Lots of articles are gathering dust in my newsreader today:
Stories like this are what gives the federal government a bad name. Bush's government has mismanaged Iraq, bungled Katrina, politicized the Justice Department, and rewarded incompetence. Knowing that, I guess it should be no surprise that one of the cabinet secretaries was unaware that the late Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming even died. How else could you explain Secretary Leavitt trying to arrange a meeting with him? Heckuva job indeed.
People interested in voter mobilization drives may be interested in this. It's a handbook offering useful tips on how to transform interest into action and support.
Could we really be setting ourselves up for Gingrich vs. Gore in 2008? With barbs like this from Gingrich and stories like this about Gore make me wonder if next year will really be the year when sanity is finally restored to our electoral choices.
Students of politics and the media may be interested in this article about Fox News and how handsome conservative pundits are balanced by "weird-looking" liberal pundits. Is Fox brilliant for this sort of packaging, or is it much ado about nothing? Or is it possible that Fox really is that petty?
Speaking of branding, here's a good piece I found about the "brands" of the Democratic contenders. They evaluate the "brands" in terms of awareness, reputation, personality, and connectivity. Gore apparently struggles in this regard.
It's been said many times that Hillary Clinton's greatest asset is her husband. But it seems like she's been injecting him a bit more into her campaign as of late, at least as far as her rhetoric is concerned. Is it because Obama has been chipping away at her lead?
Is Rudy Giuliani really an emperor with no clothes? Would his candidacy be doomed if he failed to win the New York primary on Tsunami Tuesday?
Life in the minority has obviously taken its toll on former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Now there's speculation that he may retire. Surely there are other veteran Republicans who feel the same way. Could they be due for another shellacking in 2008? USA Today's Susan Page lays out a pretty comprehensive list of reasons why the GOP is still in a heap of electoral trouble.
One of the best articles I've read about the 2008 race so far is this recent piece by Howard Fineman of Newsweek. I've occasionally made comparisons between Hillary and McCain, Romney and Edwards, and Rudy and Obama. While those comparisons have some merit, Fineman does an excellent job of addressing how each party can be broken down into smaller brackets pitting "outsiders" against "veterans" and "fresh faces" against "Washington insiders." Very interesting piece. For example, Chris Dodd's greatest threat is not really Hillary Edbama. It's Joe Biden because of their similar resumes. There's only enough room for one veteran Washingtonian, right? Likewise, Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo are vying for the Western immigration hardliner role. Rudy McRomney should not be their first priority. Go read it.
A lot of what is written in Political Derby is a bit too childish for my tastes, but there is no denying that what they recently wrote about Bill Richardson has a lot of truth to it. Could Bill Richardson be this year's John Kerry?
Lots of articles are gathering dust in my newsreader today:
It looks like Fred Thompson is all but in the presidential race. The Law and Order star has generated a lot of buzz and excitement among Republicans who seem dissatisfied with their choices, particularly "Rudy McRomney" occupying the top tier. These people have lamented the lack of a true conservative on the Republican side. Mitt Romney has been tarred with the flip-flopper brush, so his conservative credentials are viewed with suspicion. McCain has made a few unholy alliances with Democrats and liberals, such as Ted Kennedy, and is therefore not considered a reliable conservative. Giuliani hails from liberal New York and has liberal social views to match which are antithetical to the GOP base.
People who complain about the lack of "true conservatives" are not being entirely honest with themselves. There are several mainstream, traditional, and hard right conservatives running. Nobody is going to impeach Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, or Sam Brownback's conservative credentials. What those who lament the GOP field really want is not a conservative, but rather a credible and viable conservative.
Enter Fred Thompson.
On paper, Thompson looks like a good fit for the GOP. He hails from Tennessee, which is deep in Republican territory. He has some Washington experience because of his tenure in the Senate, but has been out of Washington long enough to be able to run as an "outsider." He also has a folksy way of speaking and a casual, no-nonsense demeanor that appeals to rural and Southern voters. This style contrasts greatly with the polished Romney or the high strung Giuliani. And fairly or unfairly, his role on Law and Order has given him the image of being a tough guy who can keep us safe.
Perhaps more intriguing than Thompson's candidacy, however, is its impact on the rest of the field.
John McCain: Being personal friends and political allies, look for McCain and Thompson to enter some sort of "gentleman's agreement" that discourages them from attacking each other on the campaign trail too severely. Could Thompson really be running for McCain's VP?
Rudy Giuliani: I believe Giuliani has the most to lose by Fred Thompson's candidacy. Thompson can stand up to Giuliani in terms of being a tough guy who can defend America. However, Thompson is a conservative. Giuliani's greatest assets are security and terrorism. His biggest weaknesses are his moderate to liberal social views. Thompson has almost all of Giuliani's strengths and none of his weaknesses. Conservatives who have reservations about Giuliani may feel much more comfortable getting behind Thompson.
Mitt Romney: Thompson is a direct threat to Romney. Romney has gone to great lengths to position himself as a conservative. He is clearly trying to run to the right of Giuliani and McCain. But his record in Massachusetts and some of his past statements clearly contradict some of his campaign rhetoric now. Thompson would run as a conservative too, but he could do it much more credibly. And he doesn't have to worry about "the Mormon problem" either.
Mike Huckabee: After three solid debate performances in a row, Huckabee seems to be the best poised of the lesser candidates to break into the top tier. A Fred Thompson candidacy will steal some of his thunder.
Tommy Thompson: Perhaps Tommy Thompson can get extra attention by virtue of having the same last name as Fred Thompson. Some people who are curious about (Fred) "Thompson" may learn about Tommy Thompson by mistake. This could be good or bad for Tommy Thompson. But it will likely be demoralizing for him because when people talk about "Thompson," they are more likely going to be talking about Fred than Tommy.
Jim Gilmore: He is having enough trouble getting his message out when he's sharing the stage with 9 other candidates. Why would things get any easier with 10?
Sam Brownback: Brownback is running as the "right to life" candidate. This is not likely to be how Thompson wishes to present himself. The effect on Brownback should be minimal. After all, his primary threat is Huckabee, not Thompson.
Duncan Hunter: Thompson eclipses Hunter because even though they are both strong conservatives, Hunter is not really taken seriously as a candidate at present.
Tom Tancredo: Duncan Hunter is more of a threat to him than Fred Thompson.
Ron Paul: He is in a league all by himself. It would be interesting to see how Thompson responds to some of Paul's assertions and positions in a debate format. Would he throw red meat at the base and impugn Paul's patriotism (a la Giuliani or Cheney)? Or will he try and stay far away from him?
In the end, a Fred Thompson candidacy is probably good for McCain (they are allies), not so good for Giuliani (there's only enough room for one sheriff here), and potentially fatal for Romney (the flip-flopping Massachusetts so-called conservative). I think Fred Thompson could suck all the remaining oxygen from the room, thus rendering Tancredo, Hunter, Gilmore, Tommy Thompson, and Brownback moot and forcing them to drop out of the race. Perhaps the only other candidate who could survive is Mike Huckabee because of his obviously strong debating skills, his executive experience, and the fact that he hails from the same part of the country as Thompson (the South). Newt Gingrich is watching this very closely. If Fred Thompson turns out to be an empty suit, could Gingrich view this as the opportunity and circumstances he was waiting for to jump in the race?
The 8 declared Democratic presidential candidates participated in their second debate last night in New Hampshire. This debate seemed more substantive than the first debate in South Carolina about six weeks ago. While nobody made any fatal gaffes, I do believe some of the candidates have a bit more to worry about because they failed to meet higher expectations, failed to surpass lowered expectations, or simply ran in place when they needed to make a move.
Hillary Clinton: Clinton had a commanding performance in this debate and is probably even more difficult for the other frontrunners to catch. She sounded competent, resolute, and strong. She did an excellent job of conveying how the decisions a president makes cannot be reduced to mere hypotheticals that are almost always less complex than what a president actually has to deal with. She also stayed above the fray between Obama and Edwards by reminding voters that the important differences are between the Democrats and the Republicans, rather than among the Democrats themselves. There is no denying the fact that Clinton is a skilled, disciplined politician. She did not draw fire when unnecessary and did not open herself up to any devastating attacks. She should look for her poll numbers to solidify.
Barack Obama: Obama needs to be careful because I get the sense that the bloom is coming off of the rose that is his candidacy. He had a stronger performance in this debate than he did in South Carolina, but the lack of heft in his messages is becoming a bit too much to ignore. Edwards leveled a strong blow when comparing Obama to a "legislator" instead of a "leader," but Obama was able to quickly neutralize this attack by reminding Edwards of his war vote. To be fair, when Obama speaks, he often speaks in generalities much like other politicians do. However, Obama has to deal with the fact that he cannot afford to do this as much as the other candidates because it is perceived as one of his major weaknesses. Expectations have risen considerably for Obama, but I fear that he will not be able to meet them in the future. His polling performance seems to have peaked, as Clinton has been able to widen her lead. Is Obama '08 the same as Dean '04?
John Edwards: John Edwards did a good job in this debate and leveled a good blow on Obama. However, he was effectively countered by Obama's response that Edwards' leadership is "about four and a half years late." Edwards was forced to be gracious towards Obama a bit later in the debate because he knew Obama used a potent weapon against him. Having said that, Edwards sounded a bit more practical last night and benefited from not having to worry about questions about his own personal wealth, his haircut, and his estate. So nothing new fed into the developing caricatures of him as a rich kid who doesn't understand the Average Joe. Edwards knows what he has to do. Edwards and Obama are both in the same position as vying for being the Hillary alternative. However, Edwards was much more aggressive than Obama last night because he knows that this is the only way to gain ground. Obama tried hard to stay above the fray, but this approach is not going to prevent others from gaining ground on him. Edwards gets it. Look for him to be more aggressive towards Obama in the future. Does Edwards smell blood?
Bill Richardson: Bill Richardson's presentation was much better last night than in the first debate. He looked more relaxed and less "scowly." He gave a lot of pragmatic, thoughtful responses to the questions and went into more depth than the three frontrunners. However, he did not come across as energizing. This might play well in New Hampshire, where primary voters tend to do their homework, but Richardson might be toast in other states where voters are more swayed by one's charisma or presentation. His suggestion that the US boycott the 2008 Olympic Games was memorable and he did a great job of defending this position. However, he still did not draw blood on any of the frontrunners, and thus did not break into the top tier.
Joe Biden: Joe Biden has had two solid debate performances in a row now. He is obviously competent, experienced, thoughtful, and passionate. He also came across as a pragmatist regarding ending the war in Iraq and funding the troops. His civics lesson about how 67 Senate votes are required to override a veto and how this war won't end unless there's a Democrat in the White House may have opened a few eyes as well. If his fundraising can improve, he could overtake Richardson as the candidate most likely to enter the top tier. Even though they both are often saying the same things, Biden's delivery is much more compelling.
Chris Dodd: Chris Dodd was really hamstrung during the debate. He did not receive a lot of questions, had very little talk time, and kinda got lost in the shuffle again. When he did speak, he did so confidently and competently. But he's not in the position to not go on offense. He's trying to go on offense in his television ads, but he failed to do so in the debate. The fact that Connecticut is close to New Hampshire gives Dodd an opening for a surprise, but until he can improve his name recognition and give voters a reason to pay attention to him, look for Dodd to continue to run at the back of the pack.
Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich got a lot more talk time than his poll standings would suggest he warrants, so he should have no complaints about that. Iraq is clearly his main issue, but exactly how many voters are willing to vote for Kucinich just because of Iraq? That remains to be seen, but he did make a good point about how borrowing money from China to fight in Iraq is much more of a threat to our security than withdrawing our troops. Right now, Kucinich is not viewed as credible. Until voters take him seriously as a candidate, his message, no matter how well thought out it may be, will not be heeded.
Mike Gravel: Gravel was more subdued last night and lobbed fewer grenades. He generated some buzz after his first performance, but I think he did not help his momentum last night. He's clearly a gadfly candidate with no credibility. Look for other debate hosts to exclude him in the future because the signal to noise ratio in his responses is too high to make his participation worth it.
The bottom line:
Hillary Clinton is in position to run away from the pack and make this a blowout. Perhaps she'll be more difficult for the Republicans to beat than they think?
Barack Obama can't afford to cruise anymore. His airplane is losing altitude and Edwards is gaining on him. Could Obama be seen more as vice presidential?
John Edwards should receive a nice bump from his performance last night. He regained a bit of momentum and may siphon off a few of Obama's supporters.
Bill Richardson should hope that voters pay more attention to what he says, rather than how he says it. He is clearly a problem solver and a critical thinker, but he is not a compelling speaker. He missed a chance to break out. Look for him to remain in the second tier.
Joe Biden cannot be ignored. He knows he's running towards the back of the pack, but he has nowhere to go but up. After two solid performances in a row, I believe his candidacy will be viewed more credibly. Look for an uptick in his momentum.
Dennis Kucinich may have raised a few good points, but look for his influence to be mainly in the form of getting voters to ask other more credible candidates their positions on the issues he raises.
Mike Gravel is comedy relief, but I think his 15 minutes of fame are over. His presence is annoying to the other candidates and the voters because he takes up time that the other more credible candidates can use to flesh out their positions.
The moderator, Wolf Blitzer of CNN, did a good job of leading the debate, although the hypothetical questions he asked were counterproductive. He should also ensure in the future that the candidates be given equal time to participate. Chris Dodd, and to a lesser extent, Bill Richardson, have legitimate gripes.
Here are the photos I took at Congressman Jim Clyburn's Annual Fish Fry in Columbia the day after the first Democratic debate. (Copyright warning: If you like the photos, please feel free to link to them on this site and give me credit for them. Don't publish them elsewhere.) Unfortunately, some of these photos didn't turn out so well because everyone was moving around in such a small space and people were constantly moving their cameras.
Here's Hillary Clinton speaking at the fish fry. From left to right, the other people one the stage are Congressman Jim Clyburn, Governor Bill Richardson, former Senator John Edwards, and Senator Barack Obama. Like her or not, there's no denying that she is a veteran politician who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Her presence is very professional. Every detail down to her hand gestures and her clothes has probably been thoroughly planned. Notice how she's wearing a bright yellow pantsuit, which contrasts tremendously with the darker colors everyone else was wearing. That differentiated her from everyone else on the stage and made her seem like the main attraction.
Here's a picture of Clinton and Obama laughing on stage. Notice how they are not looking at each other even though they are standing right next to each other. They barely spoke to each other the entire evening. Here's another photo of them ignoring each other.
I mentioned in my original post about the fish fry that Obama had received a letter that was passed to him by someone in the crowd. Here's a photo of Obama reading that letter. I don't know what that letter said, but whatever it was, Obama seemed quite troubled by it. Here's a photo of Obama after reading that letter. Notice how his arms are folded and he is not smiling even though Clyburn is speaking. And here's yet another photo of an obviously distracted or perturbed Obama. I wonder what that letter said?
Here's Obama speaking to the crowd. Whatever was bothering him about that letter earlier must have been shoved to the back of his mind because he gave a rousing speech that the crowd ate up. Perhaps he was playing through the pain, so to speak? Or did he get a fish bone stuck in his throat like my sister joked?
This is Chris Dodd speaking on stage. I kinda felt sorry for him because of the six candidates who came to the fish fry, Dodd seemed to be the least celebrated. But then again, he was competing for oxygen with Bill Clinton's wife, the hometown hero turned North Carolina senator, and the well-spoken guy whose dark skin makes him look just like "us." But the crowd gave him polite applause. I didn't get a chance to meet Dodd at the event, unfortunately. I heard that he worked the crowd, but I must have been on the other side of the parking garage.
This is Joe Biden getting ready to take the mic from Clyburn so he can address the crowd. He seemed to have more fans in the audience this time compared to the previous day's debate. I was able to talk with him while he worked the crowd after speaking on stage. He remembered me (and said he definitely remembered my wife) and posed for another picture with me. Biden is a funny guy. It seems like the off-camera Joe Biden is totally different from the Joe Biden we see on C-SPAN. If he can convey this off-camera persona to a bit more people, I think he may have a chance because the intellect and vision are definitely there.
One of the main stars of the night was John Edwards. Admittedly, I was in Edwards' camp before I switched to Richardson's because of his compelling argument about shared sacrifice. Rather than spouting off a list of things he wanted to accomplish, his message was one of our own responsibility for helping us achieve these goals. The crowd loved him and his speech, and even I was impressed. He seems to be the Mitt Romney of the Democratic field in that he is polished, some of his views have "evolved," he's relatively inexperienced, and he's got a lot of cash. A Romney vs. Edwards election would be quite intriguing in this regard.
Here we have John Edwards and Bill Richardson shaking hands. Richardson seemed to have more supporters in the audience at the fish fry than at the debate. (Notice how Hillary is standing politely on stage. Even her stance seems disciplined!) The two kids standing on the right are Congressman Clyburn's grandchildren. These are the two people he was referring to when he said "the most important people on this stage are..." as if he was going to make an endorsement.
And finally, here's a photo of Congressman Clyburn and I. Clyburn is going to be in Congress until he retires. People in Columbia love him. Even his Republican opponents from South Carolina have to concede that this fish fry was an awesome event that did wonders for his PR. When I met Clyburn, I thanked him for scoring the VIP tickets for the debate and told him about how one of my relatives was friends with his wife. It might not seem like much of a connection, but it was obviously enough.
What a great evening. I am definitely making a return visit next year.