A Delegate Matter

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 17 2008 5:04 AM

A Delegate Matter

The New York Timesleads with an analysis of the Democratic presidential candidates' battle for superdelegates, the party officials and elected representatives who are not selected on the basis of primary voting but nonetheless have a say in picking the nominee. The Los Angeles Times leads with news that the CIA is closing all but two of its undercover "black stations": cover companies that were set up in the wake of Sept. 11 to expand the CIA's overseas presence. The Washington Post gives its top nonlocal spot to a preview of Pakistan's upcoming parliamentary elections, preparations for which have been plagued by suicide bombings.

Because neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton is expected to win the 2,025 delegates needed to nab the nomination before the end of the voting season, the competition for superdelegates is quickly becoming "the final contest of the nominating battle." About 300 of the 795 superdelegates have yet to take sides. Of these, 100 are from states that voted for Obama, but at least 30 have "long and often personal" ties to the Clintons, and the vast majority are women, which the Times suggests might help Clinton. To make matters more suspenseful, even the superdelegates who have committed to a candidate are free to change sides.

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(The Los Angeles Times also has a good backgrounder on who the superdelegates are and why those nutty Democrats let them pick a nominee.)

According to the LAT, the CIA intended to set up "as many as 12" fake companies to employ overseas spies. But, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the agency concluded that "they were ill-conceived and poorly positioned for gathering intelligence on the CIA's principal targets" and shut most of them down. The paper says the bogus employers "were located far from Muslim enclaves in Europe and other targets," and their apparently large size "raised concerns that one mistake would blow the cover of many agents." A final problem: "because business travelers don't ordinarily come into contact with Al Qaeda or other high-priority adversaries … the cover didn't work."

The Post describes the run-up to Monday's parliamentary elections in Pakistan, the first in five years, as simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. While Pervez Musharraf's presidency is not directly threatened, the vote is nonetheless seen as a referendum on his rule, and the opposition Pakistan People's Party is expected to do well. But the country isn't known for its lily-white elections, and although Musharraf promises the vote to be "free, fair and transparent," fraud is on everyone's mind. That fear adds to the ever-present danger of being blown up: the paper says that as many as 90 people have been killed in the last week alone by suicide bombers targeting opposition rallies. (The NYT has similar doubts about the fairness and security of the vote.)

The NYT previews possible trouble in the market for credit default swaps, a market the paper unappetizingly describes as "arcane" and "obscure"—but in which about $45.5 trillion in securities is traded. The credit swaps are intended to insure against financial loses for banks and bondholders, and the NYT speculates that the current crisis in subprime loans could spread and "set off a chain reaction of losses at financial institutions."

The Post has a big local lead: Eight people were killed in an illegal street race on a dark rural road in Maryland. A car uninolved in the race came upon the crowd of between 50 and 300 that assembled, and struck the onlookers.

In campaign news, the NYT fronts John McCain's recent effort to reinvent himself as the Republican front-runner—a role that doesn't come naturally to a senator who has trumpeted his maverick credentials. The NYT says it is a tension that occasionally finds expression in oratorical blandness. "There is a process in place that will formalize the methodology," McCain says of his formerly freewheeling campaign.

On the Democratic side, the Post gives Obama a dose of skeptical coverage, wondering if his abstract message of hope and change can resonate in a place like Ohio, where change "has brought housing foreclosures and economic ruin," and where hope means "avoiding another round of layoffs." "Obama, doesn't he sound a little naive?" asks one resident.

The Los Angeles Times fronts a feature on the troubled tourism industry of Tijuana, Mexico, where recent drug violence has led to a 90 percent drop in visits since 2005.

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