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.
On Monday, Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama and wagged a finger at the Clintons. On Tuesday, Kerry accused the Clintonites of engaging in a "spin war" and practicing "the type of politics...a lot of us are trying to reject."
Kerry was talking to reporters on a conference call arranged by the Obama campaign. Minutes earlier, Clinton's top campaign aides had been on their own conference call with the media and had argued that the Democratic presidential delegates being selected in Florida during Tuesday's election ought to be counted by the Democratic Party. The problem: after Florida defied the Democratic National Committee and moved its primary to an early position, the party stripped the state of its delegates. All the major candidates, out of respect to the party and fearful of offending voters in the traditional early states, pledged not to campaign in Florida. But now that it seems that Hillary Clinton might do well in the Florida election (and now that Iowa and New Hampshire are done), her campaign is proclaiming, Honor the Florida voter.
Reporters on the Clinton call asked if the Clinton crew was trying to have it both ways: not campaigning in Florida (when doing so could have hurt her elsewhere) but now claiming its delegates should be recognized. Not at all, said Mark Penn, her chief strategist, and Howard Wolfson, her communications director. Should you be "seen as desperate"? one reporter asked. "Something unexpected happened," Penn explained, referring to the reported large turn-out in Florida.
Democrats don't come much more traditional than Teddy Kennedy, the grand man of the Democratic Party. So his endorsement of Barack Obama--implicitly an anti-endorsement of Hillary Clinton--has punch. Endorsements routinely don't matter much in presidential campaigns--with a few exceptions. A politician who controls a machine--say, a governor--can come in quite handy on Election Day. In this case, Kennedy brings two piping hot dishes to the Obama potluck.
By awarding him the Kennedy Seal of Approval--with Caroline Kennedy (daughter of John) and Representative Patrick Kennedy (son of Ted) chiming in--Kennedy makes it official: Obama is the Next Generation leader of the Democratic Party and, in that role, has a lock on the vision thing. And by pledging to campaign arduously for Obama in the coming days, Kennedy will be assisting Obama's efforts to reach out to traditional Democratic voters: working-class Dems. Clinton has been faring better among that core demographic chunk of the Democratic electorate. Kennedy is no white knight who will rescue Obama on this front. But if Kennedy pulls a few votes here and there, it could be significant--only if Obama on his own can close the gap between him and Clinton on blue-collar Democrats and Latinos. It is too late for any candidate--or any set of endorsements--to change the fundamentals of the presidential race in time for Supersaturated Tuesday on February 5. And Ted Kennedy on the campaign trail is no match for Hillary Clinton's hit man: her husband. Yet any bit of Kennedy magic dust the Massachusetts senator sprinkles for Obama can only help.
Kennedy's endorsement speech--held before an enthusiastic crowd at an auditorium at American University--was a roar. He noted that Clinton and John Edwards were fine people and his friends. "But I believe," he said, "there is one candidate who has extraordinary gifts of leadership and character, matched to the extraordinary demands of this moment in history." He completely adopted Obama's own arguments: "He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view." That last line, an echo of a remark Obama made on Saturday night after winning the South Carolina primary, was a dig at the Clinton camp.
Yes, the Republican National Committee has shocking news. Teddy Kennedy is a—yikes!—liberal. The vaunted opposition research department of the RNC somehow unearthed this information, and on Monday morning, hours before Kennedy was to appear at a rally to endorse Barack Obama, the Republican Party sent out an email to reporters reminding them of this sinister nexus: Kennedy = liberalism. Its point: Kennedy's endorsement "highlights" Obama's "true liberal credentials."
It's hardly a given that Obama will win the Democratic nomination, but it's clear that if he does, the RNC is ready with its traditional playbook: brand the Dem a liberal. No doubt, the same stratagem is set for Hillary Clinton. This traditional attack has often paid off for the Republicans. (Ask Michael Dukakis and the first George Bush.) But it could wear thin this time around. Obama, though obviously a progressive, has shown an ability to attract independents and even a few Republicans. Remember, voters are not nearly as ideological as the partisan activists of both sides. And in the case of HRC, after eight years of triangulating White House Clintonism and eight years of intermittent centrism in the Senate, the old Hillary-is-a-radical-socialist routine doesn't resonate much these days, except among die-hard, living-in-the-past, Hillary-hating conservatives.
Nevertheless, the Republican Party will bang the he's-a-liberal! (or she's-a-liberal!) drum. Though it remains the GOP's favorite beat, voters may not dance to it as they once did.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is an interesting race." So said former President Bill at a campaign rally in Independence, Missouri, on Saturday night, while Barack Obama was cleaning his wife's clock in South Carolina. Well, Bill Clinton has done his best to make the contest more interesting—and more down-and-dirty. Campaigning in South Carolina, he drew Barack Obama into a mudwrestle and sucked up plenty of oxygen. Though Clinton failed to stop a much-anticipated Obama win in the Palmetto State—and might have even pushed voters toward Obama—he certainly helped shaped the race to his wife's benefit. Obama has been campaigning as an unconventional and inspirational leader against a conventional and divisive politician. Yet the ex-president managed to turn the contest into a face-off between two acrimonious camps, which undermines Obama's preferred narrative: a transformational candidate versus a Washington rerun. And today—before the vote-counting began—Clinton compared Obama to Jesse Jackson. It was tough not to read Clinton's remark as an attempt to dismiss Obama as the black candidate who cannot win.
Clinton's hit-man role has peeved some Democrats. Two days ago, Robert Reich, who was Clinton's labor secretary, blogged that "Bill Clinton's ill-tempered and ill-founded attacks on Barack Obama are doing no credit to the former President, his legacy, or his wife's campaign." But should the Clintons care if they lose Reich but gain the nomination?
Short answer: no. But there will be recriminations. Clinton's South Carolina rampage will not be forgotten by Democrats and liberals. And it remains to be seen if B. Clinton will continue his anti-Obama crusade in the coming days, as Supersaturated Tuesday approaches. The day before South Carolina Democrats voted for Obama over Clinton by a two-to-one margin, I asked a senior Clinton campaign aide if the campaign had any reservations about Bill Clinton's actions in South Carolina. This aide looked pained. "He cannot be controlled," s/he said. I remarked that it looked as if Clinton had been deployed in a strategic manner. "Not for some of us," the aide said. But the campaign could have decided not to send him to South Carolina, I noted. "Yeah, Mr. President, we have some important campaign rallies for you to attend in Alaska," the aide replied—sarcastically.
At Thursday night's Republican presidential debate, the GOP contenders did their best not to make any news. No one attacked anyone; no one disagreed on any major policy matter--except regarding a proposal to establish a national catastrophic insurance fund that would back up private insurance firms. (Rudy Giuliani, playing to Florida homeowners, voiced his support for it; Mitt Romney supported the general notion; John McCain attacked legislation that would set up such a fund as a $200 billion boondoggle.) Generally, the candidates made up a chorus for tax cuts and fighting--make that, winning--the Iraq war. (Then there was Ron Paul.) At times, the candidates hailed their rivals. It was so.... un-Democratic. No nastiness--even though McCain and Romney, essentially tied for first place in the Florida polls, have been hurling negative ads at each other. (A Romney ad assails McCain for flip-flopping on tax cuts; a McCain spot blasts Romney for...flip-flopping on tax cuts. McCain is actually comparing Romney to John Kerry.)
If you were forced to pick a winner--and in the absence of policy disputes, the debate was all about the horse race--you'd probably have to choose Romney, who seemed quasi-commanding and who this night, for some reason, looked more like Hollywood's idea of a president than usual. But no candidate hurt his own prospects. That doesn't mean, though, they didn't come out with some whoppers. Here's a sampling:
* Moderator Tim Russert asked McCain about a comment McCain had supposedly made--"I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues; I still need to be educated"--and McCain shot back, "I don't know where you got that quote from; I'm very well-versed in economics." Well, McCain did tell the Baltimore Sun, "The issue of economics is something that I've really never understood as well as I should." So much for being "well-versed."