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

A campaign blog.
Oct. 26 2007 6:05 PM

The Fringe, Part 5

Presidential candidates you've never heard of.

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Cap Fendig. Click image to expand.
Cap Fendig

The Fringe, Part 5: This is the fifth entry in "The Fringe," a periodic look at the lesser-known candidates for president. Read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Cap Fendig is the fringe man's Mike Huckabee. The Republican presidential candidate wants to keep the troops in Iraq, supports the fair tax, and promotes pro-life policies. But while Huckabee's profile continues to rise, Cap Fendig is hoping to grab four percent of the votes in Iowa, at most. That's what happens when the highest public office you've held is county commissioner.

The 53-year-old man certainly looks presidential, and speaks in a southern drawl that would make John Edwards swoon. His high-quality Web site has pictures of him and his wife looking like the all-American couple—complete with an out-of-focus background to imply Fendig is a stark contrast to the murky America that surrounds us all.

Fendig recently sold his tour company in Georgia to fund his campaign, but it was his business that inspired him to run in the first place. He said his platform consists of policies the "American people" want. Of course, most of those Americans are his conservative tour clientele.

Fendig is not ashamed to tell you that he thinks the constitution ought to be changed. First up, the Fair Tax, which would repeal the 16th amendment that allows the government to collect an income tax. Next, he wants to solve the immigration problem by scrapping pieces of the 14th Amendment. Under the Fendig administration, babies born in the United States would no longer be automatic U.S. citizens. Their parents would have to be citizens, as well. Unclear on whether America would make it a habit of deporting children before they leave the hospital. Oh, and don't forget to tack on a gay marriage amendment while you're at it. (Fendig said homosexuality is a lifestyle choice America cannot endorse but should protect.)

Constitutional changes aside, Fendig is making one novel recommendation: He wants to impose term limits on congressmen so that the legislative branch has a "rotation of fresh ideas and energy."

Fendig, though, has more pressing concerns—like getting people to take him seriously. When Fendig delivered his official announcement speech at a county meeting, the video shows that the woman sitting behind him couldn't help but let loose a laugh.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 26, 6:07 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

All aboard: The Republican presidential candidates may have found the perfect enemy: the Law of the Sea Treaty. The treaty, a U.N. convention ratified by 150 countries in 1994 but not by the United States, sets rules for navigating international waters, governs economic activity therein, and also establishes certain environmental standards. And, if you ask the GOP candidates, it must be stopped.

Mike Huckabee toldSlate's John Dickerson that the Law of the Sea has "damaging and dangerous implications for our national sovereignty." Fred Thompson said earlier this week that the law "gives a U.N.-affiliated organization far too much authority over U.S. interests." John McCain and Duncan Hunter have spoken out against the treaty as well.

The candidates know they can get mileage out of the treaty. For one thing, it just sounds silly. Who wants to submit to something called the Law of the Sea Treaty? If you violate it, do they make you walk the plank? (Also note the acronym: LOST.)

But more to the point, it gives them an opportunity to rail against international law. Ronald Reagan rejected the treaty in 1982 because of a provision about mineral mining, but since then the United States has followed the treaty in practice (minus the mining part). President Clinton signed it, but the Republican Congress didn't pass it. President Bush currently supports it, as do the U.S. Navy and the oil industry. (It gives the United States a seat at the table on issues like the Arctic's oil resources, which has enjoyed a resurgence ever since Russia planted its flag there.) In other words, there's very little reason for a Republican not to support the treaty, except to show his general opposition to international law.

And that's just what the GOP candidates want. For them, opposing the Law of the Sea isn't a practical matter. It's ideological. It's about making clear that no one else tells us what to do. Even if they did support it, who wants to be the one guy explaining the intricacies of the 200-page Law of the Sea at the next debate? No, better to make vague noises about national sovereignty, invoke Ronald Reagan once or twice, and be done with it.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 26, 4:57 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Hopeless: In the already   much- publicized e-mail blitz yesterday by the Clinton and Obama campaigns, the Iran debate is taking a turn for the ugly.

After President Bush announced sanctions on Iran's military, Obama's camp sent out a statement insisting that "these sanctions must not be linked to any attempt to keep our troops in Iraq, or to take military action against Iran" and suggesting that the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which Hillary voted for, does this. Hillary blasted back with a memo: "Stagnant in the polls and struggling to revive his once-buoyant campaign, Senator Obama has abandoned the politics of hope and embarked on a journey in search of a campaign issue to use against Senator Clinton."

As the Iran showdown escalates—both campaigns sent out mailers on the issue this week—Obama appears to be pedaling against the wind. As many have pointed out, Clinton took pains to make sure the bill didn't include authorization of military force. And as Clinton herself notes, where was Obama during that vote?

But still, Clinton's tactics come off as downright nasty. Her word of choice to describe opposing campaigns used to be flagging. Now it's stagnant. (May we suggest flaccid?) At the same time, Hillary is still using Obama's coinage, the "politics of hope," against him. Obama originally intended the phrase to mean avoiding personal attacks. But over the past weeks, Hillary has redefined it as avoiding attacks on her policies. By conflating the two, she implies that Obama is becoming a bully and, in the process, abandoning his principles. She has turned his promise of civility into a straightjacket.

Obama should be calling her out on this. If Hillary is going to try and make all policy attacks sound personal, Obama should point out that strategy and rebuff it. Obama spokesman Bill Burton's reponse, sent to reporters yesterday evening, fails to do this: "All of the political explanations and contortions in the world aren't going to change the fact that, once again, Senator Clinton supported giving President Bush both the benefit of the doubt and a blank check on a critical foreign policy issue. Barack Obama just has a fundamentally different view." We've heard all this before. What Obama needs to say is that Hillary deliberately uses his "politics of hope" message as a shield against criticism. If Obama is going to stay in the debate, he can't let Hillary define the terms. Especially when he coined them.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 26, 11:48 a.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Oct. 25, 2007

The assassination primary: One of the best ways for a politician to boost his popularity is to get assassinated. It worked for Lincoln, it worked for Kennedy. (And who doesn't adore James Garfield?) Even better is an assassination attempt. That way, you get to enjoy the good press. Just ask Ronald Reagan. Best of all, though, is an assassination attempt attempt. Someone thought you were worth killing, but didn't follow through, giving you all the cred but none of the scars. Apparently that's what happened to Rudy Giuliani.

It turns out a group of New York crime bosses nearly voted to whack Giuliani back in 1986, when he was a U.S. attorney prosecuting cases against the mob. The heads of five families voted 3 to 2 to spare him, according to testimony Wednesday at the trial of an FBI agent in Brooklyn. "That was one vote I won I guess," Giuliani told radio host Mike Gallagher today.

For someone cultivating an image as the toughest candidate in the Republican pool, it doesn't hurt for voters to know some bad guys wanted you dead. (Imagine what it would do for Rudy's campaign if Osama bin Laden released a video begging the American people not to elect him.) Giuliani has also gone out of his way to act presidential, meeting with leaders from Gordon Brown to Jalal Talabani and pitching himself as a foreign-policy savant. A would-be assassination attempt—even one that took place years ago—only solidifies the image.

People say Giuliani values loyalty. Maybe he should hire the three guys who voted to spare him. Vote Giuliani: an offer you can't refuse.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 25, 5:08 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Nevada. Click image to expand.

Caucus Neglect: As states wage war over which primary or caucus will be first in the nation, Nevada is being left behind. For the first time in its history, the Silver State will host the second caucus in the country on Jan. 19. And yet, nobody seems to care.

Slate's Map the Candidates tool shows an apathetic bunch of candidates. In total, they've only made 55 campaign stops in Nevada since July 1, according to their public schedules (excluding Duncan Hunter and Mike Gravel, who don't make their schedules public). That's both parties' tallies combined. To give some context, South Carolina has had 145 stops in that time period. New Hampshire? 415. Iowa? An obscene 966 stops! The candidates have even visited Florida 78 times, despite this summer's abstinence pledge from the top Democrats.

A closer look at the 55 Nevada stops reveals a heavy Democratic bias. All six of the first- and second-tier Democrats have stopped by the Silver State, but only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have stumped for the GOP. Yes, more GOP candidates have visited Wyoming than Nevada. For what it's worth, Nevada GOP Executive Director Zac Moyle told me he was happy with the turnout and said several other candidates are coming in November.

Why no love for Nevada? Initially, both parties booked Nevada's caucus earlier in the primary season so the state would serve as the election's gateway to the West. But then Nevada's neighbors California (90 visits since July 1), Utah, and Arizona set their primary dates to Feb. 5, which reduced Nevada's regional clout. Plus, polls for the Democrats show Hillary Clinton in command even though Bill Richardson is from nearby New Mexico and has spent the most time in the state. No excuses across the aisle, though. The GOP's numbers are much tighter than the Democrats', which makes the leading Republicans' absences even more glaring.

Some solace for Nevada residents: The Democrats are coming to town for a debate next month. Just don't expect them to stay the night.

Want more? Get a closer look at Nevada's sparse political landscape compared to Iowa's gluttonous display.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 25, 3:00 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

I'm John Edwards, and I Did Not Approve This Message: Today a major environmental group, Friends of the Earth, starts airing a new radio ad in New Hampshire praising John Edwards' stance on global warming. (The group formally endorsed him last week.) Edwards, according to the ad, is "alone among the candidates" in asking Americans to sacrifice and conserve energy. Listen here.

It's not the first independently financed spot to run in this campaign—the Log Cabin Republicans already aired a Romney attack ad in Iowa—but it is one of the first to straightforwardly endorse a candidate. FoE figured that New Hampshire, which is seeing its ski seasons shortening and its maple syrup seasons thrown off-kilter, would be a good place to deliver his message of reducing emissions and opposing nuclear power.

For Edwards especially, independent ads could make a big difference. His decision last month to take public matching funds mean that he's subject to spending limits. In New Hampshire, he can't spend more than about $800,000 on campaign expenses such as advertising and phone banking. Independently financed ads, meanwhile, have no spending limits, as long as they're not funded by corporations or unions. (They're also not allowed to coordinate with the campaign.) FoE says this ad won't be its last.

Not that Edwards is relying on outside advertising. Eric Shultz, a spokesman for the Edwards campaign, emphasized that the campaign has all the money it needs to execute its strategy. But with Hillary and Obama surging ahead in fund raising, Edwards will have to spend efficiently to compete in the early states' ad markets. And with his New Hampshire numbers lagging behind his two top rivals', a little help from his friends won't hurt.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 25, 1:44 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Oct. 24, 2007

Levin vs. Gardner: Michigan Sen. Carl Levin refuses to play nice. Acting as if he has a vendetta against the entire Granite State, Levin has once again reached out across the news wires and slapped New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner across the face. In a meeting with reporters this morning, Levin criticized New Hampshire's "cockamamie" election status and said he wants Michigan Democrats to hold a caucus on the same day as New Hampshire's primary.

This is all fallout from Michigan's effort to upend the primary process by leapfrogging New Hampshire. Michigan's move to Jan. 15 forced Gardner to delay the disclosure of New Hampshire's date so no other state would try to usurp its first-in-the-nation status. Michigan, meanwhile, saw all but three Democrats pull out of its primary because the state wasn't one of the four sanctioned early primary states. Levin seems to consider himself and his state martyrs, crucified for their principled stand against the villainous Yankees in Manchester. The Detroit News quoted him as saying, "New Hampshire has a hammerlock on the process. … We decided we were going to try to change that. We knew we would pay a price for that." How valiant!

Gardner, meanwhile, is playing Batman to Levin's Penguin. Gardner's stoic, above-the-fray demeanor makes Levin appear all the more a blowhard. By the way, the final decision is up to Michigan's governor—not Michigan's senator.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 24, 6:45 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Boozers for Barack: Who knew that Barack Obama could find allies in college drinkers? There's a fascinating showdown in Iowa over underage bar laws that could, possibly maybe, end up affecting the presidential election.

Residents of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, have submitted a ballot measure that would kick anyone under 21 out of the city's bars after 10 p.m. That might sound reasonable in most cities. But currently anyone 19 and over can hang out at Iowa City bars—although they still can't (technically) drink till they're 21. Community members concerned about the neighborhood's safety and appearance are backing the ordinance. On the other side, you've got students looking to defend their right to drink cranberry juice and ginger ale in bars. The measure appears on the ballot Nov. 6.

As voting day approaches, both sides are mobilizing. A group called Citizens Against Students Ruining Downtown staged a "vomit walk" Sunday night to protest the sullying of the neighborhood. Health advocates are also pushing the ordinance since they say it would cut down on binge drinking.

Students are likewise miffed. At the University of Iowa, Republicans and Democrats alike have been conducting nonpartisan voter registration drives and setting up voting stations in the residence halls. Even students at other schools, many of whom travel to Iowa City to drink, are speaking out. The result, if the organization effort works, is that more young people than usual will be registered to vote in Iowa on Nov. 6. And that means more young people registered in time for the caucuses.

This could be good news for Obama. In the past few elections, most Iowa caucus-goers have been older than 50. But this time around, Obama's campaign is putting special emphasis on young people, organizing high school groups called "BarackStars" and urging college students to register. So far, Obama's Iowa ground organization outmatches that of his opponents. If he's able to get a boost from the Iowa City party scene, bully for him.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 24, 6:27 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

The Fringe, Part 4: This is the fourth entry in "The Fringe," a periodic look at the lesser-known candidates for president. You can find previous entries here, here, and here.

Tom Koos gets it. He knows that a 41-year old facilities manager from California isn't going to win the Democratic nomination. He understands it's unlikely he'll even earn a delegate in New Hampshire, where he'll only campaign for a week before the primary. But he's not running for president to become president. He's running so he can figure out who to vote for.

Koos has wanted to become president since he was 7. He looked up at the calendar and realized that he'd be 35 by 2000, which meant that in 28 short years, he could be taking the oath of office. So, in 2000, he threw his name in the ring.  Nineteen people voted for him—one more than the Fringe's last subject, Michael Skok.

Considering Koos finished 76,881 New Hampshire votes behind Al Gore in 2000, what is there to gain by running again? Koos told me he wanted to get a better sense of what his  own opinions were on the election's major issues so he would know which candidate to endorse.

As a result, Koos' platform is essentially a composite of his opponents' stances. Like Joe Biden, he wants a soft-partitioned Iraq. Like Hillary Clinton, he supports a national-service academy. And like Dennis Kucinich, he advocates a universal, single-payer health-care system. He's the Voltron of presidential candidates.

Does this mean Koos is once again embarking on a selfish, self-indulgent pursuit? Perhaps. But he said he's also running to try and convince his friends and family to pay attention to the elections. When he tells people he's running for president, he gets to discuss current events and politics with relative strangers. Plus, he said, running for president is "an awful lot of fun." Some might call it a midlife crisis, but Koos thinks of it as a boyhood dream.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 24, 4:30 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Rudy's Sinker: Politics is about compromise. Voters know this, and politicians know they know it. That's why they'll often bend their position to accommodate a new situation without paying a political price.

Sports, however, is not about compromise. It's not about sacrificing now so you can win later. It's about winning now, later, and always. It's starkly Manichaean—the one arena where you can say, "You're with us or against us," and no one will accuse you of being overly dramatic.

Rudy Giuliani, of all people, should understand this. But by announcing in Boston yesterday that he would be rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series, he joins Hillary Clinton in the league of athletic opportunists he so roundly criticized last month. "Don't you respect me for telling you the truth that I'm a Yankees fan?" he asked a crowd in Chicago after Clinton said that she'd "alternate" sides in a Yankees-Cubs match-up. Well, whatever respect he commanded then, he has squandered now. The New York tabs are calling him a "Red Coat" and a "Traitor" for abandoning his home team. And believe it or not, it still doesn't look like he'll be carrying Massacusetts.

Giuliani's rationalization only made the offense worse: "I'm an American League fan, and my tradition has been to root for the American League team, particularly if it's a team that beats the Yankees. And in this case, you won the division and we lost. Somehow it makes me feel better if the team that was ahead of the Yankees wins the World Series, because then I feel like, well, we're not that bad."

Et tu, Rudy?

Barack Obama, playing off Giuliani's gaffe, told a Boston crowd he was a "principled sports fan" and supported the White Sox. But candidates should really avoid talking about sports altogether. For one thing, you're not likely to win votes from the people whose teams you praise. If anything, it comes off as pandering. But also, even a hint of ambiguity—the least bit of waffling—amounts to heresy. Giuliani's situational Red Sox fandom makes Romney's abortion flip-flopping look forgivable. He might as well have said he'd ask his lawyers. Let this be a lesson: Baseball is the one issue on which you can't be moderate. Giuliani picked the wrong time to act like one.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 24, 2:44 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Taking care of business: If Mitt Romney is elected, he'll be the real MBA president. That's what you're supposed to take away from his latest ad, "Business World," in which he promises to "audit Washington top to bottom and cut spending." He did it at the 2002 Olympics, he did it as governor of Massachusetts (he doesn't mention the state by name), and he'll do it again as commander in chief. Need proof? Look, he's shaking hands with people. Now he's pointing to some charts. OK, there's the sleeve roll-up. Can you feel the synergy? Have a look:

The efficiency spiel is what fiscal conservatives want to hear, and Romney smoothly works it into his "change begins with us" theme. But it also reinforces perceptions of Romney as MR-1000, the kindly autobot whose CPU needs recharging every night. He has a knack for making warm themes sound cold. At last week's Family Research Council conference, he stressed that "family is a vital economic unit." Well, yes, but that's probably not how values voters think of their spouses and children. It's no surprise Ann Romney was the one narrating the campaign's family-themed ad "Our Home."

You also have to wonder whether a résumé built on business acumen is any match for one built on crime-fighting and security, like Rudy Giuliani's. (According to their messages, at least.) Does anyone care deeply that Romney saved the Olympics? It was a major accomplishment, by all accounts, and earned him plaudits from businessmen and politicians alike. But when you say it over and over, it starts to sound like Fred Thompson ushering John Roberts through the confirmation process—an accomplishment John Dickerson called "the legal equivalent of walking Michael Jordan onto the court." Compared to Giuliani at Ground Zero, Romney in the board room isn't the most compelling image. At the FRC conference, the day after Romney spoke, conservative leader Bill Bennett urged voters to listen to their hearts. If Romney is lucky, they'll stick with their heads.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 24, 1:04 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Oct. 23, 2007

Will Rogers: It's been a week since Stephen Colbert announced his presidential candidacy on his show (video here), and he's already attracted enough media attention to make a second-tier candidates steam. He has guest written a column for the Times, received legal advice, and even inspired a campaign strategy drawn up by the Atlantic's Josh Green. But instead of the usual Is he or isn't he? game of presidential bids, it's more like Is he or isn't he serious?

A few people have compared Colbert's candidacy to that of Pat Paulsen, the comedian who ran on the Straight-Talking American Government ticket in 1968 with the promise that "If elected, I will win." But Paulsen wasn't the first, either. Back in 1928, humorist Will Rogers announced his presidential bid on the "Anti-Bunk Party" ticket in a column for Life magazine. His campaign promise was essentially the opposite of Paulsen's: If elected, he would resign. He later challenged Herbert Hoover to a joint debate "in any joint you name."

The difference between Colbert and Rogers is that Rogers insisted he was running in jest. "Now when that is done as a joke it is alright," he wrote. "But when it's done seriously, it's just pathetic." But that didn't stop people from supporting him. Henry Ford backed Rogers, as did Babe Ruth and Charles Gibson, Life's owner, who wrote the magazine's official endorsement. Rogers refused to get on the ballot, even though he probably had a decent chance of winning. According to the admittedly biased folks at the Will Rogers Museum, he might have been president if he hadn't died in a plane crash in 1935.

I'm guessing Colbert will push it as far as he can, assuming people keep paying attention. But he knows as well as anyone that the second he appears serious about it, it's just pathetic.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 23, 5:28 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

"Circumcision Damage": This morning, all of Chris Dodd's credibility was undermined by a single, random Google Ad on the Huffington Post's home page.

Screen shot from huffingtonpost.com.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 23, 2:47 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Web test: There's been hype aplenty over campaigns using social networks and other online tools. But it's been hard to measure how many people they're reaching, not to mention whether online activity translates to the ground or the polls.

Politico's (and, er, Slate's) Ryan Grim takes a crack at these questions today with a study examining the surfing behavior of each candidate's online supporters. Conducted in collaboration Compete.com during the month of September, the study tracks visitors to each candidate's official site and records what other sites they visit, too. For instance, you can see what percentage of Fred08.com visitors also checked out Daily Kos (5 percent), Facebook (19 percent), or the Fox News site (24 percent). (See other comparisons here.)

The study's most interesting results deal with the social networks—specifically, the candidates' individual pages. Whereas 30 percent of Barack Obama fans (defined as people who visited his official site) also went to Facebook at some point in September, only 1 percent of them checked out Barack's personal Facebook page. In Hillary's case, the number is 0 percent. Mike Huckabee wins with three percent. That's a pretty small proportion, given how influential these social networks have supposedly become.

YouTube, on the other hand, gets more traffic from the candidates' online base: "Fifteen percent of people who went to [Obama's] official campaign site also went to his YouTube page, compared to 9 percent for Clinton."

You can't call these findings airtight. (The article cautiously avoids overstating them.) For one thing, visitors to a campaign's official site aren't necessarily core supporters. Plus, it's possible that most of Obama's Facebook supporters—mostly young people—have never bothered to go to his official home page. But the study seems useful as a gauge of general trends. Now I'd be curious to see them apply the same method to the campaigns' internal networks, like My.BarackObama.com.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 23, 1:24 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Iraq redux?: So Obama's going for it. He's not only trying to make Hillary's vote for the Lieberman-Kyl Amendment, which labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, sound like a vote for war. He's making it a major focus of his fall campaign.

Today Obama's campaign sent out glossy color mailings in Iowa calling him "the ONLY major candidate for president to oppose both the Iraq War from the very start and the Senate amendment that raises the risk of war with Iran."

This, despite drawing criticism for flogging a nonissue. When Obama wrote an op-ed for the Manchester Union Leader accusing Clinton of "saber-rattling," the Clinton campaign quickly fired back: "It's unfortunate that Sen. Obama is abandoning the politics of hope and embracing the same old attack politics as his support stagnates." Since then, politicians and pundits have taken sides. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, an Obama ally, publicly disagreed with him. The Washington Post editorial page on Sunday called Obama's tactics "irresponsible and -- given the ease with which the charge can be rebutted -- probably naive, as well."

The main arguments against his charge are: One, the Kyl-Liberman Amendment originally kept military options on the table, but that language was deliberately cut out. Two, the 2002 Iraq war authorization was far more explicit in allowing the president to take the country to war. Three, despite the posturing, Obama and Hillary's positions on Iran don't differ all that much—they both favor diplomacy but neither renounces military action. And lastly, if the vote was so important, why wasn't Obama there?

As for the last question, here's Barack Obama's public schedule for Sept. 26, 2007, the day Hillary Clinton voted for the Lieberman-Kyl Amendment:

"Today's Public Events:
11:30 a.m. NEW HAMPSHIRE, Obama will host a Harvest for Change event in Peterborough.
9:00 p.m. NEW HAMPSHIRE, Obama will participate in the DNC Debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover."

He missed the vote for one morning event? Who knows, maybe there was some unmissable private fund-raiser we don't know about. But something tells me he didn't spend that day agonizing over an impending war with Iran.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 23, 11:26 a.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Oct. 22, 2007

The Negotiator:Say what you want about Bill Richardson, but he must tell great stories at cocktail parties. The former United Nations ambassador, congressman, and energy secretary has hyped his diplomatic experience from the start, but today he finally unveiled his best photo-op—and it's with Saddam Hussein.

In his new ad, "Only One," Richardson dusts off old footage of him and Saddam negotiating the release of two American contract workers who inadvertently crossed the border into Iraq, a move that at the time earned him a glowing write-up in the Washington Post.

The ad manages to tout Richardson's record without reading from a laundry list of accomplishments like Richardson's semi-funny job interview spots. The wife of one of the rescued workers makes an indirect dig at Richardson's rivals: "He's the only one that was willing to, to leave his family, his wife behind, travel to a dangerous section of the world, for two men he didn't even know." Richardson has been touting a similar message with his Iraq withdrawal policy—that he's the only one willing to take the political risk of making the case for an immediate withdrawal (if you ignore Kucinich and Gravel). Moreover, if Richardson can successfully get two men out of Iraq while Saddam is still in power, the spot implies, then he can get 130,000 troops out of Iraq with the dictator gone.

The ad will run in New Hampshire and Iowa, where Richardson continues to linger in fourth place.

Update:  Astute reader Kari Chisholm alerted us that this isn't the first time Richardson has told this story.  Richardson ran a very similar ad during his New Mexico gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 22, 6:50 p.m. (link) ( discuss) ( tips)

The Great Blog Crisis of 2008: Last week, the campaign blogosphere birthed twins. Or at least it sounded that way. The New Republic introduced The Stump, while Newsweek revealed Stumper, both of which will chronicle the ups, downs, lefts, rights, bumps, swerves, and occasional multicar pileups of the 2008 presidential race.

Sure, their names sound similar. But given the saturation level of campaign coverage, it's a miracle they were able to find original names at all. Just look what's been taken already:

The fact is, naming your blog is a painful process, mostly because there aren't many good names left. (Just ask Slate's Michael Weiss.) So for anyone out there still planning to join the fracas, we compiled a comprehensive list of leftover blog names. Some are rejects from our own pile, others we heard tossed around elsewhere. Feel free to use any and all. Just don't expect to avoid ridicule:

'08 Ball, '08 Track, El Ocho, The Runner, On the Run, Election Watch, Election Trail, Trail Watch, Trail Stalker, The Trailer, The Decider, The Countdown, The Bus Stop, The Race, The Stage, The Podium, The Lectern, The Platform, The Swinger, The Gaffe, The Chad, The Smear, The Campaigner, On the Trail, Off the Trail, On the Road, Off the Road, On the Bus, Trailblazer, Trailbreaker, Trailbuster, Trail Junkie, Trail Fiend, Trail Addict, Trail Hound, Poliwog, Poliwag (also a Pokemon), Party Time, Pary Line, Finish Line, Ballot Stuffer, Race Space, Racebook, The Political Theater, The Washington Read, Blogger of Campaigns, Blog or Die, Stumpy, Stump'd.

Got more? Let us know.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 22, 4:59 p.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

The Fringe, Part 3:This is the third entry in "The Fringe," a periodic look at the lesser-known candidates for president. You can find previous entries here and here.

Michael Skok, a 58-year-old retiree from New York, asked me this today: "I would argue with you that Republicans have evolutionists in their party. So why can't the Democrats have a creationist in their own party?" Skok believes the Earth is 6,000 years old, that America will cease to exist within eight years, and that we need to send a man to Mars. That's why he's running for president.

Undeterred by his 18-vote tally in New Hampshire's 2000 primary, Skok is back in the race for the Democratic nomination. Not that he's on the trail, exactly: He can't afford to head out to New Hampshire just yet, having spent much of his campaign budget on the $1,000 registration fee for the state primary. His family doesn't like that he's running: "They said it's a waste of money. I tell them I'm trying to save the country." Here's the plan:

Restore the country's Christian values: Skok wants to stage a modern-day Scopes Trial via a nationwide debate between the country's best creationists and evolutionists. "We're becoming a nation that's godless with no morality," he said. He's puts his faith in the creationists, partly because the books on evolution he has read have been "confusing."

Find alternate sources of energy: To ease America's dependence on the OPEC states, Skok wants to put solar panels in Earth's orbit and then somehow get that energy back down to Earth. Also, expect the Skok administration to put solar collectors along the freeway and invest in wind turbines.

Fix America's trade deficit: Skok is convinced that in eight years, there will be no such thing as the United States. Instead, the EU is going to annex the U.S. because the dollar will be so weak and so many industries will have been outsourced to China.

Advance America's science and technology sectors: Sending an astronaut to Mars, he said, would help strengthen America's position in the world. This, coupled with Skok's desire to send solar panels into orbit, made me wonder how his creationist beliefs jibe with his scientific interests. "I'm using science to find out if the Bible is true," he told me.

Skok said he can't imagine voting for any other Democrat but that Fred Thompson had caught his eye because he wanted to restore Christian values. If Fred's performance continues to underwhelm, maybe Values Voters can find their candidate across the aisle.

Posted by Chadwick Matlin, Oct. 22, 4:19 p.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Straw man: Yes, Mitt Romney technically "won" the straw poll of social conservatives this weekend. But it's hard to look at his victory as anything but Pyrrhic: He barely beat out Mike Huckabee in the overall tally, which included online voting as far back as August, while Huckabee utterly trounced Romney among the conference attendees, 51 percent to 10 percent.

Why the disparity? The Romney campaign's battle tactics partially explain it—they encouraged supporters to vote online. But the candidates' speeches no doubt made a difference, too.

Romney's speech was, well, a Romney speech—eloquent, enthusiastic, utterly antiseptic. When it came time to address his religion, he punted with a one-off joke: "I imagine one or two of you have heard I'm Mormon," he said. If you're one of the people who says you wouldn't vote for a Mormon, "I imagine that's because you've listened to Harry Reid." The line went over awkwardly, and he didn't mention his religion again.

Huckabee's speech, meanwhile, was a Huckabee speech, but better. The former Baptist minister made it clear he wasn't just from the Christian community, but of it. He dinged Romney for trying to play Christian: "People need to sing from their hearts, rather than lip sync the lyrics to our songs." He said he puts religion before politics: "I do not spell G-O-D 'G-O-P.' " The self-effacing charmer gave way to the pulpit preacher, and somehow it didn't sound forced.

It's hard to call Huckabee a threat—and not just because he seems about as menacing as an ice cream cone. He still places fourth in Iowa polls, and even lower nationally. But he could well start chipping away at Romney's lead. Whereas Rudy Giuliani might not even need the evangelical vote—he's polling just fine in the states that matter to him—Romney does. Roughly 35 percent of Republican Iowa caucus goers are evangelical Christians. If this weekend's straw poll is any indication, Huckabee is gaining ground with them. A few more speeches like Saturday's, some skillful ground organization in Iowa, and his horse could start looking a shade lighter.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 22, 12:20 a.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Poetry slam: Love thy neighbor—except when you can ding him with a great one-liner. That seemed to be the 11th commandment of last week's Values Voter Summit, which featured, along with odes to God and country, a few juicy slams (at least by Sunday school standards). Here's a sampling:

WSJ editor John Fund on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: "You can wade through their deepest thoughts without getting your ankles wet."

National Review editor Rich Lowry on Hillary Clinton: "We put our 'Run, Hillary, Run!' bumper stickers on the front of our cars."

Mike Huckabee on Mitt Romney, implicitly: He "has more positions on abortion than Elvis has waist sizes."

Huckabee on baby boomers and Medicare: "Just wait till old aging hippies find out they can get free drugs from the government."

The emcee on Al Gore: He couldn't make it, as he's busy investigating the "global threat of the Loch Ness monster."

Rudy Giuliani on Hillary: "It takes a family, not a village, to raise a child."

Of course, not everyone was a hater. Bill Bennett snagged the award for most heaping praise, describing our leader in Iraq as "not Leonidas of the 300 Spartans, but Petraeus of the 300 million Americans."

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 22, 10:25 a.m. (link) (discuss) (tips)

Girl talk: If the GOP debate in Michigan earlier this month was the Fred Thompson debate, last night's was the Hillary debate. (Click here for a transcript.) No matter what the topic, talk kept reverting to the Democratic senator from New York. Just take a look at the number of Hillary references, compared with other mentions:

Hillary Clinton: 44
Mitt Romney: 17
Rudy Giuliani: 15
Ronald Reagan: 11
terrorist: 3

Attacks on Hillary certainly give her a boost over her Democratic opponents. (Not that she needs it.) They feed her "inevitability" narrative, for one thing, and they also give the impression that a Clinton presidency is, to borrow Thompson's phrase from last night, the GOP's "worst nightmare." You don't hear them spinning apocalyptic tales about an Obama administration.

But I wonder if these attacks are going to ultimately hurt the Republican candidates. They can go after Hillary all they want in front of a friendly audience. But what happens during a general election debate? Clinton famously used Rick Lazio's brash style against him in the 2000 Senate race, calling him a bully for raising his voice and pointing his finger during debates. She could always take a similar tack if faced with a tough-talking Giuliani in the general election (against Romney, maybe not so much). Of course, the strategy could come off as cheap, and Republicans would no doubt accuse her of playing the girl card.

In the meantime, though, the Hillary campaign might have to add the GOP candidates to their payroll.

Posted by Christopher Beam, Oct. 22, 9:39 a.m. ( link) ( discuss) ( tips)

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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