Maybe the campaign message Sen. Barack Obama was looking for was sitting on his lapel the whole time.
Or, more accurately, it was what wasn't on his suit jacket that got Obama, D-Ill., talking in the thoughtful, cerebral, and extremely non-political manner that seems more like his comfort zone than anything he says on the stump. Asked in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, why he doesn't choose to wear an American flag pin, Obama gave what sounded like a genuine answer:
"Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest," Obama said, ABC's David Wright and Sunlen Miller report. "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."
Wow -- who speaks like this? Certainly not someone who wants to become president, not in the old way -- and that's the point. Right-wing gabbers are buzzing about this (and "that pin," we should recall, depicts nothing more controversial than the stars and stripes) -- but is this even slightly bad for Obama with the Democratic base? Those would be the same folks he was trying to reach this week with a (quickly overshadowed) speech commemorating his longstanding opposition to the war.
Obama didn't plan the exchange -- it came in response to a reporter's question -- but he decided to embrace it. "Campaign aides, concerned that his remarks might be portrayed as unpatriotic, chose not to let the moment pass," The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny writes. "So Mr. Obama addressed the matter directly shortly after arriving here in Independence, where the crowd was oblivious to the back-and-forth." Said Obama: "My attitude is that I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart."
By talking about his decision to drop the flag pin so openly, Obama "risked a backlash, even though most of the presidential candidates from both major parties aren't wearing the flag pins regularly these days," Michael Saul and Michael McAuliff write in the New York Daily News.
But if Democrats are sick of Bush-era jingoism, this could provide Obama a much-needed opening. Even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., couldn't really disagree (and she's not much for pins, either): "There are so many ways that Americans can show their patriotism. Wearing a flag pin, flying the flag, pledging allegiance to the flag, talking about the values that are important to America, teaching your children about what a great nation we have, standing up for those values, speaking out -- there is just so many ways that one can demonstrate patriotism."
The AP's Nedra Pickler spells out Obama's keys to victory -- in Iowa (where his organization is cranking) and his nation-wide hope that "hundreds of thousands of new voters fired up enough to actually turn out." This sounds so simple: "1. Keep Clinton's support down. . . . 2. Keep Edwards from surging ahead. . . . 3. Continue building Obama's support among both traditional and nontraditional voters." Pickler writes, "The campaign is trying to drum up supporters who are often overlooked in politics, with much of the effort geared toward blacks and young people even high school seniors."
Lest we all forget, nobody's voted yet. The Boston Globe's Scot Lehigh catches up with a few former candidates who aren't ready to hand the nomination to Clinton. Gary Hart: "Voters have a very strange way of not listening to the pundits." John Kerry: "Crunch time really won't come until the last six weeks or so." Lehigh writes: "The bet here is that the Democratic campaign will become a real contest, and not an easy coronation -- no matter how much the Clinton camp might wish otherwise."
Now that the Republicans are done counting their money, we know that former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., takes the GOP prize for the quarter (and was the last to report his numbers, to secure a victory lap). But does this seem a little like winning the Eastern Conference when you're just getting swept by the best of the West? "He raised $11 million for his presidential bid over the past three months, edging out his closest Republican competitor in the money chase but still posting a total that was half that of the leading Democratic candidates," Matthew Mosk writes in The Washington Post.
"Overall, Republican presidential candidates trailed Democrats in fundraising by nearly $100 million -- a gap that is unprecedented in 30 years," Mosk continues. GOP strategist Ed Rollins: "The Democrats, they're out there, they're hungry. We just got fat, dumb, and happy."
Other key GOP figures: $10 million last quarter for former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass.; $9.3 million for former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., in his first quarter in the race; and $6 million (still with just $3.6 million cash on hand) for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
But the biggest story could be the extent to which Romney is leaning on his personal fortune. His money is just as green, but what happened to the unstoppable fundraising operation he constructed early this year? Romney has now lent his campaign $17.4 million so far this year, including $8.5 million last quarter; he has only $9 million in cash on hand. "Mr. Romney has been raising more money than he has lent himself, a sign that his bid is more than a vanity campaign. Still, Mr. Romney continues to lag in most national polls," writes The Wall Street Journal's Mary Jacoby.
The American Spectator's Jennifer Rubin picks up on the Romney burn rate. "First, had Romney not dumped $8.5M of his own money in he'd have been left with $500,000 -- one tenth of Ron Paul's cash on hand. Second, Romney folks will argue so what? They still get to buy ads and they still have that money to fund a multi-state effort," Rubin writes. "Finally, Republicans should be scared. Hillary added 100,000 donors this Quarter and Romney 23,000."
Perhaps the only GOPer who's celebrating his numbers if Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. Find out why Paul is ABC's "Buzz Maker of the Week" -- and why the rest of the GOP should learn a lesson or two from the fund-raising haul of "Dr. No."
What are the Republican presidential candidates getting for their money anyway? Surely they're not buying much in the way of support of voters -- not with polls showing 2008 shaping up as a GOP wipeout (and the candidate who's spending the most on ads -- Romney -- running fourth in national polls). They're not purchasing peace among the grass-roots, either, not with the brewing conservative revolt against Giuliani, the Club for Growth trying to sink former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., and now the Log Cabin Republicans declaring war on Romney.
The Log Cabin Republicans' new ad breaks out the old debate clips of Romney supporting abortion-rights and accuses him of "fighting the religious right" -- odd choices for a gay-rights organization, but there's been bad blood going back to Massachusetts. "He has been all over the map on every single issue. He quite frankly hasn't credibly explained his shifting positions," Patrick Sammon, the group's president, tells the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn. Responds the Romney campaign: "Governor Romney supports a federal marriage amendment and so it makes sense that a national gay rights group would attack him."
Indeed, Romney is trying to take advantage of the anti-Rudy sentiments among conservative leaders. "Romney has stepped up his efforts to woo evangelicals in response to the threat by some Christian conservative leaders to back a third-party candidate," The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish writes. The campaign is focusing on landing James Dobson, who has already ruled out most of Romney's main competitors.
"The Giuliani campaign is ground zero in the fight over the future of the religious right," Wayne Slater writes in The Dallas Morning News. "For Christian conservatives who have enjoyed three decades of growing political influence, the 2008 presidential election is a watershed moment."
But with a GOP debate on economic issues coming next week, it's fiscal issues -- not social ones -- that are the latest Romney-Giuliani battlefront. "Campaigning in southern New Hampshire, Romney pounded Giuliani's fiscal record as mayor of New York. The Giuliani campaign snapped back, calling Romney a hypocrite who as governor of Massachusetts showed little restraint with public money," writes the Los Angeles Times' Michael Finnegan. The exchanges "illustrated a sharpening rivalry between the two leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination," Finnegan writes.
Romney started this dust-up, but Giuliani found a former governor of Massachusetts, Paul Cellucci, to fight back in a conference call with reporters (remember that Rudy fights Democrats, not Republicans). "Talk about hypocrisy," Cellucci said, per ABC's Jake Tapper. Romney "increased income taxes on people who did not reside in Massachusetts but were employed or had a business in Massachusetts. He actually increased taxes on those people! (Talk about bad blood: Romney pushed aside Cellucci's old lieutenant governor, Jane Swift, when he returned from the Salt Lake Olympics to run for governor in 2002.)
Romney keeps up the pressure on Giuliani with a new radio ad touting his pledge not to raise taxes. "I'm proud to be the only major candidate for president to sign the tax pledge. The others have not," he says in the ad. (Some of us remember when this was "government by gimmickry.")
This battle's not out in the open either, but ABC's Teddy Davis finds evidence that Giuliani is working to tie Romney to Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan "below the radar." Start with this, from a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Giuliani adviser Sally Pipes (who wasn't identified as such by the Journal): "There's a good reason why Mr. Romney didn't roll out his Massachusetts plan to the nation. . . . Being based on mandates, new bureaucracy, increased regulation and wishful thinking, it looks a lot like Hillary Clinton's: that's not healthy for anyone."
If you miss the Giuliani who fought his own battles, turn to the tapes of his old weekly radio program on WABC, from back when he was mayor. The New York Times' Michael Powell finds some keeper lines: "Well, let me give you another view of that rather than the sort of Marxist class concept that you're introducing." "Now the reason why the N.R.A. has lost all credibility is statements like that." "When I was a private citizen I would go up to people and tell them they were slobs."
And Hizzoner always did like battling Hillary Clinton: "I would represent Arkansas even though I've never been there, don't know anything about it, have no connection with it. But, you know, maybe it would be kind of cool."
Much of the Republican field is in Washington today for the "Defending the American Dream Summit" -- but, alas, Giuliani and Romney bracket the schedule and aren't likely to cross paths.
As they fight amongst themselves, it's hard to beat the list of names coming out for McCain in National Review today: George P. Shultz, Henry A. Kissinger, Alexander M. Haig Jr., Lawrence S. Eagleburger, James R. Schlesinger, John F. Lehman Jr., R. James Woolsey Jr., and Robert C. McFarlane. "We strongly endorse the candidacy of Senator McCain and as a matter of deep personal conviction, call upon all Americans to join us in that judgment," they write.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is the pesky piece of toilet paper that the GOP can't manage to pick up off the floor to throw out. Judge Charles A. Porter Jr. "hammered down every explanation Craig had offered to justify withdrawing his August plea of guilty," per ABC's Tapper. But Craig may appeal and now he seems to want to stick around regardless of what happens, notwithstanding his promise to resign. "When my term has expired, I will retire and not seek reelection. I hope this provides the certainty Idaho needs and deserves," Craig said in a statement.
The GOP has other needs and desires back in Washington. "Craig will now face the full glare of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and the ire of Republican Senate leaders who say they feel as though Craig has gone back on his promise to step down after news broke of his arrest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport," McClatchy's Erika Bolstad reports. "I'm calling on Sen. Craig to keep his word," said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. "If he loves his party, and he loves the Senate, the honorable thing to do is to resign."
Ensign, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is in a tough spot that's getting tougher. He can't get those he wants to leave -- Craig -- to go away, and he can't get those he wants to stay -- Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Sen. John Warner, R-Va. -- to stick around. The decisions by Craig and Domenici "add more challenges as Republicans try to defend 22 party-held Senate seats in next year's elections while Democrats defend just 12," Bloomberg's Laura Litvan and Chris Stern write.
Also in the news:
With torture back in the headlines, Clinton yesterday "endorsed the principles of an anti-torture pledge circulated by a liberal organization, after facing criticism as the only Democratic candidate for president to withhold her support for a blanket statement condemning torture," per ABC News. In a letter to the American Freedom Campaign, she writes, "The next president must not only possess a clear-eyed assessment of the terrorist threat, but must demonstrate the moral courage to face that threat without forsaking the values which set our Nation apart."
Clinton was talking science yesterday: "She would require agency directors to show they were protecting science research from 'political pressure' and [said] that she would lift federal limits on stem cell research," The New York Times' Patrick Healy and Cornelia Dean report. "She sought to lay out her agenda in what one adviser called 'a contest of ideas' with her Democratic rivals." She also said she would push manned missions to the Moon and Mars down the priority list: "I am more focused on nearer-term goals I think are achievable," she told Healy and Dean.
ABC's Eloise Harper looks at Clinton's surge among Democratic men. The latest ABC/Washington Post poll has her at 48 percent among Democratic men -- a rise from 29 percent at the beginning of September. It's related to the sense of Clinton as a solid front-runner -- and to her husband's soaring popularity, Harper writes. "This country was rocking and rolling when the Clintons were in office," said Walter Cheadle, a 64-year-old independent.
It looks like former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is serious about running a campaign that focuses on rural America. He was in a remote part of Kentucky yesterday, because of -- yes -- an online organizing campaign that lured him far from Iowa or New Hampshire. "At least 1,500 people showed up for the appearance in this town so small it does not have a traffic light, with hundreds from neighboring towns taking part," writes The Washington Post's Jose Antonio Vargas.
Leave it to Elizabeth Edwards to dial it up in the battle against Rush Limbaugh. She called into question Limbaugh's draft deferments in an interview with Air America Radio's Richard Greene: "He had a medical disability, the same medical disability that probably should have stopped him from spending a lifetime in a radio announcer's chair; but it is true, isn't it? If he has an inoperable position that allows him not to serve, presumably it should not allow him to sit for long periods of time the way he does." She also said she was "disappointed" that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., conceded defeat to President Bush as quickly as he did in 2004.
The president needn't feel all that lonely in the confrontation over children's health insurance. Another opportunity for opening up some daylight between themselves and a deeply unpopular president is going unseized, per The New York Times' Healy. "The four leading Republican presidential candidates [are] once again testing the political risk of appearing in lock step with a president who has low approval ratings and some critics of the veto within their party," Healy writes. "While all four are defending the veto, some in full-throated language, the candidates are at the same time forgoing praise of Mr. Bush's judgment on the issue or of his leadership in general."
When Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., decided to forego a presidential run, it was all because of McCain-Feingold, right? Wrong, Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel reports. "It's possible that, to some extent, Newt might not have articulated the nuances of the election law when he was describing his decision," said Stefan Passantino, the general counsel for Gingrich's political group. "We were going to have to put a lot of firewalls in place . . . but we could have done that legally." (We're guessing that, "I would have gotten waxed" is less compelling a reason not to run than "The McCain-Feingold Act criminalizes politics.")
Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson is under criminal investigation for improperly awarding Katrina contracts based on political influence, National Journal's Edward T. Pound reports. "Investigators are exploring whether Jackson, despite [congressional] testimony, had actually lined up a contract at the HUD-controlled Housing Authority of New Orleans, or HANO, for a golfing buddy and social friend from Hilton Head Island, S.C.," Pound writes.
Ready for another twist in the calendar madness? The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen endorses a two-date solution to Iowa's conundrum. "The Iowa Republican Party appears poised to announce that it will hold the state's 2008 GOP caucuses on Thursday, Jan. 3. Democrats are still mulling the decision, though the two most viable options for them are that date and Saturday, Jan. 5," Yepsen writes. "Hillary Clinton's people like Jan. 5. That will make it easier for them to get older women and blue-collar women who may be working or find it hard to get a baby sitter on a weeknight. . . . On the GOP side, Mitt Romney's people like Jan. 3. He's expected to win Iowa and wants that five-day window to maximize his bounce in New Hampshire."
"People in Iowa know what arugula is. They may not eat it, but you know what it is." -- Obama, referencing a widely reported comment he made in Iowa about the price of arugula at "Whole Foods," which has zero franchises in the state of Iowa. The Chicago Tribune's John McCormick asked some people in the crowd, including Kay Hoffman: "Maybe it's a Hawaiian thing."
"If he's alive or dead it doesn't matter. If he's dead, just prop him up and put some dark glasses on him like, like 'Weekend at Bernie's.' " -- McCain, vowing to find a way for Alan Greenspan, 81, to lead a review of the nation's tax code.
"I don't know if people would ever want to vote for me. I'm just too outspoken." -- Former President Bill Clinton, quoting his wife from shortly after they met, in an interview with The Guardian of London.
NOTES FROM THE NOTE
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