David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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Can McCain Survive NYT Bombshell About His Coziness with a Female Lobbyist?

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 7:01 AM PST

The angriest man in America this morning? It's not John McCain; it's Mitt Romney. McCain stands accused by The New York Times of having too cozy a relationship with Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist for telecom firms with interests before a Senate committee he led. But Romney must be gnashing his white-as-can-be teeth over the timing of this disclosure. Though the newspaper had been working on the report for months, it was not published until the revelations could do Romney no good. Which is why Bay Buchanan, who was a strategist for Romney, was braying on CNN last night about the Times' playing politics with this piece.

At the same time, she accused the paper of mounting a smear job. The story does put conservatives in an awkward position. Many hate McCain, but they despise The New York Times. So what do Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and the others do? It's like choosing between Stalin and Hitler.

Smear job did seem to be the preferred Republican reply. The first email to journalists the McCain campaign sent out in response to the story included quotes from Washington power-lawyer Bob Bennett, a Democrat who had represented McCain in negotiations with the Times. He had appeared on Fox News and called the article a "smear job," comparing it to the "smear campaign" waged against McCain in 2000 prior to the South Carolina primary. (In that ugly episode, McCain critics accused him of siring a child out of wedlock, of being brainwashed in Vietnam, and more.)

But the Bennett statements disseminated by the campaign did not dispute a single fact in the Times article, which noted that McCain had taken official action on behalf of one of Iseman's clients. In a real stunner, the Times story includes on-the-record comments from John Weaver, a former top strategist for McCain, who told the paper about a meeting he had with Iseman, during which he apparently warned her to stay away from McCain. This conversation, Weaver said, followed "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about Iseman. He added, "Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort." Iseman disputed Weaver's account of the meeting.

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Does Clinton Need To Retool? Nah, Just Pump Up the Negative

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 11:17 AM PST

On a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning, Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's communications director, was asked if within the Clinton camp there was any sense that the campaign needs to "retool or overhaul." The answer: no. In fact, throughout the call, Wolfson and Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, showed no signs of any shifting. Instead, they signaled that the campaign's gameplan is to continue to pound away at Obama. Wolfson pushed two points: Obama "lifted" portions of a speech from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Obama seems to be backing out of a promise to participate in the public campaign finance system (and thus live within a spending limit) in the general election. "He's running on the power of his oratory and the strength of his promises," Wolfson said. Yet, he asserted, Obama's oratory is plagiarized and his promises are broken.

The problem: the Clinton campaign threw all this (and much more) at Obama before Wisconsin, and it didn't stick. Perhaps Clinton and her aides believe they have to pump up the volume on the attacks to have a fighting chance in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

Why do they believe they can triumph in those states? Wolfson and Penn were asked. "Growing scrutiny," Wolfson replied, is being paid to Obama--by the media, by the Republican Party, and by Senator John McCain, the likely GOP nominee. In other words, Obama's due for a fall--eventually. And the Clinton people will do what they can to bring about such change before Ohio and Texas. Their strategy appears to be to help tear him down, rather than find a better way to lift her up. The race got nasty before Wisconsin--and it looks as if it's going to get nastier.

An Embarrassing Loss for Clinton: Where Have All the Blue-Collar Dems Gone?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 8:59 PM PST

obama-wisconsin250x200.jpg Hillary Clinton's historic presidential campaign--once the political handicappers' favorite in the Democratic contest--now appears to depend on two things: Ohio and Texas.

On Tuesday, Barack Obama racked up his ninth win in a row, defeating Clinton by an embarrassing 17 points in Wisconsin. And once again, the nature of his win made the night worse for the Clinton crowd. As Obama had done in Virginia and Maryland a week earlier, he outdrew Clinton in voters in most demographic slices. In a state full of working-class voters, Obama demonstrated once more that he can appeal to lunch-bucket Democrats, outpacing Clinton among voters making $50,000 or less a year. Among voters below 30 years of age, Obama walloped Clinton 73 to 20 percent. He had a 2-to-1 edge with independents and Republicans who voted in the Democratic primary. Clinton did have an edge among those 65 and older: 60 to 39 percent. But among voters who said the economy was the top issue, Obama pulled 55 percent--a big gain from the 44 percent he collected among these voters on Super Tuesday. In Wisconsin, he won 54 percent of the vote of Democrats who have not attended college--presumably blue-collar Dems. On Super Tuesday, he collected only 42 percent within this group.

At this point, Clinton's base seems to be composed of one group of loyalists: older, middle-income women. (Among all Democratic women, Obama beat Clinton 50 to 49 percent in the exit polls.) Though women voters propelled Clinton to victories in New Hampshire and Nevada, they have not carried her to success since those two states. At the same time, Obama has expanded his core.

No Fond Farewells for Fidel, Who Leaves Behind a Repressive and Impoverished State

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 10:17 AM PST

cuba-fidel-castro250x200.jpg

Please, no tears for Comrade Castro, as he finally gives up power in Cuba. It's a good thing he's going. But his departure has taken far too long (in fact, decades too long) and, alas, in all that time he did little to ease the transition to the free society that Cuba will eventually be. His exit leaves Cuba a repressive state and a nation not prepared for the future. The gains of his revolution—such as the decent universal health care system—are imperiled by the changes that will sooner or later hit Cuba. Rather than manage a transformation from one-party (one-man!) communism to a more open system, Castro has set up Cuba for a possible cataclysmic counterrevolution that may not benefit the people of Cuba.

I've often wondered why some American leftists have been soft on Castro. How could anyone who gives a damn about human rights and freedom root for Castro in his face-off with the Yanquis of the North? As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted last August,

With 24 independent journalists in prison, Cuba continues to be one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. Twenty-two of these journalists were jailed in a March 2003 crackdown.

Late last week, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos announced that Cuba would release two of those journalists. That would leave Cuba with 22 reporters behind bars and still in second-place globally as a jailer of journalists. (Iran, as of December, had 12 imprisoned journalists.) As CPJ has described the obvious, there is no freedom of expression in Cuba: "The government owns and controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. The three main newspapers represent the views of the Communist Party and other organizations controlled by the government."

What's so revolutionary about denying citizens access to the Internet?

John Lewis Dumps Clinton for Obama: A Tipping Point?

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 7:30 AM PST

If there are tipping points in presidential contests, this surely is a possible one: Representative John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights era, has flipped. He had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic contest. But on Thursday, Lewis, a superdelegate, said he would vote for Barack Obama at the Democratic convention.

Up to now, it's been the Obama camp and Obama supporters who have seemed the most worried about those hundreds of superdelegates who could decide the race. Many Obama fans have expressed the fear that these Democratic insiders will pour into some backroom at the convention and throw their votes to Clinton, even if she places second in the race for the pledged delegates produced by the primaries and caucuses. But Lewis, who cited the "sense of movement" and "sense of spirit" in Obama's campaign, is proof that the wind can blow the other way. Put simply, insiders like a winner.

Lewis noted that he could not vote against the clear wishes of the voters in his Georgia district, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in that state's Democratic primary. And as perhaps the leading African American member of the House, he was, with his opposition to Obama, in an awkward position. How could he stand against the first African American (and Democratic) candidate with a decent chance of becoming president? But it turned out not to be such a tough spot to escape. The Clintons must be seething. Not just because they have lost Lewis's vote but because of the signal he sends to other superdelegates committed to or leaning toward Clinton: Yes, you can.

Lewis paves the way for others who are also moved by Obama's "movement"--or, to be polite about it, motivated by his momentum. While Clinton appears to have a modest lead in superdelegates, it is far from insurmountable. And like Lewis, many of the superdelegates will look to see what's happened on the ground before deciding how to cast their votes. If Obama's march does end up winning more popular support than Clinton's, many of these powerbrokers will not want to be left out of the parade.

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