Mojo - January 2008

How Obama Won, and What it Means for the Democratic Race

| Fri Jan. 4, 2008 3:36 AM EST

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I knew there was something afoot for Barack Obama about half an hour into the caucus I attended at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa. First of all, there was the turnout. Democratic Precinct 72 had roughly 25 attendees in the 2004 caucus, according to precinct chair Louise Alcorn. Today, it had 58. And even though the caucus represented a union-heavy neighborhood, which one might expect to turn out for John Edwards, the first count of the night identified 24 Obama supporters, 16 Edwards supporters, and just 12 Hillary Clinton supporters. The caucus also included one Biden supporter, four Richardson supporters, and one undecided voter, all of whom later spread evenly to the larger groups.

The relatively small precinct only had two delegates to give, so the Clinton, Obama, and Edwards groups all tried convincing each other that they ought to switch camps. Though the Edwards supporters in attendance were well-prepared (they had pies and candy available for converts) and committed (they gave passionate speeches advocating for Edwards), the Obama supporters sat steadfast and quiet. caucus-speaker.jpg After some heated moments, including a long discussion of whether Elizabeth Edwards' cancer necessarily meant she would die while her husband was in office, the final count showed that Obama had actually grown in strength. Obama 25, Edwards 22, and Clinton 11—Obama and Edwards each took home one of the precinct's two delegates.

By the time the caucus wrapped, it was becoming clear that Thursday was Obama's night. Anecdotal reports suggested that turnout was way up—the eventual turnout number would shatter all records—a fact that favored Obama significantly because it meant first-time caucus-goers, independents, and young voters were turning out big time. Indeed, young voters in particular might be the story of the Iowa caucuses: notoriously hesitant to participate, they composed over 50 percent of Obama's support. News reports even indicated that Obama had beaten Clinton among women.

The final results—Obama 38 percent, Edwards 30 percent, Clinton 29 percent—suggested that Iowans had responded to Obama's call for decreased partisanship and a renewed politics that left special interests and lobbyists behind. In fact, they had answered it so fervently, and in such large numbers, that they had bested the best political machine in politics by nine points. In his victory speech at the Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines, where supporters hugged, cried, and hooted randomly, a grinning Obama struck almost grandiose tones.

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Iowa Isn't Quite What You Think: Remember Jesse Jackson in '88

| Fri Jan. 4, 2008 1:39 AM EST

There are a lot of reasons not to compare Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson, but Obama's romp in Iowa tonight does bring to mind 1988, when Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition captured 11 percent in the Hawkeye State—coming in behind Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon (both veteran pols from neighboring states), and Michael Dukakis, but still astounding in a state where conventional wisdom had pegged Jackson as a quasi-fringe candidate (and where, as commentators never tired of pointing out, the black population was less than 1 percent). Back then, as I recall, some of the things that worked in Jackson's favor were cadres of passionate field organizers; some really smart strategizing that the campaign never got credit for; a deep, deep anger over the way ordinary people had been hung out to dry in the farm crisis; and, well, that thing that just might make Iowa a useful participant in the primary sweepstakes after all (okay, go ahead and flame), which is that people there seem to insist on making their own choices, conventional wisdom be damned.

Update: Yes, I'm confused too: some sources I've seen say Jesse got 11 percent, some say 9, and he's entirely missing from the Wikipedia entry; what's up with that?

Biden and Dodd Out; Richardson Stays In With Some Guile

| Fri Jan. 4, 2008 12:20 AM EST

CNN is reporting that Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are dropping out of the presidential race. According to the current count, Biden took 0.94 percent of delegates and Dodd took 0.02 percent. And though Richardson's press secretary told me in November that "a top three finish is all we need," Richardson is going to take his fourth place finish (and 2.10 percent of delegates) and move forward. "We made it to the final four," Richardson said in a statement. "My staff and volunteers worked their hearts out to get us here. Now we are going to take the fight to New Hampshire."

There's some intrigue with Richardson. I heard a Richardson precinct captain say he was told personally by someone in the Richardson campaign to throw his caucus-goers to Obama if Richardson wasn't viable. The reasoning given, according to this precinct captain, was that internal polling was telling the Richardson campaign that Obama needed the most help, and by throwing support to him, no clear frontrunner would emerge in the race. The move also insured that Biden and Dodd didn't get any additional support. After all, what does a few extra percent for someone like Obama really matter?

Richardson, however, will have to drop out soon, barring a miraculous comeback. It will be interesting to see if Biden, Dodd, or Richardson endorse a remaining candidate.

Edwards Tips Hat to Obama in Concession Speech

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 11:10 PM EST

Edwards just took the stage to speak—introduced as the "second-place finisher in Iowa," which isn't exactly finalized—and began his remarks with the statement, "The status quo lost and change won." He then transitioned quickly into this standard stump speech.

I'm telling you, folks. Edwards is looking for the number two spot on an Obama ticket if he doesn't take the nomination.

The Edwards perspective tonight: he trails substantially in New Hampshire and wouldn't have survived a bad loss. His second place or close third place finish probably means that he'll receive a moderate bounce; people will likely take another look at someone who could hang tough with the Clinton machine. The size of that bounce relies heavily on the size of the Obama bounce. If Obama shoots through the stratosphere in the next few days, there may be few voters left over for Edwards to grab. In fact, some Edwards partisans may shift to the Senator from Illinois.

Iowa Caucus Sees Record Turnout for Dems

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 11:00 PM EST

I wrote this week that the Iowa caucuses were a 120/135/150 game. If 120,000 people showed up, it would be heavy on Edwards' hardcore supports. If it was closer to 135,000, you'd have the hardcore plus Clinton's older voters. And if it was 150,000 or more, Obama got the youth vote out.

The Iowa Democratic Party just released this one-line email:

"With 93.5 percent of the precincts reporting we are seeing record turnout with 218,000 caucus attendees."

By now you probably know that Obama won Iowa, and won big. He may have won amongst the old, the white, the female—he may have won on other people's turf tonight. We'll find out soon. But what we do know is that he dominated on his turf. The Des Moines Register gets it right again.

Update: New email. "With 96 percent of the precincts reporting we are seeing record turnout with 227,000 caucus attendees." This may be a whole new paradigm...

Update Update: Another email. "With 100 percent of the precincts reporting we are seeing record turnout with 239,000 caucus attendees." I'm going with, yes, new paradigm. Turnout in 2004 was 125,000. For the record, this turnout isn't all Obama: an exceptionally strong set of Democratic candidates is creating enthusiasm across the board. So says Howard Dean: "Record turnout for Democrats—nearly twice as many people participated in the Democratic caucus as in the Republican caucus—shows that voters are excited about our candidates and that our Party is strong."

Breaking: Obama Wins Iowa. Clinton and Edwards Tied for 2nd. Ron Paul Kicking Rudy's Ass

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 10:56 PM EST

Those are the results with 91% percent of precincts reporting. Best part is this:
Ron Paul 8,549 10.1%
Rudy Giuliani 3,053 3.6%

More here.

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McCain in NH: Would Be "Fine" To Keep Troops in Iraq for "A Hundred Years"

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 9:43 PM EST

The United States military could stay in Iraq for "maybe a hundred years" and that "would be fine with me," John McCain told two hundred or so people at a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, on Thursday evening. Toward the end of this session, which was being held shortly before the Iowa caucuses were to start, McCain was confronted by Dave Tiffany, who calls himself a "full-time antiwar activist." In a heated exchange, Tiffany told McCain that he had looked at McCain's campaign website and had found no indication of how long McCain was willing to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. Arguing that George W. Bush's escalation of troops has led to a decline in U.S. casualties, McCain noted that the United States still maintains troops in South Korea and Japan. He said he had no objection to U.S. soldiers staying in Iraq for decades, "as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed."

After the event ended, I asked McCain about his "hundred years" comment, and he reaffirmed the remark, excitedly declaring that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for "a thousand years" or "a million years," as far as he was concerned. The key matter, he explained, was whether they were being killed or not: "It's not American presence; it's American casualties." U.S. troops, he continued, are stationed in South Korea, Japan, Europe, Bosnia, and elsewhere as part of a "generally accepted policy of America's multilateralism." There's nothing wrong with Iraq being part of that policy, providing the government in Baghdad does not object.

In other words, McCain does not equate victory in Iraq--which he passionately urges at campaign events--with the removal of U.S. troops from that nation. After McCain told Tiffany that he could see troops remaining in Iraq for a hundred years, a reporter sitting next to me quipped, "There's the general election campaign ad." He meant the Democratic ad: John McCain thinks it would be okay if U.S. troops stayed in Iraq for another hundred years.....

Well, it was straight talk. And McCain's combativeness livened up a session during which he alternated between the old McCain (as in punchy, feisty, humorous) and the old McCain (as in just plain old). He moved a bit stiffly on the stage set up in the middle of the Adams Memorial Opera House. And he--somewhat oddly--shared the spotlight with Senator Joseph Lieberman, who has endorsed him. Lieberman did not merely introduce McCain; he stood by McCain during the entire event, helping McCain to answer questions about education, climate change, and the Iraq war. Several times, Lieberman gave more coherent and animated replies than did McCain. Repeatedly, Lieberman maintained that McCain could rack up bipartisan successes as president. (The Lieberman sidekick bit was curious. But an elementary-age girl in the audience did say, after being handed a microphone, that Lieberman was her role-model and that she fancied McCain. Lieberman hugged her, and the whole crowd oohed at this cuteness.)

Update: Video after the jump.

Romney's Message of Change Less Interesting Than Slamming Huck

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 7:16 PM EST

romney-tiny.jpg WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — As you can tell from the photo at left, I sat at the very, very back of a Romney campaign event today. The former Massachusetts Governor visited the corporate headquarters of the Principal Financial Group. He emphasized the need for new solutions to meet America's challenges, a campaign message of Romney's that has been overshadowed by the fact that he seemingly redrew all of his political stances in order to match the old Republican establishment. "We need a very different kind of foreign policy," he said. Modernizing Islamic nations and partnering with moderates in potentially extremist areas were priorities. "We need to realize there's an end in sight to our traditional sources of energy," Romney said, calling for new solutions to America's energy needs. And we need new economic solutions to compete with the surging India and China.

Really, though, the one thing that might win this state for Romney tonight are his negative ads against Huckabee. The Huckabee surge has been slowed of late (Huck and Mitt are neck and neck here) not because of Romney's message of change (which has been largely ignored by the media), but because Romney released very effective ads that showed Huckabee's record on crime, immigration, and other issues. Also helpful has been the Club for Growth ad showing fat Huckabee okaying tax raises. It's still running constantly here. I'll put them below. If Mitt wins, you'll know why.

Ron Paul Attracts Out-of-Staters (And Beavers)

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 7:10 PM EST

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CLIVE CITY, Iowa — The Ron Paul event I attended this afternoon at Des Moines University was immediately unlike any campaign event I had been to before.

I arrived five minutes late, which ordinarily means I arrived 40 minutes earlier. But when I walked into the massive classroom that was holding the event, Paul was already deep into a discussion of monetary policy. The event was ostensibly a forum about health care, but Paul had already moved off topic and was calling for an end to the federal reserve and a more responsible monetary system.

This would become a theme, because to Paul, the federal reserve and America's monetary system are rarely off topic. Over the course of today's speech, he looped back to hospitals, doctors, and patients every so often, but only to point out that the struggles they face have much to do with inflation, which is caused by the federal reserve and America's monetary system.

The drop of the dollar was a favorite hobbyhorse because it played right into Paul's message. "The wealth of a country is measured by the strength of its currency," he said. "We're flunking."

One other thing Paul did talk about was disentangling ourselves from overseas commitments. He said that while other candidates (Democrats, of course) may want to pull troops out of Iraq, only he wanted to pull them out of Korea, Japan, and everywhere else they are installed around the globe. This would save us a ton of money, Paul argued, and make us safer, because the presence of our troops in foreign countries stokes a lot of the anger that is directed at us. But a few minutes after discussing foreign policy, Paul was back to statements like, "Our nation is based on debt."

ron-paul-chimp-beaver.jpg But for my lack of interest in Paul's pitch, the crowd was loud and enthusiastic. I set out afterwards to meet them. In particular, I hoped to meet the guy in the cape and the two people dressed in animal costumes (a chimp and a beaver, I suspect; judge for yourself at right).

Swift Boat Blow Back: The Hypocritical John McCain

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 5:51 PM EST

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth funders are back in the political mix, and they're not fooling around. According to the Nation, they've donated and bundled $200,000 for conservative presidential candidates thus far. Romney and McCain have received the most. The fact that McCain is at the top of the list is notable because...

When the Swift Boat ads were first unleashed, McCain was alone among his Republican colleagues to condemn them. A fellow Vietnam veteran, a good friend of Kerry's and a former target of smears about his own service, McCain called the ads "dishonest and dishonorable," a "cheap stunt," and he urged Bush to condemn them. But in pursuit of the GOP nomination, McCain ditched the mantle of maverick for that of hack, and his once-floundering, possibly rejuvenated campaign has been aided along the way by $61,650 from Swift Boat donors and their associates. "There is such a thing as dirty money," said Senator Kerry in a statement, after The Nation informed him of McCain's FEC records. "I'm surprised that the John McCain I knew who was smeared in 2000 and thought so-called Swift Boating was wrong in 2004 would feel comfortable taking their money after seeing the way it was used to hurt the veterans I know he loves."

Read the whole article here. We recently tracked what the GOP's dirty tricksters are up to; the Swifties are here.

Update: More McCain hypocrisy can be found in the WaPo's recent investigative piece titled, "McCain's Unlikely Ties to K Street."