Amid the campaign chaos, this week felt . . . familiar.
There was something oddly comforting about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., talking healthcare, fighting off a fund-raising scandal, and answering questions about her personal life. President Bush even reminded us that he's still president, with a full-blown news conference and a veto threat (and some political prognostication to boot).
And the campaign returns to form today in Washington, when former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., confronts some skeptics. We've heard his tough-guy talk for months, the remember-9/11, I'll-kill-the-terrorists-myself-if-I-have-to song he's perfected. But today we could find out whether the national GOP frontrunner can put enough daylight between the new Rudy and the old Rudy for him to make a case to Republican primary voters on an issue that's one of the party pillars.
The event is the National Rifle Association's "Celebration of American Values" -- but there's no denying that Giuliani hasn't always celebrated these particular values (and YouTube clips exist to remind the deniers of what Rudy won't say at 11:30 am ET today).
This crowd could matter more to his campaign than social conservatives. There may be a (sizable) slice of voters who will never vote for Rudy because of abortion rights or gay rights. But those for whom guns is a more salient issue have more in common with Giuliani's true base inside the GOP -- the keep-us-safe, take-on-the-terrorists crowd. It's those voters that he needs to convince if he's going to contend for the nomination.
Giuliani plans to use his address to tout his crime-fighting record (press release last night from the mayor-of-Gotham-turned-action-hero: "Rudy Giuliani: Crime Fighter). There's a cultural split here that Giuliani can never fully heal, but Giuliani will talk about areas where he can agree with the NRA. "I am going to emphasize the areas in which we are in agreement of which that is probably eight or nine out of 10 areas," Giuliani said yesterday, ABC's Jan Simmonds reports.
Surprise -- his opponents want to focus on that one or two (or more) areas where Rudy is off the NRA's reservation. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., may not be Giuliani's second choice for president anymore after his speech today. "McCain refers to a lawsuit by Giuliani and other mayors against the gun industry, to Giuliani's shifting Second Amendment position and to Giuliani's use of the term 'extremists' in relation to the NRA," AP's Libby Quaid writes in previewing McCain's speech. "My friends, gun owners are not extremists; you are the core of modern America," McCain says in his prepared remarks.
Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass. -- whose own record on guns isn't pure (whether or not he considers himself a hunter) -- also plans a swipe at Giuliani, with an attack on lawsuits that seek "to take away the individual's right to bear arms." "One of the most active fronts in the fight to preserve our Second Amendment rights today is being waged in the courts," Romney will remind the crowd in a videotaped message, his campaign tells ABC News.
Romney also has a new endorsement to announce: Craig Sandler, former NRA director of general operations and a former police chief in Nashua, N.H. And he'll have this to say about the campaign-finance law that McCain championed (and political groups like the NRA loathe): "We ought to get rid of the entire bill."
Charlie Black, a senior McCain adviser, tells ABC's Jennifer Parker that McCain will acknowledge disagreements with the NRA to show that he "doesn't change positions and talk about having epiphanies on issues." But Black added that former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. -- who has campaigned at gun shows -- would probably get the warmest reception from the NRA, Parker reports.
The New York Times editorializes against Giuliani's dueling gun positions today, professing amusement "watching the presidential contenders double back in denial of their own local political roots as they play to the biases of their parties' national nominating base." "As he approaches his speech in Washington before the NRA's lock-n-load zealots, the Giuliani campaign denies that its contender is trying to revise and amend his well-documented past as a fervid City Hall lobbyist for federal gun controls."
Yet elsewhere in that same newspaper appears the Giuliani the campaign wants to highlight -- Mr. 9/11, who made sure the trash was picked up on 9/12. The New York Times' Michael Powell recalls his leadership in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. "The spareness of his words and his passion became the founding stones in the reconstruction of the mayor's reputation, transforming him from a grouchy pol slip-sliding into irrelevancy to the Republican presidential candidate introduced as America's mayor," Powell writes. Clip-and-save quote, from former (and maybe future) senator Bob Kerrey, D-Neb.: "Giuliani was brave and reassuring, and you can't subtract that from his resume."
That other New Yorker in the race -- Clinton -- makes the rounds on all five Sunday shows this weekend, including an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."
It's been a roller-coaster of a week for Clinton. Her healthcare plan came off hitch-free, but the Norman Hsu weirdness got weirder, and new questions were raised about some of her top fund-raisers. And that doesn't even cover the war, with Republicans trying to turn her latest Senate vote (on the MoveOn.org ad) into a campaign issue.
Find out why Clinton is this week's "Buzz Maker of the Week."
The latest on Hsu alleges that he "violated federal election laws by reimbursing several donors for the political checks they wrote, and extracted campaign donations from others by threatening to cut their ties with a highly lucrative Ponzi scheme he oversaw," The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk reports.
Clinton's healthcare plan came under attack last night at the AARP forum in Davenport, Iowa. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.: "Look, it's not the plan; it's the man or the woman pushing the plan." That teed up former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., who noted that Clinton's plan is "very similar" to his own: "We definitely need a president who's not compromising with the people," Edwards said, per ABC's Raelyn Johnson and Eloise Harper.
Writes the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson, "five major Democratic presidential contenders used a debate Thursday night to spar over which of them was most likely to turn campaign rhetoric into reality." And Biden's response to Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., when Richardson touted his record as governor in predicting what he could do as president: "I played halfback when I was in high school, [so] I can play in the pros. It's a different deal."
But it was a candidate who wasn't on stage who drew some of the most scrutiny in Iowa (and no, Dennis Kucinich, we're not talking about you).
"Barack Obama was the big loser in Thursday's debate among Democratic presidential candidates," blogs the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen. "By not agreeing to appear, Obama passed up an opportunity -- and let his opponents have one. . . . He's acting like a frontrunner when he's not."
Obama tries to make up for his absence last night with a "Senior Town Hall Meeting" today in Ames, and with a new Iowa ad showing Obama interacting with a series of older (white) people -- including his late mother.
And well-timed with today's NRA meeting and this week's healthcare policy rollout: A Republican source provides ABC News with a document from the Clinton Presidential Library. It shows the then-first lady stating her support for a tax on guns and ammunition as part of the healthcare plan she was then developing.
In the March 1993 memo, Chris Jennings -- the Clinton White House's senior health policy adviser -- writes that then-rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill., recounted "your (personal and I thought private) general support of the concept behind the legislation (in particular, the provision to tax guns and ammunition)." The memo also says that Clinton requested background information on a bill filed by then-sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., that would ban handguns altogether as a means of controlling healthcare costs. (The gun tax didn't make it into Clinton's final plan.)
Also in the news:
Giuliani is ready for open warfare with Clinton, and Clinton looks like she's getting there. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that Clinton "notably refused to distance herself" from Tom Vilsack's swipe at Giuliani's personal life, where Vilsack brought up Giuliani's three marriages and his testy relationship with his children. Asked if she admonished Vilsack, one of her national campaign co-chairman, for his comments, Clinton responded that Vilsack "is more than capable of speaking for himself."
Is she sure we wants to go there? What ever could Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., have had in mind with this remark? "I'd be careful about opening up boxes here that could come back to haunt you," Dodd, whose first marriage ended in divorce, told the AP. "We went through an impeachment process here. We have to be careful about hurling stones. . . . Once you start down that road it can get ugly."
Obama is trying to make up for lost traction on the "Jena 6" case. Two weeks ago, he said he had his staff "looking into the details of the case" to see if the federal government could do anything about it. Yesterday, ABC's Jonathan Greenberger reports, he was "outraged" -- and lashed out at the media for professing surprise in what they found in Jena.
"On this day, when we are outraged over the disparities of treatment in the criminal justice system, in a time when in Jena we are puzzled over by how it is that a schoolyard fight gets charged with attempted murder, we wonder how it is Scooter Libby doesn't get any jail time, and you've got young men in a fight getting charged with attempted murder," said Obama.
The Senate voted to condemn MoveOn.org's "General Betray Us" ad yesterday, and it most mostly served to put the presidential candidates on the spot. Clinton and Dodd voted against the measure, while Obama and Biden missed the vote. The president even allowed himself to get into the politics, labeling the ad "disgusting" at his press conference. "That leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org -- or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military," he said.
Obama dismissed the vote as "wasting time," but the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman points out that he did manage to vote on two other Iraq-related measures yesterday, including a Democratic alternative "reaffirming strong support for all men and women in the military."
Obama's adding some campaign help -- from an old friend and ally. Valerie Jarrett is coming on board in a formal capacity. Per the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet, "Though she will be part-time, Jarrett will be one of the most visible and powerful African-Americans in the top rungs of the Obama operation. . . . In a campaign filled with staffers who are Washington insiders, Jarrett brings a different perspective—an outsider who can drive blindfolded through Chicago's political minefields."
She was asked a direct question -- and she gave a direct answer. "How do you respond to the occasional rumor that you're a lesbian?" Clinton was asked by the gay magazine The Advocate, per Michael Saul of the New York Daily News. "It's not true, but it is something that I have no control over. People will say what they want to say."
Could we be about to hear more about Clinton's religion? David Kuo interviews Burns Strider, who heads up Clinton's faith outreach. "What people don't really know, yet, is that she has spent her entire life living out a real and productive faith," Strider says in the Beliefnet.com interview. "We renew ourselves daily, right? This epitomizes Senator Clinton."
Speaking of renewals, it's two (rough) weeks and counting for Thompson -- not that that's showing up in polls. "Thompson's candidacy is as much of an enigma as it was during his summerlong 'testing the waters' phase," writes Michael Kranish of The Boston Globe. "He has not fizzled or run away with the lead, yet there is evidence that either possibility could happen."
Thompson says he's not concerned that he's not getting James Dobson's support. "So be it," Thompson said, per the AP's Paul J. Weber. "But, I have a lot of friends, who I think are friends of his, who have a high regard for me, and I'm very proud of that."
Don't be cruel, GOP rivals: Thompson's eighth cousin once removed? Elvis Presley. "What kind of impact this revelation could have on the Thompson campaign was unclear yesterday, though most observers agreed it would most likely be positive, so long as jumpsuits aren't involved," write The Washington Post's Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts.
President Bush and Congress are still headed for a confrontation over children's health insurance, in one of those classic confrontations that both sides seem to want. The president's latest veto threat yesterday "reflects the political stakes in a newly potent health-care debate that is beginning to shake up Congress and resonate through the 2008 presidential campaign," writes Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune.
Here's the story the Edwards campaign wants every Democrat in the country to read today. "The Era of the Red State Democrat will have suffered a very short reign if Hillary Clinton wins her party's nomination next year, at least according to the fears of some members of her party," National Review's Jim Geraghty writes. This from Dave "Mudcat" Sanders, an Edwards consultant: "Edwards has coattails; Hillary has anti-coattails."
More bad news for a Republican senator: "An Alaska oil contractor cooperated with the FBI by tape-recording phone calls with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) as part of a public corruption investigation, a source familiar with the probe said last night," reports The Washington Post's Dan Eggen.
How's this for an all-star lineup? Conan O'Brien, Robin Williams, Bruce Springsteen, and Lewis Black are all on board for "Stand Up for Heroes: A Benefit for the Bob Woodruff Family Fund," to be held on Nov. 7in New York City. Three presidents -- Clinton and both Bushes -- are on the honorary committee for the event, which will benefit injured service members. Also on the committee: Senators Clinton, McCain, and Biden, Romney, former senator Bob Dole, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I 100 percent believe she's a straight, heterosexual woman." -- Sean Kennedy, news and features editor of The Advocate, after her interview with Sen. Clinton.
"No, I may slit my throat." -- Former President Bill Clinton, joking with Jon Stewart about whether he can handle going from being president to being married to the president.
"This is a true Political Treasure sure to go up in value in the years to come." -- EBay item description for a 20-inch swath of "Larry Craig Minneapolis St. Paul Airport Toliet [sic] Paper." Bid was up to $11 as of 8 am ET today.
NOTES FROM THE NOTE
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