The Fringe: presidential candidates you've never heard of.

A campaign blog.
Oct. 19 2007 6:30 PM

The Fringe, Part 2

Presidential candidates you've never heard of.

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The Fringe, Part 2: This is the second entry in "The Fringe," a periodic look at the lesser-known candidates for president. You can find the first entry on Dr. Jack Shepard here.

Dr. Mark Klein
Dr. Mark Klein

Dr. Mark Klein shares at least one presidential tic with the rest of the mainstream candidates—he has a tagline. "We need a grown-up in the White House," Klein proudly told me earlier today. He wants that grown-up to be him.

Klein is a retired psychiatrist from Oakland, Calif., who woke up one morning in 2005 and felt like running for president. So that he did. Armed with $20,000 of his own money—Klein doesn't do any fund raising of his own—he started a field office in West Des Moines, Iowa, and says he has a dozen volunteers who believe in his message. "Instead of in my retirement buying a fancy Mercedes, I decided to run for the White House," he told me.

Klein's main goal is to strengthen the middle class. That means stemming the flow of illegal immigrants, imposing banking regulations, and re-evaluating free-trade policies. "What passes for the free market today is basically socialism for the very rich," he said. He added that even though he lives an admittedly "prosperous" lifestyle and lives off stock dividends, he considers himself middle class, since he has a net worth less than $10 million. He's less focused on foreign policy (his campaign materials say it would play "second fiddle" to domestic policy), but says he wants to withdraw all troops and supports the Bidenback strategy of dividing Iraq into three countries.

As if running for president wasn't hard enough, Klein is convinced the GOP doesn't like him. He claims the Iowa Republicans ignored his requests to be included in the Ames Straw Poll because they're anti-Semitic (Klein is Jewish). Mary Tiffany of the Iowa GOP told me his discrimination claims were baseless. He just didn't pass muster when the State Central Committee chose whom to put on the ballot in Ames. "Mark Klein isn't even a formidable candidate," she said, adding that she was surprised I was giving him the time of day. If Klein had more press coverage and bigger events, she said, they might have listed him as a candidate. (Eleven candidates were on the ballot, including John Cox and the then-unannounced Fred Thompson.)

All of this creates a presidential Catch-22: Outsider candidates can't raise their profile at major events because they don't have enough of an infrastructure, but they can't get the infrastructure they need because they don't have the medium to spread their message.

Of course, Klein could have gotten around this by running for some office other than president. But those small-time positions didn't interest him. "I don't waste my time," he said.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 19, 6:15 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Face value: Another religious Romney endorsement, this one coming from the former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Good timing, too: Romney will be speaking at the Values Voters Summit this evening, and it's fair to say he's got some repenting to do.

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Two gentlemen from the Log Cabin Republicans were passing out fliers outside the main ballroom including Mitt Romney's now-famous endorsement during his failed 1994 run for U.S. Senate. "If we are to achieve the goals we share," Romney wrote, "we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern." The group also released a sarcastically fawning anti-Romney ad a few weeks ago, praising his "pro-choice record" and "Massachusetts values."

Romney's rebuttal is that he has changed. "I get tired of people that are holier-than-thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have," he said to Sam Brownback at a debate in August. But tonight he'll be facing a largely skeptical audience and will need all the endorsements he can get.

As for the Log Cabin Republicans, the group isn't planning to endorse a candidate in the primaries, they told me. Right now, they're just making sure voters know about Romney's past positions. "The only thing consistent is his ambition," one of them said.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 19, 2:57 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Sleep talking: Fred Thompson doesn't know what he'd do as president, but he will know once God tells him. That's what he told the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. today: "Someone asked me what I'd do in my first 100 days as president. I said I don't know what I would do in my first 100 days. But I know what I'd do in the first hour. I'd go into the Oval office, close the door, and pray to know what was right."

It says a lot about Thompson's candidacy that this line got more applause than all his promises of judicial restraint, vetoes for abortion legislation, and smaller government. No one I talked to after the speech raved about Thompson's policies. They were drawn to his style. A man from Tennessee (whose wife was a cheerleader for Thompson's high-school football team) told me he admired Fred's authenticity, because he sounds like he "means what he says." He's just a regular guy like you and me.

The problem is, regular guys like you and me would have no idea what we're doing as president of the United States. Onstage, Thompson does little to suggest he'd be any different. Whereas Mitt Romney sometimes seems androidlike, Thompson comes off as all too human. He punctuated his speech with "um," and his voice never rose out of its cordial, soporific cadence. He could have been sitting on a porch, not standing on a stage. The ballroom seemed to swallow him. The speech didn't really have any laugh lines, either, except a canned quip about not needing to "call his lawyers to know a good judge from a bad one." Coming on the snappy heels of Tom Tancredo, his speech sounded like a eulogy.

At the end, as Johnny Cash started to play over the speakers, a group of Fred supporters shook signs and chanted, "Go, Fred, go!" It quickly became clear the audience wasn't going to join them, and the chant faded away.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 19, 1:43 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Obama, where art thou?: The big story on liberal blogs today has been Sen. Chris Dodd's decision to put a "hold" on the new surveillance bill, since it would grant immunity to telecom companies that helped the government spy on people without warrants. It started this morning when a blogger at MyDD called on Dodd to hold the bill—a procedural move that denies the party leadership the unanimous consent they need to bring a bill to the floor. In the afternoon, Dodd released a statement announcing his "hold" and promising "no telecom amnesty."

But it makes you wonder: Why ask Dodd? Why not Obama or Hillary or someone whose opposition would bring more attention to the issue? For one thing, Dodd had already promised to "do what I can to see to it that no telecommunications giant that was complicit in this Administration's assault on the Constitution is given a get-out-of-jail-free card."

But the calls for Dodd also reflect a growing disillusionment with Obama on the left. (See here and here to read some frustrated venting.) Obama's promises to discard the ways of Washington are bumping up against the pragmatism and party loyalty necessary to win an election. He's caught between reinventing politics and having to practice it. He probably would oppose the FISA bill, but he knows it could cost him.

Dodd, on the other hand, has very little to lose. He's barely registering in polls (the ones that he said "don't mean spit"), and his third-quarter fund-raising wasn't stellar. Taking a firm stance on wiretapping is both consistent with his support for civil liberties and a good way to distinguish himself from his opponents.

Even if he can't hoist himself out of the second tier, Dodd at least has a chance to influence the debate. Just as Bill Richardson can say to Hillary, I won't leave residual troops in Iraq—why will you?, Dodd can now ask Obama, I stood my ground on wiretapping—why didn't you?

Also: In case you're curious, Daily Kos has a useful guide  to how a "hold" works.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 18, 6:39 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Fortunate nephew: Jeb Bush Jr., son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, will be joining Rudy Giuliani's Florida team, the campaign announced today. That's just a week after Elizabeth Cheney joined Fred Thompson's campaign as co-chair.

So, if Bush's nephew and Cheney's daughter—the straight one, of course—are supporting different candidates, does that mean there's a rift in the White House?

So far, Giuliani seems to have a lock on the administration's (tacit) support. He's been much less critical of Bush than, say, Romney has, and based on his comments about national security and Iran—"the military option is not off the table"—he may even outhawk the current brass. And just look at some of his advisers: Norman Podhoretz, Stephen Rosen, Daniel Pipes. These guys make the Iraq war architects look like Cindy Sheehan. The White House doesn't do endorsements—which in this cycle is probably a good thing—but if it did, Giuliani could probably count on it.

But who knows, if Jeb Bush Jr.'s personal history is any indication, he might not be doing much to clean up Rudy's image.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 18, 4:47 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Bye-Bye Brownback: Mr. Brownback, we barely knew ye. The Associated Press is reporting that Sam Brownback has decided to end his bid for the Republican nomination because he couldn't raise enough money. His low poll numbers and lack of support among the Christian right were most likely a factor, as well.  Brownback's momentum stalled when he finished behind Mike Huckabee in the Ames Straw Poll in August. He never found his footing after that.

In honor of the Kansas senator's achievements, Trailhead created this lasting tribute to his campaign. Sam, may you rest in political peace.  We can only hope other, more sincere retrospectives will follow.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 18, 3:45  p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Clinton, Iowa: I know hokey symbolism is the lifeblood of campaigns, but the candidates are having way too much fun with this:

The former Massachusetts governor and White House hopeful began by attacking Hillary Clinton's tax plan, health care proposal, poll numbers and her husband's presidency at a speech in -- where else? -- the town of Clinton.

It's also where Obama gave a major anti-war speech in September. Best of all, it gives media the chance to drop coy references to "Clinton Republicans."

Luckily, there are plenty more opportunities for ham-fisted geographical metaphors. Candidates might consider campaigning in any or all of the following cities and towns, depending on their message:

And if anyone really wants to go after Fred in the Hawkeye State, there's always the town of Thompson, Iowa—population 600.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 18, 2:08 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Bad dates: All signs suggest that Rudy Giuliani is paying less attention to Iowa than to later states. For him, the big day isn't Jan. 3, when Iowa's social conservatives will turn out for the caucus. He's focused on Feb. 5, when a boatload of larger states hold their primaries. That, according to reports and campaign documents, is when he'll look to clinch the nomination.

But with Iowa and now possibly New Hampshire pushing their dates earlier and earlier, Feb. 5 is looking rather distant. If Romney dominates in Iowa (recent polls show him beating Giuliani by a factor of two) and uses that momentum to finish solidly in New Hampshire (where the two candidates are currently neck and neck), there's more time than ever for those victories to sink in. If New Hampshire—and therefore Iowa—somehow gets pushed into December, an early win could be all but calcified by February.

Of course, he's not the only candidate affected by the primary-date arms race. A superearly Iowa caucus could hurt Barack Obama if the legions of Iowa students he plans to mobilize are still on winter break. On the other hand, early primaries give the front-runners—right now Hillary and Giuliani—less time to regain their footing against a last-minute insurgency. If Obama manages to get a boost just before the caucus, Hillary might not have time to recover. Same goes for Romney against Giuliani: If he deals a last-minute blow to Rudy's lead in the national polls before the primaries, a subsequent victory in Iowa could become more significant than just a mere early jab.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 18, 11:58 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Oct. 17, 2007

With friends like these ...: The parade of half-assed endorsements continues!

First, Christian fundamentalist and university president Bob Jones announced his support for Mitt Romney, despite being "completely opposed" to Romney's religion. Now comes conservative Texas Gov. Richard Perry's equally lukewarm endorsement of Rudy Giuliani. Perry opposes abortion rights but said he supports Giuliani anyway because he believes the mayor will appoint conservative judges:

"Let me tell you, I can live with that," Perry said.

Easy there, governor. Don't get too excited now. From the same article:

Perry likened the choice to buying a new pickup truck, saying he would not reject a good model because it had one option he did not like.

Can't he at least pretend to like the person he's endorsing? We know social conservatives aren't too enthused about the current batch of GOP candidates, but this is just absurd. It reminds me of the Web site that appeared during the 2004 race, www.JohnKerryIsaDouchebagButImVotingForHimAnyway.com. Their motto: "He'll do."

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 17, 5:38 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Dr. Jack Shepard. Click image to expand.
Dr. Jack Shepard, presidential candidate

The Fringe: In honor of Stephen Colbert's presidential run and the beginning of the filing period for the New Hampshire primaries, Trailhead is introducing its first regular feature: the Fringe. We'll profile the über-long shots who have come out of the woodwork armed with limited cash, delusions of grandeur, and blind faith to seek residency in the White House.

Our inaugural candidate is Dr. Jack Shepard, a dentist from Minnesota—no, not that Jack Shephard. He has lived in Rome for the past 25 years but still thinks he's the Republican who can protect America and bring peace to the Middle East. Oh, I almost forgot, he's a convicted felon who is wanted on arson charges back home.

Shepard left the country in 1982, after serving eight months in jail for possessing narcotics—he says he was permitted to have them because of a license obtained for his dentistry practice *—and after Minnesota authorities claimed he burned down his house and dentistry office. Since moving to Italy, he says he routinely speaks with high-level Syrian, Iranian, and Hamas officials to assist America's foreign-policy efforts. He believes he is still serving in the armed forces at the age of 60 because his ID card doesn't have an expiration date. He claims he can't come home because he's still serving his country abroad. When I asked for specifics, he said that was all he was allowed to tell me.

If Shepard's platform has a fulcrum, it's full diplomacy with leaders in the Middle East, especially Iran. When I asked him about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's aggressive anti-Israel comments, he blamed them on a mistranslation. He would section off Palestine within Israel (he offered no specifics) and veto any pro-Israel bill that came across his desk. He also offered this: "The votes that I get will be votes from peace people," he said, "I'm curious how many people are actually after a person who really has dialogue with the evil of axis, as it's called." That was not a typo.

If Shepard sounds like he's a peace-loving Democrat, that's because he used to be. He became a "born-again Republican" in 2000 after a convoluted episode involving racial bias. Nevertheless, he wants the Rev. Jesse Jackson to be his ambassador to the United Nations.

He wouldn't tell me much about his domestic policy despite specific questions on health care, abortion, and gay rights. But he did say he wanted to reform the prison system, using personal examples from his own incarceration as evidence of its shortcomings.

To run for president, all Shepard had to do was send $1,000 check to New Hampshire's secretary of state and sign some papers saying he wanted to run. In South Carolina, you have to pony up $2,500 or 3,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot. Nobody does a background check, and he can't get pulled off the ballot in New Hampshire unless somebody files a complaint. This means Shepard will almost certainly remain a diplomatic vigilante.

Even if he were to garner a delegate, it's doubtful he'd be able to attend the GOP national convention in Minnesota, since that's the state where he's wanted for arson. Ever the optimist, Shepard ended an e-mail he sent me with this: "It would be the greatest and happiness moment of my life to return to St. Paul, Minnesota the city of my birth to get the Republican Nomination for President there." After all, aren't all politicians just talkative people looking for a little redemption?

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 17, 4:50 p.m. (link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Fourth and goal: Ron Paul surprised everyone—including himself, most likely—when he raised $5 million in the third quarter. But that's just the beginning, says his campaign. They're now shooting to raise another $12 million by January, which would put him in the major leagues among the GOP candidates.

That's a lot of cash, but Paul's fund-raising director is optimistic. He said at a press conference today that only 3 percent of Paul's donors have given the maximum amount, which means that well is far from dry. Also, roughly 35,000 donors gave to Paul in the third quarter—a respectable number, given that Romney had 23,000 new third-quarter donors. Plus, he says, Paul has been more frugal than his opponents. (An indication of the way they'll behave in office, surely.) He's "the only top-tier candidate who carried no debt into the fourth quarter," according to the campaign. Top-tier being their words, not mine.

The $12 million figure is notable not just for its size, but also for being mentioned at all. It's uncommon for a campaign to state its fund-raising goals at the outset, given that things could get ugly. But Paul is taking the transparency a step further: His Web site has a donation "thermometer," which lets you see how close they are to achieving the goal. Every time a new person donates, their name flashes on-screen. (There's an opt-out feature in case a member of, say, the Giuliani family wants to chip in.) Barack Obama has a similar "Closing the Gap" feature on his site now to motivate donors, intended to help him catch Hillary. But that's only a two-day project. If things slow down for Paul later this quarter, the whole world will know about it.

As for where all this cash will go, Paul will soon start spending on radio and TV ads in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa, and Nevada. More details here.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 17, 3:15 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Choir Boy: Barack Obama has announced his "Embrace the Change" gospel tour, a three-day concert series around South Carolina at the end of October, featuring Mighty Clouds of Joy and a handful of other gospel stars.

The concerts are clearly meant to boost Obama's God cred. For one thing, a lot of people still believe Obama is a Muslim—a notion that was buttressed by a Fox News report last January that he was educated at a radical Muslim madrassa. Plus, South Carolina voters often say they plan to use prayer to decide which candidate to vote for. If Obama is lucky, their ears will still be ringing in January.

But more importantly, Obama now gets to one-up Hillary on the musical front. Hillary held a fund-raising event last week in Boston with the Goo Goo Dolls. She also plans to have Elvis Costello play at her 60th birthday party in New York. She's been using Celine Dion's "You and I" as her campaign theme song—let's hope they stick to the recorded version.

There's a good case for electing the candidate with the best musical taste. It will decide whether we spend the next four years listening to over-the-hill boomer tunes—Fleetwood Mac was just the beginning—or these guys, who are old but still more fun to watch than John Rzeznik. (As a general rule, appeals to youth culture are a no-no. The Black Eyed Peas' performance at the 2004 DNC still haunts me.)

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 17, 12:40 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Family doesn't matter: Lynne Cheney told MSNBC Tuesday that her husband, Dick, and Barack Obama are eighth cousins. "Think about this," Cheney said. "This is such an amazing American story that one ancestor, a man that came to Maryland, could be responsible down the family line for lives that have taken such different and varied paths as Dick's and Barack Obama's."

Blogs are calling it "strange news"—a "bizarre revelation" "[f]rom the WTF file." "Are you sitting down?" asks the New York Times' Caucus blog. Well, I don't know, should I be?

Not really, says Utah genealogist Chip Hughes. Eighth cousins is nothing to get excited about. "If you told me that, I'd go, 'Oh, OK.' I wouldn't go, 'What?'" he says. "You think about it, there's only about 30 years per generation. If you go back to the Revolutionary War, that's eight generations. With the amount of people living then versus now, it's just not that unusual."

Hughes said you can't put an exact number on odds of two people being distant cousins. But chances are, everyone's got a famous relative. Descendants of the pilgrims who sailed over on the Mayflower currently number in the hundreds of thousands. Obama is also apparently related to President Bush. "My ninth great grandfather was Roger Williams," founder of Rhode Island, Hughes said. "There's horse thieves and heroes in everybody's line."

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 16, 8:07 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Losing his religion: Check out Bob Jones' official "endorsement" of Mitt Romney:

Asked whether Romney's religion was a stumbling block for him, Jones replied, "What is the alternative, Hillary's lack of religion or an erroneous religion?"

"As a Christian I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism," he said. "But I'm not voting for a preacher. I'm voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs."

Wait, what? I thought the whole point of an endorsement from Bob Jones was that he—or any other fundamentalist Christian university president, for that matter—does pick based on religious beliefs. No one cares what Bob Jones thinks of the health-care plan or tax cuts or plan for Iraq. They want to know who worships the best God! It's like a master chef recommending a restaurant even though he hates the food.

People always discuss Romney's beliefs as a weak spot. Who knew he'd be our nation's last defense against a pagan Giuliani or Clinton administration?

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 16, 6:01 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Blunt instrument: Rudy Giuliani knows how to tailor an anecdote to his audience. At today's Republican Jewish Coalition forum in Washington, D.C., he was introduced as the man who had Yasser Arafat thrown out of the United Nations. Giuliani later clarified: "I actually threw him out of the U.N. concert at Lincoln Center. [Applause] … It bothered me that he came to that peace concert. But what really bothered me was, he didn't have a ticket. He's a freeloader." I was half expecting him to say schnorrer.

On the subjects of the day—national security, nukes, Iran—Rudy was in his element. Maybe it's his ability to say anything, no matter how mundane, with utter conviction. "We've seen what Iran will do with ordinary weapons. If I'm president, we will never find out what they will do with nuclear weapons because I guarantee they will never get nuclear weapons." And just in case he wasn't clear: "The military option is not off the table."

You can understand why, after Hillary and Mitt Romney's alleged vagaries about how they'd respond to a threat from Iran, Giuliani's bluntness distinguishes him. "You can't negotiate with people who want to kill you and your children," he said at one point. "What are you gong to negotiate? How many kids they're going to kill?" Same goes for throwing Arafat out of concerts: "I didn't call for a team of lawyers to tell me, 'On the one hand, you can throw him out, but on the other hand you can't. Maybe you can partially throw him out. Or make him sit further up.' " For Rudy, it's never about compromise. "Weakness invites attack. Strength keeps you safe," he said. As does a total lack of nuance, apparently.

He wasn't just blunt about policy, either. One questioner seemed to say that George Soros was in the audience and asked what Giuliani thought of the liberal billionaire. "I'd suggest uninviting him if he's here in the room." Giuliani also put a Republican spin on Lloyd Bentsen's famous insult: "Barack Obama says Ronald Reagan negotiated with the Russians. ... I say this most respectfully, but you're not Ronald Reagan." Something tells me Obama wouldn't dispute that.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 16, 2:10 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Hair pieces: Every so often, two major newspapers will publish the exact same evergreen feature at the exact same time, confirming suspicions that the media is one giant, pulsating organism that thinks and moves as a unit.

The latest evidence: two pieces in the Sunday editions of the New York Times and Washington Post about South Carolina beauty salons and the African-American women who frequent them. As Barron YoungSmith pointed out yesterday in "Today's Papers," "both pieces follow a twentysomething Obama staffer and both meditate on the identity politics that rend black women choosing between a black man and a white woman." The salon makes a useful framing device, since both Hillary and Obama have dispatched staffers to salons to court black women. (A nasty tactic, if you ask me. Haircuts are already stressful enough.)

The most interesting quotes in both pieces come from women concerned about Barack Obama. "I think basically white people won't vote for him," one salon owner tells the Post. Others fear for his life. "I don't feel the country is ready for an African American," says a woman interviewed in the Times. "He would be killed."

So, have the Times and the Post been peeking over each other's shoulders? Not at all, say the two writers. "I was totally surprised," said Katherine Seelye, who wrote the Times piece. "I had no idea they were doing it." Seelye had wanted to write something about black women voters for a while, and only learned about the other piece on Saturday, when it appeared online. "I think it's kind of serendipitous," said Krissah Williams, the Post's reporter.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 15, 5:03 p.m. (link) ( discuss) ( tips)

At Your Service:The Service Employee International Union's Iowa state council is endorsing John Edwards today. But to hear the campaign talk about it, you'd think he'd won the union's full endorsement. (He didn't; they decided last week against a nationwide endorsement.)

A spokesman called it "great, great news" for Edwards and a "huge defeat for the Clinton campaign" in a conference call with reporters. He even said it proves Edwards' electability—a point the Edwards camp has been pushing for some time but that still falls just short of persuasive.

The endorsement is a victory, no doubt. But it's unclear whether it will have the huge effect Edwards seems to expect. In 2004, Howard Dean slipped in Iowa despite getting the much-touted AFSCME endorsement, not to mention the SEIU's. (A spokesman said Edwards' ground organization is much better than Dean's was.) And the campaign's point about electability is ironic, considering that many SEIU members lean toward Hillary and Obama because they perceived Edwards to be less electable. Hence Edwards' failure to get the whole union's endorsement last week. They were likely wary of a replay of 2004, when Dean's campaign imploded soon after getting the SEIU stamp of approval.

An Edwards campaign spokesman had a different take on why Edwards didn't get the full endorsement: Obama and Clinton represent states with strong SEIU membership—more than 250,000 in New York and 100,000 in Illinois. Therefore, he argued, it was hard for Edwards to command the 60 percent supermajority he needed to win the union's nationwide backing.

The Iowa SEIU has only 2,000 members, but 2,000 dedicated people (and their families) can make a big difference in the caucuses. Plus, SEIU rules allow volunteers from other states who endorse Edwards to work on the Iowa campaign. This influx could give Edwards a much-needed tool against the Obama and Clinton juggernauts in Iowa, especially if he wins California, which has more SEIU members than any other state.

Update, Oct. 16, 2007: Edwards also managed to rope in endorsements from nine other states' SEIU groups Monday, including California, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. Their memberships total over a million—more than half the SEIU's total membership of 1.9 million. If significant numbers of volunteers pitch in in Iowa, this could make a big difference. A student organizer from the University of Iowa writes in: "I heard a couple people call this the most important Edwards event of the entire cycle, and I'm not sure that's overshooting too far. The amount of paid professional organizing staff in just this area has basically doubled. ... The local Coralville office (that's the SEIU 199 home base) has completely automated computer call-filtering, whereas the local and regional presidential offices are still doing voter contact calls with spreadsheet printouts and a pen. ... Edwards staff and volunteers now have access to tons of resources that they wouldn't have had otherwise." Maybe spending limits won't hurt him as much as we thought.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 15, 3:03 p.m. (link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Friday, Oct. 12, 2007

No Contest: In a move that's likely to sink the Dodd campaign, Major League Baseball nixed the contest to win tickets to a Red Sox ALCS game with Sen. Chris Dodd. Which is a shame, seeing as it was easily the best contest any of the campaigns has offered. So far we've seen:

Win a dinner for four with Barack Obama.
Win a trip to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans with John Edwards.
Win a date with Bill Clinton and a bowl of chips.

It's not too late for the other campaigns to climb on board. What are some contests we're likely to see?

Win a wedding with Rudy Giuliani.
Win a nap with Fred Thompson.
Win a meal with John McCain--your treat.
Win a Romney brother. (You can keep him.)
Win a Guitar Hero duet in Bill Richardson's basement.
Win a Rio Grande "hunting trip" with Tom Tancredo.
Win a séance with Dennis Kucinich.
Win a Ron Paul bobblehead.
Win a Greyhound bus ride with Mike Gravel.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 12, 6:15 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Coulter Endorses!  Doesn't Ann Coulter just say the darndest things? In her mindless, anti-Semitic rantto CNBC's Donny Deutsch this week, Coulter may have said something even crazier than the now infamous "[Christians] just want Jews to be perfected" remark. Ann Coulter endorsed Duncan Hunter for president.

Duncan Hunter. Click image to expand.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California 

When asked what America would look like if all of her dreams came true, she said, "The Democratic party would look like Joe Lieberman. The Republican party would look like Duncan Hunter." Considering Hunter's nonexistent presence in the polls, it doesn't seem like she's tapped into the cultural zeitgeist on that one. (Coulter also said she thought heaven looks like "New York City during the Republican National Convention.")

I called up Hunter's spokesperson, Roy Tyler, for a reaction, and he said little to distance the campaign from Coulter. "Ann has always been a fan of his," he told me. "And we certainly can't fault her for that." He made no mention of the potential ridicule a Coulter endorsement would bring, even though the love fest came in the same five-minute span as an attack on Jews.

But when I asked if they were planning on asking Coulter to make her endorsement official, he said that wasn't in the cards. This doesn't make much sense—Hunter's campaign is squandering a chance to court ultra-right wingers and grab badly needed headlines. Coulter is clearly not a bandwagon supporter (if there's even a bandwagon to jump onto) as she's professed her support before. But supposedly Hunter has never even spoken to Coulter on the phone (but he has defended her on MSNBC). Some advice for Duncan: She's practically begging; just give her a call.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 12, 4:37 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Frowny Face: The cover of today's Wall Street Journal has perhaps the saddest-looking stipple portrait ever. It shows George W. Bush, eyes downcast, lips pursed, frowning slightly—the image of a president who has seen better days.

As it turns out, the Journal's hedcuts tell a fascinating story about Bush's fortunes over the past couple of years. (This site lets you look up old drawings and their publication dates.) In April 2006, he was still sunny and confident. In January 2007, as the surge began, his face showed doubt and concern. Now the man is downright gloomy.

WSJ stipple.

So, is this story arc intentional? An e-mail sent to WSJ's press office this afternoon hasn't been returned. But Kevin Sprouls, the artist who pioneered the stipple portrait style for the Journal 20 years ago, said he doubts it. Back when he worked on the art desk, "we'd try not to editorialize," he said. "We'd go with the image that was the best likeness."

Today's drawing accompanies an interview with Bush about free trade and executive pay. Maybe they picked the glum face because voter support for free-trade initiatives is down? "There's no way to find out," Sprouls said. "I'm sure even if they were editorializing, they would deny it."

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 12, 3:40 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Gee-had: Romney has a new ad in his series of backyard heart-to-hearts, this time telling us about jihadism—"This century's nightmare." He sound serious, but I still feel like I'm learning about the birds, the bees, and the coming of the 12th Imam.

As far as strategy, Romney is doing his best to unseat Giuliani as the national security candidate. Talking about the terrorists' plans to "unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate" might help. (Notice that he doesn't mention a "global war on terror"—a good way to distance himself from Bush.) But no matter how many soldiers Romney pledges to add to the military, no matter how hawkish he waxes on Iran, he still doesn't have a good rebuttal if Giuliani decides to ask him, "Where were you on Sept. 11?"

Here's the spot:

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 12, 11:55 a.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Correction, Oct. 18, 2007: An earlier version of this post misstated that Dr. Shepard was convicted for selling narcotics. A judge ruled that he had violated his parole and convicted him of illegally possessing narcotics. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.