both are in 2008. It's an unpleasant, although unavoidable, fact of life in a campaign that has the first serious female and black candidates for a presidential nomination.

And it's good for our culture to exorcise these demons -- if only so the next woman or person of color to run for president truly can campaign above the restrictive natures of gender and race.

In his column, Cohen concludes, "The rap on Obama is that he is a fog of a man. We know little about him, and, for all my admiration of him, I wonder about his mettle."

That is the kind of question a presidential campaign is supposed to answer. There are questions that can only be answered under crisis conditions in the crucible of the presidency. But some questions about character can be answered while voters are still making up their minds.

In the coming weeks and months, we'll see how well this campaign answers questions about race and gender and the characters of the leading candidates.

I hope we get the answers we need to make the right decision.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Must-See TV

I don't often do this, but I want all my readers to know about a movie -- actually, several movies -- that will be shown on Turner Classic Movies this week.

This Thursday, at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central), TCM will show "Casablanca," unedited and uninterrupted. You can see Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, and the whole cast.

Then stay tuned because, at 10 p.m. Eastern (9 p.m. Central), TCM will show "From Here to Eternity," with Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra.

If you have TiVo or a VCR, you can record "To Catch A Thief" at 2 a.m. Eastern (1 a.m. Central), with the incomparable Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

And you can catch one of my all-time favorites a week from tomorrow on TCM.

"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" will be shown at 9:30 p.m. Eastern (8:30 p.m. Central) on Tuesday, Jan. 22. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it.

The Playoffs -- A Tale of Two Days

You thought Hillary Clinton's comeback in the New Hampshire primary was stunning?

Imagine how NFL fans are feeling this morning.

Sure, the unbeaten New England Patriots are keeping their date with destiny and will appear in the AFC Championship game next Sunday. And the Green Bay Packers will host the NFC Championship game next Sunday after hammering Seattle in the snow.

But those were Saturday's winners, doing what was expected of them in their playoff games.

It was a different story on Sunday.

In the AFC, the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts couldn't get the job done at home against the San Diego Chargers. And in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys failed to complete a three-game sweep of the New York Giants this season in their playoff game at Texas Stadium.

In the Indianapolis Star, Bob Kravitz writes that the Colts' recent playoff woes (with the noteworthy exception of last year's Super Bowl victory) meant Sunday's loss to the Chargers "shouldn't come as such a great surprise."

And, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Randy Galloway looks at the Cowboys' lengthy streak without a playoff win and says, "Let the count continue. It’s 11 years, with the calendar still active, since the Cowboys have won a playoff game. And after Sunday, is it better to ask 'when,' or 'ever?'"

In New York, Newsday's Shaun Powell gives credit to a much-maligned defensive unit that, in the past, "broke more hearts than George Clooney."

And in San Diego, Tim Sullivan contends, in the San Diego Union Tribune, that the Chargers are "pro football's most pragmatic provocateurs."

But Peter King may have provided the most fitting postscript to the weekend's action in his "Monday Morning QB" column in Sports Illustrated:

"There is nothing like Green Bay on a playoff weekend. You've got to go. You just have to."

After Saturday's game in the snow, who can argue with that?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Remembering 1968

We're nearly two weeks into the new year, and we've got about 50 weeks left to go.

And it seems like there will be a significant 40th anniversary almost every week.

This month, for example, brings the 40th anniversary of the Tet offensive. It was actually a three-pronged attack by the North Vietnamese that went on through much of the year, but it was launched at the end of January, timed to begin at the start of the lunar new year, from which it derives its name.

The Tet offensive did not achieve all its goals, but it had considerable influence on the conduct of the Vietnam war and the faith the American people had in their government. It persuaded CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite that America could not win in Vietnam, and many of his fellow citizens agreed.

Anyway, that was how 1968 began. It is perhaps one of the greatest understatements that one can make to say that many important things happened before 1968 came to an end.

Commemoration of 1968 began last month, when The History Channel ran a two-hour documentary on that year, hosted by TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who has written books on "The Greatest Generation" that grew up during the Great Depression and defeated the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II.

I expect more documentaries and commemorations in the year ahead. In April, we will mark the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. In June, it will be 40 years since Robert Kennedy's assassination. In August, it will be the 40th anniversary of the riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Next Christmas, it will be 40 years since the Apollo mission that took man closer to the lunar surface than he had ever been before.

Those are just a few of the anniversaries that will be coming up in 2008. There are so many others.

About a week ago, Todd Gitlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote a column suggesting the best ways to remember 1968.

He feels we shouldn't romanticize 1968 nor should we too readily dismiss events as having less significance than has been attached to them. "[G]ive its complications their due," writes Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. "History is the most crooked of timbers."

I guess no one knew that better than the man who was president in 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Johnson became president under horrific circumstances, and he won a full term on his own less than a year later with perhaps the highest percentage of popular support that any presidential candidate will ever have.

Few, if any, presidents have had the influence on social justice in this country that Johnson had. That's the area where Johnson, touched by poverty as a boy, truly wanted to leave his mark as president.

And it led to a virtual explosion of domestic legislation. Most people remember the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but Johnson also pushed a legislative agenda that included bills dealing with the environment, education, Medicaid, food stamps, consumer protection, the public broadcasting system and national public radio. American daily life still bears the stamp of the Johnson years, even though few realize it.

I don't believe Lyndon Johnson ever wanted to be a war president. But he will always be remembered for a failed war in Vietnam that actually had its roots in Harry Truman's policy of containment.

That's an example of the kind of twists that life can throw at a person. Those twists become magnified at the presidential level.

Few presidents began a term in office with higher hopes than Johnson did in 1965 -- or ended a term in office four years later with high hopes as thoroughly demolished as Johnson's were in 1969.

If nothing else, 1968 demonstrated how important it is to elect presidents who have common sense. No one knows what unexpected crisis looms in the future, or whether it will be in the president's area of expertise. A president has to be prepared to deal with just about anything.

That's a subject the current occupant of the White House, George W. Bush, knows something about. When he was elected president in 2000, his lack of knowledge of foreign leaders was regarded as endearing by many voters. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed that perception quickly.

The presidents who had the flexibility and the creativity to face an uncertain future were the ones history remembers.

Two Days Until the Michigan Primary

It is the Sunday before the Democratic and Republican primaries in Michigan.

* The Detroit Free Press reports that the latest poll shows Mitt Romney leading the Republican field. Romney grew up in Michigan, and his father was governor of Michigan for six years, before becoming the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Richard Nixon.

The poll says Romney is supported by 27% of Michigan's Republicans. Running second in the poll is John McCain, with 22%. Third place belongs to Mike Huckabee, with 16%.

Respondents who cited the economy as their top concern favored Romney over McCain, 42% to 25%. Approximately the same percentages favored McCain among Republicans who cited the Iraq war as their top issue, according to the poll.

The Free Press endorsed McCain more than a week ago. The newspaper endorsed McCain over George W. Bush in 2000, and McCain won the Michigan primary that year.

The Democratic primary in Michigan is hardly a primary at all. Most Democrats agreed back in October not to participate because of a conflict over whether Iowa and New Hampshire should be allowed to be first on the calendar. As a result, two of the top three Democratic contenders -- Barack Obama and John Edwards -- will not be on the ballot.

But the Free Press says Michigan's Democrats can "send an important message" by their participation in the admittedly sparse primary, even if their choice is not on the ballot. They can't write in their choice -- if they do, their ballots will be thrown out. But they can vote for an uncommitted slate of delegates to the convention.

* The Detroit News found a virtual tie in the Republican race, with McCain holding a narrow lead over Romney, 27% to 26%. The newspaper's survey says Huckabee is "still a factor." He's in third place with 19%.

Michigan's Republicans are "waiting to be moved," writes Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley. "Michigan's Republican primary is in bad need of a Misty Moment."

* According to CNN/Opinion Research Corp., whoever wins the Republican nomination has a lot of work to do. Only one Republican -- McCain -- is seen as capable of challenging either Obama or Hillary Clinton. The others are far behind both potential Democratic nominees.

The Republicans may need several "Misty Moments" in this election.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Explaining What Happened in New Hampshire

I've been looking at the Campaigns & Elections web site, where an article by Shane D'Aprile seeks to explain what went wrong in the pre-primary polls in New Hampshire.

As you're bound to have heard by now, Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama in New Hampshire. Polls released the day before were unanimously predicting Obama would win. Some polls anticipated margins in double digits.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen told D'Aprile that he has some "theories" about what happened, "but I don’t think there’s just one explanation.”

* One of the factors was a "late trend" in Clinton's favor. Presumably, this occurred after Clinton got misty on camera.

* Another factor, Rasmussen says, was "there were a lot of people who showed up, motivated by the historic nature of [Clinton's] campaign. They were people who wouldn’t normally vote in a primary, and probably didn’t make it through our screen.”

It is true that turnout was historically high in New Hampshire Tuesday. More than half a milliion people cast ballots in the primaries -- a ridiculously high figure in that state.

* D'Aprile also points out that participation by women went up 3-4%, which was more of an increase than Rasmussen expected.

"Pollster John Zogby also points to this high turnout among women, particularly older women," D'Aprile writes, "and the large number of voters that didn’t settle on a candidate until primary day ..."

* "Another potential explanation," writes D'Aprile, "is that more independent voters chose to cast their ballot in the Republican primary than anticipated."

* In addition to the independent voters, the role of race has been mentioned as "a factor in overstating Obama’s support -- the theory being that respondents are reluctant to tell pollsters they don’t support the African-American candidate." D'Aprile admits, "It’s something that likely holds less sway in a primary election, though."

Irregular voters -- as would be the case with a higher-than-expected turnout of women -- and choices made in open primaries -- as with higher numbers of independents voting in the Republican primary -- often do not get through pollster's filters or receive representation in the findings. Thus, their eventual impact may not be fully appreciated -- until after it happens.

But the public expects pollsters to anticipate these things before they happen.

Which leads to the question -- Are pollsters really fortune tellers?

My feeling is that pollsters may have a little more insight into these things than ordinary people. But I think they tend to find out about the future the same way the rest of us do -- when it happens.

And conventional wisdom still has its role to play in elections, for good or ill.

For some reason, I've been thinking about the Civil War lately, and I was recalling that, in the election campaign of 1864, the general feeling was that Abraham Lincoln would not be re-elected, the Emancipation Proclamation would be repealed, and the North and the South would seek a truce. There were no public opinion polls in those days, of course, but that was the way many people felt things would play out.

But they were wrong. The North began to turn the tide militarily, Lincoln was re-elected, and the future was far different from what many anticipated 144 years ago.

These days, when the unexpected occurs, the tendency is to look for someone or something to blame.

In this case, D'Aprile says, everything was right -- except for the winner on the Democratic side. "In pre-primary polls, [John Edwards'] support hovered between 17 and 20 percent -- he finished with 17 percent ..."

And on the Republican side, D'Aprile says, "pollsters had the race pegged just right with Sen. John McCain holding a four-point lead on average before the primary –- he bested [Mitt] Romney by six points. "

I might point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have referred to the findings from both the Rasmussen and Zogby surveys in this blog on many occasions.

And I see nothing wrong with reading the polls to gain some insight into what people are thinking.

But it's important to remember that polls and elections are two different things.

Just ask President Dewey!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Polling Still Isn't An Exact Science

I've been reading some things on the Wall Street Journal's web site, and an item by Daniel Henninger caught my eye.

The headline reads "Thomas E. Obama" (as in "Thomas E. Dewey," the man who beat Harry Truman in the 1948 election -- according to the headline in the Chicago Tribune).

Of the outcome of the New Hampshire primary, compared to the polls completed just before the voting started, Henninger writes, "Polls before the vote had Barack Obama leaving a tear-stained Hillary Clinton in the dust, some showing a lead of 12 points. She won by three, so on paper a 15-point error, a statistical fluke of startling proportions."

Frankly, it's bigger than "startling."

In 1948, they had a reasonable excuse. Polling wasn't as scientific then as it is today, and pollsters more or less stopped polling in the presidential race several days before the election.

Pollsters were getting the impression that the election was going to be a landslide for Dewey. They wanted to focus on races that weren't regarded as foregone conclusions, and they weren't aware of the concept of "tracking polls;" if they had been, pollsters would have seen the movement to Truman occurring in the final days of the campaign.

Henninger says the internet is at least partly responsible for what happened in New Hampshire -- with its 24/7 pressure.

"Voter behavior in the new age remains a mystery yet to be explained," he writes. "A new conventional folly is forming that Hillary achieved this entire reversal because, for about 2.7 seconds, her tear ducts opened. Therefore women voted for her. Who knew politics was so easy?"

I saw the same polls Henninger did. They were conducted right up to the last day, and they all indicated that Obama was going to record a big victory. And I saw the video of Hillary's teary-eyed moment. And I saw the actual primary returns from New Hampshire Tuesday night.

I can't explain what happened any more satisfactorily than he did.

But I will say this.

As tempting as it is to believe that polls possess some great knowledge and insight that ordinary mortals don't, the only poll that still matters is the one on Election Day.

Sometimes, voters make their decision at the last minute.

And it's a cliche to say this, but it's true. Timing is everything.

An Internet Tip

A friend of mine told me yesterday that the Wall Street Journal will be providing free web access to its editorial/opinion pages.

And I want to share the tip with you.

In a release issued Thursday, the Journal said, "Since 2000, we've operated in a dual world on the Web. The majority of our daily editorial offerings have remained behind a paid subscription wall ... while our free site,, offered select stories plus a few Web-only features. As of today, those two sites will merge and become a single free site for all Journal opinion, both in the U.S. and overseas editions, book reviews and leisure and arts."

Kerry's Endorsement

How much currency is John Kerry's endorsement worth?

The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee came to South Carolina to endorse Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for president Thursday, bypassing his 2004 running mate, John Edwards of neighboring North Carolina.

Peter Gelzinis of the Boston Herald says the Massachusetts senator stabbed Edwards in the back -- after Edwards spent the autumn of 2004 endorsing Kerry's policies and defending him against all charges.

After the election, however, Edwards made no secret of his disagreements with Kerry or his belief that Kerry had been ineffective in countering the swift boat attacks from his rivals.

"Kerry could have climbed aboard the Barack Obama express ... in Manchester or Concord last week," Gelzinis writes. "Instead, the last Democrat to run for president chose to wait until the primary parade rolled into his former running mate['s] backyard of South Carolina."

Gelzinis says Kerry wants to help stop Edwards' campaign -- although Gelzinis acknowledges that circumstances have done a pretty fair job of stopping Edwards as it is. He says that a Democratic strategist told him, "[C]oming down to the state where Edwards beat [Kerry] in the primary four years ago tells you all you need to know.”

But Casey Ross writes (also in the Boston Herald) that Kerry's endorsement doesn't mean much.

He quotes a Boston University professor, who covered half a dozen presidential campaigns for the Los Angeles Times, as saying “Kerry does not have a powerful national presence anymore. I don’t see how his endorsement could harm Obama. But it’s not going to be a big deal in this campaign.”

That might not be the whole story.

USA Today says Kerry's endorsement brings "added organizational and fundraising strength," even if it doesn't bring many additional votes in a state Kerry lost to Edwards four years ago.

Or, as a political scientist at the University of Southern California puts it, "[W]hat [Kerry] brings is a Rolodex and a big list of contributors."

Money is truly the life blood of politics. With a substantial bank account, a candidate can stay in a race indefinitely, even if he doesn't have the actual votes.

In terms of delegates -- and actual voters -- Obama already has the numbers to be competitive until this summer's convention. He won the Iowa caucus and he currently leads the delegate count with 25 delegates committed to him. Hillary Clinton has 24 delegates and Edwards has 18.

This has been accomplished without Kerry's involvement.

To win the Democratic nomination, a candidate must have the support of 2,025 delegates.

And that's something Kerry's endorsement may help provide.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

Sources are telling CNN that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will drop out of the Democratic race for president later today.

The numbers are the story, apparently.

Richardson, who is part Hispanic, finished fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire, neither of which has a large Hispanic population. But Richardson's campaign also suffers from a lack of funding, and donations haven't been on the rise lately.

So, according to the reports, Richardson will return to his home state and announce his withdrawal.

I haven't heard any speculation about this, but I wonder when Richardson will announce his intentions -- if he has any -- regarding Republican Pete Domenici's open Senate seat.

As you may recall, a few months ago, Domenici announced his intention to leave the Senate for health reasons, creating an opening in New Mexico. Prominent Republicans immediately began lining up to seek the party's nomination, but I haven't heard anything about the Democrats.

I think most were waiting to see what Richardson, who is quite popular in his home state, would do.

And, frankly, I'm a bit surprised that he is dropping out of the presidential race.

I've felt, all along, that Richardson was a longshot to win the nomination, but on Tuesday, as the returns came in from New Hampshire, he appeared to be focusing on Nevada, which will hold its caucus on Jan. 19.

So I assumed he was making plans for campaigning where he could expect to find a more receptive ethnic audience.

After making appeals in states that are both more than 90% white, candidates will find the population of Nevada is decidedly more diverse. Nearly one-fifth of the people in Nevada are Hispanic.

And that's another part of the numbers. It's the part of the story that seems to get lost in the talk of the potential for the first woman or the first black nominee for president.

But Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in America. They are poised to be an influential group in American politics, and it was long assumed they would gravitate to the Republican Party, but many have been alienated by the hard-line approach to immigration that has been taken by many Republicans.

And, frankly, many Hispanics weren't encouraged by what they saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

To this point, voter turnout among Hispanics hasn't been high. But it's no stretch to suggest that whoever can mobilize the Hispanic vote will win control of the government for his/her party for a generation.

For awhile, I wondered if Richardson might play a role in that story, but now it appears it will have to be someone else.

At least, on the presidential level.

Richardson may yet have a role to play in the U.S. Senate.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The McCain Mutiny

After duplicating his success there eight years ago, John McCain now ventures from the inviting and familiar New Hampshire terrain into South Carolina, where the George W. Bush campaign rallied in 2000, administered an ultimately fatal blow to McCain's candidacy and went on to capture the nomination.

Returning to South Carolina must not bring back pleasant memories for the Arizona senator.

But before that is the Michigan primary, where McCain triumphed over Bush eight years ago. And today is the time to reflect on New Hampshire.

With that in mind, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post calls McCain "the man who won't go away."

In the New York Times, David Brooks says the 2008 election season has been more about surprises than about change, and he lists the top 10 surprises that New Hampshire had in store for the country last night.

The top surprise, he says, is that "Republicans voted in nearly the same numbers as Democrats." That is a surprise in a year when Republicans are supposed to be demoralized and Democrats are supposed to be eager to vote.

If New Hampshire Republicans were eager to vote on Tuesday, it was to show their support for John McCain. New Hampshire Republicans, unencumbered by links to ethanol the way Iowa voters seem to be, gave 37% of their votes to McCain, while Mitt Romney took 32%. Mike Huckabee, the winner in Iowa, was third with 11%.

Michael Luo, in the New York Times, writes that the Republican race today is "more scrambled than ever."

In Michigan, Romney can lay claim to family ties. He grew up there, and his late father is still fondly remembered by the natives. But Michigan is what is known as a "crossover" state, where a registered voter can participate in either the Republican primary or the Democratic primary, and McCain beat Bush there eight years ago on the strength of his support from Democrats and independents.

If McCain is to have a chance of winning South Carolina, he needs the momentum he can have if Michigan supports him again. And Romney just needs a victory in a contested state. He was practically unopposed in last Saturday's Wyoming caucus, and he can use a victory in a delegate-rich state like Michigan.

Michigan's primary is Jan. 15, and South Carolina's Republican primary is Jan. 19.

As its springboard to the nomination, Rudy Giuliani's campaign is hoping for a big victory in Florida on Jan. 29.

The Trail of Tears

In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's victory in the New Hampshire primary, much is being made of her "crying" incident on Monday.

Thirty-six years ago, the debate over whether he cried apparently doomed Ed Muskie's bid in the New Hampshire primary -- and ultimately derailed what was expected to be a fairly easy run to the nomination.

But in 2008, the debate over whether she was about to burst into tears on Monday apparently "humanized" Clinton and gave her campaign new life.

It's all the subject of Maureen Dowd's column in today's edition of The New York Times.

And Dowd makes an interesting point.

"[T]here was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up," Dowd writes. "What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing."

Or, as Dowd quoted a New Hampshire voter as saying, "When you think you’re not going to make it, it’s heart-wrenching when you want something so much.”

Clinton clearly wanted to win in New Hampshire. And she clearly needed to win the primary to keep her presidential hopes afloat.

The impact of Monday's incident wasn't lost on Karen Tumulty, who writes in Time magazine that "[A] prominent Democratic strategist not affiliated with the campaign [said]: 'Yesterday helped her a lot with women.'

Tumulty also goes on to point out that the incident helped Clinton "especially with unmarried women, a key component of the Democratic base. One campaign adviser noted that, where [Barack] Obama won that demographic by 13 percentage points in Iowa, Clinton carried it by 17 points in New Hampshire—a 30-point shift ..."

Nor was it lost on Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, who writes, "[T]he 2008 New Hampshire primary will be remembered for Hillary Clinton choking up when describing her everyday struggles. (The original question was about how she got through every morning when things were so tough)."

But Alter finds other ways to explain what happened in New Hampshire, even if, as he concedes, "I don't have a clear explanation for how Hillary Clinton defied the polls and prognosticators to win ..."

Alter suggests, for example, that the campaign experienced "The Reese Witherspoon effect."

"It's like the movie 'Election,' where Reese Witherspoon's character ... is an ambitious and too-perfect high school senior who has the election stolen from her after she was expected to win against a cool if inexperienced jock," Alter writes. "By the end of the movie, she ends up on top."

Will Reese/Hillary prevail in this version?

That leads Alter to another intriguing point. "In a workplace context, Obama may have reminded women of under-qualified hotshots who come along and get the big job with less experience because they're cooler and have more rapport with the boss and are, after all, men. They rallied to one of their own, just as the Clinton campaign hoped all along."

But if that scenario is correct, Alter has a warning for jubilant Clinton supporters: "In terms of electability, this bodes ill for Hillary. Democrats don't need more women in November. They need men -- a constituency that favors Obama."

The shortage of male voters among Democrats has been well documented in many quarters. And the Democratic nominee will need to draw more men to his/her side in order to win the election.

But the defection to the GOP has been among white males more than black or Hispanic males. And it is far from clear -- at this stage of the campaign, anyway -- whether Clinton or Obama would be in a better position to lure enough of those voters to the Democratic side to win the election.

As for myself, it has me yearning for a time when Americans will decide elections based on the candidates' views on the issues, and issues and events will not be seen through the narrow prisms of gender or race. That may be happening in some races in some places, but it doesn't seem to be happening in this race.

Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

'Dewey Defeats Truman' Part II?

If you're a student of American history, you will recall the famous headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune the day after the 1948 election. "Dewey Defeats Truman," the newspaper told its readers.

Of course, the headline was wrong, and it has been the rallying cry of underdogs ever since. Most of the time, underdogs have achieved that status for a simple reason. They're underdogs. And most of them don't win. But sometimes they do.

And those occasions are considered "upsets." Whether those upsets are truly Trumanesque is for history to judge.

Tuesday was one of those rare occasions when the underdog won. The setback in Iowa had rendered the "inevitable" Hillary Clinton extremely vulnerable. And she was the underdog to Barack Obama in New Hampshire, according to several polls.

But with 95% of the Democratic ballots counted, Clinton has 39% of the vote. Obama has 37%, and John Edwards finished third with 17%.

It's not exactly on the same level with Truman upsetting Dewey 60 years ago, but if Clinton can string together a few more wins like this one, it will start to move into that territory.

For the most part, though, I think the outcome signals something else. It signals that both Clinton and Obama are going to have to work for this nomination. The Democrats aren't ready to just hand their nomination to someone without talking about it first.

So we may be in for a bit of a roller coaster ride before the Democrats start to settle on one of their choices.

What Does It All Mean?

The polls in New Hampshire have been closed for nearly an hour and a half. Returns are incomplete, but enough votes have been counted for John McCain to declare victory on the Republican side.

And, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's political obituary may have been premature. When all the votes are counted, she may yet finish second, but right now, she has the lead with 40%. Barack Obama is second with 36%. John Edwards is a distant third with 17%.

What does it mean? Well, I think it shows that each state's electorate is different, and different candidates will be favored in different states.

For example, Mike Huckabee did well in Iowa, where there are a lot of evangelical Christian voters, and he didn't do so well in New Hampshire, where that group isn't as influential.

Next week brings the Michigan primary, which will have a lot of independents. And they can vote in whichever party's primary they choose. Mitt Romney's father was governor of Michigan, and that may help him there. But independent voters may tend to vote for McCain.

The week after that is the South Carolina primary, which has a high number of evangelical Christian voters, and Huckabee may be favored there.

On the Democratic side, the rush to proclaim Obama the agent of change may not have been justified. And the Clinton campaign may not be quite ready for an overhaul.

But John Edwards' campaign is in trouble. It lacks the funding that Obama and Clinton have, and it lacks a victory. And polls of upcoming states suggest the prospects are dim at best.

They'll be counting the votes for awhile yet. What we can conclude at this early hour is that McCain is still in the Republican race, but Romney's prospects appear to be cloudy. Huckabee hasn't been hurt by his anticipated poor showing in New Hampshire.

For the Democrats, Obama hasn't yet established himself as an irresistible force, any more than Hillary has established herself as the "inevitable" nominee. But the Democratic race is rapidly becoming an Obama vs. Clinton affair.

Waiting for the Polls to Close ...

In a little more than an hour, the polls will close in New Hampshire.

I've been reflecting on a running dialogue I've been having by e-mail this afternoon with an old friend of mine who lives in central Arkansas. I've known this friend since my college days at the University of Arkansas. She's supporting Hillary Clinton, but if Hillary doesn't get the nomination, she says she'll support John McCain.

I suppose that's the closest any of my friends has come to creating a political version of "The Odd Couple." (In that analogy, I guess the disciplined Hillary would be "Felix" and the more freewheeling McCain would be "Oscar.")

My friend says Hillary is seen as a polarizing figure because she's been painted that way by the Republicans. I suppose there's some truth to that, but I don't think it's that simple.

Bill Clinton became a part of the Arkansas political scene in the 1970s, and Hillary, as his wife, was part of the package. I remember feeling that Hillary was polarizing, even then, and the Republican Party didn't have the kind of influence in Arkansas that it has now, so it wasn't responsible for that general feeling about Hillary.

Fashion really went haywire in the 1970s, but there was something about Hillary's hairstyle or the clothes she wore or something that made her stand out, made her different, even in those off-the-wall days. And it did so in a negative sense, not a positive one. Hillary just wasn't a sympathetic figure, not even when she was pregnant in 1979 or after she had her baby in February 1980.

In fact, even though he went on to lose the governor's race in 1980, Clinton seemed to get a better reaction from crowds that year when he was alone than he did when he was accompanied by his wife.

Much was made when Hillary changed her hairstyle in the White House after being advised to do something to "soften" her appearance, but that battle was fought repeatedly when she was first lady of Arkansas, starting with the effort to get her to exchange her schoolgirlish eyeglasses for contact lenses.

And those impressions continued to influence the public's feelings about Hillary when she went to every county in Arkansas on her husband's behalf to hold hearings on public education. She handled that assignment in a professional, businesslike manner and came up with several worthwhile recommendations that, I'm sure, most Arkansans appreciated.

But the image had started to harden. And by the time Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, Hillary's image was practically cast in stone. The national Republicans and the national media used that image against the Clintons, but they weren't the first to notice it.

Now, it seems to me, if you're going to be viewed in a certain way no matter what you do, why not use it to your advantage?

Clearly, that image didn't bother the people in New York who voted for Hillary for the Senate.

Hillary needs to find an approach that transcends the negative image. She managed to strike the right notes when she ran for the Senate in New York. But simultaneously presenting herself as the candidate of "change" and the candidate of "experience" isn't going to accomplish that on the national level.

Barack Obama seems to have cornered the market on "change" in the Democratic race so maybe Hillary needs to emphasize "experience" in her sales pitch. Campaigning on the "change" theme makes her look like Obama Lite.

Primary Day Dawns in New Hampshire

It is the day of the primaries in New Hampshire.

Considering that it is the eighth day of January, the weather isn't shaping up to be a problem for those who want to cast their ballots. Forecasts say it will be cloudy but dry in the Granite State, with temperatures primarily in the 50s. The secretary of state's office projects a turnout of about half a million people, which is about half of the state's population.

In the hamlets of Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, the traditional midnight ballots were cast last night. Barack Obama and John McCain were the winners in both places.

Neither Dixville Notch nor Hart's Location has been a reliable gauge for how New Hampshire primaries turned out in the past, but experts have been predicting that both men would win in New Hampshire so those places may prove to be more dependable predictors this time.

And the latest polls I've seen confirm those conclusions. They show Obama leading Clinton on the Democratic side and McCain leading Mitt Romney on the Republican side in New Hampshire. Several polls were released Monday, and the margins vary, but the bottom lines seem to remain about the same.

Rasmussen, for example, says Obama has 37% and Clinton has 30% -- very similar to the outcome in Iowa. Reuters says the margin is wider, with Obama at 42% and Clinton at 29%. The margin is slightly closer, 40% to 31%, in American Research Group's survey.

Among Republicans, McCain has a very slim lead, 32% to 31%, over Romney in the latest Rasmussen poll. Based on that survey, we may have to wait awhile before learning who won the Republican primary tonight.

But American Research Group says McCain's advantage over Romney is larger -- 31% to 24%. And Reuters sees an even larger margin of 36% to 27%.

Romney may take some solace today from the fact that the collaborative poll conducted by WHDH TV in Boston and Suffolk University shows him leading McCain, 30% to 26%.

The WHDH/Suffolk poll has no similar consolation for Clinton. Obama leads that survey, 39% to 34%.

The question on the Democratic side seems to be this: Will Hillary Clinton lose to Obama by a wider margin in New Hampshire than she did in Iowa? And, if she does, what kind of ramifications will there be in terms of her message and her staff?

The votes haven't been tallied yet, but the finger pointing and excuses have already begun on the Democratic side. Jackie Calmes, in the Wall Street Journal, writes that "[s]ome Clinton associates have begun lobbying for her early exit if she loses the primary by a big margin, as polls suggest she could."

The New York Times says the Clinton campaign has been showing signs of stress leading up to the primary and suggests that, depending on the outcome, "[k]ey campaign officials may be replaced. She may start calling herself the underdog. Donors would receive pleas that it is do-or-die time."

And legendary feminist Gloria Steinem complains in The New York Times that "[g]ender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House."

Steinem points out, and correctly, that blacks were (technically) given the right to vote more than half a century before women in this country. But she doesn't acknowledge how much more successfully women have sought higher office in America than blacks.

In the U.S. Senate, for example, more than a dozen members are women, including Hillary Clinton. Only one member -- Obama -- is black. Women hold both Senate seats from three states -- California, Maine and Washington.

"[W]hat worries me is that [Obama] is seen as unifying by his race while [Clinton] is seen as divisive by her sex," Steinem writes.

And among the reasons that Steinem lists for supporting Clinton is "an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House."

I'm still waiting for someone to provide details about this "on-the-job training" that Clinton received when her husband was the president and she was the first lady. How did it differ from the experience that Nancy Reagan or Mamie Eisenhower or Eleanor Roosevelt gained as first ladies when their husbands were elected and re-elected president?

In fact, in Mrs. Roosevelt's case, she was first lady for 12 years. And that tenure included two of the greatest crises this country has ever faced -- the Great Depression and World War II.

In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne tells readers that "Hillary Clinton may have unintentionally written the obituary for the Iowa and New Hampshire phase of her presidential campaign, and perhaps her candidacy, when she told voters on Sunday: 'You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.'

"Clinton has not heeded her own lesson," Dionne writes. "She is campaigning in prose and has left the poetry to Barack Obama. She has answers to hard policy questions but he has the one answer that voters are hungering for: He offers himself as the vehicle for creating a new political movement that will break the country out of a sour, reactionary political era."

We'll find out tonight if New Hampshire voters, like those in Iowa, respond to Obama's message.

For Mike Huckabee, the winner of the Republican Iowa caucus, victory does not seem to be likely in New Hampshire. Experts predict he will finish third, but he's receiving a "bounce" from Iowa in the polls in South Carolina, according to Survey USA, which says he is the only Republican with momentum in that state.

That should take some of the sting out of whatever fate has in store for him in New Hampshire today.

The post-mortems on New Hampshire will begin tonight and will continue, probably, until Michigan's voters go to the polls next Tuesday. This ride is just getting started.