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.
Will the last Democratic debate before Supersaturated Tuesday, scheduled for Thursday night in Los Angeles, be a mano-a-mano slamfest? During the previous gathering of Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton got rather nasty, as John Edwards attempted to play the grown-up. With Edwards departed from the race, finally there will be a direct Clinton-against-Obama face-off. And the tensions--and stakes--are obviously higher. Yeah, it's easy to depict this as a sporting event. The Super Bowl debate, etc. (CNN calls it campaign coverage "Ballot Bowl '08.") But at this point in the contest, the not-so-great policy differences between the two are not what counts. What matters are the persons--and that includes how they punch, whether they punch, and how they take a punch. Many--if not most--voters will make a final determination based on their impressions of the character, values, judgment, experience, and talents of the two remaining contenders. And here's the last chance Clinton and Obama each have to compare him- or herself to the other--up close and personal.
On Wednesday, the campaigns provided a preview of what could come. During a speech in Denver--where over 10,000 people turned out to see him--Obama presented a sharp critique of Clinton. "Democrats will win in November and build a majority in Congress not by nominating a candidate who will unite the other party against us," he proclaimed, "but by choosing one who can unite this country around a movement for change." He went on:
It is time for new leadership that understands the way to win a debate with John McCain or any Republican who is nominated is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq or who agreed with him in voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don't like, who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed.
John McCain edged out Mitt Romney in Florida's GOP presidential primary on Tuesday, with Rudy Giuliani placing a distant third in what was an up-or-out race for him. The bottom-line: McCain and Romney are now essentially in a head-to-head, find-those-delegates face-off. It could be decided next week on Supersaturated Tuesday; it could go to the Republican convention at summer's end. Questions to consider: will the GOP establishment sue for peace with McCain? Will social cons be pushed by anti-McCain conservatives (paging, Rush Limbaugh!) to drop Mike Huckabee, who placed fourth in Florida, and swing behind Romney to stop McCain?
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in a primary not recognized by the Democratic National Committee, which has declared it will not award any delegates to the victor in Florida. We'll just see about that, the Clinton campaign has said. Nevertheless, the Florida primary, as of now, is mostly about the GOPers--especially Giuliani. The deli vote just wasn't enough for him.
We'll have more on the Florida primary in a while....
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.