Hot potato.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Aug. 31 2007 5:57 PM

Hot Potato

Republicans can't drop Larry Craig fast enough.

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After Columbine, the first lady did just that—hosting a White House Conference on Youth Violence with parents, teenagers, educators, religious leaders, gun manufacturers and gun safety groups, and members of the entertainment industry. Romney spent the '90s sitting on the board of Marriott, whose in-room entertainment offered plenty of deep-sea fishing.

"Ocean" has its moments. If you watch closely, the Loch Ness monster makes a cameo appearance in the 31st second. Young children and a dog walk the shore a few moments later. Happily, this time the dog escapes unharmed. But if Romney's not careful, his campaign could turn out to be just what his ad promises: a long, shaggy-dog metaphor that ends with Hillary Clinton. ... 12:45 P.M. ( link)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Swing and a Miss:Sometime in the next month, Barry Bonds will end Hank Aaron's 34-year reign as all-time home run king. To commemorate the occasion, baseball commissioner Bud Selig plans to be where he was throughout the steroids era: nowhere to be seen.

Amid our nostalgia for the day in 1974 when Aaron hit number 715 to pass Babe Ruth, it's easy to forget another race for the record books that went on that same season. While Aaron was hitting for the fences, Richard Nixon was trying to hit bottom – chasing Harry Truman's single-season record as the most unpopular president in the history of presidential polling.

At the time, Truman's record of 67% disapproval – set when Americans were weary of the Korean War and angry over the firing of Douglas MacArthur – had stood untouched for 22 years. Most pollsters assumed that Truman's mark, like Ruth's, could never be broken. Just as the physical wear-and-tear of baseball made 714 homers look insurmountable, the physics of politics seemed to put 67% disapproval out of reach. You could look it up in the Founders' rule book: a two-thirds majority is the threshold for impeachment by the Senate.

But Richard Nixon had spent his entire career being underestimated. By Opening Day of the 1974 season – less than two years after one of the greatest electoral landslides in history – Nixon stunned the political world by reaching 65% disapproval. Like Aaron, then at 713, Nixon began the 1974 season just two away from claiming the mark for all time.

Aaron's persistence paid off with a swing off Al Downing that launched him past Ruth on April 8, 1974. The same day, White House aides told the New York Times correspondent that far from stepping down, Nixon was abandoning his eighth counterattack (dubbed "Operation Candor") and launching his ninth. With such determination, he must have felt certain the record was within his grasp.

Yet when the last Gallup Poll of his presidency came out in August 1974, Nixon would taste the bitterness of defeat once again. His final disapproval rating was 66% -- one shy of Truman's record. By any other standard, Nixon left office the most hated president in American history. But in the record book, he had not even an asterisk to show for it.

In a remarkable historical coincidence, those same two records that were under assault in 1974 are on the ropes again in 2007. The sports world is already dreading the day Barry Bonds will pass Aaron. But the political world has scarcely noticed another milestone in the making: With 66% disapproval in this week's Gallup Poll, George W. Bush just tied Richard Nixon as the second-most unpopular president ever.

Bush has flirted with immortality before. In May 2006 and again in February 2007, he secured third place with personal bests of 65% disapproval. But each time, some random piece of less horrible news and the statistical vagaries of polling intervened to interrupt Bush's quest for the record.

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