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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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:
Oct. 11, 2007
'08 Kids Mix 'n' Match Quiz: The children of political candidates are a mysterious bunch. And with the biggest field of presidential candidates in decades, it's getting hard to keep them all straight. Some, like the five Romney brothers, are throwing themselves into the campaign, while others, like both Giulianis, are taking a back seat.
How well you know the candidates' brood? Take this quiz and find out (Scroll down for the answers):
1. Jackie Kucinich
2. Chelsea Clinton
3. Meghan McCain
4. Sasha Obama
5. Matt Romney
6. Hunter Biden
7. Andrew Giuliani
8. Sarah Huckabee
9. Malia Obama
10. Tagg Romney
11. Caroline Giuliani
12. Cate Edwards
13. Ben Romney
14. Beau Biden
Answers: 1 – E; 2 – H; 3 – J; 4 – D; 5 – L; 6 – K; 7 – G; 8 – B; 9 – F; 10 – C; 11 – O; 12 – A; 13 – N; 14 – I
1-2 correct: You are legally blind.
3-6 correct: You don't own a television
7-8 correct: You are a healthy news consumer.
9-10 correct: You are an unhealthy news devourer.
11-12 correct: Your parent is a 2008 presidential candidate.
13-14 correct: You cheated.
Oct. 10, 2007
One man party: After Ron Paul came up big in the third quarter, raising an unexpected $5 million, there's been a low hum on the blogs about a potential independent Paul candidacy. Paul added grist to the rumor mill at Tuesday's debate when he said he wouldn't necessarily support the Republican nominee. Is there a chance he'll go indie?
"Ron has 99.9999 percent ruled it out," said a spokesman, Jesse Benton. Paul has run as an independent before, but it takes too much time and money just to get on the state ballots, Benton said.
The problem is, about 71 percent of Republicans have already ruled him out—that's more than any other GOP candidate—according to last week's Des Moines Register poll. No wonder Paul has started reminding supporters on his Web site to register as Republicans so they can vote in the primaries. He knows he's not exactly catering to the party's base.
So, Paul is sticking with the GOP. Or, as Benton put it in a telling Freudian slip, "We're in it until the American people vote no," he said. "I mean, yes or no."
Oh … snap: Fred Thompson had the best comebacks at yesterday's GOP debate. Responding to Mitt Romney's quip about how the primary was a lot like an episode of Law & Order—"It's got a huge cast, the series goes on forever and Fred Thompson shows up at the end"—Thompson slipped in a tweak of his own: "And to think I thought I was going to be the best actor on the stage." When Chris Matthews suggested that Thompson should have kept an answer to one word, Thompson shot back, "That's your opinion, Christopher."
Apparently, Rudy Giuliani doesn't have the same sense of timing. When Mitt Romney said he'd have to talk to his lawyers about attacking Iran without congressional approval, he opened himself up to ridicule. But it wasn't until this afternoon that Rudy's communications office sent out a press release with this off-the-cuff quip:
"Hopefully, Mitt Romney isn't going to check with the same group of lawyers who told him the Bill Clinton line item veto was constitutional."
Somehow, it doesn't have the same bite after a 21-hour delay. Must have been one hell of a brainstorming session. Look for Romney's blistering riposte some time next week.
Strike Out: Maybe Bill Richardson is a political masochist. Instead of letting his campaign gaffes fade away, he has decided to remind voters that he has both lied and flip-flopped in the past.
Richardson's campaign released baseball cards at the Iowa State Fair in August that depicted Richardson as a "2008 All Star," complete with an image of Richardson bearing down on the mound. The card is an innovative political gesture, with clever stats like, "Saves: Richardson rescued US servicemen and hostages from Iraq, North Korea & Sudan." It's also borderline funny, like Richardson's campaign commercials.
But considering his history with baseball, it's probably not wise to pretend Richardson is an all-star. In 2005, Richardson's hometown paper revealed that he inflated his baseball résumé (a la Fidel Castro). Richardson, who routinely touted his supposed brush with the major leagues, admitted that he wasn't actually drafted. A swing and a miss—strike one.
Then, while on Meet the Press earlier this year, he heretically professed to be both a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan. Strike two. With two strikes against him, why would Richardson risk reminding voters of his previous mistakes?
Richardson is hardly alone in his baseball politicking. Hillary Clinton has sworn allegiance to both the Cubs and Yankees, saying in a recent debate that if they faced off in a World Series, she'd have to "alternate" sides. And today Chris Dodd announced a fund-raising contest whose prize is watching Game 6 of the ALCS at Fenway Park with Dodd, a lifelong Red Sox fan. If the Yankees were still in it, maybe Richardson would have thrown his name in the hat.
Nobody's perfect: "Rudy Giuliani is the perfect president for the next four years."—Steve Forbes
That phrase, uttered in a promo video Forbes filmed after yesterday's debate, lodged awkwardly in my ear. The reason is that Giuliani has emphasized recently that's he's not perfect. "I'm not a perfect candidate," he told an audience in Michigan last month. "I'm not a perfect person—you may have heard. But we need a candidate who can win in all 50 states." He's used this argument to woo social conservatives—or rather, to alienate them less—and figures that bluntness is better than tiptoeing around the issue.
This image of Giuliani as flawed but competent isn't new. Back in 1993, Ed Koch backed Giuliani for mayor, saying, "He is not a perfect vessel, but I have concluded he is able and intelligent and has energy." And that was an endorsement.
But recently, Giuliani has managed to turn his imperfection to his advantage. Admitting fault makes him sound honest and human, which puts him in contrast to the opinion-shifting, occasionally cyborgian Mitt Romney. In a radio ad launched last week, he said people are "not going to find perfection, but they're gonna find somebody who's dealt with crisis almost on a regular basis and has had results, results people thought were impossible." Whatever he's lacking in the perfection area, the logic implies, goes toward other, more important areas like national security. Who wants to spend time with his family when he can spend time hunting down terrorists?
Barack Obama has made similar statements: "I will not be a perfect president. But I can promise you this: I will always tell you what I think and where I stand." Again, it sets up a contrast with Hillary, who, he implies, won't tell you what she thinks or where she stands.
So, does that mean being "perfect," when used a euphemism for emotional distance and waffling, can hurt a candidate? Is perfection the new imperfection? If so, Giuliani should do just fine.
Laptop prop: Fred Thompson has been getting all-round positive reviews for his debate performance. But no one has been quite as positive about it as Fred Thompson's own blogger. Writing at Fred File, the campaign's official blog, Jon Henke gave a play-by-play of the entire debate, unabashedly filtered through a pair of Fred-colored glasses.
The product is a little disarming: one part shameless cheerleading, one part knowing irony. Most of the time, he just paraphrases what Thompson says: "The AMT ought to be phased out, and we should look at the budget as a whole, as well." Other times, he drops nuggets of opposition research (Giuliani opposed tax cuts; Romney supported hikes). He even mocks Mitt Romney's suggestion that he'd "let the lawyers sort out" how to respond to a threat from Iran: "Does the Iranian regime respond to subpoena's?"
But what makes the blog notable isn't just instant spin—campaigns send out middebate press releases all the time. It's the idea that a campaign can use the sardonic, combative tone of blogs to its advantage. Team Thompson isn't just appealing to bloggers and attending their conventions. It's imitating them. Henke explained it like this: "Perhaps it's unusual for a Presidential campaign to liveblog a debate, but it's not an unusual thing to do on a blog. When in the blogosphere, do as bloggers do. We're more new media than old campaign."
I guess this shouldn't be too surprising. Campaigns are boosting their online presence, and it's not like live-blogging is particularly cutting edge. But it also seems risky. What if Fred had seriously botched a question? (He didn't.) Then it would be the blogger's job to frantically spin it, possibly making the situation worse. There's also the risk of astroturfing. The last thing you want is to look like you're trying to hard to be edgy. This particular blog is upfront about its bias: "It should come as no surprise that we here at the Fred File think Fred Thompson won this debate." But more importantly, it manages to avoid the self-serious intonations of campaign literature. That can be good and bad. On the one hand, it reads like standard conservative snark. On the other, it's a lot more entertaining than a press release.
Hopefully, we'll see a lot more of this as the campaign progresses. Props to Thompson for being the first. (Or at least the first we've noticed.)
Oct. 9, 2007
The Dodd-Gravel showdown: And then there were three. The Democrats' beauty contest in Michigan has lost a bit of its luster after five candidates pulled out of the festivities. Only Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and Mike Gravel remain after the rest of the contenders bowed out. This follows an already tense standoff between the Michigan legislature and the Democratic National Committee after Michigan decided to slide its primary up to Jan. 15. That prompted the leading Democratic candidates to pledge not to campaign in the state, a pledge that is not violated by keeping one's name on the ballot.
All of this leaves Chris Dodd and Mike Gravel as the only two candidates left to fight over Clinton's exhaust in the motor state. (Assuming Clinton follows through on her monumental lead in the polls.) Even if nobody shows up, you can be sure that the second-place finisher is going to hype his victory as a turning point in the campaign, one that can slingshot him to victory elsewhere.
Now that five candidates' worth of votes are up for grabs again, each candidate's potential voting base just expanded drastically. Will Chris Dodd take in the Richardson supporters who want a withdrawal from Iraq? Will Dodd's coif convince John Edwards' hair-brained supporters that he's their best bet? Will Mike Gravel usurp Kucinich's fringe-left platform?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should remember that none of this will probably matter. The DNC is likely to repeat its Florida ruling and tell Michigan its delegates won't count. Regardless, either Gravel or Dodd is destined to revel in second place and all of its frivolous glory.
Huckabee: Rivals Might Consider Suicide
LITTLE ROCK (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee joked Tuesday that other candidates might be considering suicide because their level of support doesn't match their fundraising.
The former Arkansas governor, exaggerating, said other GOP presidential hopefuls were raising $100 for every nickel he had raised. "If I were some of these guys, I'd have to be sitting in a warm tub of water with razor blades," Huckabee said on MSNBC-TV.
Ha … ha? Somehow the irony doesn't quite translate to the page. Instead, what was probably a goofy moment comes off as mean-spirited, tone-deaf, and a little creepy.
It's the rare politician who can pull off dark humor. Bob Dole was known for his bone-dry quips. (He once said at a campaign event: "We're trying to get good pictures. Don't worry very much about what I say.") But it makes you wonder if Huckabee's trademark "folksy" style—long hailed as a stength—might lead him into gaffe territory.
I heart Ronald: A rule of thumb for GOP debates: When in doubt, the answer is "Ronald Reagan." How would you make Social Security viable for the next generation? Um, Ronald Reagan, obviously. What's your plan to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Reagan, for sure. What's your favorite Bible passage? Reagan 3:16.
Expect to hear plenty of Gipper shout-outs at today's debate in Dearborn, Mich. But candidates will have a tough time following up on Sen. John McCain's remarks today to the Detroit Economic Club. He started off quoting a speech Reagan gave to students in Moscow in 1988. Standard enough. But then this:
The Congress just sent to the president a Water Resources and Development Act with 900 earmark projects. If I got that bill, I'd pull out this pen, a pen given to me by a great president, Ronald Reagan, and I'd veto that bill in a heartbeat. … I have the veto pen of Ronald Reagan, and, I promise you, I'll use it.
Damn. That's, like, the political equivalent of Michelangelo's chisel. Shouldn't that pen be in a museum somewhere? Watch Fred Thompson promise to veto such a bill while wearing Ronald Reagan's smoking jacket, eating Ronald Reagan's decades-old jelly beans, and getting a massage from Ronald Reagan's wife.
Oct. 8, 2007
What's the matter with Florida? The Florida Democratic-primary showdown appears to have reached a stalemate.
On Friday, a judge threw out one of two lawsuits against the Democratic National Committee. The suit, filed by a Democratic activist, accused the organization of violating voters' constitutional rights by stripping Florida of its delegates in response to the state's decision to move its primary up to Jan. 29. The other suit, filed by Sen. Bill Nelson * and Rep. Alcee Hastings, is still pending but seems unlikely to succeed given both precedent—courts have previously called party primaries internal affairs—and Friday's ruling. So if that suit fails, what happens next?
Chances are Florida Dems will go ahead with the early primary—sorry, "beauty contest"—and try to force the national party's hand. They say they'll send delegates to the national convention no matter what, which could get ugly if the DNC ends up turning them away. (The parallels to the 1964 Mississippi convention, where black delegates weren't allowed in, wouldn't look so good.)
But that's assuming Democrats go to the polls in the first place. Most of them won't have much incentive to turn out if their votes don't count. Sure, a handful of GOP-supported ballot measures dealing with property taxes and local development might get hardcore Democrats to vote. But they're unlikely to motivate the masses like a candidate would. The Florida Dems have ruled out alternative processes like a mail-in primary or district-level caucuses, according to a spokesman. They could conceivably change their mind about those options, but they say they're not even considering it.
So, the Florida Dems really have only one recourse: Keep making a big stink about it and hope the candidates start to get uncomfortable. If a Hillary or an Obama worries that all this fuss could hurt them in the general elections—Florida's already a battleground state, after all—the DNC might listen. Candidates have signed pledges not to campaign in Florida, but that's mostly to avoid pissing off Iowa and New Hampshire. Sacrificing Florida just to keep the early states happy doesn't make sense for anyone, even in the logic-defying netherworld that is the primary system.
Florida Republicans, meanwhile, are having a field day, mocking the Democratic candidates for showing up only to raise money and offering Democrats the chance to change parties. (The RNC is merely slashing Florida's delegation in half, as opposed to the DNC's full purge.) If that's not enough to make Howard Dean nervous, maybe the prospect of a Democrat losing in November is.
All Eyes on Fred: As the Republicans gear up for Tuesday's debate in Michigan, Fred Thompson has reportedly been going through a Rocky-style training regimen. He's enlisted the help of former New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who has been playing Rudy Giuliani during their mock debates. And like any good fighter, he's no doubt reviewing his old reels. Here's one, from his 1994 Senate race against Rep. Jim Cooper, that shows a more combative Thompson than most people are used to. When Cooper attacks him for renting a red pickup truck as a "Hollywood stage prop," Thompson responds with a sarcastic "Ooooo." He later tells Cooper to "shut up, just shut up."
The prickly style might not fly this time. After skipping out on the last GOP debate to appear on The Tonight Show, he'll likely have some answering to do. And with Mitt and Rudy engaged in full-blown informational warfare, Thompson will have a chance to come across as the cool-headed one. Just not so cool-headed he has to ask for applause. (Speaking of which, Darrell Hammond this weekend added another withering impression to his repertoire.)