Showing posts with label tommy thompson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tommy thompson. Show all posts


What Iowa Really Means

Next month is the first major contest that will likely significantly winnow the presidential field, at least on the GOP side. It's the Ames Straw Poll which takes place on August 11 in Ames, Iowa. This contest, while largely symbolic, is the first real test of candidates' organizational strength in Iowa--a state where retail politics and pressing flesh are more important than giving an impersonal 15-minute stump speech at an airport and saturating the airwaves with 30-second ads. So that levels the playing field a bit, thus allowing even underfinanced candidates and those with limited name recognition the opportunity to become competitive.

Expectations are the name of the game here. A strong showing is not as important as a stronger than expected showing. Likewise, a weaker than expected showing often tells a candidate that the writing is on the wall and that it's time to abandon their campaign and endorse a stronger, more viable candidate.

This year's straw poll will be a bit different from previous cycles'. The main reason why is because two of the biggest names will not participate (Giuliani and McCain) while a third is not yet under any oblication to participate because he remains undeclared (Fred Thompson). This leaves Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Ron Paul, Tommy Thompson, Tom Tancredo, and Duncan Hunter as the possible beneficiaries (or casualties) of the poll's results. Pundits have mentioned that Giuliani and McCain are making terrible mistakes by not participating in the straw poll because the Iowa voters will remember this come caucus time next January. Fred Thompson's case is a little bit different, although people may be beginning to wonder what's taking him so long to officially get in the race. In the meantime, he can cite the lack of time for establishing a campaign apparatus in the state as his reason for not participating in the straw poll. Mitt Romney, who has been advertising and campaigning heavily in the state, would seem to be the main beneficiary of these developments because that makes him the only big name candidate participating in the poll.

Again, this is all the conventional wisdom. I see things a bit differently.

While Romney certainly seems to be the odds-on favorite, is it possible that he lost by winning? Romney has invested so much time, energy, and financial resources into Iowa. And now Ames has less meaning because three of the biggest heavyweights are not participating in it. Seeing that Romney is the lone heavyweight remaining, he is expected to win the contest. Anything other than a Romney rout could be seen as a disappointment. And placing second would definitely be considered a shocking loss. And even if Romney won in a blow out, his opponents could diminish his victory as a Pyrrhic one simply because his toughest competition declined to participate. A second-tier candidate, such as Sam Brownback, could actually be seen as "winning" the straw poll simply by coming in second.

This straw poll will make or break several candidacies. A poor performance by Tommy Thompson from neighboring Wisconsin, Mike Huckabee from nearby Arkansas, or Sam Brownback from nearby Kansas will be fatal for their candidacy. Look for them to withdraw from the race. However, because Huckabee and Brownback are essentially positioning themselves as the same candidate (e.g., champion of social conservatives), don't look for both of them to drop out at the same time. Whoever performs more strongly will likely stick it out a few weeks longer and try to pillage the weaker candidate's support.

Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter remain longshots. Illegal immigration is probably not as much of an issue in Iowa, which is overwhelmingly White and nowhere near the border. Even if the issue inflames Iowa conservatives, they probably aren't as impacted by it as voters in Colorado or Georgia or Arizona. They have nothing to lose by staying in the race after Iowa because the gap between them and the first-tier candidates will undoubtedly shrink simply because the field of candidates will shrink. Instead of vaulting past five candidates to enter the top tier, they will only have to vault past one or two. A smaller field will allow for some of these lower tiered candidates to get a bit more media oxygen. After all, it's a lot easier to focus on a race with 6 or 7 candidates than it is to focus on one with 10 or 11.

Ron Paul is in a league by himself. It is really unknown how well he will perform in this poll. His message about Iraq resonates strongly with liberal antiwar Democrats and skeptical Republicans, his anti-abortion and anti-tax credentials are impeccable, and he is most definitely not an "insider." His online legions are quite vocal in getting the word out about his campaign, but I have yet to see a huge groundswelling for him in the polls. With the departures of Giuliani, whose moderate views probably don't match well with the socially conservative base of Iowa Republicans, and McCain, whose candidacy is in serious trouble, Paul may turn out to be the surprise story of the evening.

As for Giuliani, his campaign seems to be slowly losing altitude. If McCain's candidacy had not imploded, Giuliani's erosion in support would almost certainly be the major story. An Iowa victory for him seems a bit too much to ask, both in the straw poll and in the caucus next year. And Romney is performing better in New Hampshire than Giuliani is as well. And then Fred Thompson is running very strongly in South Carolina. Can Giuliani really survive until Super Tuesday if he doesn't win any of the first three major contests?

Fred Thompson can write off the Ames Straw Poll for now, but he can't "test the waters" for too much longer. There will come a point when voters get impatient or the media begin to look for new storylines about him possibly having something to hide or if he's more style than substance.

Iowa is crucial for Romney. If he fails there, he's in serious trouble because like John Edwards on the Democratic side, he has placed so many of his chips there. Any letdown in Ames or Des Moines could prove fatal. The departures of McCain and Giuliani make this straw poll a must-win for him, and they also guarantee that Romney likely will not receive a significant return on his investment simply because the straw poll has been rendered a bit more meaningless now--after he invested so much of his campaign war chest in the state.


The Horserace (R)

While the Democratic presidential race has a clear king of the hill (or rather, a queen in this case), no such figure exists on the Republican side of the ledger. In a sense, the Republican nomination is truly a jump ball. There are maybe three or four candidates that could all be considered to have the inside track to the nomination, but all four have a potentially fatal flaw that keeps them from trouncing the opposition.

John McCain has seen his stock value fall considerably over the past few months. The maverick has become the establishment, and the establishment is not popular right now. McCain has tied himself too closely to President Bush on the Iraq War, which is unarguably the single most important issue facing the United States right now. As goes Iraq, so goes Bush. And as goes Bush, so goes McCain?

John McCain has angered conservatives by "compromising" with Senate Democrats on campaign finance reform, joining the "Gang of 14" in the previous congress, and not voting in lock step with the party line. Moderates and independents who flocked to his 2000 campaign are now giving Rudy Giuliani their attention. Conservatives who don't trust McCain are looking at Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney. So it's really no wonder why his fundraising is struggling. After all, who is his base? What does a John McCain voter look like?

Having said that, McCain might not be in as much trouble as one might initially suspect. One of McCain's weaknesses is also his strength: his record. McCain is a known quantity who could play the role of the elder statesman. Giuliani, Romney, and even Fred Thompson can't do that. If those three candidates turn out to be flashes in the pan, McCain could stand to benefit the most from their demise. Secondly, McCain has a compelling biography and is a true war hero. He is perhaps the only serious GOP candidate that Rudy Giuliani cannot accuse of being soft on terrorism. McCain has also consistently voted pro-life and has a libertarian streak that plays well in Western states. He could also put Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania into play because of his views on guns. Thus, he could make the electoral math a bit difficult for the Democrats.

If GOP primary voters realize this, they may view the raggedy, unsexy McCain as their best shot at maintaining control of the White House for a third consecutive term. And since he is no longer at the top of the polls, expectations for his campaign have likely been lowered, thus allowing him a greater chance of generating positive news coverage later if he exceeds these expectations in the future. However, having only $2 million on hand will force him to use his resources wisely. McCain will never win if he tries to "out conservative" his rivals. He needs to just run as himself--a competent, pragmatic veteran.

Rudy Giuliani has probably surprised a lot of political observers by being as viable as he has been so far. But I get the sense that he has already peaked. Aside from being "America's Mayor," what other reason is there to vote for Giuliani? Are there really that many moderates left in the GOP? Conservatives won't vote for him because they'll likely be in Fred Thompson's camp. And these moderates might be turned off by Giuliani's rhetoric as of late, such as insinuating that Bill Clinton failed to hear the call of war against us after the first World Trade Center attack. Saying that electing Democrats would only put the nation on defense against the terrorists also undermines his image as the national healer and determined unifier on September 11. Such red meat may placate conservatives, but I doubt they'll vote for him anyway because of his moderate to liberal social positions and the fact that Fred Thompson seems more genuine in his conservatism. And the moderates who would be inclined to vote for Giuliani are probably a bit put off by that divisive rhetoric. Having said that, a Giuliani nomination would put some of the blue states into play, including California. But would it make some of the red states better pick-up opportunities for the Democrats? And if Giuliani is the nominee, would conservatives stay home in November?

Mitt Romney is not performing so well in the national polls, but he is doing quite well in the polls in the states that matter: Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa's large percentage of social conservatives is buoying his poll numbers there. And New Hampshire is as close to a home state primary as he can get. However, because of McCain and Giuliani's departure from the Ames Straw Poll in August, expectations for a Romney blowout are too large to be ignored. If for some reason he does not win in Ames, he will be in serious trouble. The Mormon thing is also not going away even if people are not talking about it as much in the media. Could this explain why he is failing to gain much traction in South Carolina? The idea of voting for a Mormon from Massachusetts who recently found conservatism just isn't going to sit well with a large part of the GOP electorate. This has been the conventional wisdom for ages, but I really think it's true.

Fred Thompson has single-handedly turned the GOP race on its head. He's the GOP's Barack Obama in that people are swooning over his candidacy even though they really don't know so much about him or his positions. Thompson has shown a few chinks in his armor, however, as he clumsily stated that "he did not recall" having lobbied for a family planning (read pro-choice) organization. He also turned off moderates by weighing in on the Scooter Libby commutation. Conservatives were likely pleased by his comments, but if conservatives are splitting their votes between Thompson, McCain, and Romney, who is going to win out? So far it seems that Thompson is more style than substance, but he seems to be the candidate that conservatives are pinning their hopes on and placing the conservative mantle on. As more and more unsavory details from his past emerge regarding his time in the Senate and as a lobbyist, look to see how adequately he defends himself. If he's slow on his feet, his campaign could be over before it even gets started. He's got conservatives' attention now, but he needs a second act to keep them interested.

Sam Brownback and Jim Gilmore are irrelevant and will likely drop out next month after Ames. Tommy Thompson has also said that he would drop out if he didn't win the straw poll.

Mike Huckabee seems to be the emperor with no clothes. Time is running out for him to develop a viable campaign infrastructure. After several consistently strong debate performances, he has come to be held in high regard. But nobody wants to support a candidate who doesn't seem viable or credible. Huckabee still has a chance, especially if Rudy McRomney and Fred Thompson turn out to be a bust.

The campaigns of Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo received new life because of the Scooter Libby commutation. After all, if Libby's 30-month prison sentence was "excessive," what are conservatives to think of the 11- and 12-year sentences the two border control agents received for shooting a fleeing illegal immigrant drug dealer? The anti-illegal immigration and nativist wings of the Republican Party will continue to find a home with Tancredo, and the voters who are also interested in homeland security ones may be happy with Hunter. However, Hunter and Tancredo are cannibalizing each other. There's not enough room for both of them in this campaign.

Ron Paul remains a question mark. His $2.4 million in campaign funds is 20% more than what is in John McCain's coffers. (Imagine how the McCain camp felt dealing with those kinds of headlines...) Iowa might be a bit of a stretch for him, but a surprisingly strong showing in New Hampshire is not out of the question because of its libertarian leanings.

Newt Gingrich is smart to sit on the sidelines while the other candidates are subjected to all this scrutiny and infighting. He has said before that he would make his decision this fall if none of the major candidates seem credible. If McCain runs out of money, Fred Thompson turns out to be an empty suit, Romney is not trusted, and Giuliani is abandoned by both conservatives and less partisan moderates, this would give Gingrich the opening he needs. Despite his character flaws, one cannot deny his competence and genuine conservative bonafides. It is this competence and credibility, combined with memories of Gingrich standing on the Capitol steps after the Republican takeover in 1995, that could propel him to the nomination.

Are we looking at Gingrich vs. Gore in '08? With Huckabee and Obama duking it out for the vice presidency?

The Republican field is a bit oversubscribed right now. However, the field will winnow within the next few weeks. After that, the debates should become a bit more meaningful. And even though 2008 appears to be a Democratic year, the Republicans have a much stronger bench than their level of satisfaction with their current candidates indicates.


The Name is Thompson. Fred Thompson.

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?


Elephants in the Room: The Second Republican Debate

I just saw the second debate between the Republican presidential candidates in Columbia. It's amazing knowing that all those powerful people actually came HERE. It's so nice to be spoiled by living in one of the so-called "early" states. That doesn't change the fact that I still think it's not particularly equitable, but it is what it is and that's what we have to work with.

Anyway, I thought of the three debates I've seen so far between both parties, this one was the most substantiative. The questions were pointed and the moderators didn't let the candidates spin, thus allowing for real, actual debate to take place.

I think this debate was important because it confirms who the real players are and who should just go home. There are 11 candidates running, including one who wasn't allowed to participate in the debate. I think that several of these candidates would be well advised to go the way of Tom Vilsack and Evan Bayh.

Buh-bye. Thank you for playing. We have some nice parting gifts for you. These candidates should just drop out now:

Jim Gilmore. This guy has a habit of criticizing the other candidates, but he shied away from doing so when he had the chance tonight. All he could do was tell us to check out his campaign site tomorrow when he will name names?! Look, if you're not going to say something to someone's face, then don't say it at all. This single moment made Gilmore look like a C-grade candidate. If he can't stand up to "Rudy McRomney," how can he be expected to stand up to Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il or Al Qaeda? He couldn't even express regret that no minority candidates were running for the GOP nomination. What a gimme question! And he bombed it! Go home.

Tommy Thompson. When asked which government program he would cut to save money, he talked about "many" programs that were wasteful. However, the best he could come up with was "the stockpile." Huh? Is he going to blame this lame response on another hearing aid malfunction? Another swollen bladder? Fatigue? The moderator smugly dismissed Thompson when he asked Ron Paul the same question and said "Can you do better than that?" It doesn't seem like Thompson is quite ready for prime time. How can he continue his campaign? He has no gravitas whatsoever.

Tom Tancredo. He did better tonight than at the first debate and even had a few memorable one-liners. However, I just don't think voters take him seriously. He is an issue candidate, and that issue is illegal immigration. But even when he had a chance to hit a grand slam with a question about this when it was posed to him, he did not throw out a lot of red meat, and it seemed to take him a long time to rev up in his response.

Time is running out. These candidates have very little margin for error:

Duncan Hunter. Duncan Hunter was saying all the right things for Republicans, but he seemed like Chris Dodd in the Democrats' debate. In other words, he did not distinguish himself and kinda got lost in the shuffle. He did well in the first debate, but he had a bit of a letdown this time around. For someone who's only pulling 1% in the polls, a letdown is the very last thing he needs. Hunter's problem is that he occupies the same turf as McCain and Giuliani regarding defense and the same turf as Tancredo regarding illegal immigration. Hunter better find a way to differentiate himself soon, or else...

Sam Brownback. Brownback's immediate enemy is Mike Huckabee. They are both running as staunch pro-lifers, but here's Brownback's problem. While his anti-abortion credentials are impeccable, he doesn't seem to be offering much else in terms of reasons why people should support his candidacy. Huckabee, on the other hand, is also able to successfully articulate his anti-abortion and pro-family positions in addition to being able to convey his competence regarding executive experience. Brownback needs to find a way to get from behind Huckabee's shadow, and quick.

Moving up! These candidates left the debate in a better position than before it:

Mike Huckabee. Could this be the most formidable GOP candidate out there? He is definitely a charismatic and talented speaker. His biography is compelling and his positions on the issues conservatives hold dear raise few red flags. He also did an excellent job of acquitting himself regarding the tax increase that took place under his watch in Arkansas, which should calm fiscal conservatives down just a bit. He also had the best one-liner of the night in regards to John Edwards. That'll certainly be replayed on YouTube and in blogs everywhere. He comes from the right part of the country for Republicans (the South), has executive experience, has solid pro-life credentials, and simply looks presidential. Mike Huckabee is Public Enemy #1 for Mitt Romney because Huckabee seems much more authentic and doesn't have to worry about allegations of flip flopping on issues important to conservatives.

Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani's for real. He spoke much more convincingly this time around and had the most poignant exchange of the night with Ron Paul, although I think he misrepresented Paul's position. His decision to speak more openly about being pro-choice has clearly liberated him, although it may be political suicide in Iowa and South Carolina. However, he defended the merits of his position--particularly the point that conservatives don't like government intervention in their private lives, so why should abortion be any different? He also effectively parried Mike Huckabee's comparison of opposing abortion and opposing slavery. He also did a solid job of evoking images of his leadership on September 11, which is his trump card. All in all, he had a solid performance. And for the first time, I really think Giuliani can win this nomination. He's got it together.

John McCain. John McCain stopped the bleeding tonight. He got into a testy exchange with Mitt Romney and drew blood when he reminded the audience of Romney's "conversions" on some issues that are critical to conservatives. He might not be a flashy or sexy candidate, but John McCain is clearly a competent, consistent conservative with strong national security credentials. He's running as the establishment candidate similar to Hillary Clinton. Although he veered into dangerous territory with the Confederate flag question, he made no major mistakes and did well enough to satisfy a few doubts about his campaign.

Oops! These candidates are moving dooooowwwwwn:

Mitt Romney. After winning the first debate, Romney was underwhelming tonight. He was outshone by Mike Huckabee, wounded by John McCain, and sandbagged by so many difficult questions about his conversions on issues important to conservatives. This debate could be a fatal blow to his candidacy because Mike Huckabee is clearly a force to be reckoned with, scabs were ripped off of the old stories about his flip-flopping, he was tarred as a political opportunist, and voters were reminded of the fact that he was a lot more liberal when he served in Massachusetts. Ouch.

I have no idea what to make of Ron Paul. His arguments were compelling and well thought out, but I don't think America is quite yet ready for Paul's ideas. I worry that Republicans and dittoheads will mischaracterize his exchange with Rudy Giuliani about why 9-11 happened. Sean Hannity accused Ron Paul of blaming America for 9-11, which he did not do at all. Paul offers a new way of looking at America's role in the world, but it is a complex view that requires people to avoid knee jerk thinking. But he spoke in a way average people could understand though. ("If China started building permanent bases in America, how would you feel?") A lot of Democrats are looking at Ron Paul as a Republican they can live with. Many Republicans are probably wondering if Paul is even running for the right party's nomination. I think Paul can more effectively get out his libertarian message as a Republican candidate than as a Libertarian or Democratic candidate, however. How well this message will be received, however, is a whole different kettle of fish.

In a nutshell...

McCain stopped the bleeding. He is the Hillary Clinton of the Republican field.

Giuliani strengthened his hand. Can he really pull out the nomination?

Romney has to be sweating bullets. His momentum was stopped cold in its tracks.

Huckabee is knocking on the door of the top tier candidates. With a little bit of funding, he could be very dangerous to "Rudy McRomney."

Thompson is a joke.

Gilmore is an even bigger joke.

Tancredo is a gadfly candidate with a message the size of a 747.

Brownback is playing second fiddle to Huckabee. There's not enough room for both of them.

Paul is in a league by himself. He's holding a hockey stick on a baseball field. Maybe he'll catch on. Maybe he won't. But at least he'll get people talking.


The Republican Debate

Last week the Democratic presidential candidates debated in Orangeburg, South Carolina. This week it was the Republicans' turn. The contrasts between the two debates and the two political parties could not be starker.

The first major difference I noticed pertained to the debate setting. Before the Democrats' debate, the media focused a lot on South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, the civil rights struggle, and the plight of lower class Blacks living in rural areas. This made a lot of sense, given that Orangeburg is located in rural central South Carolina and the middle of Congressman Jim Clyburn's majority Black congressional district. Fair enough.

The Republicans' debate, however, took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. A lot of the media stories pertained to the Reagan legacy, his accomplishments, and his presidential library. While the Democrats' setting was a university campus, the Republicans' setting was the library of one of the most revered presidents in American history. This setting was inescapable as Air Force One was clearly visible behind the journalists anchoring the debate.

As Howard Fineman pointed out, because of the debate setting, the Democrats looked like the "we are family" party. Simply put, the Republicans looked like executives. This probably shouldn't mean much, but I can't help but wonder how many casual political observers will allow this imagery to seep into their subconscious mind and use it to help guide their decisions regarding their votes in the event that they do not learn much more about the candidates other than which party they represent.

So in terms of media packaging, I think the Republicans did a better job of looking "presidential." University campuses in economically downtrodden areas are not "presidential." While debating at such a place can help shed light on social issues that need more attention, I am not so sure this is the best choice.

Since 1968 Republicans have won 7 of the last 10 presidential elections. Staging a debate at the library of the most successful of these seven presidents was a shrewd move from a public relations standpoint. Kudos to the Republicans.

As for the debate itself, I could not help but feel like so many of the second tier candidates were overlapping each other in terms of how they wanted to position themselves. Brownback and Huckabee were trying to establish themselves as social and religious conservatives. Tancredo and Hunter were working really hard for the anti-illegal immigration vote. Thompson and Gilmore had been trying to position themselves as can-do governors with records proving their conservative credentials. Only Ron Paul (a pro-life Libertarian) was in a niche by himself.

Obviously, the Top 3 ("Rudy McRomney") are in a class by themselves. This debate meant different things to all three of them:

For Mitt Romney, this debate served as a chance to allay voters' concerns about his Mormon faith and his recent "conversions" regarding issues like abortion and gay rights. Although he had consistently been polling third (or sometimes fourth, if you include Frank Thompson), his fundraising totals have been the most impressive among the Republicans. After watching the debate, I can say that Romney has to be feeling pretty good about his campaign and its momentum. He did an excellent job of answering questions in an articulate, authoritative way. He also displayed a good sense of humor and had excellent stage presence. In short, Romney looked and sounded presidential. And that Mormon thing? Well, I think he handled this issue adeptly. Surely it will continue to come up in the ongoing political process courtesy of members of our society who inhabit the lowest common denominator, but I think for most voters, they actually came away from the debate actually liking the guy. If I am a Democrat running for president, Romney is the candidate I most definitely do not want to face.

McCain's candidacy has been flagging as of late because of his "bomb Iran" joke, disappointing fundraising totals, and a general sense of feeling adrift. Others have given McCain favorable reviews about his debate performance, but I must disagree. I think McCain did not show a lot of vigor, his answers seemed rehearsed, and I questioned exactly how badly he really wanted to be president. He answered most questions appropriately, but just didn't appear to have that drive in him on stage. Also, after a forceful (though rehearsed?) remark about following Osama to "the gates of Hell," he gave a very inappropriate smirk. Did that look presidential? I did not see anything in his performance that would lead me to believe he'd attract a drove of new supporters. If his fundraising continues to stall, could he drop out before the Iowa caucuses even begin?

Rudy Giuliani had the most the lose in this debate. Since he announced his candidacy, Giuliani has been flying high in the polls. His standing in the polls has largely defied conventional wisdom because of his moderate to liberal views on social issues like abortion, gun rights, and affirmative action. I think a large segment of these "Rudy fans" simply do not know his record on those issues and are supporting him simply because "he helped guide us through those dark days after September 11." Nobody talks much about the pre-9-11 Rudy because that image of him and his ash-covered suit overwhelms everything else. I think that may have changed after the debate, however. Surely Giuliani would have liked for the debate to focus on terrorism for 90 minutes, but unfortunately for him, a lot of time was spent on the very issue that puts him at such odds with the base of his party: abortion. I think his nuanced responses and waffling regarding the repeal of Roe vs. Wade was quite telling, and his positioning on stage as one of the last candidates to have to respond to that question didn't help:

Moderator: If Roe vs. Wade were repealed, would that be a good day in America?

Romney: A glorious day.

Brownback: A celebration of liberty.

Huckabee: A great day.

Gilmore: It was wrongly decided.

etc. etc. etc.

Giuliani: It would be okay...

(cue the sound of a car screeching to a halt)

This led to a long back and forth between Giuliani and the moderator in which he was forced to clarify his remarks. For his supporters and campaign staff, I'm sure this was agonizing to watch.

That exchange, I believe, is what will end the love affair that so many Republicans have for Giuliani. For many of them, this was the first time they had ever heard him defend abortion or give them reason to doubt that "he is not on their side." Look for his poll ratings to drop out of the stratosphere. Social conservatives who vote strictly on abortion are likely lost forever to Giuliani in light of this "new information" and are going to flock to Romney, Brownback, and Huckabee. In short, Giuliani fared a bit worse than expectations, although he did not bomb the debate.

Sam Brownback has been registering 1 or 2 percent in most polls. He clearly conveyed that he wants to carry social conservatives' water, but I am not sure he did anything that would vault him into the top tier. I doubt he will win the nomination, but I would not count him out as a vice presidential pick. If he does not gain much traction from this debate, I expect him to throw in the towel. This debate gave him the opportunity to introduce himself to a mega audience and he performed adequately. However, I don't think he really distinguished himself. The fact that he is competing directly with Mike Huckabee for votes does not help.

Until this debate, Mike Huckabee has been one of the most mysterious candidates. He has a compelling story (losing 100 pounds), is a Southern governor, and has a charming demeanor. However, he did not seem to be running for president full throttle. As a result, his campaign operation is not at the top of its game. I think of all the second tier candidates, his stock value rose the most. Grover Norquist conservatives might not like Huckabee because he actually (gasp!) raised taxes while he was Arkansas' governor, but I think most other Republicans will give Huckabee a look, especially if they have their reservations about Rudy McRomney. Huckabee is proud to be a social conservative, a Christian conservative, and a Christian who believes his Christian beliefs should have a role in his policy ideas. He also had a commanding stage presence and looked presidential. Evangelicals who view Romney with suspicion because of his Mormon faith may be especially pleased with his performance at the debate. Conservatives who are leery of nominating a Massachusetts governor or a New York mayor may also be more satisfied with a southern governor instead. I personally believe Mike Huckabee is public enemy #1 for John McCain because even though they both have similar positions regarding abortion, McCain represents the old guard while Huckabee seems new and fresh. I believe Huckabee would be a difficult candidate for the Democrats to run against because even though he is a conservative right-wing Republican, he does not come across nearly as abrasive as those on the religious right are often portrayed.

To me, Duncan Hunter is the Republicans' dream candidate. He is right on taxes, right on immigration, right on defense, right on abortion, right on gay rights, right on guns, and right on foreign policy. He is a hawk, and he is unashamed to admit it. Republicans in Orange County, California, clearly liked what he was saying, so that might help him out with fundraising. I think Tom Tancredo has to be worried because Hunter spoke with far more confidence at the debate and seemed to steal Tancredo's main issue (illegal immigration). Hunter came across like a no-nonsense executive that could unite all the factions of the Republican Party. He is most definitely not charismatic, but he definitely had a commanding presence at the debate. Basically, he sounded like a Dick Cheney with hair. I think he helped his campaign a lot with his strong debate performance, although there are still too many candidates in the race for him to really get his message out. Hunter is my dark horse Republican candidate. I think he is a primary threat to Rudy Giuliani in particular because Hunter's experience on the House Armed Services Committee allows him to stand toe to toe with Giuliani when it comes to defense and even terrorism. If Giuliani loses the terrorism issue, he's toast, unless he decides to appeal to moderate Republicans instead a la Lincoln Chafee.

Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia, did not make any major gaffes at the debate. However, I cannot see Republicans coalescing around his campaign because there just didn't seem to be a moment where he shined. Gilmore seemed to be a "me too" candidate who could not stop talking about "his record." He tried to position himself as "the credible conservative," but the problem with this is that almost all of the second tier candidates are trying to do the same thing. I think Gilmore is like the Republicans' Chris Dodd. He may have a record that looks good on paper, but I think he got lost in the shuffle at the debate.

Tommy Thompson was disappointing. Like Jim Gilmore, he happily talked about "his record" and his "1900 vetoes." However, he clumsily handled a question asking if a business should fire a homosexual worker. He tried to hee and haw by saying "it was up to each individual business to decide," but the moderator pinned him down as a "yes." After the debate, Thompson changed his answer to a "no" and blamed his "yes" on "not being able to hear the question." This is the same guy that recently blamed an ethnic joke about Jews on "a persistent cold" and "fatigue." Anyway, I expect him to throw in the towel soon. Why does it seem like so many Republicans with occasionally moderate views are so afraid of angering religious conservatives when it comes to abortion and gay rights?

Tom Tancredo is not going to be the GOP nominee. He spoke haltingly, seemed confused, and even let Duncan Hunter steal his bread and butter issue of illegal immigration. He also struggled to answer the questions fast enough, thus causing the moderator to cut him off before he could make his points. Looks like Tancredo is going to be a one-issue candidate, but if Hunter continues to steal his thunder, I cannot see any rationale for Tancredo to continue his campaign.

Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas who once ran for president as a Libertarian, was perhaps the most authentic of the 10 candidates at the debate. His answers seemed passionate and unrehearsed. He distinguished himself as the only candidate who is against the Iraq War. I think there are more Republicans who are against this war than polling suggests, so Paul stands to reap a ton of new supporters who place Iraq above everything else. Abolishing the IRS probably made anti-tax conservatives squeal with delight. Look for Paul to leapfrog about 1/3 to half of the Republican field in terms of support. Other than his Iraq and taxation views, part of what made him stand out was his frequent mentioning of the government's role in our lives. I do not know how many Barry Goldwater Republicans are left in the party, but I think Paul easily won them over with his performance at the debate. Paul's candidacy shows why libertarian Republicans from the West cannot coexist with religious and social conservatives from the South. I personally would be intrigued by a Paul presidency, and I think he may appeal to voters who have developed an "America first" mentality and resent the role of being the world's policeman. Because there are no other candidates of either party occupying the libertarian niche, I think Paul is uniquely positioned to experience a groundswell of support.

In a nutshell, these are my predictions:

Romney exceeded expectations and is moving up. He is a force to be reckoned with and may very well be the only Republican that can win in 2008 if his performance at the debate is indicative of his political skills in general. But how many bigoted Republicans will sabotage him?

McCain actually looked his age at the debate and seemed unfocused at some times and overly rehearsed at other times. I think his campaign is nearing a make or break point. His debate performance was subpar in my estimation and he doesn't have much margin for error anymore.

Giuliani should come crashing back down to earth soon. He did okay, but was a little disappointing. The aura of "America's Mayor" may have been replaced by doubts about his commitment to social conservatives' primary issues. He will be bombarded by questions about his position on abortion on the campaign trail in the coming weeks, and time he spends talking about abortion is time he's not spending on his signature issue of terrorism.

Brownback got a bit more name recognition, but is still stuck in the second tier.

Huckabee helped his campaign considerably and is poised to break out. Did Rudy McRomney write him off too soon?

Gilmore might as well drop out of the race and stop wasting his time. His conservative credentials may be genuine, but why settle for Generic Republican when you can have the charismatic Romney or the compelling Huckabee?

Thompson should do the same. I think he really sandbagged himself by hedging on the gay rights question because Brownback, Hunter, and Huckabee clearly showed where the stand on the issue. Thompson was seen as equivocating, which just won't sell with evangelicals when they have so many other better options to choose from.

Hunter is the conservative hawk in the race. I think he may have moved from the third tier to the second tier. If doubts about his viability dissipate, he may very well be the Republican nominee. He would be tough to run against and would probably take a lot of states off the map. I think Duncan Hunter is the best Republican you've never heard of.

Tancredo is becoming the Republicans' Al Sharpton. He's made his point. Illegal immigration is bad. Border fences are good. Now he should get out of the race before he becomes a GOP punch line.

Ron Paul is the libertarian in the race. He may very well have a monopoly on anti-tax conservatives and anti-war Republicans. However, as a libertarian, evangelicals might not take too kindly to his "don't tread on me/live and let live" philosophy. I think he has a lot of potential, but I worry his campaign may be doomed by Republican fratricide, rather than any gaffes of his own making. Look for his popularity to increase.


Tommy's Potty Mouth

What is it with politicians these days? Why in the world do they say such stupid things? Why do they have so many "slips of the tongue" regarding ill-considered racist and anti-semitic comments, even if they're not intended to be so?

The latest moron is Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson. Seeing that he hails from Wisconsin, he potentially had an outside chance to steal a victory or have a strong showing in the caucuses in neighboring Iowa. He wanted to position himself as an amicable, reliable conservative and generally didn't have much in the way of baggage.

Well, it looks like Mr. Thompson suffers from foot-in-mouth disease, and his timing could not have been any worse, given the recent brouhaha over Don Imus and the "nappy headed hos" on the Rutgers women's basketball team. For those who don't know, Thompson eloquently stated to a Jewish audience that making money is "part of the Jewish tradition." Oops. (Hat tip: Political Wire)

Thompson only made things worse when he tried to apologize after some members of the audience were uncomfortable with his remarks. And according to The Politico, he blamed his remarks on "fatigue" and "a persistent cold."

Is this guy serious? How can "fatigue" be responsible for causing someone to crack unfunny jokes at the expense of a particular racial or ethnic group? Initial stupid remarks aside, regarding his "apology," is this the type of accountability and leadership we should expect from a presidential candidate? What ever happened to saying "I screwed up, and I'm sorry?" I'm not saying Thompson needs to attend sensitivity training (because the leader of the free world should already know how to do this) or kiss the stones of a synagogue in Jerusalem or anything, but surely he can do better than blaming "a persistent cold" for his stupid remarks. The fact that his remarks are so similar to President Bush's attitude towards accountability makes his remarks come across even worse. Here's a perfect instance in which the coverup is worse than the crime.

Needless to say, local reaction to this story has not been favorable. The editorial board of one of the largest newspapers in Wisconsin is calling for Thompson to drop out of the presidential race. I don't know if this is enough to sink his campaign, but someone in his position (second tier) obviously doesn't have much margin for error--especially stupid ones like this. Firing his PR staff and consultants would be a good start. Whoever suggested he could pawn his initial stupidity off on "fatigue" deserves to lose his job.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.