As promised, here are the photos I took at the Democratic debate in Orangeburg last month. (Copyright warning: If you like the photos, please feel free to link to them on this site and give me credit for them. Please don't publish them elsewhere.)
This is me before the debate engaging a Dodd supporter. There seemed to be a lot of Dodd supporters at the debate, but when I talked with them, they said they were only holding Dodd signs and wearing Dodd stickers so they could receive extra credit for their college class.
This is the Black guy who was wearing the Confederate military uniform and proudly waving the Confederate flag. He was actually a very interesting person to talk to. The trick was to not approach him with apprehension or condescension like most of the other people at the debate apparently did. This guy was originally for Obama, but apparently had a bad discussion with one of his supporters and is now completely turned off from him.
"Silly plebiscites! Don't you realize that Bill Richardson is the GOP's worst nightmare? Obama will get eaten alive!" This is me talking with a group of Obama supporters about why I fear he may not be the strongest candidate the Democrats could field.
Here is Hillary Clinton speaking at the post-debate rally. She's wearing one of her famous pantsuits. I personally think they make her look sophisticated.
Hillary Clinton working the rope line after her speech at the rally. She has a good politician's smile.
Obama and his wife Michelle came out next. The crowd went absolutely nuts when they appeared.
Michelle Obama worked the rope line. I got to shake her hand. She looks like a very private, normal woman. She just doesn't have that "politician's wife" aura about her. Very interesting.
Obama worked the rope line too. This was the main event everybody was waiting for. About 70% of the people at the post-debate rally were either for Obama or Hillary. Hillary worked the rope line first. Obama was second. After he finished, the gymnasium emptied out considerably.
Heeeerrrrre's Bill Richardson! When he gave his speech, he talked about how he wanted to say so much more during the debate, but was unable to because of the time constraints. He seemed much looser at the rally than he did during the debate. Could he be similar to the 2000 Al Gore?
Bill Richardson and Joe Biden seem to be really good friends. Biden came out while Richardson was giving his speech, so they kinda stepped on each other's message. But they handled it well.
This is me talking with my horse, Bill Richardson. He said he appreciated my support. There were only about 10 people in the entire auditorium who had Bill Richardson signs, so I think his appreciation was sincere. He also autographed my sign.
Joe Biden took a picture with me. All right! Biden is a funny guy--very easy going and easy to get along with. I really can't understand why the press seems to write him off. I think he'd be a very formidable candidate.
Dennis Kucinich was the last candidate to come out and address the crowd after the debate. He was speaking to a mostly empty gym by this point. That was okay though because that meant I had more access to him. I ended up talking with him and his wife for about five minutes. Kucinich is a very sincere man. I was impressed with his interest in world affairs and languages. I think he's about a generation ahead of where America is at present, which is unfortunate. But this is a good man. When I hear other politicians and pundits deride him as a loony liberal or a gadfly, I will shake my head in disgust. I personally would be honored to have Kucinich serve as my congressional representative based on how he treated me at this rally.
As promised, here are the photos I took at the Democratic debate in Orangeburg last month. (Copyright warning: If you like the photos, please feel free to link to them on this site and give me credit for them. Please don't publish them elsewhere.)
So, it looks like the Senate has reached a compromise on immigration. In a nutshell, this bill would require illegal aliens to pay a hefty fine, create a new type of visa that would allow them to stay in the US legally, allow them to apply for permanent residency after eight years, and fortify the Border Patrol.
It seems like a practical solution, but there are going to be A LOT of angry voters out there because of this bill. I guess if you're being attacked by the left and the right, that means you've found a sufficient balance. But there are four competing constituencies that further complicate matters:
1. Liberals want to accommodate illegal aliens and give them more rights for humanistic reasons. Many illegal aliens come to America so they can make a better life for their families. Wages are often so low and working conditions are often so poor in their home countries that it makes working in America so much more attractive. Why should illegal aliens be penalized for trying to seek a better life here? And isn't the United States supposed to be a nation of immigrants? Does Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses have any meaning whatsoever?
2. Conservatives vehemently oppose illegal immigration because the fact that these aliens are in the United States illegally makes them lawbreakers who should not be entitled to any social services or federal or municipal benefits whatsoever. They believe these illegal aliens are a drain on local community resources that should be allocated to US citizens and legal immigrants. They equate legalizing their presence in America as amnesty, which is a non-starter for them. A nativist subset of the conservative wing also doesn't like the fact that these mostly brown people speak Spanish and eat pollo con arroz instead of pot roast. They fear that America's identity is at stake.
3. Opportunistic Democratic politicians sense an opportunity to cultivate millions of new potential Democratic voters. They remember what happened to former California Governor Pete Wilson. Gov. Wilson's crackdown on illegal immigration turned California into a reliably Democratic state because of its high Hispanic population that was enraged by Wilson's policies. Gov. Wilson also helped brand the Republican Party as the party that is not sympathetic to illegal immigrants. The Republican Party continues to struggle for support among minorities to this very day. Democrats don't want to make that same "mistake," so they want to portray themselves as "being on the side" of families who come to America to search for a better life.
4. Big business Republican politicians know who writes their campaign checks. Corporate America often relies on illegal immigrants because they provide a steady source of cheap, no-hassle labor. Why pay an American $15 an hour if a Mexican will do it for $10? Why bother hiring an American who is a member of a labor union and wants health insurance and retirement benefits if you can get a Guatemalan who just wants a salary? This keeps costs down and profits up, which makes business executives very, very happy. They know Republicans are their allies in Washington and will continue to fund their campaigns so long as these legislators keep their bread buttered.
This compromise bill seems to satisfy a little bit of each of these four groups' concerns. But I think there is a huge intensity gap separating the second group (conservatives) from the other three. Illegal immigration is one of those hot-button issues that can significantly drive up turnout, much like abortion and gun rights do. I'm not yet sure how this will play out nationally, but I will say this:
Because of this intensity gap, this compromise legislation may prove fatal for the political aspirations of two Republican senators in general: John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
John McCain is the most credible top tier Republican presidential candidate when it comes to his conservative record. However, he has been viewed with suspicion because of his membership in the "Gang of 14," campaign finance reform legislation, and the maverick streak he has exhibited in the past. Mitt Romney's recent "conversions" to conservatism are often derided, and Rudy Giuliani is obviously a moderate. Conservatives who didn't trust McCain before may view his support of this compromise bill as the final straw that turns them off from his campaign. Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson may be the beneficiaries of McCain's possible implosion because of this issue. McCain's problem is that both independents and conservatives view him with suspicion. Unfortunately for McCain, conservatives are much more important for him because without conservative support, he cannot win the Republican presidential nomination. Period.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is often criticized by South Carolinians for not being conservative enough for their tastes. He was also a member of the Gang of 14, which didn't sit too well in this very red state. Senator Graham is up for reelection in 2008. Look for him to have to contend with a strong conservative challenger in the state's Republican primary. It is quite possible that he will not survive. South Carolina Democrats don't particularly like Senator Graham because even though he often talks tough about President Bush, he ultimately sides with Bush anyway. However, they are happy with the fact that he is not a hardcore conservative like Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma or Senator Sessions of Alabama. If such a Republican beats Senator Graham in the Republican primary, could this open up the door for a moderate Democratic challenger to win Lindsey Graham's Senate seat?
And finally, even though I'm more of a libertarian or a liberal when it comes to social issues (anti-censorship, supporter of gay rights, etc.), I am a staunch conservative when it comes to illegal immigration. My wife is not an American citizen. We had to go through a painstakingly rigorous, expensive, and time-consuming process in order to get her green card approved. We had to shell out hundreds of dollars in application fees, transportation expenses, and legal services--all of which were a part of the permanent residency application process. Check out some of the forums at Visa Journey and read some of the threads there to get an idea of what other international couples have to deal with in order to come to the United States legally. There are stressful interviews at far away embassies, long periods of waiting on the telephone only to hear an agent tell you they don't know anything about your immigration case, and even fees just to contact the embassy in certain cases. After all the work we had to do just to get my wife in the United States legally, it incenses me to know that someone can simply jump a fence or hide in the trunk of a car as it crosses a border checkpoint and still get hired on the other side and even receive government benefits in so-called sanctuary cities.
Having said that, I realize it is not practical to round up 10 million people and send them back to their countries of origin. So this compromise is probably the most pragmatic way of dealing with the problem. However, let it be known that there are millions and millions of other similarly angry voters out there who will severely penalize Republican legislators who sign onto this bill. Democrats probably won't be penalized as heavily because Iraq is where their voters' intensity lies. But Republicans should be particularly careful.
John McCain's poll numbers should be intriguing to watch. We could be witnessing a presidential flameout in the making.
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.
You heard it here first. Tommy Thompson will NOT be the Republican nominee for president. I've written about Thompson's gaffes and his stupid excuses for the gaffes before. Looks like he outdid himself this time. Basically, he blamed one of his responses at the debate in California on "having to go to the bathroom" and a "bad hearing aid." The question was the one about gay rights in the workplace. Thompson seemed caught off guard by the question, but said that companies should have the right to fire gay workers. How in the world does having to tinkle cause someone to say it's okay to fire someone just because he's gay? And if his hearing aid was so bad, how come he was able to answer so many of the other questions adequately? Why didn't he ask for clarification of any of the questions? Or is it possible that he's trying too hard to cozy up to the religious right even though he's a little more moderate? This guy's campaign is finished.
Why in the world is garbage like this considered fair game in the world of presidential politics? At what point can someone say enough is enough? If I were a politician, I think I would joke around with the interviewer that I don't know what sex is. The United States and the media worry too much about this nonsense. That's why our sexual attitudes are so unhealthy.
The Bush Administration is falling apart at the seams. Nobody seems to want to be a part of it anymore. Could it be that people are beginning to realize that the emperor has no clothes? Or are they afraid of being the next fall guy? Or do they simply think Bush and his cronies are grossly incompetent? (Oh, and it appears that "The Decider" is also "The Hypocrite".)
This is a useful resource from the Washington Post if you're interested in seeing where the presidential candidates are at any given time. That's a lot of frequent flyer miles these people are logging.
The Politico has an amazing chart detailing the different types of maneuvers politicians and their surrogates employ on a daily basis. This is not dry material. It uses easy to understand graphics which resemble football diagrams. It even includes risk and reward analyses of the various tactics you can employ. A must read.
People who are interested in betting on the next elections might be interested in this.
Republicans who are angry with Rudy Giuliani's stance on abortion should not be surprised. And on top of switching from Democrat to Republican, Giuliani cited the Republicans' economic positions as the basis for his switch. Giuliani is wise to run as a moderate because there's just too much stuff out there for him to satisfy the wishes of social conservatives. Good luck in Iowa.
Will the Congressional Black Caucus back out of the Fox News debate like the Democrats did with the debate in Nevada earlier this spring?
Of all the Democrats running for president, Chris Dodd seems to be the most obscure. Even Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich seem to get more airtime than he does. Here's an article about how he's dealing with his underdog campaign. Here's a similar article about Bill Richardson and his phantom status.
It's a shame that people can't tell the difference between comedy and real life. Similarly, can't people tell the difference between acting on TV and real life? Oh well. I guess you just have to fight with whatever weapons your opponents give you, right?
Remember my letter to the editor that got published in today's paper? I wrote it because of stuff like this. Sounds like everyone wants to pass the buck. No wonder all those generals have refused that "war czar" position...
When you have a 28% approval rating, is it any surprise that some of your previous donors are now donating to Hillary and Obama?
Why can't people just admit they screwed up? Why do they have to blame others for their failures and shortcomings? Personally, I think Wolfowitz should just resign. Of course, we'd be demanding the resignation of a foreign official who headed the World Bank and was guilty of similar wrongdoings. But the rules seem different for Americans, and particularly loyal Bushies. It's stuff like this that makes people around the world hate the United States.
Is Obama snubbing the Congressional Black Caucus? Are establishment Black Democrats with the CBC and Hillary while the new generation Black Democrats are in Obama's camp?
I am tired of Joe Lieberman bashing the political parties. If he hates them so much, why did he originally run as a Democrat in the 2006 Connecticut primary? And why does he threaten to caucus with the Republicans just because the Democrats won't give him what he wants regarding Iraq? Why doesn't he just go his own way and stop leading the voters on? He does have a point though. Could an independent or unity ticket gain traction in 2008?
Perhaps John McCain is in better shape than I originally thought. He's ahead in the states that matter. Is Giuliani hoping for a stellar performance on Super Tuesday when a lot of megastates with moderate voters have their say?
President Bush has issued only two vetoes during his six years in office, but how about other presidents? Presidential historians might be interested in this link.
I cannot help but wonder how many rumblings there are beneath the surface of Obama supporters. The MySpace fiasco is the latest example of Obama taking his supporters for granted, in my estimation. Trust is a very difficult thing to earn, a very easy thing to break, and almost impossible to rehabilitate. Could Colin Powell be drafted and capitalize on this ambivalence?
Looks like Congressman Bill Jefferson of Louisiana is still a punching bag that Democrats probably wish had lost his reelection bid last year. Seems like Republicans are reacting just like I thought two months ago. It's good politics for the Republicans, that's for sure.
"Candidness" is one reason why Mike Gravel generated so much attention in the netroots. According to former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the candidates generally aren't doing that.
Looks like Democrats in the West are forming a new political action committee. I think this is a great idea because of the West's emergence as a new battleground. Democrats are locked out of the South for now, but the West may offer a few opportunities for them which would make the electoral math a bit easier.
I got another letter to the editor published in the local newspaper today:
Would war czar be Bush's new fall guy?
Why is President Bush looking for a "war czar" to lead the troops and develop a winning strategy for our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
As commander in chief, isn't that Bush's responsibility? Or is it possible that "The Commander Guy" (formerly "The Decider") simply doesn't know what he's doing?
Or is he just looking for another potential fall guy, should things on the ground fail to improve?
I haven't written much about Iraq in The 7-10 because of the sheer volume of information, quotes, positions, details, developments, factions, nuances, resolutions, and maneuvering involved. I simply can't keep up with all of it.
But I will say this much.
Politicians, especially Democrats, just don't get it.
If you want to end the war, there is an easy way to do so. If the Iraqi government decides to take a two-month vacation this summer, then cut off the war funding immediately. Giving deadlines and timetables and whatnot, no matter how noble, can easily be spun by Republicans as "telling the enemy to wait us out" and "issuing surrender dates." However, if the war funding is cut because the Iraqis are clearly not stepping up to the plate and assuming responsibility for their country, the blame would shift from the "surrender Democrats" to the "inept and ungrateful Iraqis," which is much safer politically. And if the situation does indeed improve by September, then future funding should be contingent upon a series of increasingly rigorous benchmarks that the Iraqi government and Iraqi military must meet regularly. If they don't meet them, then funding will gradually be cut while U.S. troops will gradually be pulled out of the country. So it's a win-win situation.
Here's another idea:
Give President Bush the funding he wants, but only until the end of September when General Petraeus said he could ascertain the "surge's" effectiveness. Keep tapes of all interviews and quotes by Republicans and President Bush about "how the surge hasn't been given a chance to succeed." If things do not improve, then throw these quotes back at them and then cut off the funding. Keeping the troops in Iraq past the end of this calendar year would be political suicide for Republicans, so they will have a much greater appetite for pulling the troops out later this year. And giving Bush the funding he wants until September will demonstrate a bit of good faith on behalf of the Democrats towards Bush and General Petraeus, who has to be given a chance to have his leadership succeed. I think Democratic and anti-war voters won't penalize the Democratic legislators for this just yet. They've already stood up to Bush on this issue, so that should placate the base a bit. Also, because of our nation's short attention span, I don't think voters will be paying too much attention to Iraq and politics during the summer, so I think they can afford to wait just a little bit longer.
Right now though, it seems like the Democrats are playing their hand too soon.
As for Republicans, I am not really sure what "victory" in Iraq looks like. And it seems like the best we can do is "not lose." Americans are not going to be happy with "not losing," which means that "staying to win" isn't worth it. I know these Republican lawmakers want to be loyal to their president, but it is this loyalty that has gotten them stuck in the situation they're in now--minority status in both houses of Congress.
When Republicans talk about "if we don't fight them over there, they will follow us over here," do they not realize how porous that logic is? Smart Democrats will use this phony argument to pivot to a discussion about immigration reform, securing the borders, screening what comes into our ports, and increased penalties for corporations that hire illegal immigrants. That would put a lot of those red state Democrats on friendly ground with the residents of the states they serve while driving a wedge between Republican legislators because immigration is one of the most salient issues to their party. I cannot believe I haven't heard any Democrats respond to that "they'll follow us over here" nonsense in any meaningful way whatsoever so far.
Al Sharpton has stepped into it again, this time with Mitt Romney.
Democrats would be wise to marginalize Sharpton or at the very least contain him so that his words are taken to represent only himself, rather than the entire Democratic Party.
In addition to starting yet another unneeded controversy that only further tarnishes what's left of Sharpton's image, his remarks accomplished five things:
1. They allowed Mitt Romney to take the high road after "having his faith attacked", which gives him a few cycles of good press.
2. They allowed Romney to respond in such a way that he, "the Mormon," appeared reasonable.
3. They gave Mitt Romney free publicity, which is exactly what he needs in order to get his name recognition up. If Romney is contrasted with Sharpton, Romney will win every time in the eyes of the average voter. So his campaign team has to be thanking Sharpton.
4. They allowed Romney another opportunity to deftly handle "the Mormon thing." He did a good job of addressing this in the first Republican debate last week, and now he had a second opportunity to do the exact same thing. Voters who are a bit reluctant about supporting "a Mormon" may now view him as being a bit more reasonable than they first thought.
5. They gave Republicans and conservatives more fodder to use against Democrats who may be challenged to repudiate these remarks in the future.
Now granted, most voters probably aren't paying attention to Mitt Romney and have written Al Sharpton off long ago. But I can't help but wonder if somewhere, someone is watching all this unfold and thinks, "An enemy of Al Sharpton is a friend of mine" or "maybe that Mormon guy isn't all that bad."
While bigotry against anyone of any faith (and heck, bigotry in general) is something I strongly disagree with, it is this bigotry that threatens to sink the campaign of perhaps the most telegenic and most formidable Republican candidate out there, at least based on his performance in the first debate. In my mind, Sharpton's antics only helped remove some of these barriers, thus damaging the Democrats' chances of victory in 2008.
Democrats are afraid of freezing Sharpton out because they feel he carries so much sway within the Black community and can single-handedly depress Black turnout in elections, which they heavily rely on. But I honestly wonder just how credible he is among Blacks because I'm sure many Blacks are sick of him and just wish for him to go away.
As a Black man, I can tell you that I personally wish he would just stop embarrassing himself, and embarrassing "us" by default.
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.
The presidential field is saturated with candidates now. As of today, there are 8 declared Democrats in the race and 10 declared Republicans. These numbers have the potential to further swell as Fred Thompson, Wesley Clark, Chuck Hagel, and Mike Bloomberg continue to flirt with presidential bids. (Stuart Rothenberg thinks these candidates should stop stalling and jump in.)
Aside from Newt Gingrich, perhaps the most frequent subject of speculation is former Vice President Al Gore. There was yet another recent post in The Fix about a "20-year reunion" of Gore's 1988 campaign veterans. They deny talking about "strategy" at this reunion, but like Chris Cillizza says, "until he gives a definite 'no' we will watch and wait." You can read more of my own thoughts about a Gore run here and here.
Why do we speculate so much about a third Gore candidacy?
It could be because of the creation of a shadow team that can mobilize and create a campaign operation on short notice.
It could be because of quotes like this from other politicians who are coyly keeping their presidential plans close to the vest.
It could be because some analysts think nobody shined at last week's debate.
It could be because John Kerry may be flirting with getting back in the race. (A Gore candidacy would end such flirtation immediately. Also, Kerry might be wise to spend more time thinking about his Senate re-election race instead.)
It could be because Gore could split the vote and give the nomination to Hillary. Is this why people like James Carville (e.g., Hillary operatives) have been talking about Gore's strength?
Anyway, it is my belief that only Gore has the ability to single-handedly winnow the field of candidates by simply entering the race. But unlike other candidates who have a set base (i.e., young people and Blacks for Obama, women and moderates for Hillary, populists and Whites for Edwards, etc.), Gore is unique in that his base could capitalize on all the other candidates' weaknesses. In other words, he may very well be the perfect candidate for the Democrats because his base could consist of voters who like the other candidates, but view them as having a fatal flaw.
Al Gore could appeal to the Hillary supporters who want to return to the Clinton years without the Clinton baggage and polarization.
Al Gore could appeal to the Obama supporters who were against the Iraq War from the start, but worry about the lack of experience Obama has.
Al Gore could appeal to the Edwards supporters who respond to populist messages, but fear that Edwards is still not a heavyweight when it comes to experience and articulating policy beliefs. A Gore candidacy would also remove Edwards's position as the lone Southern White male in the Democratic race.
Al Gore could appeal to the supporters of second-tier candidates (Biden, Dodd, and Richardson) because he has all the experience that they do while also having the advantage of name recognition which they lack. Gore could even blunt Richardson on the environment and blunt both Richardson and Biden when it comes to foreign policy.
Al Gore owns environmental issues, which appeal to liberals, and is obviously competent, which appeals to pragmatists and independents who voted for Bush. It seems that the people who cry the most about Gore's chances are Republicans, who obviously don't want to run against Gore because he could easily turn his "defeat" in 2000 into a "chance for atonement" among voters in 2008.
But Gore is smart. He knows that this campaign season is starting far too early. He also knows that if he declares his candidacy, he will lose his status as a "global warming crusader" and becomes "another presidential candidate," which is a less flattering role for him. For Gore to enter the race and have a chance at the nomination, he will need to delay his candidacy until one of the major candidates commits a major gaffe or the field winnows a bit. For someone who is not even a declared candidate to consistently place third or fourth in most polls, Gore has to be feeling pretty good about his chances.