Will the pure Republican please stand up?
Keep your seat, Rudy Giuliani -- three words: Roe v. Wade. Sorry, John McCain -- "no" votes on tax cuts and "yes" on campaign-finance reform are too much tarnish to claim ideological cleanliness. And Fred Thompson, you can stay on your couch -- we wouldn't want to make you expend any actual energy while running for president.
When former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., implied that only he represents the "Republican wing of the Republican Party," it drew a swift and harsh reaction from his rivals. How could this guy -- a blue-state former moderate who ran as a pro-choice candidate for Senate and governor -- be lecturing GOP veterans on what it means to be a Republican?
But the fact that Romney has gotten his campaign to the point where such a comment was even possible speaks volumes about why his rivals fear him. Despite some recent campaign stumbles, his slowing fund-raising (and we'll get a glimpse of his burn rate today), his anemic showing in national polls, and his omnipresent Mormonism, Romney is the candidate with the most conservative buzz going into this week's forum with the Family Research Council -- and he has perhaps the best shot at uniting the dispirited social-conservative base.
The stakes appear highest for McCain, R-Ariz., whose must-win state of New Hampshire is also vital to Romney's chances. McCain jumped on a spat between Romney and Giuliani to inject himself back into the campaign storyline. He said on ABC's "Good Morning America" today that Romney "took very liberal positions" when running for office in 1994 and 2002.
"We're all Republicans that are running, but the fact is we've got to run on our record," McCain said. "And his record when he was in Massachusetts had many positions -- most positions -- [that] are direct contradictions to the ones he has now. This is about being honest with the American people."
McCain's comments over the weekend were "what may be the harshest attack yet in the race for the 2008 Republican nomination," ABC's Bret Hovell reports. "That frustration may have been building for some time. Top McCain aides say that Romney's comments [Friday] rubbed the senator the wrong way, that he was anxious to respond, and that there will be more to come."
Romney's camp has pushed back by labeling McCain desperate, and bringing up McCain-Feingold and his opposition to the early Bush tax cuts. But from Rudy to Mitt to John to Fred, it is a remarkable group of men arguing about who truly embodies conservative values. "The increasingly personal sniping underscores how none of the GOP candidates has a lock on the party's conservative wing -- and how many of them are struggling to do so because their records include significant departures from party orthodoxy," writes Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times.
Giuliani is supposed to be the religious right's worst nightmare, right? Maybe not, columnist Robert Novak writes in the Chicago Sun-Times: Rudy's continued strong showing among churchgoers suggests that leaders of the religious right are "out of touch with rank-and-file churchgoers." Novak writes, "Apart from being the lesser of two evils against Sen. Hillary Clinton, Giuliani seems to be the positive choice of millions of religious Americans."
The New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes up the complicated relationship Giuliani enjoys with his hometown -- a relationship that Rudy has an interest in making seem adversarial. "Mr. Giuliani is at once running against New York City and embracing it. It is his foil and fodder, a laugh line and an applause line," Nagourney writes. "More than anything, Mr. Giuliani's New York is the laboratory that proved the failure of Democratic Party policies, just as his role as a Republican mayor in helping to revive the city is a vindication, he argues, of the very conservative policies that Republicans assert are at stake in this election -- personal responsibility, low taxes and the right balance of civil liberties and security."
By now, conservatives were supposed to be coalescing around Thompson, R-Tenn. But what if they can't find him? His campaign's been underground since last Tuesday's GOP debate, and he canceled a planned weekend trip to the Granite State. "New Hampshire voters noticed," AP's Philip Elliott reports. "Thompson has been to New Hampshire just once since he formally entered the race in September, and that was for a two-day trip that included visits to a chili cook-off, three bars and a rally."
Thompson surfaces today for a Fox News Channel interview and a speech in New York. In the meantime, Gary Bauer hasn't given up on him just yet. "I hope pro-family, pro-life Christians will continue to keep an open mind about Senator Thompson's candidacy, even as we work with him to strengthen his stand on some key issues," Bauer wrote in an e-mail addressed to supporters, per Ralph Z. Hallow of the Washington Times. "A Thompson vs. Hillary [Clinton] race would be an easy call for me to make."
A new poll of New Hampshire voters has Romney maintaining a slim lead of 26-20-17 over Giuliani and McCain, with Thompson fourth at 10 percent. The Marist poll has Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., up 41-20 over Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., with former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., third with 11 percent. It's "a Democratic contest that has a clear front-runner and a Republican race that doesn't," USA Today's Susan Page reports.
Clinton is continuing to be pressed aggressively by her rivals. Now comes Michelle Obama to join in the Hillary-bashing: "Nothing is inevitable," she tells the London Sunday Times, per ABC's Sunlen Miller. "The 'inevitable' candidate has not raised the most money and doesn't have the biggest base of donors . . . So where's the 'inevitability'? . . . Sometimes we wear the same suit even if it's got holes in it. We need a new suit, not just a new tie or new pants."
Still, the Obama campaign has no problem labeling Clinton as inevitable -- at least when it's convenient. "Let's be clear: Hillary Clinton must win every contest," the campaign wrote in a memo circulated to reporters. "The forcefulness with which they embrace the aura of inevitability will make it shatter if she does not win in every single state. Inevitability does not come with state exceptions. Early setbacks will fundamentally alter the race."
Obama was literally campaigning door-to-door over the weekend, and he was all optimism. "We've really exceeded expectations so far," per the Des Moines Register's Jason Clayworth. (And Sen. Clinton can be happy for him that he's pleased.)
This week, the Clinton campaign is making it all about women. "The senator from New York is intensifying her focus on the female demographic with a series of women-focused events planned for this week, including an announcement in Manchester, N.H., tomorrow of a program to help working parents, an appearance today on the talk show 'The View,' and a fund-raiser and issues conference in Washington on Wednesday," Marcella Bombardieri reports in The Boston Globe.
And this: "A memo to be made public today by Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, contends that women will be the deciding force in the 2008 elections, and says the campaign's internal polling shows that 94 percent of women under 35 said they would be more likely to vote in the November election if the first woman nominee is on the ballot."
The Los Angeles Times' Mark Z. Barabak captured a glimpse of Clinton on the trail, "a study in focus and Swiss-watch precision," he writes. "Her 30 years on the trail is evident as she polishes off the $2.59 diner special without a drip on her gold pantsuit, then weaves the lunch encounter into the larger narrative of her candidacy. During a sweep last week across Iowa -- 10 stops in 3 1/2 days -- campaign events started and ended close to schedule. The backdrops -- rolling fields, a city square and banners that read 'Rebuilding the road to the middle class' -- were picture-perfect. She touched on her major points like a runner rounding the bases."
But Bloomberg's Al Hunt provides the flipside: "The Clinton campaign is efficient, effective, disciplined and tough," Hunt writes. "It also seems to be joyless, humorless and lacking in heart and soul. . . . There is unusual hostility from neutral, and even some ostensibly pro-Clinton, people, and especially in the press. The media has its sights on Hillary, and scrutiny during the next month promises to be more vigorous than the relatively easy ride she has gotten so far."
Clinton's Iran vote is continuing to be a distraction on the trail, even aside from the question of whether she flip-flopped on whether she'd negotiate with the Iranian president (and she didn't fully contradict herself).
With a New York Times story Sunday strongly suggesting that she voted to label the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization because "she has already shifted from primary mode," Edwards is slamming her at virtually all of his campaign events, ABC's Raelyn Johnson reports. "Instead of primary mode versus general-election mode, instead of saying one thing in the primary and something different for the general election, how about if we do tell-the-truth mode all the time?" Edwards said in New Hampshire.
Al Gore doesn't look like he's running -- so count how many candidates now are trying to look like heirs to the Gore legacy. Edwards picked up the endorsement of Friends of the Earth Action, the AP's Holly Ramer reports. The group cited his early leadership on warming issues, his opposition to nuclear power plants, and his "courage to stand up to corporate lobbyists and special interests that have driven environmental policy in the Bush administration," Ramer writes.
Obama sees environmentalism as part of his faith, per ABC's Sunlen Miller. "Not a blind faith or a faith of mere words, but an active faith," Obama said. "It's a faith that doesn't look at the hardship and pain and suffering in the world and use it all as an excuse for inaction or cynicism, but one that accepts the fact that while we're not going to solve every problem, here on Earth we can make a difference."
McCain has been endorsed by Republicans for Environmental Protection, which also endorsed him in 2000. He's happy for Gore, but thinks other recipients would have been more deserving, which left him trying to explain himself over the weekend. "Because I thought Buddhist monks dying deserve the award in no way, in my view, diminishes the accomplishments that he's made," McCain said, per Bloomberg's Kim Chipman.
ABC's Jake Tapper provides this helpful reminder that Gore himself hasn't always been quite as green as we remember. "Let us also recall that as he ran for president in 2000 he downplayed his environmentalism, his consultants thinking it not electorally sage to emphasize on the stump," Tapper writes. The Gore campaign allowed Dan Bartlett to utter this truly astounding sentence in 2000: "There are only two candidates in this race who support a mandatory reduction of emissions from older power plants -- Gov. Bush and Ralph Nader."
Also in the news:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" that Democrats aren't ready to compromise with the White House over the State Children's Health Insurance Program. That means the veto override vote is on for Thursday, even though GOP leaders are guaranteeing it will fail. "The president has never talked about a compromise," Pelosi said. "Compromise to him means, 'do it my way.' And I prefer to go the congressional way -- bipartisan, responsible, paid for."
That prompted an unusual flurry of White House statements, with press secretary Dana Perino pointing out that President Bush earlier this month said he "more than willing to work with members of both parties from both Houses." Bush will make that point again this afternoon at an appearance in Rogers, Ark.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell labeled the central government in Iraq "an embarrassment" in his "This Week" appearance, per ABC's Mary Bruce. But he also expressed optimism that the troop surge is working: "We believe we can win. And my definition of winning is a stable country and an ally in the war on terror. I think we're making significant progress toward that end."
What are the political implications if this turns out to be true? "The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group," Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post. "There is widespread agreement that AQI has suffered major blows over the past three months." (Somehow we think there won't be any missions declared "accomplished" any time soon.)
Edwards couldn't pick up the endorsement of the national SEIU. But the union's Iowa members are set to line up behind Edwards today, giving him some organizational muscle in an important place, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.
"Edwards campaign officials said they hoped SEIU officials in early nominating states such as Nevada and New Hampshire, who were not expected to be in Iowa City today, would take their cues from their Iowa counterparts," writes Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register. "Iowa has about 2,200 SEIU members, representing employees in 16 school districts and four hospitals, including University of Iowa Hospitals."
False stories about Obama's supposed Muslim background are continuing to make the rounds in untraceable e-mail forwards, Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin report for Politico. "The misinformation is buttressed by occasional winks from conservative pundits like Ed Rogers, who referred to the candidate as 'Barack Hussein Obama' and radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, who regularly includes the senator's otherwise little-used middle name," they write. One sign that the smears are being effectively spread: " 'barack obama muslim' is the third-most popular Google search for the presidential candidate's name, behind 'barack obama' and 'barack obama biography.' "
Columnist Lee Bandy of The State proclaims McCain to be officially back in the running. "McCain was helped by progress in Iraq and a strong showing in a recent New Hampshire debate," Bandy writes. "Also, the John McCain of old is back, saying what he means and letting the chips fall where they may. He is much more comfortable campaigning as an insurgent than as an insider."
McCain gets great applause when he rails against congressional pork, but he's using outdated statistics that don't reflect the fact that the number of earmarks is down dramatically over the past two years, Politifact.com reports. "If McCain had made his claim in 2005, he'd be right. But since it's two years later and the climate for earmark spending has changed significantly, McCain's facts are out of date."
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., actually had two things they agreed on at their unusual joint campaign event in Iowa Friday: they back the same plan for a partitioned Iraq, and they both want to be doing better in Iowa.
They "contend their plan would create an incentive for peace among Iraqis, who could split among the separate regions but still have the central government for border disputes and big-picture issues," per the Des Moines Register's Grant Schulte. "Brownback and Biden have both banked heavily on Iowa's first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses to propel their presidential hopes. Both are struggling to revive campaigns that are lagging in opinion polls and that are millions of dollars behind the national front-runners in fundraising."
Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., looks like the perfect conservative candidate, Politico's Jonathan Martin writes, "but evangelical leaders are not flocking to their brother in Christ." He continues, "It's the consummate political predicament for political dark horses — they can't be viable if they don't have a wellspring of support, but if they don't have a wellspring of support, they can't be viable."
If Huckabee does get some traction, The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan has details of a little-remembered aspect of his record as governor: when he paroled convicted rapist Wayne Dumond, Milligan writes, "Huckabee, whose self-deprecating humor and easy candor have charmed many on the campaign trail, bristles when asked about the case, in which Dumond -- now dead -- was paroled from an Arkansas prison, with then-governor Huckabee's endorsement, only to sexually assault and kill a woman in Missouri. . . . If Huckabee, who is creeping upward in the polls, gains more momentum, the case is certain to become an issue."
The candidates may not agree on much, but maybe the prospective first ladies can all be friends. Ann Romney sometimes calls Elizabeth Edwards to talk about their shared experiences as political spouses battling illnesses, Romney tells the Concord Monitor's Lauren R. Dorgan. "She and I are facing health issues and I wish her well," Romney said. She had this to say about her husband's approach to issues: "He will tell you, for instance, immigration. Of all the problems we're facing in this country, that's an easy one to fix -- easy compared to the jihad."
Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, announced his plans to retire yesterday, and the nine-term House member becomes the 12th member of his party to do so since the beginning of the year -- including three just inside the Ohio delegation, AP's David Espo reports. "The district could be competitive in 2008, and the Ohio Democratic Party is talking to several potential candidates," Espo writes.
It's another piece of the angst plaguing congressional Republican leaders. "Congressional Republicans are feeling a bit under siege as even one of their former leaders predicts 2008 could be a Democratic year," Carl Hulse writes in the Sunday New York Times. "Republicans have been scrambling for a health care response at a time when they had hoped to be pounding Democrats over excessive spending and re-establishing their image as the party of fiscal restraint."
As for one GOPer who is sticking around, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is filing an appeal today in a last-ditch effort to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea. He kept his arrest even from his wife, he says in an interview set to air today on MSNBC. "I should have told my wife. I should have told my kids. And most importantly, I should have told counsel," Craig said. (This is all it took to learn that lesson?) And this morsel: "I was very proud of my association with Mitt Romney. . . . And he not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again."
"You know we got a big tractor going here. Hillary's not driving that tractor is she? I wanna make sure it's not a plot." -- Obama, when a speech in Marshalltown, Iowa, was interrupted by noise from a passing tractor.
"I think I'd like to be a jaguar. Or if I were a plant, I wouldn't mind being a saguaro cactus, because you sure do live a long time. -- McCain, asked in a Salon.com interview what kind of plant or animal he'd be.
"Hello. No, I'm sorry the mayor is not here today, Judith. You have the wrong number." -- Huckabee, taking a mid-speech cell-phone call in New Hampshire.
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