Campaigning, like governing, is a form of salesmanship. Among those who are trying to close the deal this week (or at least get buyers to pay attention): President Bush (offering up a repackaged argument for an unpopular war); Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney (newer and redder than you remember!); Barack Obama (now with 50 percent more experience!); and John Edwards (angrier and more aggressive than in 2004!).
Second prize is not a set of steak knives. And maybe the two GOP frontrunners deserve each other -- and the scrutiny they're getting on the trail. They're a pair of blue-staters who governed as moderates before running for president as deep-red conservatives. Abortion, guns, gay rights, immigration -- it's lovely terrain for a Republican in the remaking.
Giuliani, R-N.Y., is under attack from different rivals on immigration and gun control. Both issues cut to the heart of his time as mayor of New York -- and neither leaves Rudy offering particularly comfortable explanations. "His performance as mayor is now being turned against him as two of his opponents have begun challenging him on two of the biggest issues in the Republican primary," writes The New York Times' Michael Luo. "The criticism of Mr. Giuliani is not surprising given his continued dominance in national polls and the perception among Republicans that he is vulnerable on a host of issues. But it is only now that other candidates have begun engaging him directly."
And former governor Romney, R-Mass., is seeing his abortion record reexamined after telling an interviewer in Nevada this week that he would "let states make their own decision in this regard." Two weeks ago, he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he supports a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion nationwide -- a provision that would take away states' leeway, ABC's Teddy Davis reports. The Romney camp says the views aren't contradictory: "We should aspire to passing a Human Life Amendment when the country as a whole is prepared for it," said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
This is what Romney gets for crafting a new abortion position in time for his presidential race, writes Michael Shear of The Washington Post. "The two very different statements reflect the challenge for Romney, who has reinvented himself as a champion of the antiabortion movement in recent years and is seeking to become the conservative alternative to former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination," Shear writes. "Critics, including his GOP rivals, have questioned his commitment to the antiabortion cause. . . . As a result, his comments on the subject are parsed carefully."
The biggest sales job is being attempted by President Bush, who kicked off his latest effort to sell the war yesterday. (If you're looking for omens, how about his Texas Rangers knocking home 30 -- yes, three-zero -- against the Baltimore Orioles, just maybe the team of the Washington establishment.)
There may be only so many ways to reframe an old picture -- and buyers are growing sick of the old faces in the sales force -- but he has 535 customers who would prefer winning to losing (and a $15 million ad budget to boot.)
So it was that Bush yesterday embraced an analogy he has long resisted -- albeit on his own terms (and in a way that's bugging historians). Iraq is like Vietnam, he affirmed, but not in the way Democrats have been claiming when they've thrown around words like "quagmire." The president offered up phrases of his own: "One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields,' " Bush said.
The true audience wasn't the veterans Bush addressed yesterday in Kansas City, but the members of Congress -- of both parties -- who are awaiting the Petraeus report before deciding whether to stick with the president's strategy. It's "a new communications effort to frame the debate by casting the war in historical terms," write Maura Reynolds and James Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times. "The newest element in the president's communications strategy was a willingness to discuss Vietnam, a conflict that critics of the Iraq war often cite to suggest that the United States should cut its losses in Iraq and begin withdrawing."
The war is going a long way toward shaping yet another election, and the ad battles have just begun. The new campaign from "Freedom Watch" urges the public to call to be patched through to members of Congress (just don't expect to get through if you tell the operator you don't think the war in Iraq is vital to the war on terror). And anti-war groups are pushing back: "The flurry of ads . . . may make voters in the targeted regions feel like it's August 2008 -- in the heat of the presidential campaign -- instead of 2007," writes Politico's Martin Kady II. "But the dueling campaigns underscore the gargantuan preemptive effort by both parties to hold the line on Iraq regardless of what Petraeus' report says."
As for Edwards, he's kicking off a New Hampshire bus tour today with a speech casting his campaign as "the establishment elites versus the American people." (Anyone want to guess which side he's on?) He does not mention Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by name, but you don't need much imagination to figure out who he's talking about with these tough new lines.
"It is a choice between the failed compromises of the past and the bright possibilities of our future," Edwards, D-N.C., plans to say this morning in Hanover, N.H., per excerpts released by his campaign. "The trouble with nostalgia is that you tend to remember what you liked and forget what you didn't. It's not just that the answers of the past aren't up to the job today, it's that the system that produced them was corrupt -- and still is. . . . We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other."
He's also trying to secure the "change" mantle for himself -- setting up a contrast over substance with Obama, D-Ill. "I don't think just the word 'change' means much to people," Edwards told the AP's Philip Elliott in previewing his bus tour. "I think what they want to see is . . . the substance of what you want to do. I mean, what is the policy of the word?"
Obama did "The Daily Show" last night, and offered up complaints about running for office from the Senate ("designed for you to take bad votes") as well as the very nature of political rhetoric. Said Obama, "I think that really strikes to what people are frustrated with in politics, is that so much of what we talk about, so much of what we say, it's not true, people know it's not true, all the insiders understand that we're just game-playing -- and in the meantime you've got these hugely serious problems, which are true."
And what do we know about the voting calendar today? Yesterday's vote in the Michigan state senate, to have the state hold primaries Jan. 15, only guarantees several more weeks of uncertainty. "Who knew the state legislatures would behave like 6-year-olds when scheduling the U.S. presidential primaries?" writes Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson. "Where's the League of Women Voters when you need them? Or a smoke-filled room? Someone has to stop the insanity."
Also in the news:
Your Maliki scorecard: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., want Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to be replaced. President Bush now considers him to be "a good guy, a good man with a difficult job," a day after a lukewarm presidential endorsement caused Maliki to erupt at the American meddling ("discourteous," he called it.)
Bush may need to voice support his again today: "The administration is planning to make public parts of a sober new report by American intelligence agencies expressing deep doubts that the Maliki government can overcome sectarian differences," write The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, and Mark Mazzetti. "Government officials who have seen the report say it gives a bleak outlook on the chances Mr. Maliki can meet milestones intended to promote unity in Iraq."
The Los Angeles Times' Richard A. Serrano profiles Giuliani's time at the Reagan Justice Department -- years that displayed has fierce ambition, and that generated the famous comb-over. "Giuliani already was demonstrating a florid sense of self, a high degree of self-confidence and a daring to pull the levers of bureaucratic power," Serrano writes. "Giuliani often appeared hungry for the spotlight, at times flying off at subordinates if he did not get the publicity he relished. He sometimes would brush past department guidelines, using the power of his office, in one instance, to help friends obtain a co-op apartment in Manhattan."
Time's Tim Padgett looks at Obama's defiance of "conventional political wisdom" in Florida by calling for a loosening of restrictions that apply to Cuba. "Maybe it's because Obama knows a new conventional wisdom may well be taking shape in the state -- one that could actually make his declarations this week an asset when Florida holds its primary election next January," Padgett writes. "At the same time, Obama's stance could help him garner a larger share of the state's non-Cuban Democrats (especially non-Cuban Latinos), who were repulsed by hard-line exile politics during the Elian Gonzalez fiasco."
The Sept. 23 Fox News Channel debate in Detroit is set to be "rescheduled" after the three leading Democratic candidates indicated that they wouldn't show up.
But MySpace and MTV are set to make up for the tragic shortage of candidate forums. Each candidate will get an hour. "Voters can instant-message, e-mail or text their questions in real-time during the events, which will be webcast live on MTV.com and MySpaceTV.com," per the AP's Jake Coyle.
Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., plans to resign his seat in November, setting up a special election early next year that could give Democrats a better chance to pick up the former House speaker's seat, Robert Novak writes in the Evans-Novak Political Report. "If one party is seeing a more competitive presidential primary by that date, it could benefit from boosted turnout," Novak writes. "The presence of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on the primary ballot could help Democrats."
Take a breath here. Joe Trippi says Karl Rove is attacking Hillary Clinton because he's really afraid of John Edwards -- just like Rove and company attacked John Kerry in early 2004 because he was afraid of -- that's right -- John Edwards! This from Trippi (who back in 2004 wanted everyone to believe that Republicans were most afraid of Howard Dean): "Rove and the Republicans want our opponents to win -- because they know John will be the strongest candidate in the general election." If you're still with us, then you would definitely give the Edwards campaign the money they're asking for (or maybe you'll just enjoy the "South Park"-ish Rove running away from the Edwards campaign bus).
"Run or keep your mouth shut! . . . If you want to bash people, jump into the pool. We're waiting for you." -- Guy Molinari, New York co-chairman for the Giuliani presidential campaign, after former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., attacked Rudy's position on gun control.
"You know, what I did think about though was invading a smaller country . . . " -- Obama, asked by Jon Stewart if he thought about making up for his lack of experience by trying to run a smaller country first.