How'd you like that one-two punch, Mitt? None of the attacks at Tuesday night's debate had the same sting as yesterday's back-to-back decisions by former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to skip the Ames straw poll. Now, an event that the Mitt Romney's camp saw as a springboard to the nomination will be an over-hyped country fair where the former Massachusetts governor may as well be facing the prettiest hog in a beauty contest.
Read another way -- and this is how the Romney campaign is casting it -- the moves suggest that Giuliani and McCain are afraid of the well-funded, attractive candidate who is miles ahead of the rest of the field in Iowa organizing. That is almost certainly true, but their decision to bypass the Iowa GOP's Aug. 11 preference poll (and former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., now has the excuse he needs to skip it as well) severely diminishes the importance of the single biggest event on Romney's 2007 calendar.
Romney wanted to follow George W. Bush, whose 1999 straw-poll victory catapulted him to national prominence. Now, the scary model could be another Texan, Phil Gramm, who used his deep pockets to buy a 1995 tie for first and then went precisely nowhere.
As for the broader Iowa implications, Giuliani still faces extreme skepticism from socially conservative Hawkeye State caucus-goers, and McCain has his own problems with the base over immigration and taxes. Skipping Ames won't do them any favors with the GOP faithful. "No candidate in the straw poll's nearly 30 year history has bypassed the event and won the caucuses," notes Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register.
All of the candidates can recite the sad roll call of recent candidates who've charted paths that avoid Iowa -- Joe Lieberman and Wes Clark from 2004, and McCain himself in 2000, who came to regret his decision and is playing in Iowa this time around. Nobody's doing that yet -- Giuliani campaign manager Mike DuHaime said the former mayor is still "100 percent" committed to winning the caucuses, though that's not quite true if he's skipping Ames. Still, DuHaime "dismissed speculation that this move means Giuliani cannot win Iowa, saying such a notion is part of the same conventional wisdom that pooh-poohed Giuliani's chances to begin with, given his liberal positions on social issues," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. OK, but that's sort of the point.
Romney responded to the next last night in New Hampshire, where -- conveniently -- he was the only one of the Big Three at a GOP fund-raising dinner. "The head of the Republican Party of Iowa, said 'I guess they saw the handwriting on wall,' " Romney said, per Politico's Jonathan Martin "They're going to see more handwriting on the wall like that." http://www.politico.com/blogs/jonathanmartin/0607/Romney_uses_New_Hampshire_dinner_to_tout_.html (Iowa GOP chair Ray Hoffman gave the "handwriting on the wall" line to The Note's "Sneak Peak" on Wednesday.)
Also in the news:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is set to eclipse her own quarterly fund-raising record of $26 million by at least $1 million in the second quarter of this year, reports Ian Bishop of the New York Post. "But rival Barack Obama is likely to raise even more," Bishop writes. Thus begins the next round of the financial expectations dance -- all candidates have an incentive to downplay their own targets and raise the bar for their opponents.
In that vein, an internal Clinton fund-raising document obtained by The New York Times suggests that while Clinton is in a good position to raise "considerably more" than she did in the first quarter, but also points out disappointing figures from the West Coast. "On paper, the breadth of the Clinton fund-raising operation is apparent in minute splendor: how the campaign courted lawyers in Chicago and bankers in California, and how it has relied particularly heavily this spring on money from gay men and lesbians and Asian-Americans," the Times' Patrick Healy writes.
Today is a make-or-break day for the immigration bill, with a late-morning test vote that could gauge whether the measure has the support it will need to clear the Senate. But the "grand bargain" may have been disrupted this morning shortly after midnight, with a vote to shut down the bill's guest-worker program after five years. "The 49 to 48 vote, coming just days after the Senate cut the size of the guest-worker program in half, could upset the delicate bipartisan balance behind the deal," writes Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post.
Giuliani is set to start moving his campaign beyond national-security issues, with a healthcare plan that would shift "tens of millions of people from employer-based health insurance to the individual market as a way of giving people more coverage choices," Laura Meckler and John Harwood write in The Wall Street Journal. Essentially, it would treat health insurance more like car insurance, but Meckler and Harwood warn: "It is a risky move: Most people don't want to see their insurance plans cover fewer services."
Rudy's got another potential problem with social conservatives: His firm lobbied Congress on behalf of expanding stem-cell research, though the Giuliani campaign said the former mayor wasn't involved in any such lobbying, reports The Hill's Alexander Bolton.
Fred Thompson gets some scrutiny for one of his lesser-known careers in USA Today: the nearly two decades he spent as a lawyer-lobbyist, which sometimes left him on the same team as Democrats such as Harold Ickes. "His resume is that of a longtime Washington operative who has crossed ideological lines to represent corporate and foreign clients," Ken Dilanian writes.
Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., will outline his national-security plan today in New York City, including a 10,000-person "Marshall Corps" that will aim to "stabilize weak and failing states." He's also not backing away from his assertion that the "war on terror" label is a "bumper sticker": "For six years, George Bush has hijacked the language of terrorism and used it to force through an ideological agenda that undermines our values and does nothing to undercut terrorism," Edwards plans to say, per his campaign.
Edwards grabs the cover of this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, with Matt Bai commenting on the "joyless," "oddly inverted" campaign, with Edwards and his wife making most of the big decisions. Bai also places Edwards on the "far left of the inequality continuum, alongside the antitrade, anticorporate Democrats."
Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant probes the promise by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to not to accept money from lobbyists. While his donors don't include any federal lobbyists, "five of his 10 biggest sources of funds are groups of employees at law firms that lobby in Washington," Salant writes. His donor list also includes "40 people registered to lobby the Illinois state government."
Here's the sentence that is giving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., heartburn this morning: "The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) dug in its heels yesterday in defense of indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and expressed concerns that a House ethics investigation on the lawmaker's alleged corrupt activities could influence, even poison, a future jury trial," reports Jonathan Kaplan in The Hill.
Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., is putting a 4-1 betting line against his running for president, and will have more to say about his decision-making tomorrow with a speech before the American Enterprise Institute, per the AP's Libby Quaid.
"When the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and diseases may occur," Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr., President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, in a 1991 paper making the (graphic) physiological argument against homosexuality.
"It would appear that Don Young was doing a favor for a major contributor," Ray Judah, a Republican county commissioner in Florida, in a sentence that may have been uttered a time or two before in regard to the Alaska congressman of "bridge to nowhere."