Caucus Cacophony

Caucus Cacophony

Caucus Cacophony

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 19 2004 7:14 AM

Caucus Cacophony

The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with the flurry of activity leading up to tonight's Iowa caucuses. A poll published in the Des Moines Register on Sunday revealed a tight four-way race, showing Kerry leading with 26 percent, Edwards at 23 percent, Dean at 20 percent, and Gephardt at 18 percent. The  New York Timesand Washington Post lead with the suicide attack outside U.S. headquarters in Baghdad Sunday morning that killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 60 others. The Wall Street Journal reports that two American contractors were among the dead (The LAT reported Sunday that two of the dead were U.S. Department of Defense employees).

The explosion—which occurred outside an entryway to one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces called Assassins' Gate—took place one day before top American and Iraqi leaders are scheduled to meet with U.N. officials over the future of the U.S. occupation. The delegation visiting New York, which includes L. Paul Bremer and members of the Iraqi Governing Council, is expected to ask U.N. officials to intervene in a dispute with Iraq's powerful Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who insists on direct elections instead of regional caucuses to determine a temporary government. The latter option will help the U.S. maintain control, while elections are likely to give Shiites more power.

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Today's U.N. meeting is widely seen as crucial for Kofi Annan. The WSJ says that the U.N. secretary-general is "almost certain to hold off on sending sizable numbers of U.N. employees back to Iraq," and the WP reports that he's set several conditions for return. According to senior U.S. and U.N. officials, Annan wants the U.S. to cede some policy authority and make the new U.N. role worth the risk of returning to Iraq. He's also looking for clarity and security guarantees. Still, a State Department official tells the LA Times, "They also realize that this train is leaving the station.

The papers are giddy at the prospect of one of the closest finishes in the history of Iowa's caucuses, with the NYT hoping that the results will "churn things up entirely." Sunday was a day of guest stars: John Kerry was campaigning with a Green Beret he rescued in Vietnam and with Ted Kennedy; Dick Gephardt appeared with Chuck Berry; and Howard Dean was with his wife, a doctor who has appeared on the campaign trail with Dean only once before. According to the LAT, on Sunday the four leading candidates delivered 17 speeches in 11 cities.

On its front page, the NYT delves into caucus history, recalling when little-known candidate Jimmy Carter finished far ahead of the other candidates—winning major media attention and then the White House—but had to travel to New York on caucus night to be available for network news programs, who had declined to send anchors to the state. Twenty-eight years later, there's no shortage of media interest (the Post alone has no fewer than nine caucus-related stories in Monday's paper).

But in its walk down memory lane, the Times excludes an episode from caucus history that illustrates the near impossibility of determining which candidate actually wins the most raw votes in the caucuses. Slate's William Saletan and Matt Schiller explain here how the caucuses actually work (hint: It's not pulling a lever in a booth), the questionable caucus results of 1988, and why tonight's contest may turn out to be distressingly similar to the Florida recount.

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Speaking of Jimmy Carter, he appeared with Howard Dean in Georgia early Sunday, where the candidate took precious time away from Iowa to attend church services with the former president. According to the Post, Carter twice said that he was not endorsing Dean, and also said of the meeting, "I did not invite him." 

And Democrats weren't the only ones canvassing Iowa this weekend: The Post reports that the Bush campaign flew a dozen familiar Republicans—including former head of the Christian Coalition Ralph Reed and former Dick Cheney adviser Mary Matalin—to Iowa Sunday to "counterprogram Democrats on caucus night."

Looking ahead to Tuesday's State of the Union address, the WP evaluates the fallout from last year's speech, where President Bush made the case for war with claims that have turned out to be false. Though the failure to find weapons doesn't appear to have hurt him much domestically, the damage abroad is apparent even to those who supported the war: "The foreign policy blow-back is pretty serious," says Kenneth Adelman, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Board.

VP Cheney sat down with the LAT and USAT for his first interview with a national newspaper in nearly two years. Given the lingering controversy of the questionable relationship between Cheney and Halliburton, the oil company he used to run—which recently won a no-bid Pentagon contract to provide services in Iraq—a reader might imagine that Cheney has a lot of explaining to do. But though both papers mention the controversy, Cheney doesn't address the issue directly, which begs the question: Did he refuse to answer Halliburton-related questions, or did the papers just not ask? And if they didn't ask, why not?

The LAT reports that gunmen hiding in a state-run TV station in Haiti  fired on protestors calling for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide Sunday, killing at least one and injuring others. The other papers run wire reports.

A story in the WP's front section reveals what the Democratic candidates have in common: They are all apparently consistently tardy to campaign events. Among other annoyances that Iowa voters have had to endure in recent days: ubiquitous TV ads, a steady stream of campaign mail, and automated phone calls from Michael Bolton (who is campaigning on behalf of Gephardt).