LB Jeffries -> Weekend 08' News Round-Up (29/5/2007 3:14:15 PM)
Obama Tops All 08 Candidates
(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Democrat Barack Obama is the top 2008 presidential contender in the United States, according to a poll by Zogby International. At least 46 per cent of respondents would support the Illinois senator in head-to-head contests against four prospective Republican nominees.
Obama holds a three-point edge over Arizona senator John McCain, a six-point lead over former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and a 17-point advantage over both former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and actor and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson.
In other contests, both New York senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former North Carolina senator John Edwards lead Romney and Thompson, but trail Giuliani and McCain. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is virtually tied with Thompson, leads Romney by three points, and trails Giuliani and McCain.
On May 27, Obama pledged to provide proper assistance for active duty soldiers, declaring, "We’re falling far short in addressing the mental health care needs of these heroes, and that’s inexcusable. I believe strongly that there is a sacred trust between this country and those who serve it. That trust begins the moment a service member signs on and lasts the duration of his or her life."
In American elections, candidates require 270 votes in the Electoral College to win the White House. In November 2004, Republican George W. Bush earned a second term after securing 286 electoral votes from 31 states. Democratic nominee John Kerry received 252 electoral votes from 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Bush is ineligible for a third term in office. The next presidential election is scheduled for November 2008.
Possible match-ups - 2008 U.S. presidential election
Rudy Giuliani (R) 42% - 48% Barack Obama (D)
John McCain (R) 43% - 46% Barack Obama (D)
Mitt Romney (R) 35% - 52% Barack Obama (D)
Fred Thompson (R) 35% - 52% Barack Obama (D)
Rudy Giuliani (R) 48% - 43% Hillary Rodham Clinton (D)
John McCain (R) 47% - 43% Hillary Rodham Clinton (D)
Mitt Romney (R) 40% - 48% Hillary Rodham Clinton (D)
Fred Thompson (R) 41% - 48% Hillary Rodham Clinton (D)
Rudy Giuliani (R) 47% - 43% John Edwards (D)
John McCain (R) 46% - 41% John Edwards (D)
Mitt Romney (R) 36% - 50% John Edwards (D)
Fred Thompson (R) 40% - 48% John Edwards (D)
Rudy Giuliani (R) 50% - 35% Bill Richardson (D)
John McCain (R) 52% - 31% Bill Richardson (D)
Mitt Romney (R) 37% - 40% Bill Richardson (D)
Fred Thompson (R) 40% - 39% Bill Richardson (D)
From the desmoineregister.com
Sioux Center, Ia. - Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has assumed a role in Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign unlike any of the New York Democrat's other national advisers.
He campaigns for her in Iowa and other key states, spends hours each week on the phone with donors and elected officials and has helped forge policy ideas Clinton presents on the campaign trail.
In this way, Vilsack has made the quick and seemingly effortless transition from a one-time Clinton rival for the 2008 nomination to a go-to player in her campaign.
Aides acknowledge privately that Vilsack's work for the campaign has the look of a rehearsal for the role of running mate, should Clinton win the nomination.
But while he embarks on a busy summer for Clinton, no prospective No. 2 on a hypothetical Clinton ticket has a higher bar than Vilsack, whose first task is to ensure the senator's success in Iowa's leadoff caucuses.
Clinton and Vilsack in separate interviews with The Des Moines Register declined to discuss any collaboration beyond the nominating campaign, more than seven months until the caucuses launch it.
However, both acknowledge the depth of commitment by Vilsack, whom Clinton described as "one of the most effective and committed people in the country working for me right now."
"I think it's fair to say he is involved in every aspect of the campaign," she added during the Register interview, between weekend stops in northern Iowa.
Last week, Vilsack campaigned for Clinton in New Hampshire and met privately with party activists who supported his own short-lived presidential bid.
Look for Vilsack to become a leading campaign voice on rural issues, an assignment discussed at a recent Clinton campaign meeting called specifically to determine how to divide his time this summer.
Clinton said Vilsack's work during his two terms in office has been influential in her approach to renewable fuel and the basis for her campaign's proposals on universal preschool and government reform.
And it was Vilsack, along with his wife, Christie, who urged Clinton to take her Iowa campaign into the state's smaller towns and rural areas.
"In that sense, he has the ability to play both a public role and a behind-the-scenes role," senior Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said.
Vilsack endorsed Clinton a month after ending his own bid for the party nomination.
Their personal connection through Christie Vilsack's late brother, Tom Bell, and Vilsack's loyalty to Clinton for campaigning with him at a key point in his 1998 long-shot bid for governor, were key to a decision aides described as automatic.
Clinton named Vilsack a national co-chairman, but has counted on him for more tasks than the two others with the same title, aides say.
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe was named co-chairman in January. He is a "hands-on" member of Clinton's national team, but concentrates more on fundraising than tactics and policy.
Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who was named co-chairwoman in April, is a close Senate ally of Clinton and is seen as an asset in cultivating support from women.
Vilsack has been a surrogate for Clinton in South Carolina and was the first to campaign on her behalf in her home state of Illinois, opening for her at an April fundraiser in Chicago.
"To some people, it's primarily an honor and you lend your name to the campaign and that's pretty much it," Vilsack said in an interview. "That's not the way I operate. We are very committed to this campaign. We are as committed to this campaign as I was to my own."
Vilsack's unvarnished assessment of Clinton's progress in Iowa got the attention of a roomful of top campaign donors this month. He told the group in Washington, D.C., during a strategy session about Iowa that Clinton was not winning in the state.
"They were more intrigued by him and his perspective on the dynamics of the Iowa caucuses," said Chris Korge, a Florida donor for Clinton who had met Vilsack previously. "He was explaining to us we have our job in front of us."
Of the several breakout sessions at the meeting, Vilsack's had the largest audience, with roughly 60 of Clinton's most loyal donors in the room.
Vilsack later explained he had to establish credibility with supporters accustomed to reading polls that showed Clinton leading.
Leading and trailing
Clinton has led in all national polls of Democrats and nearly all surveys in early primary states. But she has trailed former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and sometimes trailed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in Iowa surveys of Democratic caucusgoers.
"This is not being disloyal to the campaign. In fact, I think it's being quite loyal," Vilsack said of his assessment. "Because it's basically telling people who need to know that we're telling the truth, so that when I come to you in December and say, 'You know what, we're going to win this thing,' you know I'm not blowing smoke."
Clinton and Vilsack talk on the phone, and often in person, at least once a week, and are said to be genuinely comfortable working together, as they were before the campaign.
Both are lawyers and share a reputation for wonkish interest in the minute details of policy.
Last year, Clinton and Vilsack collaborated on a domestic agenda for the Democratic Leadership Council, a policy-oriented group for which Vilsack served as chairman last year. Before that, they shared ideas during the creation of the federal children's health care program in 1999.
The two also have been described by party activists in Iowa and other states as warm and engaging in person, although they also are sometimes characterized as lackluster speakers.
One of their strongest ties is to Tom Bell. Christie Vilsack's brother, a charismatic lawyer who died in 1996, was a political inspiration to Tom Vilsack and a longtime friend of Clinton, who worked with Bell on the 1974 Nixon impeachment proceedings.
Vilsack often mentions the connection, and Clinton's political help to him in 1998, as examples of the personal side of the candidate he has seen.
"It's not just her heart, it's her spirit," Vilsack said while introducing the candidate in Sioux Center on Saturday.
National observers expect Vilsack, a finalist to be John Kerry's running mate in 2004, to be a top consideration for any would-be Democratic nominee next year.
Other likely vice presidential prospects are Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who also were presidential prospects before stepping aside last year.
New Hampshire Democrat Gary Hirshberg, an influential activist in the leadoff primary state, said a Clinton-Vilsack pairing would be convincing and politically astute, for what they share as well as what differentiates them.
Hirshberg said Vilsack's two terms as a Midwestern governor in an electoral swing state would give balance to Clinton's strong association with Washington, D.C., as a former powerful first lady, and a strongly Democratic East Coast state.
"I think it fits," said Hirshberg, who had endorsed Vilsack's presidential bid. "Also having a trusting partnership, they would have that going into it together - an established partnership."
Vilsack has his work cut out for him to convince activists who had endorsed him to support Clinton.
The bigger test of this most critical role for Vilsack will be in Iowa, where some influential former backers of his campaign, such as Des Moines-area real estate developer Bill Knapp, have endorsed Clinton but others are still neutral.
Former state Democratic chairman Gordon Fischer, who backed Vilsack for president, is not yet convinced Clinton can win the election. But a "Clinton-Vilsack ticket makes more sense than any other pairing to me," the Des Moines lawyer said.
From The Arizona Republic
McCain Targets 'NASCAR Dads'
CONCORD, N.C. - If there ever was a major sporting event tailor-made for Sen. John McCain, Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race here at Lowe's Motor Speedway was it.
The U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team descended onto the track.
An over-the-top mock military maneuver included soldiers, helicopters and even an operating howitzer.
A 1,500-soldier contingent from North Carolina's Fort Bragg paraded.
F-22 fighters soared overhead.
And that was just the pre-race show.
McCain, a former prisoner of war from Arizona whose bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination relies heavily on his military and robust foreign-policy stances, fit right in at the Memorial Day weekend spectacle.
Clad in a Coca-Cola hat and red race shirt, McCain served as the race's honorary starter.
"It's truly amazing," McCain said of the speedway crowd of an estimated 200,000 people and the elaborate pre-race salute to the military, which also included country star LeAnn Rimes' rendition of the national anthem.
"I was invited, but I jumped at the chance."
Most politicians in McCain's shoes would.
Chasing 'NASCAR dad'
The so-called NASCAR dad fully emerged as a targeted political constituency during the 2004 presidential race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Political strategists heralded the primarily Southern voter as a conservative counterweight to the more liberal "soccer mom." Besides their enthusiasm for stock-car racing, "NASCAR dads" are said to put a high premium on national security issues and traditional conservative social values.
"These are very patriotic people," McCain said. "They should be ours."
They showed up in droves at the Coca-Cola 600, which is part of NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series and is a regional attraction. Surface streets around the speedway were clogged with trucks and cars with license plates from South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and other Southern states. Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen was the race's grand marshal.
On the track infield, McCain encountered spectators eager to shake hands and pose for photos with him and his wife, Cindy. He was greeted with extended applause when introduced from the stage.
But some racegoers expressed skepticism about McCain. They suggested that McCain hurt his chances by collaborating with Democrats after Bush defeated him in the 2000 Republican race.
"I think this is a good thing for him, but, I tell you, I definitely feel like I wasted a vote on him back in 2000," said Justin Mullis, a 31-year-old Republican from Savannah, Ga. "I'm on the fence now. He probably has my vote, but at the same time I hesitate to give it to him because I feel betrayed from 2000."
Jeb Cleveland from Fayetteville, N.C., was a little more charitable.
"I don't have a problem with him," said Cleveland, who described himself as "historically" a Republican. "I know he's a veteran and everything, and I respect that. It just seems that sometimes he tries to appease the other side too much. It makes me wonder which side he's on."
The stereotype debated
Although McCain's appearance at the Coca-Cola 600 likely was a coup, experts disagree on the influence and reliability of the "NASCAR dad" political stereotype.
"I've always thought the whole idea of the NASCAR dad was another one of those made-up phenomenon," said Michael Bitzer, an assistant professor in the history and politics department at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.
"If you're talking about typical Southern White males who like to watch cars run around a track and make left turns, they're going to naturally lean Republican. But if they are hurting economically, they would consider themselves up for grabs."
But Kyle Longley, a history professor at Arizona State University who has written on 20th-century politics in the South, said the generally blue-collar NASCAR dads are a legitimate Southern demographic.
"If you blend it with the evangelicals, you pretty much have the White voting bloc, ages 21 to 55 and predominately male, though not exclusively," Longley said. "And it is a potent voting force, especially among the Republicans."
Longley also noted the racial undertones and suggested that McCain's support of a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform plan could damage his standing with the group. Many conservatives have decried McCain's approach because they consider it too lenient toward people who broke the law to enter the country.
"I think the immigration issue is going to kill him with these people," Longley said.
McCain doubted that anybody would bring up immigration at the Coca-Cola 600.
"Most of them really are race-car fans, and I'm not really sure how much attention they're going to pay to that, at least on a day like today," McCain said.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., a well-known NASCAR devotee, chuckled when asked about the political and cultural implications of the fast-growing motor sport.
"It's kind of silly, but it is amazing to me how the elite in this country have failed to notice an awful lot about the United States of America," said Kyl, who is McCain's Arizona presidential campaign chairman. "Between San Francisco and Boston, there's a lot of country, and a lot of us like to watch NASCAR races."
Social Conservatives Bite The Bullet And Back Rudy
Rudy Giuliani, whose positions on abortion and homosexuality mark him as the most socially liberal Republican presidential candidate in more than a generation, is so far winning the contest for the support of social conservatives, according to a new analysis of recent polls.
Widespread perceptions that Giuliani is the most electable Republican in this year's field are driving his support among social conservatives, according to the analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
If the trend holds, this apparent willingness to support a candidate who fails what were once regarded as litmus-test issues would mark a landmark shift in the political behavior of a constituency that has been a pillar of the modern GOP. Already the shift is spurring sharp debate among prominent Christian conservative leaders, some of whom warn that Giuliani backers are abandoning core principles.
Forty-four percent of social conservatives in the Pew analysis believe that the former New York mayor has the "best chance" of becoming president in 2008. Less than half that figure, 19 percent, regard Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as the most viable, despite twice as many social conservatives stating that McCain “comes closest” to their view on abortion. All other Republican candidates lagged far behind.
These calculations about electability are helping propel Giuliani over McCain among social conservatives, even though the Arizonan shares the opposition of most of these voters to abortion rights.
Giuliani is winning 30 percent of the social conservative bloc, compared to 22 percent for McCain. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney captured just 8 percent -- a figure that puts Romney in fourth place, behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is currently not a declared candidate.
No supporter of abortion rights has run competitively in GOP nominating contests since 1976, when Gerald Ford defeated Ronald Reagan.
"A significant number of social conservatives have adopted a pragmatic line," says John Green, a senior fellow at Pew who compiled the polling. "Pragmatism can be seen on the one hand as a good thing, because it produces results, and on other the hand it can be seen as a bad thing because it involves compromising one's principles, and that's just a tension social conservatives have had since the days of Ronald Reagan."
Green carried out his analysis at the request of The Politico using data from Pew's March and April polls of the general electorate. To capture the mood of social conservatives, he focused on white, Republican or Republican-leaning Christians who attend church at least weekly. Social conservatives make up about 42 percent of the total Republican vote.
Some Christian conservative leaders acknowledge the willingness to back a candidate with opposing views on basic principles is a major moment -- and for some, a traumatic one -- in the history of their movement.
"I would not vote for (Giuliani)," says Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "My conscience will not allow me to do it. I'm not saying that others won't. I think there are a lot of evangelicals who would look on Giuliani as the lesser of two evils."
It is a calculation that has frustrated one of this year's GOP candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has been counting on his own socially conservative views and background as a minister to be a political springboard.
"If social conservatives don't coalesce around issues that brought them in, then they really do no longer serve a political constituency that has clout. If they become just another Republican special interest group then they really are no different than the Republican women of Pulaski County, Ark.," Huckabee says.
Social conservative support has proven central to the making of the modern Republican president since 1980. That year Jerry Falwell, who died this month, rallied millions of social conservatives from the political hinterlands to play a vital role in Reagan's election.
Twenty-four years later, George W. Bush won social conservatives by equally large margins. Three in four Baptists or evangelicals also backed Bush nationally when he ran for reelection in 2004, according to exit polls.
"I would think that the Republican Party would want to hesitate before changing a formula that has brought them incredible political success from 1980 until now," says Gary Bauer, a former domestic adviser to Reagan and longtime social conservative leader.
With the primaries a half year away, the pushback within evangelical leadership may still trickle down to the grassroots. But thirty-one percent of social conservatives have given the 2008 presidential candidates "a lot" of thought. Only 23 percent of other Republicans have given the race the same level of scrutiny.
Giuliani has tried to appeal to social conservatives, embracing their agenda by pledging to appoint "strict constructionists" to the Supreme Court, using Justices John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. as examples. Conservatives expect "strict constructionists" to determine that the Constitution does not mandate abortion rights.
But, like Dwight Eisenhower's in 1952, Giuliani's national security stature after the Sept. 11 attacks more likely explains his continued popularity within the religious right, whose voters have long held hawkish positions on the issue.
"These voters care about moral issues, and many of them are conflicted because understandably they see the defense of Western civilization being perhaps the most important moral issue of all," Bauer says.
Perhaps the strongest variable favoring Giuliani thus far among his party's conservative wing is that none of his competitors have caught fire.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson could be an appealing figure to the religious right, but he has yet to enter the race. Romney and McCain, the other two top tier GOP candidates, have yet to energize social conservatives.
"McCain is about as pro-life as you can get, but the problem with him is his unpredictability," Land says. McCain has challenged social conservatives in the past. In 2005, McCain infuriated conservative Christians when he led an effort to block the "nuclear option," a conservative effort to ensure conservative Supreme Court appointments.
In Romney's case, Bauer and Land say many social conservative leaders accept his recent conversion to the antiabortion fight. But Romney, who has also been accused of suddenly veering right on issues like gay marriage, still has failed to win over conservative Christian voters. But polls indicate Romney leads among Republicans in Iowa and may still gain ground among social conservative voters there.
Giuliani's early success with the religious right has brought dire warnings about what his nomination could mean. Huckabee believes it is a "very likely scenario" that if Giuliani is the nominee a significant portion of the social conservative base will not mobilize for Republicans in the general election.
Land doubts such an outcome.
"The perfect is not the enemy of the good," he says, arguing that Giuliani is still significantly closer to social conservatives on key issues than leading Democrats. After all, Land adds, social conservatives "understand they are voting for commander in chief, not Baptist in chief."
From The Associated Press
Democratic Hopefuls Woo 'Superdelegates'
It's more than half a year - and a few snowstorms - until the first votes in Iowa, yet Democratic presidential hopefuls have already captured some of the delegates critical to winning the nomination.
Not just any delegates - "superdelegates," the party's top echelon of elected officials who can back a candidate at any time no matter what the calendar, caucus-goer or primary voter says. Candidates have been pursuing endorsements from Democratic governors and members of Congress, knowing these individuals will have a direct say in choosing the party's nominee.
The 235 Democratic House members and nonvoting representatives, 49 senators, the District of Columbia's two "shadow senators" and 28 governors total 314 - about 14 percent of the 2,182 delegates a candidate will need to secure the party's presidential nomination at next year's national convention in Denver.
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic front-runners, have established sophisticated "whip" operations to woo undecided colleagues. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has engaged the talents of his campaign manager, a former House Democratic whip, to court the uncommitted.
With eight months to go before voters begin choosing delegates through the primary process, many Democrats view the early accumulation of superdelegates as savvy planning for the future. Unfortunately for the presidential hopefuls, superdelegates can be fair-weather allies who aren't formally bound to any particular candidate and can shift their loyalties at will.
Phil McNamara, director of delegate selection for the Democratic National Committee, put it this way: "These people are politicians. In the end, they'll support whomever is the nominee and they'll still get to go to the convention."
Even so, the candidates are all pursuing the support of superdelegates, making personal appeals and enlisting the help of colleagues.
Clinton has mounted the most aggressive program to court superdelegates, winning endorsements from 37 so far, including three Senate colleagues and the governors of Maryland, New Jersey and New York. She's even deputized several House members as "whips" to woo uncommitted colleagues. The group includes Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and New York Reps. Nita Lowey and Joseph Crowley.
In an interview, Crowley said the effort has morphed a bit since it began in March, when the Clinton whips initially tried to target lawmakers from specific states.
"We have an initial strategy of breaking it down into regions, but more often than not it's based on your own relationships with people, that level of comfort," Crowley said.
Part of the sales pitch, Crowley said, is emphasizing that an early endorsement is usually remembered as more meaningful than signing on later in the campaign.
"You say it's always good to be in early. Clearly, when you have a lot of good candidates out there, regionality comes into play, but she has a broad wingspan beyond New York," he said.
Clinton's lead rival, Obama, tries to frame his campaign as a grass-roots, bottom-up enterprise. But he, too, has been courting endorsements and has picked up 22, including his Illinois Senate colleague Dick Durbin and the governors of Virginia and Illinois.
The campaign also has its own whip operation, with Alabama Rep. Artur Davis, Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Florida Rep. Robert Wexler playing prominent roles.
In an interview, Wexler said his courtship of undecided House members on Obama's behalf was so intense, "It's almost a joke - but in a nice way."
As an example, Wexler said he had spoken extensively with Rep. Russ Carnahan about Obama before the Missouri Democrat made his endorsement.
"He sought me out and asked questions, asked why I got involved so early," Wexler said. "For some members of Congress who are neutral and still making up their minds, it provides a degree of comfort knowing there are other members of Congress, not from Illinois, who are strongly supporting Sen. Obama."
Edwards counts 15 congressional endorsements so far, including several House members from his home state.
Edwards' campaign manager David Bonior, a former Michigan congressman and House Democratic whip, called the endorsement effort "one piece of a very large puzzle." He said he spends considerable time on it, both on the phone and in frequent visits to Capitol Hill, including one Tuesday. He also relies on help from several members who have already endorsed Edwards, including Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.
"These people are validators who are telling voters that John Edwards is a great candidate to be president," Bonior said. "When people agree to endorse you, it's very much what they're saying."
Among the other Democratic candidates, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd has eight superdelegates, including all the House Democrats from his home state. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden has one so far: his home state colleague in the Senate, Tom Carper.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who served 15 years in the House, has won endorsements from New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman and three House members.