Could Romney be the first completely programmable running mate?

Notes from the political sidelines.
July 29 2008 12:51 PM

Romneymania

Could he be the first completely programmable running mate?

80_thehasbeen

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trader Mitt: As if John McCain didn't have enough reason to keep quoting JFK's line that life isn't fair, consider this: According to the political futures markets, Mitt Romney now has a better chance of being McCain's running mate than McCain has of winning.

Since the primaries, Romney has steadily gained ground in the VP sweepstakes through hard work and a disciplined message: He'll help on the economy, he grew up in the swing state of Michigan, and he makes his current home in the right wing of the Republican Party. He seems at ease with the unattractive chores of being the vice-presidential nominee: raising money, playing the attack dog, telling the base what it wants to hear.

On paper, Romney's VP bid looks as picture perfect as his presidential campaign once did. Yet even as Mitt watchers revel in the current boomlet, we can't help wondering whether this Romneymania will last.

With that in mind, Romneystas everywhere need to start making new and urgent arguments on his behalf:

  • The French Are Coming!: Romney was widely mocked last fall when he warned that France posed a clear and present danger to the American way of life. But after watching French President Nicolas Sarkozy embrace Barack Obama in Paris last week, conservatives may finally warm to Mitt's "First, Not France" slogan after all. Romney has impeccable credentials as a Francophobe; Sarkozy would never dream of saying of him, "If he is chosen, then France will be delighted." In a few short hours in Paris, Obama claimed the president as a convert. Romney spent two whole years in France and converted no one whatsoever.
  • Leave 'Em Laughing as You Go: One of McCain's heroes, Mo Udall, loved to tell the story of primary voters who heard him say, "I'm Mo Udall and I'm running for president," and responded, "We were just laughing about that this morning." Poor Mo wouldn't know what to make of this campaign. Two months into the general election, nobody's laughing about anything. No one much wants to joke about Obama or McCain. If Romney were the VP, pundits across the spectrum would exult that at last they had someone fun to mess with. He's a good sport and a happy square, with a track record of supplying ample new material.
  • WALL-E's World: Mitt Romney's Web site is a shadow of its former self—no Five Brothers blog, no ad contests, no animatronic Mitt messages for your voicemail. Yet like WALL-E's stash of charming knickknacks, the few surviving objects on Planet Romney carry greater meaning. For example, a striking photo highlights a strength few politicians reveal: Unlike McCain, Mitt Romney was born to read a teleprompter. In the official campaign photo of him rehearsing his concession speech, Mitt is barely visible. All the focus is on the words in big type to be loaded on the prompter.

McCain doesn't much like giving speeches and treats teleprompters accordingly. But you can see how a campaign that has struggled to follow a script might be tempted by the first completely programmable running mate.  In 2000, McCain often joked that he was Luke Skywalker. This time, Romney could be his C3PO. ... 12:47 p.m. (link)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Make My Day: What a difference a month makes. At its June meeting, the D.C. City Council debated Mayor Adrian Fenty's emergency legislation to ban sparklers. After the Supreme Court struck down the city's gun ban, the Council spent last week's July meeting debating emergency legislation to let residents own handguns. Here in the District, we couldn't shoot off firecrackers over the Fourth because they're too dangerous, but we can now keep a loaded pistol by our bedside, ready to shoot down prowlers in self-defense.

Like most D.C. residents, I have no plans to stockpile guns in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. But if the city wants to take away my sparklers, they'll have to pry them from my cold, dead, slightly charred hands.

When I was growing up, the rights to keep and bear firearms and fireworks went hand in hand. My grandmother used a revolver to shoot garter snakes in her garden. Well into her eighties, however, her greatest pleasure in life was to spend the Fourth setting off massive strings of firecrackers, 200 at a time. When she came to visit, she'd step off the airplane with a suitcase full of firecrackers purchased on an Indian reservation. As soon as we got home, she'd light the fuse with her cigarette, then squeal with delight as serial explosions made the gravel in our driveway dance.

In recent years, firearm regulation and firework regulation have gone their separate ways. The National Rifle Association has successfully opposed most gun laws, even ones aimed primarily at criminals. Armed with Justice Scalia's maddeningly unhelpful ruling on the D.C. ban, the NRA already has begun to target the rest.

By contrast, although fireworks aren't nearly as deadly as guns, the government treats them like what they are – a widely popular, sometimes dangerous American tradition. The federal government long ago banned once-commonplace explosives like cherry bombs. Most states – even the libertarian bastion of Idaho – have banned or restricted the use of firecrackers. According to the website AmericanPyro, five states, including Iowa and Illinois, permit only sparklers and snakes. Five others, including New York and Massachusetts, allow no consumer fireworks whatsoever. In general, states insist that fireworks must be "safe and sane" – a balance that has been all but impossible to strike with firearms.

Thanks to the enduring power of pyromania, sales haven't suffered. Since 1976, fireworks consumption has increased ten-fold, while fireworks-related injuries have dropped. Fireworks manufacturers can take heart in knowing that this year's survivors are next year's customers.

Because there is no Second Amendment right to keep and bear sparklers, fireworks law is a straightforward balancing test – between the individual right to burn a hole in the back porch and the mutual responsibility not to burn entire communities to the ground, the personal freedom to pyromaniacal self-expression and the personal responsibility not to harm oneself and others. These days, the fireworks industry has more to fear from climate change than from the authorities. This summer, the threat of wildfires led Arnold Schwarzenegger to ask Californians to boycott fireworks. Drought forced John McCain to forego fireworks at his annual Independence Day barbecue in Arizona.

The trouble with the Supreme Court ruling in the Heller case is not that it interprets the Second Amendment as an individual right. The Second Amendment is the constitutional equivalent of the grammatical paradox Eats Shoots & Leaves, but whatever the Founders meant by its muddy wording and punctuation, most Americans now take it for granted. The real problem with the Court's decision is that the balancing test for gun rights and responsibilities is even less clear than before. Scalia's opinion devotes 30 pages to a grammatical history of the Second Amendment and a single sentence to how the courts should apply it to most other gun laws already on the books.

Alongside such vast imprecision, the Court went out of its way to strike down the requirement for trigger locks – an extraordinarily modest attempt to balance freedom and safety. Trigger locks can help prevent gun accidents and keep guns out of the hands of children. Far from impeding self-defense, new trigger locks can be unlocked with a fingerprint or a special ring on the gun owner's finger. That means today's gun owner can arm himself to shoot an intruder in an instant – compared to the 30 seconds or more it took to load a pistol or musket in the 18th Century.

Over the long term, it's not clear how much of a boon the Heller decision will be for gun rights advocates. In winning the case, the gun lobby lost its most potent argument – the threat that at any moment, the government will knock on the door and take your guns away. With that bogeyman out of the way, the case for common-sense gun safety measures is stronger than ever. Perhaps now the gun debate will revolve around more practical and less incendiary issues, like what can be done to reduce illegal gun trafficking and trace guns used in crimes.

If it's any small consolation, the real winners in Heller may turn out to be the sparkler lobby. If cities have trouble banning handguns, they will be hard-pressed to take away sparklers. Of course, as with guns, the threat to sparklers may well have been exaggerated. The D.C. Council rejected Mayor Fenty's sparkler ban by a vote of 11-2, as members nostalgically recalled playing with them in their youth. Councilman and former mayor Marion Barry voted no "with a bang." As Barry knows, there are worse things in life to light than a sparkler. ... 9:51 A.M. (link)

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Fight of Her Life:Ten years ago, at a White House farewell for a favorite staff member, Hillary Clinton described the two kinds of people in the world: born optimists like her husband who see the glass as half-full, and born realists like herself who can see the glass is half-empty.

As she ends her campaign and throws her support behind Barack Obama's remarkable quest, Hillary could be forgiven for seeing her glass as, quite literally, half-empty. The two candidates traded primary after primary down the stretch, two titans matching each other vote for vote. In the closest race in the modern era, she and Obama split the Democratic wishbone nearly right down the middle, but she's not the one who got her wish.

Yet for Hillary and the 18 million of us who supported her, there is no shame in one historic campaign coming up just short against another. History is a great deal wiser than Chris Matthews, and will be kinder, too. The 2008 contest has been one for the ages, and the annals will show that Hillary Clinton has gained far more than she lost.

The Obama-Clinton match will go down as the longest, closest, most exciting, most exhausting ever. Obama ran an inspired campaign and seized the moment. Clinton came close, and by putting up a tough fight now, helped fortify him for the fight ahead.

Our campaign made plenty of mistakes, none of which has gone unreported. But Hillary is right not to dwell on "woulda, coulda, shoulda." From New Hampshire to South Dakota, the race she ran earned its own place in the history books.

While the way we elect presidents leaves a lot to be desired, it has one redeeming virtue, as the greatest means ever invented to test what those who seek the job are made of. In our lifetimes, we'll be hard-pressed to find a candidate made of tougher stuff than Hillary Clinton. Most candidates leave a race diminished by it. Hillary is like tempered steel: the more intense the heat, the tougher she gets.

And has any candidate had to face fiercer, more sustained heat? As a frontrunner, she expected a tough ride, and as Hillary Clinton, she was accustomed to it. But if she was used to the scrutiny, she could not have anticipated – and did not deserve – the transparent hostility behind it. In much the same way the right wing came unglued when her husband refused to die in the '90s, the media lost its bearings when she defied and survived them. Slate at least held off on its noxious Hillary Deathwatch until March; most of the press corps began a breathless Clinton Deathwatch last Thanksgiving. The question that turned her campaign around in New Hampshire – "How do you do it?" – brought Hillary to tears out of sheer gratitude that someone out there had noticed.

For a few searing days in New Hampshire, we watched her stare into the abyss. Any other candidate forced to read her own obituary so often would have come to believe it. But as she went on to demonstrate throughout this campaign, Hillary had faith that there is life after political death, and the wherewithal to prove it.

In New Hampshire, she discarded the frontrunner mantle and found her voice. For a race that was largely won or lost in Iowa, the discovery came a few days too late. But the grit Clinton showed with her back to the wall all those months will make her a force with a following for years to come.

The chief hurdle for Clinton's presidential bid wasn't whether she could do the job; Democrats never doubted she would make a good president. Ironically, the biggest question she faced for much of the race is one she answered clearly by the time she left it: whether America was ready for a woman president. No one asks that question any longer. For all the sexism she encountered as the first woman with a serious shot at the White House, voters themselves made clear they were ready. The longer the race went on, the more formidable she looked in the general election. In this week's CBS News poll, she was beating John McCain by nine points, even as she was losing the Democratic nomination.

Last year, the press and other campaigns insisted that Clinton was too polarizing and that half the country was united against her. Now, a woman who was supposed to be one of the most polarizing figures in America leaves the race with handsome leads over McCain in places like North Carolina, a state her husband never carried.

When her campaign started, aides often described Hillary as the least known, least understood famous person in America. During this campaign, it became clear that in certain quarters she's the most deliberately misunderstood person as well. The recent RFK flap was yet another attempt to suggest that her every miscue was part of some diabolical master plan.

Yet while talking heads imagined the evils of Hillary Clinton, voters finally came to know and understand her. They saw someone who knew what they were going through, who would stick with them, fight for them, and get back up when she got knocked down. The phony, consultant-driven shadow boxing of the last few years has dulled Democrats to the party's historic mission – to defend the values and stand up for the interests of ordinary people who are doing all they can just to get ahead. For those voters, Hillary Clinton was the champion they've been looking for, a fighter they can count on, win or lose, not to let them down.

That's a fight she'll never quit. Like the woman in New Hampshire, we still wonder how Hillary does it, but this time, the tears are on us. As we wish her well, our hopes are high, our hearts are full – and if our glass is empty, it was worth every drop. ... 11:58 P.M. (link)

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Adventures of Bobble-Foot: For enough money, any McClellan or Stephanopoulos in Washington will write a kiss-and-tell book these days. But the memoir Larry Craig just announced he's writing could launch a whole new genre: don't-kiss, don't-tell.

Craig revealed his plans on Boise television during Tuesday's coverage of the Senate primary to choose his potential successors. For the senator, if not his viewers, it was a poignant moment, one last point of no return in a three-decade-long political career.

With a touch of empathy, the local reporter told Craig, "You're looking forward now to a much different life for yourself." Alas, the life Craig described isn't much different from any other retiring pol's, nor does he sound like he's looking forward to it. He hinted that he is entertaining a number of lobbying offers. Because of ethics rules, he explains, "There are some one-way conversations going on, 'cause I've said I can't talk, but I certainly can listen." Perhaps they can figure out some kind of code.

These are heady times for the Idaho senator. Last Sunday, on National Tap Dance Day, the first-place St. Paul Saints, a minor league baseball team, drew their biggest crowd of the year with a special promotion in Craig's honor: a bobble-foot doll commemorating the bathroom stall at Minneapolis-St.Paul airport. The team website reported, "Saints Have Toe-Tapping Good Time, Win 9-3."

The bobble-foot promotion gave Craig a way to test his market value even beyond the lobbying and book worlds. Scores of Craig bobble-feet are now available on eBay, selling for upwards of $75 apiece. You'd better hurry: Like successful appeals of uncoerced confessions, supplies are limited.

The upcoming memoir may be the last we ever hear from the man, so it's worth asking: What kind of book will Larry Craig write? Consider the possibilities:

  • The Broken Branch: Left to his own devices (never a good idea), Craig seems likely to write an insiders' version of the woe-is-gridlock lament popularized most recently by political scientists Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann. "The thing that's important for someone with my experience to talk about is the state of politics in Washington," Craig said Tuesday. "It's created what I call a extremely dysfunctional, hyperpartisan Senate. We're getting little to nothing done." Craig cites immigration and energy policy. As his agent and editor will surely tell him, this sober approach is not the way for Craig to put his best foot forward. No one wants to read the case for decisive action written by a man who claimed his innocence after pleading guilty and remained in office after promising to quit. Then again, Craig might not be a household word if he had listened to the advice of Ornstein and Mann, who urged members to bring their families to live with them in Washington.
  • The Packwood Diaries: With slight modifications, Craig has modeled his entire Senate career after his friend, former Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood. Craig sobbed on the Senate floor the day Packwood resigned. Packwood dug in his heels and remained in office for three years after his sex scandal became public. Craig has done the same, and is only leaving because his term is up. Considering how much Packwood served as his role model, it's possible that Craig tried to emulate another part of the Oregonian's legacy: the Packwood diaries. Packwood kept a meticulous journal of all his exploits, with an eye to history and none on the lookout for satire or federal prosecution. We can only hope Craig has done the same.
  • What Happened: Every publisher is looking for the next Scott McClellan, who told lies for a living but was scared straight after his escape. Craig could play this role with gusto. The pitch: It wasn't his idea to stand up in front of the press time after time and insist he wasn't gay. Karl Rove made him do it, in a deliberate cover-up to protect the Republican brand – and he'll never forgive Rove for it.
  • If I Did It: O.J. Simpson never got to keep a dime of his controversial book, If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer. Craig, on the other hand, could hypothesize all the way to the bank. Senators love to write loosely autobiographical fiction. Gary Hart and Bill Cohen wrote The Double Man about a politician who wanted to be president. Barbara Boxer wrote A Time to Runabout a woman who becomes a liberal senator from California. Craig could write a great book about an imaginary conservative senator who happens to be gay. His hypothetical musings would wow the critics and sell like crazy. Besides, what does Craig have to lose? Hinting he did it would be no more an admission of guilt than the misdemeanor plea he was just kidding us about last June. ... 8:48 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

John McCain and Mitt Romney. Click image to expand.
John McCain (left) and Mitt Romney.

Mr. Romney's Neighborhoods: Mitt Romney has a new motto: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In the past two months, he has transformed himself from John McCain's sharpest critic to one of his most active surrogates. For more than a year, Romney traveled the country talking up his chances of becoming president. Now he coyly downplays any chance of gaining the vice-presidential nod.

On Saturday, we learned of another surprising reversal. In mid-May, the state Supreme Court voted to allow same-sex marriage in California. This weekend, news leaked that Romney has decided to buy a house there. With property in Massachusetts and California as well as New Hampshire and Utah, the crusader who once warned his son that Democrats would usher in same-sex marriage now owns homes in two of the eight jurisdictions on earth that allow it.

Diane Bell of the San Diego Union-Tribunewho began her column Saturday with the immortal words " Mitt Romney is in escrow"—sparked a rush of rumors by asking: "Could Romney be planning to establish residency in California with an eye on the governor's seat? Gov. Schwarzenegger is forced out by term limits in 2010. Stay tuned ..."

If Romney wanted to buy into a slumping market, his timing couldn't be better. San Diego real estate prices are down 18 percent from a year ago, making even La Jolla beachfront a bargain. When Schwarzenegger's term runs out, the California Republican Party will likewise be the political equivalent of a vacant lot.

Romney's staff quickly shot down any Golden State ambitions. A spokesman told the Associated Press, "Governor Romney has been looking at property on the West Coast because he has family in California, and because his wife, Ann, spends a good deal of time there riding horses." The AP noted that son Matt lives in San Diego, "while son Josh lives in Salt Lake City." That's  750 miles away—less than a month's ride on horseback!

Romney spent the weekend at John McCain's Western getaway with other vice-presidential hopefuls. The La Jolla purchase gives him one more advantage over the rest of the field: He now brings the most undisclosed secure locations.

This isn't the first time homeownership has emerged as an important theme for Romney. When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, he had to amend his tax returns, which showed he had actually been a resident of Utah. His presidential bid made much of his vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee, but a second home in New Hampshire wasn't enough to save him after he lost the first caucus in Iowa. If Romney had bought a summer place in Cedar Rapids instead, he might be the presumptive nominee today. Then he could have been the one to invite prospective running mates to spend Memorial Day weekend at his home, wherever that might be.

Last week, Mitt launched a new campaign vehicle, Free and Strong America PAC, which is backing candidates like … John McCain. He even has his own blog. While it's a far cry from the Five Brothers Blog, the Mitt blog brings welcome news of how they're doing. Ben is expecting his first child, Craig his second, Josh his fourth. Matt had his fourth a few months ago. Clearly, the Romney boys have put their blogging days behind them.

Remarkably, the Romney plan seems to be working. While housing prices plunge, Mitt vice-presidential futures are soaring. On Tuesday, Romney stock hit its highest price on Intrade in six weeks, moving into first place ahead of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Why the rebound? One of Romney's greatest weaknesses may also be his greatest strength: He's always making up for his last mistake. When Politico asked leading Republicans how to save their party, Romney had the best answer: new ideas, a better agenda, and "a very clear set of principles."

The GOP is in trouble if Mitt Romney is its go-to guy for principle. But if a house on your block is for sale, you have to admit: He'd make a great neighbor. ... 9:53 a.m. (link)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On the Rocks:After years of comparing illegitimacy rates around the world—which were low in Italy, moderate in Germany, and astronomical in the United States—Sen. Pat Moynihan used to joke that out-of-wedlock birth rates increase in direct proportion to distance from the Vatican. Now another member of the New York delegation has gone out of his way to confirm Moynihan's theory. Vito Fossella Jr.'s office is a long way from Rome.

Moynihan offered an even more prescient explanation of Fossella's behavior in his famous essay "Defining Deviancy Down." Citing a sociologist's rationalization that "the number of deviant offenders a community can afford to recognize is likely to remain stable over time," Moynihan feared a vicious cycle of what another New Yorker, Fred Siegel, dubbed "moral deregulation": The more people bend the rules, the further some will go in bending them.

Human weakness may be a renewable resource, but public attention is not—so, no matter how many cads live in the tri-state area, only the most shameless can make the front page of the tabloids. According to the tabloids, Rep. Fossella's troubles began in December 2002, when he fell for Air Force legislative liaison Laura Fay on a junket to Malta. The Daily News marvels that their union could take root on such rocky soil: "Malta is not an obvious place for a love affair to flourish. Not unlike Staten Island, it tends to be a conservative place."

Of course, in those days, so was the House of Representatives. Speaker Dennis Hastert himself led that congressional delegation to Malta. The following summer, Hastert took Fossella and Fay along on another European junket. One person on the trip told the Daily News that the affair became an open secret in Spain, somewhere near the Alhambra. The newspaper claims that "word about the affair spread, and Republican officials soon became concerned, fearing it would be exposed, sources said." The tabloid implies that the Air Force dropped Fay as a legislative liaison because she was a little too good at it.

Obviously, Vito Fossella's personal life is not Dennis Hastert's fault. Perhaps the speaker had his nose in a guidebook or was rereading Washington Irving's classic Tales of the Alhambra. (Unexplored tabloid angle: The namesake for Irving's most famous character, Ichabod Crane, is buried on Staten Island—just like Fossella's political career.) Moreover, once you've accepted the ethics of congressional leaders and Pentagon staffers taking taxpayer-funded fact-finding missions to the tourist capitals of Europe, you don't have to be above the legal blood alcohol limit to have trouble seeing any bright lines.

Still, the leadership's avoidance and denial in this case is eerily similar to the last great House Republican sex scandal, involving former Florida Rep. Mark Foley. A House ethics committee investigation determined that Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, learned of Foley's page problem in 2002 or 2003, the same period as Fossella's budding romance. The House leadership did nothing about it. As the ethics committee report declared, "A pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant."

In time, those years may be remembered as the Era of Willful Ignorance. Mark Foley was busy IMing House pages. Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed were busy e-mailing each other. Tom DeLay was busy hounding the FAA to track down Texas Democratic legislators who had flown to Oklahoma.

Today's New York Postreports that Scott Palmer, the Hastert aide, knew about the Fossella-Fay problem, too. He did something but not about the wayward congressman. Instead, Palmer called the Pentagon and reported Fay for unprofessional behavior. "I lost confidence in her and I'm not going to kid you," Palmer told the Post. "I was also concerned with this other relationship thing. It didn't look like it should."

Five years later, Republicans no doubt wish their leaders had lost confidence in Fossella after the Alhambra instead of waiting for the mistress, love child, and DUI. But as Pat Moynihan warned, there's a limit to the number of ethically deviant members any community can afford to recognize at one time. … 10:52 a.m. (link)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Three's Company:For Democrats who still can't decide between Clinton and Obama, a third candidate has put his name on the ballot in the Idaho primary later this month. Keith Russell Judd is pro-choice, opposes No Child Left Behind, wants to end the war in Iraq, and once bowled a 300 game. There's just one catch: he's an inmate at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, and won't get out until 2013.

Two decades ago, Idaho nearly re-elected a congressman who was on his way to prison. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone already in prison would see Idaho as a springboard to the White House.

Asked how a federal prisoner could qualify for the ballot, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told the press, "We got conned." The state recently eliminated the requirement for candidates to gather signatures; now they just need to fill out a form and pay a $1,000 fee. According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Keith Judd sent forms and checks to 14 states, but only Idaho put his name on the ballot.

Judd isn't the only out-of-state candidate on the primary ballot. Hal Styles Jr. of Desert Hot Springs, California, who has never been to Idaho, is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. For all the heartache and suffering that Larry Craig has caused the state, his arrest and subsequent humiliation have done wonders for candidate recruitment. Far from frightening people away, Craig has lowered the bar so much that even hardened criminals think they could win there.

Judd's 35-year membership in the NRA might give him an edge with some Idaho voters. But the road from Beaumont to Denver is a tough one. Idaho already selected its delegates in caucuses on Super Tuesday. The May 27 primary is just a beauty contest, and Judd seems to be going for the Willie Nelson look.

Even in a year when come-from-behind victories have become the norm, a come-from-behind-bars campaign requires exceptional resourcefulness. Judd used a Texas newspaper tip line as the phone number for his campaign office, and an IRS line in Ohio as the number for his campaign coordinator. He paid the $1,000 with a U.S. Treasury check drawn on his prison account.

Although no one has contributed to his campaign, Judd diligently files a handwritten FEC report every quarter. The FEC database shows Judd for President with $532,837 in total receipts, $11,285 in total expenditures, and an impressive $387,561 in cash on hand. With more than half a million in receipts, Judd's reported total exceeds that of Mike Gravel, who is practically a household name. The Huckabee and Giuliani campaigns would have done anything to match Judd's figure for cash-on-hand.

Running for president isn't a habit Judd picked up in prison, where he has spent the past decade since being convicted of making threats at the University of New Mexico. He has been running for office his whole life. He ran for mayor of Albuquerque in the early '90s, and tried to run for governor. He sought the presidency in 1996, 2000, and 2004 – when he won 3 write-in votes. He has filed more than 70 FEC reports going all the way back to 1995.

Judd has shown the same persistence in the courts, firing off appeals at a faster clip than Larry Craig. In 1999, after receiving a dozen frivolous cert petitions from Judd, the U.S. Supreme Court barred him from filing any more non-criminal claims unless he paid the required fees. In 2005, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals prepared an order noting that Judd had filed "at least 70 frivolous, duplicative and repetitive actions in this Court." By the time the order was issued, that number had reached 82.

Idaho has a long history of embracing maverick long shots, and Judd's iconoclastic background and platform won't hurt. He passes the Mickey Kaus test on welfare reform but not immigration. He favors eliminating all federal taxes so "the government can operate on its own self produced money." He wants to require gun licensing but let people carry concealed weapons. He says his national security views are "classified," but his Iraq position is "withdraw ASAP and forget it."

Judd plays the bass and bongos, belongs to the ACLU and the NRA, and admires JFK and Nixon. His nicknames are "Mr. President" and "Dark Priest," and his favorite athlete is a professional bowler. Bowling is hardly the rage in Idaho: In a fitting tribute to Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam's famous theory of social alienation, my hometown turned the bowling alley into a self-storage complex. Still, Judd's rivals can only envy his claim to have once bowled a perfect game.

Idaho pundits, who've had their fill of national attention, cringe over Judd's candidacy. "Jailbird Makes Us Look Silly," wrote the Ketchum Idaho Mountain Express. Others around the country note the irony that a felon can run but can't vote. The Illinois State University student newspaper, the Daily Vidette, defended Judd's right to run, but warned voters and party leaders not to support him: "All superdelegates should save their endorsements for candidates with a real shot."

At one particularly low moment of the 1988 campaign, a news crew tracked down Willie Horton and found out that if he weren't behind bars, he would vote for Dukakis. Give Keith Judd credit for passing up the chance to endorse Obama or Clinton, and running against them instead. ... 12:28 a.m. (link)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Running With the Big Dogs: While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama deflected Charlie Gibson's question about running together, last week was a big one for Democrats' other dream ticket: any Republican pairing that includes Mitt Romney. With a well-received cameo at a national press dinner and nods from Great Mentioners like George H.W. Bush and Karl Rove, Mitt is back—and campaigning hard for the No. 2 slot.

When John McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination back in February, the odds against picking Romney looked long indeed. The two spent the entire primary season at each others' throats. Romney trashed McCain over "amnesty" for illegal immigrants; McCain joked that Romney's many flip-flops proved he really was "the candidate of change." Even Rudy Giuliani, not known for making peace, chimed in from Florida that McCain and Romney were "getting kind of nasty," implying that they needed to come chill with him at the beach.

Sure enough, after a little time off, Romney felt better—good enough to begin his vice-presidential audition. He went on Fox to say, "There really are no hard feelings." He interrupted his vacation in Utah to host a fundraiser for McCain. After months of dismissing McCain as a Washington insider, Romney flip-flopped and praised him as a longtime congressional champion of Reaganism. Lest anyone fail to notice, Romney confessed that he would be honored to be McCain's running mate, and practiced ripping into the potential Democratic nominees: "When it comes to national security, John McCain is the big dog, and they are the Chihuahuas."

Of course, any big dog should think twice before agreeing to a long journey with Mitt Romney. The past would not be easy for McCain, Romney, and their staffs and families to overcome. Before New Hampshire, McCain's alter ego, Mark Salter, called Romney "a small-varmint gun totin,' civil rights marching, NRA-endorsed fantasy candidate." After the primaries were over, Josh Romney suggested that the Five Brothers wouldn't be gassing up the Mittmobile for McCain anytime soon: "It's one thing to campaign for my dad, someone whose principles I line up with almost entirely," he told the Deseret News. "I can't say the same thing for Sen. McCain."

For Mitt Romney, that won't be a problem: Any grudge would vanish the instant McCain named him as his running mate. And by the Republican convention in September, Romney's principles will be due for their six-month realignment.

The more difficult question is, What's in it for McCain? Actually, Romney brings more to the ticket than you might think. As in any partnership, the key to happiness between running mates is a healthy division of labor. When Bill Clinton and Al Gore teamed up in 1992, Clinton had spent most of his career on the economy, education, health care, and other domestic issues; Gore was an expert on national security, the environment, and technology. Even the Bush-Cheney pairing made some sense: Bush cared only about squandering the surplus, privatizing Social Security, and running the economy into the ground; Cheney was more interested in hoarding executive power, helping narrow interests, and tarnishing America's image in the world.

So, McCain and Romney are off to a good start: They come from different backgrounds and share no common interests. McCain, a soldier turned senator, prefers national security above all else. As a former businessman and governor, Romney rarely brings up foreign policy—for reasons that sometimes become apparent when he does so. In his concession speech, Romney said he was dropping out to give McCain a united front against Obama, Clinton, and Bin Laden. "In this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," he said. "We cannot allow the next president of the United States to retreat in the face of evil extremism!!"

For the general election, the McCain campaign must decide what to do with conservative positions it took to win the Republican primaries. Here again, Romney is a godsend: a vice-presidential candidate who'll flip-flop so the nominee doesn't have to. No one can match Romney's experience at changing positions: He has been on both sides of abortion, talked out of both sides of his mouth on same-sex marriage, and been for and against his own health care plan. It's a market-based approach to principle—just the glue Republicans need to expand their coalition. Moderates might assume Romney was only pretending to be conservative, and conservatives will thank him for trying.

Straight talk is all well and good for presidential candidates. But as Dick Cheney demonstrated, the job of a Republican vice-presidential candidate is quite the opposite—keeping a straight face while saying things that couldn't possibly be true. Take the economy, for example. McCain gets visibly uncomfortable whenever he ventures beyond fiscal conservatism. Romney is more flexible. In an interview with National Journallast week, he had no trouble contending that corporate tax cuts help the middle class. He spent the primaries warning that the United States was on a slippery slope to becoming the next France. Now he's perfectly happy to argue that we have to cut corporate taxes to keep companies from moving to France.

In his surprise appearance at the Radio & Television Correspondents dinner in Washington last week, Romney showed another virtue that makes him perfect for the role—a vice-presidential temperament. With his "Top 10 Reasons for Dropping Out," he proved that he is ready to poke fun at himself on Day 1.

A vice president needs to be good at self-deprecation, yet not so skilled that he outshines the boss. By that standard, Romney's audition was perfect: He chose good material ("There weren't as many Osmonds as I had thought"; "As a lifelong hunter, I didn't want to miss the start of varmint season") and delivered it just awkwardly enough to leave the audience wondering whether to laugh or feel slightly uncomfortable.

After watching him up close in the primaries, Team McCain no doubt harbors real reservations about Romney. Some conservatives distrust him so much, they're running full-page ads that say, "NO Mitt." A Google search of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and food taster produces more than 100 entries.

But looking ahead to a tense fall campaign, McCain should put those concerns aside and listen to voices from across the spectrum. This could be the issue that unites the country across party lines. Democrats like a little fun at Mitt Romney's expense. The McCain camp does, too—perhaps more so. And after last week, we know that—ever the good sport—even Romney's all for it. ... 2:14 p.m. (link)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Twist and Shout:When the news broke last August that Larry Craig had been arrested in a restroom sex sting, he had a ready answer: The Idaho Statesman made him do it. He claimed that the Statesman's monthslong investigation into whether he was gay made him panic and plead guilty. Otherwise, he said, he feared that what happened in Minneapolis might not stay in Minneapolis, and the Statesman would make sure the voters of Idaho found out.

Craig's jihad against the Statesman didn't go over too well in Idaho, where people are more likely to read the newspaper in the restroom than worry about it afterward. On Monday, the Statesman was named a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting for what the committee called "its tenacious coverage of the twists and turns in the scandal involving the state's senator, Larry Craig."

The story took yet another strange twist and turn this week. For the past six months, the entire political world has been wondering why Craig promised to resign when the scandal broke, then changed his mind a few days later. In a rare interview Wednesday with the congressional newspaper the Hill, Craig finally found someone to blame for staying in the Senate: The people of Idaho made him do it.

According to the Hill, Craig said "support from Idahoans convinced him to reverse his pledge to resign last year." This was news to most Idaho voters, who have viewed the whole affair with shock, outrage, embarrassment, and dismay. But Craig didn't stop there. The Hill reports that he also said his decision not to run for re-election "pre-dated the controversy."

Last fall, Craig stunned Idahoans by insisting he was not gay, not guilty, and not leaving. Now he says it's our fault he never left, he was leaving anyway, and if he's not running, it's not because we don't believe him when he says he's not guilty and not gay.

Unfortunately, Craig's latest explanation casts some doubt on the excuse he gave last fall. If he had already decided long ago that he wasn't running for re-election, he had less reason to panic over his arrest, and much less to fear from voters finding out about it back home. In September, he made it sound as if he pled guilty to a crime he didn't commit to avoid a political firestorm back home. If politics were of no concern, he had every reason to fight the charges in court. For that matter, if he was so sure he wouldn't run again, he could have announced his decision early last year, which might have staved off the Statesman investigation before it got started.

Craig's latest revelation undermines his defense in another way as well. If he is telling the truth that he had made up his mind not to run before his arrest, that would be the best explanation yet for why he risked putting himself in a position to get arrested. Eliot Spitzer's re-election prospects plunged long before he got caught, too.

Nothing can fully explain why public figures like Craig and Spitzer would flagrantly risk arrest. But we can rule out political suicide if they'd already decided their political careers were over. ... 3:55 p.m. (link)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

B.Looper: Learned reader Kyle Sammin recalls that Idaho's Marvin "Pro-Life" Richardson has nothing on 1998 Tennessee State Senate candidate Byron "Low-Tax" Looper. Besides changing his name, Looper also murdered his opponent. Under Tennessee law, the names of dead candidates are removed from the ballot. So even though he was quickly charged with homicide, Looper nearly ran unopposed. The victim's widow won a last-minute write-in campaign. Looper was sentenced to life in prison.

Bloopers: The Pittsburgh Pirates are now the most mediocre first-place team in baseball history. In their season opener Monday night against Atlanta, the Bucs provided plenty of evidence that this year will turn out like the last 15. They blew a five-run lead in the ninth by walking four batters and booting an easy fly ball. Pirate players said they'd never seen anything like it, not even in Little League. For an inning, it looked like the team had gone on strike to demand more money.

But to every Buc fan's surprise, the Pirates won, anyway—12-11 in 12 innings—and with no game Tuesday, Pittsburgh has been above .500 for two glorious days. New General Manager Neal Huntington e-mailed me on Monday to promise that the team's new regime is determined to build an organization that will make the people of Pittsburgh proud again. That might take a while. For now, we're content to make the people of Atlanta feel really embarrassed. ... 1:35 p.m. (link)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

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Larry Craig

Danger Is My Middle Name:Outgoing Senator Larry Craig can take consolation in one thing: out in Idaho, everyone wants his seat. Fourteen candidates have filed to run for the Senate, including eight Republicans, two Democrats, two Independents, and a Libertarian. Hal Styles Jr. of Desert Hot Springs, California, entered the Republican primary, even though he has never been to Idaho. "I know I'll love it because, clean air, clean water and many, many, many mountains," he says. "My heart, my mind, my body, my soul, my thoughts are in this to win."

The general election will likely be a rematch between former Democratic congressman Larry LaRocco and Republican Lt. Gov. (and former governor) Jim Risch. If Idahoans find those two insufficiently embarrassing, however, a number of fringe candidates have lined up to take Craig's place. According to CQ, one Independent, Rex Rammel, is a former elk rancher who is angry that Risch ordered state wildlife officials to shoot some of his elk that got away. The Libertarian, Kent A. Marmon, is running against "the ever-expanding Socialist agenda" he claims is being pushed by Democratic congressmen like John Dingell.

But by far the most creative third-party candidate is Marvin Richardson, an organic strawberry farmer who went to court to change his name to "Pro-Life." Two years ago, he made that his middle name and tried to run for governor as Marvin "Pro-Life" Richardson. State election officials ruled that middle names couldn't be used to make a political statement on the ballot. As plain old Marvin Richardson, he won just 1.6% of the vote.

Now that "Pro-Life" is his full name, the state had to let him run that way on the ballot. He told the Idaho Press-Tribune that with the name change, he should win 5%. He plans to run for office every two years for as long as he lives: "If I save one baby's life, it will be worth it."

As the Press-Tribune points out, Pro-Life is not a single-issue candidate, but has a comprehensive platform. In addition to abortion, he opposes "homosexuality, adultery, and fornication." He wants the pro-life movement to refer to abortion as "murder," although he has not yet insisted pro-choice candidates change their name to that.

Idaho Republicans and anti-abortion activists don't share Pro-Life's enthusiasm. They worry that conservative voters will check the box next to both Pro-Life and the Republican candidate, thereby spoiling their ballots. So last week, the Idaho Secretary of State persuaded both houses of the legislature to pass emergency legislation to clarify that "voters are casting a vote for a person and not a political proposition." Under the legislation, candidates who appear to have changed their names to "convey a political message" will be outed on the ballot as "a person, formerly known as …." The Prince Bill will go to the governor for signature this week.

According to the Associated Press, Pro-Life accuses legislators of " trying to legislate intelligence"—a charge not often hurled at the Idaho legislature. "The people that vote for me are more intelligent than to have something defined in legislation like this," he says.

Of course, Idahoans who really want to make a political statement will still be able to outsmart the Prince Bill. Nothing in the legislation prohibits Idaho parents who feel strongly about issues from naming their children Pro-Life or Pro-Gun at birth. For that matter, Marvin Richardson has changed his name so many times that if he changes it again, the ballot might have to describe him as "a person formerly known as 'Pro-Life.'" Or he could just change his name to Mitt Romney.

On the other hand, Republicans and Democrats alike can breathe a sign of relief over another unintended effect: the new law foils Larry Craig's best strategy for a comeback. Before the law, Craig could have changed his name to "Not Gay" and won in a landslide. "A person formerly known as Not Gay" is more like it. ... 5:27 p.m. (link)

Friday, Mar. 28, 2008

We Are Family:Midway through the run-up to the next primary, the presidential campaigns are searching for fresh ways to reach the voters of Pennsylvania. My grandparents left Pittsburgh more than 80 years ago, so my Pennsylvania roots are distant. But I still think I can speak for at least half the state in suggesting one bold proposal we long for every April: a plan to rescue one of the most mediocre teams in baseball history, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Granted, the nation faces more urgent crises. But in hard times, people often look to sports for solace. To blue-collar workers in taverns across western Pennsylvania, watching the Pirates lose night after night is as predictably grim as the Bush economy. The lowly Bucs are the reigning disappointment in the world of sport—with a batting average that seems pegged to the dollar and prospects of victory in line with the war in Iraq.

The Pittsburgh franchise hasn't finished above .500 since 1992. If, as universally predicted, the Pirates turn in their 16th consecutive losing season this year, they will tie the all-time frustration record for professional sport set by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1930s and '40s.

Pittsburgh is still a proud, vibrant city, which has rebounded handsomely from losses far more consequential than the Pirates'. The once-proud Pirates, by contrast, show plenty of rust but no signs of recovery. In 1992, the team was an inning away from the World Series, when the Atlanta Braves scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to steal Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The Braves soon moved to the NL East en route to winning 14 consecutive division titles, the longest in sports history. The Pirates moved from the East to the Central and began their soon-to-be-record-setting plunge in the opposite direction.

On Monday, the Pirates return to Atlanta for Opening Day against the Braves. Baseball analysts no longer give a reason in predicting another last-place Bucco finish. This year, the Washington Post didn't even bother to come up with a new joke. Last season's Post preview said:

Blech. This Pirates team is so mediocre, so uninteresting, so destined for last place, we don't know if we can squeeze another sentence out of it for this capsule we're being paid to write. But here's one. … The Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1992, and that streak will continue this year. That's still not long enough? Well, here's another line! Hey—two sentences in one line! Make that three! And here's another! See how easy that is?

This year, the same Post analyst wrote:

Okay, folks, here's the deal: We need to fill precisely 4.22 column-inches of type with information about the faceless, tasteless Pirates, and as usual we're not sure we can do it. But guess what? We're already at .95 inches, and we're just getting started! Wait—make that 1.19 inches. ... Should they finish below .500 again (and let's be honest, how can they not?), they will tie the Phillies of 1933-48 for the most consecutive losing seasons. (By the way, that's 3.53 inches, and we haven't even had to mention new manager John Russell, Capps's promise as a closer or the vast potential of the Snell-Gorzelanny duo.) There: 4.22 inches. Piece of cake."

So now the Pirates even hold the record for consecutive seasons as victims of the same bad joke.

Pittsburgh faces all the challenges of a small-market team. Moreover, as David Maraniss pointed out in his lyrical biography, Clemente, the first love for Pittsburgh fans has long been football, not baseball. These days, no one can blame them.

Seven years ago, in a desperate bid to revive the Pirates' fortunes, the city built PNC Park, a gorgeous field with the most spectacular view in baseball. From behind home plate, you can look out on the entire expanse of American economic history—from the Allegheny River to 1920s-era steel suspension bridges to gleaming glass skyscrapers.

The result? As Pittsburgh writer Don Spagnolo noted last year in "79 Reasons Why It's Hard To Be a Pirates Fan," Pittsburgh now has "the best stadium in the country, soiled by the worst team." (The Onion once suggested, "PNC Park Threatens To Leave Pittsburgh Unless Better Team Is Built.") Spagnolo notes that the city already set some kind of record by hosting baseball's All-Star game in 1994 and 2006 without a single winning season in between.

Although the Pirates' best player, Jason Bay, is from Canada, if Pittsburgh fans have suffered because of trade, the blame belongs not to NAFTA but to an inept front office. Jason Schmidt, now one of the top 100 strikeout aces in history, was traded to the Giants. Another, Tim Wakefield, left for the Red Sox. Franchise player Aramis Ramirez was dealt to the Cubs. When owners sell off members of a winning team, it's called a fire sale. The Pirates have been more like a yard sale. In 2003, when the Cubs nearly made the Series, the Pirates supplied one-third of their starting lineup.

In the early '80s, an angry fan famously threw a battery at Pirate outfielder Dave Parker. Last June, fans registered their frustration in a more constructive way. To protest more than a decade of ownership mismanagement, they launched a Web site, IrateFans.com, and organized a "Fans for Change" walkout after the third inning of a home game. Unfortunately, only a few hundred fans who left their seats actually left the game; most just got up to get beer.

This year, fans are still for change but highly skeptical. In an online interview, the new team president admitted, "The Pirates are not in a rebuilding mode. We're in a building mode." One fan asked bitterly, "How many home runs will the 'change in atmosphere' hit this season?"

I've been a Pirate fan for four decades—the first glorious, the second dreary, the last two a long march from despair to downright humiliation. In more promising times, my wife proposed to me at Three Rivers Stadium, where we returned for our honeymoon. On the bright side, the 2001 implosion of Three Rivers enabled me to find two red plastic stadium seats as an anniversary present on eBay.

Our children live for baseball but laugh at our Pirate caps—and, at ages 12 and 14, haven't been alive to see a winning Pirate season. Yet like so many in western Pennsylvania, I've been a Pirate fan too long to be retrained to root for somebody else.

After 15 years, we Bucs fans aren't asking for miracles. We just want what came so easily to the pre-2004 Red Sox, the post-1908 Cubs, and the other great losing teams of all time: sympathy. Those other teams are no longer reliable: The Red Sox have become a dynasty; 2008 really could be the Cubs' year. If you want a lovable loser that will never let you down, the Pittsburgh Pirates could be your team, too. ... 12:06 p.m. (link)

Thursday, Mar. 13, 2008

Craigenfreude: In a new high for the partisan divide, a mini-debate has broken out in far-flung corners of the blogosphere on the urgent question: Who's the bigger hypocrite, Larry Craig or Eliot Spitzer?

Conservative blogger Michael Medved of Townhall offers a long list of reasons why Craig doesn't need to go as urgently as Spitzer did. He finds Craig less hypocritical ("trolling for sex in a men's room, doesn't logically require that you support gay marriage"), much easier to pity, and "pathetic and vulnerable" in a way Spitzer is not.  Liberal blogger Anonymous Is a Woman counters that while Craig and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter remain in office, at least Spitzer resigned.

Warning, much political baggage may look alike. So, party labels aside, who's the bigger hypocrite? Certainly, a politician caught red-handed committing the very crimes he used to prosecute can make a strong case for himself. In his resignation speech, Spitzer admitted as much: "Over the course of my public life, I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself."

Moreover, for all the conservative complaints about media bias, the circumstances of Spitzer's fall from grace ensure that tales of his hypocrisy will reverberate louder and longer than Craig's. Already a media star in the media capital of the world, he managed to destroy his career with a flair even a tabloid editor couldn't have imagined. Every detail of his case is more titillating than Craig's—call girls with MySpace pages and stories to tell, not a lone cop who won't talk to the press; hotel suites instead of bathroom stalls; bank rolls instead of toilet rolls; wide angles instead of wide stances; a club for emperors, not Red Carpet.

Spitzer flew much closer to the sun than Craig, so his sudden plunge is the far greater political tragedy. No matter how far his dive, Craig couldn't make that kind of splash. You'll never see the headline "Craig Resigns" splashed across six columns of the New York Times. Of course, since he refuses to resign, you won't see it in the Idaho Statesman, either.

Yet out of stubborn home-state chauvinism, if nothing else, we Idahoans still marvel at the level of hypocrisy our boy has achieved, even without all the wealth, fame, and privilege that a rich New Yorker was handed on a silver platter. Many Easterners think it's easy for an Idahoan to be embarrassing—that just being from Boise means you're halfway there.

We disagree. Craig didn't grow up in the center of attention, surrounded by money, glamour, and all the accouterments of hypocrisy. He grew up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains. When he got arrested, he didn't have paid help to bring him down. No Mann Act for our guy: He carried his own bags and did his own travel.

Larry Craig is a self-made hypocrite. He achieved his humiliation the old-fashioned way: He earned it.

Unlike Spitzer, who folded his cards without a fight, Craig upped the ante by privately admitting guilt, then publicly denying it. His lawyers filed yet another appellate brief this week, insisting that the prosecution is wrong to accuse him of making a "prehensile stare."

While it's admittedly a low standard, Craig may have had his least-awful week since his scandal broke in August. A Minnesota jury acquitted a man who was arrested by the same airport sting operation. Craig didn't finish last in the Senate power rankings by Congress.org. Thanks to Spitzer, Craig can now tell folks back home that whatever they think of what he did, at least they don't have to be embarrassed by how much he spent. In fact, he is probably feeling some Craigenfreude—taking pleasure in someone else's troubles because those troubles leave people a little less time to take pleasure in your own.

Like misery, hypocrisy loves company—which, for both Spitzer and Craig, turned out to be the problem. But Spitzer was right to step down, and Craig should long ago have done the same. Politics is a tragic place to chase your demons. ... 5:30 p.m. (link)

Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2008

All the Way:  As death-defying Clinton comebacks go, the primaries in Ohio and Texas were very nearly not heart-stopping enough. On Monday, public polls started predicting a Clinton rebound, threatening to spoil the key to any wild ride: surprise. Luckily, the early exit polls on Tuesday evening showed Obama with narrow leads in both do-or-die states, giving those of us in Clinton World who live for such moments a few more hours to stare into the abyss.

Now that the race is once again up for grabs, much of the political establishment is dreading the seven-week slog to the next big primary in Pennsylvania. Many journalists had wanted to go home and put off seeing Scranton until The Officereturns on April 10. Some Democrats in Washington were in a rush to find out the winner so they could decide who they've been for all along.

As a Clintonite, I'm delighted that the show will go on. But even if I were on the sidelines, my reaction would have been the same. No matter which team you're rooting for, you've got to admit: We will never see another contest like this one, and the political junkie in all of us hopes it will never end.

It looks like we could get our wish—so we might as well rejoice and be glad in it. A long, exciting race for the nomination will be good for the Democratic Party, good for the eventual nominee, and the ride of a lifetime for every true political fan.

For the party, the benefits are obvious: By making this contest go the distance, the voters have done what party leaders wanted to do all along. This cycle, the Democratic National Committee was desperate to avoid the front-loaded calendar that backfired last time. As David Greenberg points out, the 2004 race was over by the first week of March—and promptly handed Republicans a full eight months to destroy our nominee. This time, the DNC begged states to back-load the calendar, even offering bonus delegates for moving primaries to late spring. Two dozen states flocked to Super Tuesday anyway.

Happily, voters took matters into their own hands and gave the spring states more clout than party leaders ever could have hoped for. Last fall, NPR ran a whimsical story about the plight of South Dakota voters, whose June 3 contest is the last primary (along with Montana) on the calendar. Now restaurateurs, innkeepers, and vendors from Pierre to Rapid City look forward to that primary as Christmas in June.

But the national party, state parties, and Sioux Falls cafes aren't the only ones who'll benefit. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the biggest beneficiaries of a protracted battle for the nomination are the two contestants themselves. Primaries are designed to be a warm-up for the general election, and a few more months of spring training will only improve their swings for the fall.

And let's face it: These two candidates know how to put on a show. Both are raising astonishing sums of money and attracting swarms of voters to the polls. Over the past month, their three head-to-head debates have drawn the largest audiences in cable television history. The second half of last week's MSNBC debate was the most watched show on any channel, with nearly 8 million viewers. An astonishing 4 million people tuned in to watch MSNBC's post-debate analysis, an experience so excruciating that it's as if every person in the Bay Area picked the same night to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

The permanent campaign turns out to be the best reality show ever invented. Any contest that can sustain that kind of excitement is like the World Series of poker: The value of the pot goes up with each hand, and whoever wins it won't be the least bit sorry that both sides went all-in.

No matter how it turns out, all of us who love politics have to pinch ourselves that we're alive to see a race that future generations will only read about. Most campaigns, even winning ones, only seem historic in retrospect. This time, we already know it's one for the ages; we just don't know how, when, or whether it's going to end.

Even journalists who dread spending the next seven weeks on the Pennsylvania Turnpike have to shake their heads in wonderment. In the lede of their lead story in Wednesday's Washington Post, Dan Balz and Jon Cohen referred to "the remarkable contest" that could stretch on till summer. They didn't sign on to spend the spring in Scranton and Sioux Falls. But, like the rest of us, they wouldn't miss this amazing stretch of history for anything. ... 11:59 p.m. (link)

Monday, Feb. 25, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal: With this weekend's victory in Puerto Rico and even more resounding triumph over the New York Times, John McCain moved within 200 delegates of mathematically clinching the Republican nomination. Mike Huckabee is having a good time playing out the string, but the rest of us have been forced to get on with our lives and accept that it's just not the same without Mitt.

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? Out in Salt Lake City, in an interview with the Deseret Morning News, Josh Romney leaves open the possibility that his father might get back in the race:

Josh Romney called speculation that his father could be back in the race as either a vice presidential candidate or even at the top of the ticket as the GOP's presidential candidate "possible. Unlikely, but possible."

That's not much of an opening and no doubt more of one than he intended. But from mountain to prairie, the groundswell is spreading. Endorsements are flooding in from conservative bloggers like this one:

Mitt Romney was not my first choice for a presidential candidate, but he came third after Duncan Hunter and Fred Thompson. … I would love to see Mitt reenter the race.

Even if re-entry is too much to hope for, Josh hints that another Romney comeback may be in the works. He says he has been approached about running for Congress in Utah's 2nd District.

That, too, may be an unlikely trial balloon. Josh is just 32, has three young children, and would face a Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jim Matheson, who is one of the most popular politicians in the state. Matheson's father was a governor, too. But unlike Mitt Romney, Scott Matheson was governor of Utah.

If Mitt Romney has his eye on the No. 2 spot, Josh didn't do him any favors. "It's one thing to campaign for my dad, someone whose principles I line up with almost entirely," he told the Morning News. "I can't say the same thing for Sen. McCain."

Even so, Romney watchers can only take heart that after a year on the campaign trail, Josh has bounced back so quickly. "I was not that upset," he says of his father's defeat. "I didn't cry or anything."

In his year on the stump, Josh came across as the most down-to-earth of the Romney boys. He visited all 99 of Iowa's counties in the campaign Winnebago, the Mitt Mobile. He joked about his father's faults, such as "he has way too much energy." He let a Fox newswoman interview him in the master bedroom of the Mitt Mobile. (He showed her the air fresheners.) He blogged about the moose, salmon, and whale he ate while campaigning in Alaska—but when the feast was over, he delivered the Super Tuesday state for his dad.

As Jonathan Martin of Politico reported last summer, Josh was campaigning with his parents at the Fourth of July parade in Clear Lake, Iowa, when the Romneys ran into the Clintons. After Mitt told the Clintons how many counties Josh had visited, Hillary said, "You've got this built-in campaign team with your sons." Mitt replied, to Ann's apparent dismay, "If we had known, we would've had more."

We'll never know whether that could have made the difference. For now, we'll have to settle for the unlikely but possible hope that Mitt will come back to take another bow. ... 4:13 p.m. (link)

Monday, Feb. 11, 2008

Face Time: When Ralph Reed showed up at a Romney fundraiser last May, Mitt thought he was Gary Bauer – perpetuating the tiresome stereotype that like some Reeds, all Christian conservatives look alike. Now, in Mitt's hour of need, Ralph is returning the favor. According to the Washington Times, he and 50 other right-wing leaders met with Romney on Thursday "to discuss the former Massachusetts governor becoming the face of conservatism."

Nothing against Romney, who surely would have been a better president than he let on. But if he were "the face of conservatism," he'd be planning his acceptance speech, not interviewing with Ralph Reed and friends for the next time around.

Conservatives could not have imagined it would end this way: the movement that produced Ollie North, Alan Keyes, and ardent armies of true believers, now mulling over an arranged marriage of convenience with a Harvard man who converted for the occasion. George Will must be reaching for his Yeats: "Was it for this … that all that blood was shed?"

For more than a year, Republican presidential candidates tried to win the Reagan Primary. Their final tableau came at a debate in the Gipper's library, with his airplane as a backdrop and his widow in the front row. It was bad enough to see them reach back 20 years to find a conservative president they could believe in, but this might be worse: Now Romney's competing to claim he's the biggest conservative loser since Reagan. If McCain comes up short like Gerald Ford, Mitt wants to launch a comeback like it's 1976.

Even conservative leaders can't hide their astonishment over finding themselves in this position. "If someone had suggested a year ago and a half ago that we would be welcoming Mitt Romney as a potential leader of the conservative movement, no one would have believed it," American Conservative Union chairman David Keene reportedly told the group. "But over the last year and a half, he has convinced us he is one of us and walks with us."

Conservative activist Jay Sekulow told the Washington Times that Romney is a "turnaround specialist" who can revive conservatism's fortunes. But presumably, Romney's number-crunching skills are the last thing the movement needs: there are no voters left to fire.

To be sure, Mitt was with conservatives when the music stopped. Right-wing activists who voted in the CPAC straw poll narrowly supported him over McCain, 35% to 34%. By comparison, they favored getting out of the United Nations by 57% to 42% and opposed a foreign policy based on spreading democracy by 82% to 15%. Small-government conservatism trounced social conservatism 59% to 22%, with only 16% for national-security conservatism.

As voters reminded him more Tuesdays than not, Mitt Romney is not quite Ronald Reagan. He doesn't have an issue like the Panama Canal. Far from taking the race down to the wire, he'll end up third. While he's a good communicator, many voters looking for the face of conservatism couldn't see past what one analyst in the Deseret News described as the "CEO robot from Jupiter.'"

If anything, Romney was born to be the face of the Ford wing of the Republican Party – an economic conservative with only a passing interest in the other two legs of Reagan's conservative stool. Like Ford, Mitt won the Michigan primary. He won all the places he calls home, and it's not his fault his father wasn't governor of more states.

Romney does have one advantage. With a conservative president nearing historic lows in the polls and a presumptive nominee more intent on leading the country, heading the conservative movement might be like running the 2002 Olympics – a job nobody else wants.

Paul Erickson, the Romney strategist who organized the conservative powwow, called McCain's nomination "an existential crisis for the Republican Party," and held out Mitt as a possible Messiah: "You could tell everybody at the table sitting with Romney was asking himself: 'Is he the one?'"

Romney has demonstrated many strengths over the years, but impersonating a diehard conservative and leading a confused movement out of the wilderness aren't foremost among them. It might be time for the right to take up another existential question: If conservatism needs Mitt Romney and Ralph Reed to make a comeback, is there enough face left to save? ... 3:37 p.m. (link)

Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Romney, We Hardly Knew Ye: When Mitt Romney launched his campaign last year, he struck many Republicans as the perfect candidate. He was a businessman with a Midas touch, an optimist with a charmed life and family, a governor who had slain the Democratic dragon in the blue state Republicans love to hate. In a race against national heroes like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, he started out as a dark horse, but to handicappers, he was a dark horse with great teeth.

When Democrats looked at Romney, we also saw the perfect candidate—for us to run against. The best presidential candidates have the ability to change people's minds. Mitt Romney never got that far because he never failed to change his own mind first.

So when Romney gamely suspended his campaign this afternoon, there was heartfelt sadness on both sides of the aisle. Democrats are sorry to lose an adversary whose ideological marathon vividly illustrated the vast distance a man must travel to reach the right wing of the Republican Party. Romney fans lose a candidate who just three months ago led the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and was the smart pick to win the nomination.

With a formidable nominee in John McCain, the GOP won't be sorry. But Romney's farewell at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting shows how far the once-mighty right wing has fallen. In an introduction laced with barbs in McCain's direction, Laura Ingraham's description of Mitt as "a conservative's conservative" said all there is to say about Romney's campaign and the state of the conservative movement. If their last, best hope is a guy who only signed up two years ago and could hardly convince them he belonged, the movement is in even worse shape than it looks.

Had Romney run on his real strength—as an intelligent, pragmatic, and competent manager—his road to the nomination might have gone the way of Rudy Giuliani's. Yet ironically, his eagerness to preach the conservative gospel brought on his demise. Romney pandered with conviction. He even tried to make it a virtue, defending his conversion on abortion by telling audiences that he would never apologize for being a latecomer to the cause of standing up for human life. Conservatives thanked him for trying but preferred the genuine article. In Iowa, Romney came in second to a true believer, and New Hampshire doesn't have enough diehards to put him over the top.

Romney's best week came in Michigan, when a sinking economy gave him a chance to talk about the one subject where his party credentials were in order. In Michigan, Romney sounded like a 21st-century version of the business Republicans who dominated that state in the '50s and '60s—proud, decent, organization men like Gerald Ford and George Romney. As he sold his plan to turn the Michigan economy around, Mitt seemed as surprised as the voters by how much better he could be when he genuinely cared about the subject.

By then, however, he had been too many things to too many people for too long. McCain was authentic, Huckabee was conservative, and Romney couldn't convince enough voters he was either one.

Good sport to the end, Romney went down pandering. His swansong at CPAC touched all the right's hot buttons. He blamed out-of-wedlock births on government programs, attacks on religion, and "tolerance for pornography." He got his biggest applause for attacking the welfare state, declaring dependency a culture-killing poison that is "death to initiative."

Even in defeat, he gave glimpses of the Mitt we'll miss—the lovably square, Father Knows Best figure with the impossibly wholesome family and perfect life.  He talked about taking "a weed-whacker to regulations." He warned that we might soon become "the France of the 21st century." He pointed out that he had won nearly as many states as McCain, but joked awkwardly with the ultraconservative audience that he lost "because size does matter."

He didn't say whether we'll have the Romneys to kick around anymore. But with the family fortune largely intact and five sons to carry on the torch, we can keep hope alive. In the Salt Lake City paper this morning, a leading political scientist predicted that if Democrats win the White House in 2008, Romney "would automatically be a frontrunner for 2012."

It's hard to imagine a more perfect outcome. For now, sadness reigns. As the Five Brothers might say, somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; but there is no joy in Mittville—Guy Smiley has dropped out. ... 5:42 p.m. (link)

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008

Mittmentum: With John McCain on cruise control toward the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney finds himself in a desperate quest to rally true believers – a role for which his even temper and uneven record leave him spectacularly unsuited. Romney knows how to tell the party faithful everything they want to hear. But it's not easy for a man who prides himself on his optimism, polish, and good fortune to stir anger and mutiny in the conservative base. Only a pitchfork rebellion can stop McCain now, and Luddites won't man the ramparts because they like your PowerPoint.

So far, the Republican base seems neither shaken nor stirred. McCain has a commanding 2-1 margin in national polls, and leads Romney most everywhere except California, where Mitt hopes for an upset tonight. Professional troublemakers like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are up in arms, trying to persuade their followers that McCain is somehow Hillary by other means. On Monday, Limbaugh did his best imitation of Romney's stump speech, dubbing Mitt the only candidate who stands for all three legs of the conservative stool. Strange bedfellows indeed: Rush-Romney is like a hot-blooded android – the first Dittohead-Conehead pairing in galactic history.

On Saturday, Mitt Romney wandered to the back of his campaign plane and told the press, "These droids aren't the droids you're looking for." Oddly enough, that's exactly the reaction most Republicans have had to his campaign.

But in the home stretch, Romney has energized one key part of his base: his own family. Yesterday, the Romney boys set a campaign record by putting up six posts on the Five Brothers blog – matching their high from when they launched last April. Mitt may be down, but the Five Brothers are back.

The past month has been grim for the happy-go-lucky Romney boys. They sometimes went days between posts. When they did post, it was often from states they had just campaigned in and lost. Bright spots were hard to come by. After South Carolina, Tagg found a "Romney girl" video, set to the tune of "1985," in which a smiling young Alabaman named Danielle sang of Mitt as the next Reagan. One commenter recommended raising $3 million to run the clip as a Super Bowl ad; another asked Danielle out on behalf of his own five sons. A few days later, Matt put up a clip of a computerized prank call to his dad, pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger – prompting a priceless exchange between robo-candidate and Terminator. Then the real Arnold spoiled the joke by endorsing the real McCain.

In the run-up to Super Tuesday, however, a spring is back in the Five Brothers' step. On Sunday, Josh wrote a post about his campaign trip to Alaska. Richard Nixon may have lost in 1960 because his pledge to campaign in all 50 states forced him to spend the last weekend in Alaska. That didn't stop Josh Romney, who posted a gorgeous photo of Mount McKinley and a snapshot of some Romney supporters shivering somewhere outside Fairbanks, where the high was 13 below. He wrote, "I sampled all of the Alaskan classics: moose, salmon and whale. Oh so good." Eating whale would certainly be red meat for a liberal crowd, but conservatives loved it too. "Moose is good stuff," one fan wrote. Another supporter mentioned friends who've gone on missions abroad and "talk about eating dog, horse, cow stomach, bugs." Rush, take note: McCain was ordering room service at the Hanoi Hilton while Mitt was keeping the faith by choking down tripe in Paris.

The rest of the family sounds like it's on the trail of big game as well. Ben Romney, the least prolific of the Five Brothers, didn't post from Thanksgiving through the South Carolina primary. Yesterday, he posted twice in one day – with a link to Limbaugh and a helpful guide to tonight's results, noting that in the past week members of the Romney family have campaigned in 17 of 21 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Now we can scientifically measure the Romney effect, by comparing the results in those 17 states with the four states (Idaho, Montana, Connecticut, Arizona) no Romney visited. After Huckabee's victory in West Virginia, the early score is 1-0 in favor of no Romneys.

Tagg, the team captain, also posted twice, urging the faithful to "Keep Fighting," and touting Mitt's evangelical appeal: "The Base Is Beginning to Rally." Back in June, Tagg joked with readers about who would win a family farting contest. Now he's quoting evangelical Christian ministers. The brothers are so focused on the race, they haven't even mentioned their beloved Patriots' loss, although there has been no word from young Craig, the one they tease as a Tom Brady lookalike.

Of course, if the Republican race ends tonight, the inheritance Mitt has told the boys not to count on will be safe at last. By all accounts, they couldn't care less. They seem to share Tagg's easy-come-easy-go view that no matter what happens, this will have been the best trip the family has ever taken, and this time no dogs were harmed along the way (just moose, salmon, and whale).

At the moment, the Five Brothers must feel the same nostalgia to keep going that the rest of us will feel for their antics when they're gone. Back when the campaign began, Tagg joked that they would love their father win or lose, although he might become something of a national laughingstock in the meantime. Mitt did his part, but whatever happens tonight, he can be proud the firewall he cares most about – his family – has held up its end of the bargain. ... 6:15 p.m. (link)

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

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Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

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