Thursday, May 1, 2008

Moving day!!

Hey guys,

You read here earlier this week about the big announcement: The Opelika-Auburn News has picked up my blog and will now host it on its web site,!

I'll celebrate the move by liveblogging Gov. Bob Riley's appearance at the sold-out Lee County GOP dinner tonight in Opelika. Riley's been mentioned as a potential running mate for Republican presidential nominee-to-be John McCain. With the State Senate in a stalemate and rumors of a special session dominating the chit-chat among state legislators in Montgomery, Riley should be set to deliver some interesting remarks. Log on around 7 p.m. Central time to follow the action!

Follow the leader: Click here to follow me to my new location.

I look forward to meeting you there!


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hillary enters the 'No Spin Zone'

Hillary Clinton made her first appearance -- ever -- on the O'Reilly Factor tonight.

Clinton faced off with the show's self-assured, self-described "humble correspondent" namesake, Bill O'Reilly, this morning in Indiana. The interview was split into two parts, the first of which was presented tonight.

Hillary Clinton? Bill O'Reilly? Cage match fight to the death? How ugly would it get?

Once she found her footing after spending two full minutes discussing Jeremiah Wright, she was, in a word ... terrific.

Hillary went toe-to-toe with O'Reilly on taxes, oil prices, the media's coverage of the campaign and her signature issue: health care reform. He badgered her; she matched him, hit for hit. He was confrontational (I know, you're thinking: "O'Reilly? Confrontational? NOOOOO!!!!"); she deftly deflected his tone with a wide smile. He interrupted her; she kept right on talking. He tried to pigeonhole her into saying something positive about Fox News (the unforgivable in Democratic circles); she delivered the money line of the night: "Are you surprised ... that Fox News has been fairer to you than NBC News and a lot of the other liberal news networks? Are you surprised?" he said.

"I wouldn't expect anything less than a fair and balanced coverage of my campaign," she sardonically cooed.

The highlights of the interview were the segment on health care coverage, which you can see here, and the exchange about tax policy, which you can see here.

Clinton was at remarkable ease throughout the interview. She corrected O'Reilly's misstatements as necessary, laughed off his attacks and reframed her arguments to rebut his comments.

There was one curious moment when she said she had learned a lesson from Ronald Reagan about bipartisanship.

(Pause for historically relevant flashback: Barack Obama took a ton of heat from the Clintons ahead of the Nevada caucuses for saying that Reagan "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not." I guess it's OK for Hillary Clinton to learn a lesson from Reagan, as long as she doesn't praise him ...? Another Clinton double standard.)
But that was a minor issue in an interview in which Clinton simply sparkled. If her goal was to reinforce her image as a fighter, she succeeded, and in a big way. It was as if she was sitting at a lunch table debating politics with a co-worker. Far from backing down, she forcefully defended and advanced her positions and challenged his without the strident tone that has so often characterized her style.

Her advisers had to have been thinking, "Where has this woman been all this time?"

Hillary on O'Reilly ... it had to have drawn a huge audience -- an audience, we can be sure, that included a whole lot of delegates to the Democratic National Convention -- and that's good news for the junior senator from New York.

One final note: Hillary Clinton may very well be the only person ever to get Bill O'Reilly to call President Teddy Roosevelt a socialist ("Was Teddy Roosevelt a socialist?" she said; "Somewhat," he replied).

This IS a history-making election!

North Carolina

As the aftershocks of Barack Obama's seismic denunciation of Jeremiah Wright continue to rattle the political landscape, new poll numbers show Hillary Clinton gaining on Obama in the Tarheel State.

Although a Rasmussen survey puts Obama's current lead as high as 14 percent, a SurveyUSA poll places it in single digits -- and just outside the margin or error -- at 5 percent. But, much like the Olympic scoring system that tosses the highest and lowest marks, the latest RealClearPolitics poll -- which averages several other polls -- pegs the spread at 10.3 percent in Obama's favor.

Take a look at the trend lines: Since April 7, when Clinton hit her low point of 31.5 percent, she's picked up 8.5 points while Obama has gained fewer than two.

It's crucial to remember that this poll is based on surveys that were completed either Sunday or Monday -- before Wright's spirited appearance before the National Press Club, and Obama's reaction to it, dominated cable news and political punditry for a day and a half.

If the next round of polls show Obama further weakened by Wright and the continuing controversy surrounding him, it could be the turning point in the race for the Democratic nomination. I know everyone is expecting Indiana to be the next battleground between these two candidates. But I think the results from North Carolina will tell us more about the long run: If he wins, it will show that he can absorb a tremendous hit (which this week has been in political terms) and retain viability. If he Obama can't pull off a win, and a comfortable win, in a state where he had a comfortable advantage just a week ago, it will spell real trouble for him with delegates and the electability argument the Clinton camp has been hammering for weeks.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama: Wright is wrong

Barack Obama weighed in on the Jeremiah Wright Traveling Media Carnival this afternoon, calling remarks his former pastor made at the National Press Club yesterday "divisive," "destructive" and "appalling."

I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me ...

People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children. And that’s what we should be talking about.

And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me.
(Full transcript of the news conference here.)

Right-wing radio was aflame with feigned surprise, mocking with incredulity that Obama was "just coming to know" the real Jeremiah Wright. They all but accused him of lying about Wright and his extremist positions. Rush Limbaugh said Obama didn't throw Wright under the bus; he had "blasted (Obama) off the planet." He then went on to rue the way the "drive-by media" would excuse Obama's late arrival to today's strong position and characterize his outrage as courageous.

Conspiracy theorists are in overdrive. The New York Daily News broke the story that a Clinton supporter helped arrange Wright's appearance at the NPC yesterday (an NPC spokesman said the connection was chance, not conspiracy), while former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speculated that Wright continues to make a spectacle (Obama's word) of himself and this controversy to purposely damage Obama's campaign.

So what does this mean to Obama? Conspiracy or no, one week from tonight we'll be hearing election results from North Carolina and Indiana. Conventional wisdom holds that Obama wouldn't have reacted to Wright's latest performance, thus keeping it in the news, unless internal polls showed that it was critical to do so. At this point, it's almost a question of what will hurt less: ignoring Wright and hoping he'll go away, or lancing the boil at the expense of renewing the news cycle.

There's a segment of the population that will never forgive Obama for his association with Wright and always attribute Wright's statements to Obama. Right-wing radio, of course, is part of this group. They were busy today vilifying Obama for not disavowing Wright sooner, not leaving the church sooner, not rejecting his earlier comments in a stronger way, etc. For them, whatever Obama does will always be too little, too late.

And there are Obama apologists who would explain it away even if Obama had stood by everything Wright ever said.

The question is, how much room is there in the middle -- not only of the Democratic Party, but of the nation as a whole?

That's the question delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be trying to figure out over the next two months.

Who Wants to be a Senator: Celebrity Edition

First, Jerry Springer considered it. Then, Al Franken did it. Could Chris Matthews be next?

Speculation is intensifying that Matthews may make himself a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, according to this storyfrom the New York Sun.

Matthews is offering tepid denials of his intentions to run on one hand while using his MSNBC show, Hardball, to host influential elected officials and other party leaders from the state on the other. You can read the analysis about how pundits believe Matthews would play as a Democrat -- surprise -- in the Commonwealth.

I just want to point out that if Barack Obama is elected and Matthews decide to run on the Democratic ticket in 2010, can you imagine what a rally with the two of them would look like? Matthews can hardly keep a dry bib on as it is. If Obama comes to Pennsylvania as president to campaign for Matthews, the Secret Service will have to send an advance team with rubber stage mats -- and the White House mop team.

Obama's newest adviser

Karl Rove must be bored.

Rove, the mastermind of victories that put George W. Bush in the White House and kept him there, is regarded among Democrats as the very personification of evil. They blame him for everything from the Iraq war to gas prices and accuse him of exploiting his position of power to engineer persecution of fellow Democrats (see Don Siegelman).

In a column for Newsweek magazine, Rove reaches out to Barack Obama -- who was, the last time I checked, a Democrat -- and gives him the political equivalent of brotherly advice, telling him that the "weary, prickly and distracted tone" his stump speeches have taken, his inability to address the Jeremiah Wright controversy with "one, simple explanation. And stay with it" and a "lack of achievements" in the Senate that "undercuts (his) core themes" are the reasons his campaign has taken a turn for the worse.

Rove's prescription?

  • Write a new stump speech.
  • Cozy up to Republicans.
  • Spend less time campaigning and more time in the Senate.
  • "Stop the attacks."

I laughed as I read Rove's open letter to Obama. The idea that the architect of two Bush victories -- and, indeed, the wildly successful overall voter outreach strategy that elected or returned several hundred other Republicans to office throughout the country -- would help a member of the party he has dedicated his life to fighting is too funny to be plausible.

In diagnosing Obama's problems and in suggesting solutions to them, Rove doesn't miss an opportunity to deliver the same familiar Republican digs against Obama, even as he purports to be helping. Let's look at Rove's "advice:"

  • Rove tells Obama to discard his old stump speech -- the one focusing on hope and change, the one that has drawn and continues to draw millions to his rallies, the one that invites comparisons to Kennedy -- in favor of a new one focused on the general election. That would be great advice -- if the race for the Democratic nomination was finished. It's all but certain that Obama will be locked in a heated battle for delegates (all delegates are, in effect, superdelegates; click here) with Hillary Clinton throughout the summer and possibly even into the convention. Ignoring that fact by assuming the nomination will alienate delegates who are looking for Obama to show some general election-worthy fight, and it will serve only to reinforce the image of him as an aloof elitist.
  • He encourages Obama to begin identifying Republicans he would name to Cabinet posts and "highlight initiatives Republicans can agree on." This would make Obama a target in his own party by giving Clinton ammunition that Obama isn't committed enough to Democratic principles. In addition to being portrayed as not black enough, not patriotic enough and not experienced enough, Obama would also be portrayed to members of his own party as being not Democratic enough. Bipartisanship is good during the general election, but it can be downright detrimental when you're fighting for the support of hard core, lifelong partisans.
  • Rove encourages Obama to leave the campaign trail, where he is meeting voters, to return to the Senate to "pick a big issue and fight for it." In addition to giving feet to what Obama calls "the fierce urgency of now," Rove argues that it will "give (Obama's) argument substance." In addition to, again, reinforcing the aloof-elitist label as discussed above, it would doom Obama to toiling in assured futility; everyone knows that for all the complaints about a "do-nothing Congress," even less gets done in an election year, when regular Washington partisanship is replaced by Washington hyperpartisanship and everything is an opportunity for direct mail.
  • Rove's next gem is simply, "Stop the attacks." This is, without a doubt, the funniest part of Rove's article. If he wasn't a uberoperative, Rove could write for Colbert. Stop the attacks? This, coming from one of the most vicious attack dogs in the GOP kennel? Stop the attacks, coming from someone who has made his living attacking Democrats? Stop the attacks? Stop it, Karl; I can hardly breathe.

Rove uses the other two points -- stick to one explanation and give concrete examples of what he'd do as president -- to simply tweak Obama with the regular GOP lines.

But Obama has an opportunity with this piece, and it's not to take Karl Rove's advice. It's apparent that the "advice" is meant not to empower Obama and right his campaign, but rather to weaken Obama to the point where Democrats turn to Clinton as the authentic, experienced, tough Democratic standard-bearer the party faithful will need in November.

If Mitt Romney was the GOP nominee, it probably wouldn't matter which candidate Democrats installed at the top of the ticket. A Romney-Obama general election campaign would look much the same as a Romney-Clinton race. But with McCain as its nominee, the GOP knows that moderates and independents will be at a premium in the fall -- especially if social conservatives recruit a candidate that saps right-wing votes from McCain, one half of the nightmare scenario for the GOP.

The other half of that nightmare scenario is Obama, because Republicans know that he would draw more moderate Republicans and independents than John McCain will draw moderate Democrats and independents. With party registrations through the roof throughout this primary season, especially on the Democratic side, it's imperative that Rove and Republican strategists like him do all they can to run against Clinton, the GOP's dream opponent.

As the Democratic race descends into a streetfight for delegates and the candidates increasingly argue their electability, Obama can capitalize on Rove's letter by showing delegates that Republicans are more concerned about running against him than facing Clinton in the fall.

They've sent their top dog out to try to ensure the matchup they want -- and that should be all Rove-hating Democrats need to hear.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A light at the end of the tunnel?

It seems that there may be a light, however faint, at the end of the tunnel for those of us who abhor the current system of financing political campaigns in the United States.

On Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Barack Obama -- who is "on pace to raise more than $300 million in the primaries" -- expressed an interest in remaining in the public finance system for the general election against GOP nominee-to-be John McCain if he is the Democratic nominee:

WALLACE: The Wall Street Journal says that you are prepared to run the first privately-financed campaign - presidential campaign since Watergate. True?

OBAMA: Look, we’ve done a wonderful job raising money from the grassroots. I’m very proud of the fact that in March, in February for example, 90 percent of our donations came over the Internet. Our average donation is $96. And we’ve done an amazing job, I think, of mobilizing people, to finance our campaigns in small increments. I have promised that I will sit down with John McCain and talk about, can we preserve a public system, as long as we are taking into account third party, independent expenditures, because what I don’t intend to –

WALLACE: If you could get that agreement you would go for a publicly financed campaign?

OBAMA: What I don’t intend to do is to allow huge amounts of money to be spent by the RNC, the Republican National Committee or by organizations like the Swift Boat organization and just stand there without –

WALLACE: If you get that agreement?

OBAMA: I would be very interested in pursuing public financing because I think not every candidate is going to be able to do what I’ve done in this campaign and I think it’s important to think about future campaigns.

It will be interesting to watch how Mr. Campaign Finance Reform responds to this. Many people believe that McCain-Feingold was a step in the right direction, but its weakness -- uneven enforcement -- was also an asset, because it exposed other avenues (READ: 527s) ripe for exploitation and abuse.

Full transcript here.

Will McCain step up and agree to plug the holes that keep McCain-Feingold from making the kind of difference it otherwise could? Or will he hide from the opportunity to create real -- dare I say it? -- change, even on one of his signature issues?

His answer will determine whether that light at the end of the tunnel is long-awaited, long-overdue relief for the weary American voter, or a freight train set to flatten them once again.

New poll

Hey everyone,

Check out the new poll question on the left. I want to know what you think about Jeremiah Wright's media tour.

Comments welcome!

Jeremiah Wright is everywhere

What's going on with Jeremiah Wright?

Wright spent weeks in near-isolation, canceling many appearances in guest pulpits across the country as those omnipresent clips of his sermons played out, nearly 24/7, on cable news and the web.

Now, over the past week, he has gone from near invisible to being ubiquitous. He's everywhere.

He emerged with an interview with PBS's Bill Moyers on Thursday; Sunday night, he gave the keynote speech at the NAACP dinner in Detroit; this morning, he appeared at the National Press Club.

(Click here for one-stop coverage from the Detroit Free Press on Wright's appearance at the $150-a-head NAACP dinner. Page includes forward and follow-up stories, video clips of Wright's speech in its entirety and other related items.)

At each of these appearances, Wright has made a series of characteristically controversial statements -- including an argument, made to the NAACP, against applying the same educational standards to young black students as are applied to young white students -- that he has mixed with comments about his dreams for racial reconciliation, healing, etc.

After Barack Obama has spent the last six weeks explaining his relationship with Wright and fending off and responding to criticism over some of Wright's most controversial statements (including that the federal government might have created HIV to destroy the black population), Obama seemed on the cusp of finally putting the powder keg that is this issue behind him.

Then, Wright's media tour began, and those clips started running all over again. But this time, there were new ones, like his education argument, that serve to give voters pause about Obama's judgment all over again.

Why does Wright choose this time, the last week, to go on the media offensive? He has mentioned a book that he is writing, but it won't be available until the fall, so it can't be to plug his product. Perhaps it's to publicize a coming summit on racial issues that will be taking place at his church, Trinity United Church of Christ, and other churches across the country in the next few weeks.

On Chris Wallace's show yesterday, Obama demurred when asked what he thought of Wright's media tour, saying he understood why Wright felt the need to defend himself but stopping short of endorsing his former pastor's efforts.

If you think you're sick of seeing Wright everywhere you look, imagine how Obama must feel. Everyone knows that whatever Wright's reasons for reappearing, the reality is that the more we see of Jeremiah Wright, the worse it is for Barack Obama.

I watched his speech last night and much of his remarks this morning and wondered about the enigma that is the fiery pastor. He is charismatic and engaging, yet he borders many times on hostile. He claims the words of the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ, but he mocks with sardonic, unapologetic disdain his critics in the media. Obviously an learned man whose education enables him to speak with incredible clarity and passion, he argues against ensuring those same standards of education for black youth.

I was talking with someone about this subject this weekend, and we agreed that the greatest irony in all this talk about race relations would be if a black pastor ended up being the reason this nation doesn't have its first black president in 2009.

Separated at birth?

You've no doubt heard the terrible, henious story about the 73-year-old Austrian man who has reportedly confessed to kidnappping his own daughter, stashing her away in a windowless cellar and repeatedly raping her for 24 years -- and fathering seven children by her.

We now have this guy's mug shot ... am I the only one, or does he remind anyone else of another creepy fella:

Josef F. of Austria, above

Drew Peterson of Bolingbrook, Ill., above