This (slightly) reshaped Republican race sure is getting fun, isn't it? It figures to be a rough day for former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y. (not even factoring in the end of the Torre era at Yankee Stadium): Rudy's rivals are ready to pounce on the unlikely GOP frontrunner, in front of a crowd that's hardly inclined to defend the former mayor.
Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is preparing the sharpest series of lines for the "Values Voters Summit," as he makes a play to win the conference straw poll. "We're not going to beat Hillary Clinton by acting like Hillary Clinton," he plans to say in his speech tonight, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. The line will be "interpreted as aimed at the former New York mayor, who has a liberal history on many social issues such as abortion and immigration," Tapper writes.
Add to that a newly aggressive former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., an eager-to-get-back-in-the-fray Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a valediction from Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. (who bids farewell to the race this afternoon), and the 2,300-strong crowd will be prepped to face down evil itself by the time Giuliani takes the stage tomorrow.
But when social conservative leaders meet after the speechifying is done, they still appear unlikely to unite behind any Republican candidate. "Today, thousands of Christian conservatives will gather in Washington to confront the fact that none of the candidates has won them over," Michael Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post. The conference "will highlight the uncertainty among activists and the sense of urgency among the candidates."
"Several influential Christian conservative leaders said it was unlikely, even after the conference, that they would be able to coalesce around a single candidate as they had once hoped to do," Michael Luo and Julie Bosman write in The New York Times. "That raises anew the prospect that the movement's ability to shape the outcome of the primaries could be seriously diminished." Says Gary Bauer: "My guess is things will not be that much more clarified at the end of the weekend."
Jill Lawrence writes in USA Today, "Somebody's got to win the presidential straw poll this weekend at a gathering of Christian conservative luminaries and activists. The question is whether it will be 'undecided' or an actual candidate." The buzz on the eve of the conference? "Grumbling, ambivalence and talk of bolting to a third party," Lawrence writes.
Rudy can't love the attacks - - and don't expect an embrace or an assist from the crowd -- but this is very welcome news to Giuliani, who leads comfortably in national polls in spite of views that place him far from social-conservative dogma. His real fear isn't seeing his positions highlighted - - it's one candidate emerging as the champion of a movement that's looking for a leader.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, believes that Giuliani "will have won by showing up, even if most in the room are still unlikely to support him," per the Times' Luo and Bosman. Says Perkins: "He's dehorned by coming," Mr. Perkins said.
Giuliani still looks stronger than he did a few months ago, despite widespread predictions of his demise. All the attention he's getting makes Giuliani ABC's "Buzz Maker of the Week."
Among the Democrats, here's what you missed in the past 24 hours if you were busy trying to negotiate Joe Torre a new contract. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., says Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., acts like she won. Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., says Clinton can't win.
And Clinton's strategist says she already won ( hypothetically; against Giuliani; in 2000; in New York).
But before we get to that, Clinton is facing what looks likely to turn into another fundraising scandal. The Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas and Tom Hamburger found a wave of generous donations from some of the poorest residents of Chinese-American neighborhoods in New York City. "Dishwashers, waiters and others whose jobs and dilapidated home addresses seem to make them unpromising targets for political fundraisers are pouring $1,000 and $2,000 contributions into Clinton's campaign treasury," they write.
"Many of Clinton's Chinatown donors said they had contributed because leaders in neighborhood associations told them to. In some cases, donors said they felt pressure to give," Nicholas and Hamburger continue. Of 150 donors the newspaper identified as having sent checks after fundraising events geared to the Chinese community, "one-third of those donors could not be found using property, telephone or business records. Most have not registered to vote, according to public records."
The Clinton camp is trying to get in front of the story -- but this is going to be tough to explain away in the wake of Norman Hsu. "In this instance, our own compliance process flagged a number of questionable donations and took the appropriate steps to be sure they were legally given," spokesman Howard Wolfson told the LA Times.
Edwards, boasting the endorsement of another SEIU local (in close-to-New Hampshire Massachusetts), today speaks in California to lay out his electability argument. "I think the most electable candidate is the one with the best ideas who can go to every corner of America and tell the truth about how badly Washington is broken," Edwards plans to say, per excerpts provided to The Note. "If we have a nominee offering a bold vision of real change who can make the case for that vision in every corner of America, we will Congressional races across America, in red states and blue states, on the coasts, in the South, the Southwest, the Northwest and the Midwest."
Clinton strategist Mark Penn was looking past the Democratic primary when he sat down with reporters for a Christian Science Monitor breakfast yesterday. Citing (and perhaps exaggerating) polling from the 2000 Senate campaign that never was to be, Penn said, "We have gone through a cycle with Giuliani," Politico's Ben Smith reports. Penn cited internal polling showing that as many as 24 percent of Republican women would support Clinton in a general election "because of the emotional element of having a woman nominee."
ABC polling director Gary Langer tosses some cold water on Penn's heated analysis. "In a head-to-head matchup against Rudy Giuliani in the latest ABC/Post poll, Clinton attracts 11 percent of Republican women -- and an almost identical number of Republican men," he writes. "No gender gap there, nor anything unusual."
Penn also pushed back on Obama's line about Clinton having declared "mission accomplished." "We are out there running an all-out primary campaign, make no question about it," he said. "We understand full well how quickly these things change."
Obama is trying to make those things change -- approximately yesterday. Keying off of President Bush's "World War III" comment, he again blasted Clinton for voting for last month's Iran resolution. "When I am the nominee . . . my opponent won't be able to say that I am being inconsistent for flip-flopping," ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. His opponent "won't be able to say that I agree with using the war in Iraq to justify military action with a war in Iran."
And things could get sharper in the days ahead. Obama is beefing up his war room: John Del Cecato will head up his new "rapid response effort," Jeff Zeleny reports in The New York Times. According to an internal campaign memo sent to staff members, the post is being created "to help push back on attacks from the media and our friends in the rival campaigns."
The Boston Globe's Scott Helman sums up the maneuverings: "The leading Democratic presidential contenders are sharpening their strategies, realigning staff, and refining their messages as they position themselves to emerge as the party's nominee," he writes. This piece of (very wishful) thinking from Edwards adviser Joe Trippi: "We have to make our case that the choice in this race is not between Clinton and Obama, it's between Clinton and Edwards, and make that choice very clear."
With apologies to the good Mr. Trippi, here's a comparison that Obama will take any day: "Proposal by proposal, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are constructing policy agendas that present their party with mirror-image choices," Ron Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times. "On domestic policy, Obama has shown a much greater willingness than Clinton to challenge liberal orthodoxy and the powerful Democratic interest groups that defend it. On national security, though, Clinton has pushed against the party's left-of-center consensus while Obama has embraced it. One candidate offers conformity at home and apostasy abroad; the other, the opposite."
Back on the congressional front, the big S-CHIP vote came and went as expected -- except one particular sound bite that wasn't exactly what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had in mind. (Let's guess that Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., won't be tapped for the Democratic radio address any time soon.)
Stark created a stir -- and woke up the GOP "rapid response efforts" -- with this remark on the House floor: "You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."
It was another distraction in a rough week for Democratic congressional leadership, coming on top of the "genocide" resolution that now appears firmly shelved. Democrats may see some political up-side in having the president discover fiscal conservatism on healthcare for poor children, but the GOP base held for at least one more day.
"Despite a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign and intense lobbying by children's advocates, supporters of the bill were unable to convert a single House Republican who voted against the bill last month," Robert Pear and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report in The New York Times. "For now, the insurance vote stands as the latest example of how Mr. Bush can still get his way on Capitol Hill."
The battle is rejoined: "A failed veto override on a major children's health insurance program yesterday prompted House Democratic leaders to promise to push a new version of the bill, daring Republicans to oppose them," The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman and Christopher Lee report. "The new version will probably give Republicans some face-saving alterations but no substantive change."
Also in the news:
Sam Brownback's still on the speaking schedule today for the "Values Voters Conference," but he'll head to Topeka, Kan., this afternoon, for a 4:45 pm ET announcement where he'll drop out of the presidential race, ABC's Julia Bain reports.
"The Brownback bus never really got rolling," Randy Scholfield writes in the Wichita Eagle. "The high point of his campaign was finishing third in an Iowa straw poll that most of the leading GOP candidates skipped. He recently finished behind Ron Paul in fundraising. Ouch. That might have been the last straw. Brownback's main problem is a charisma deficit. He isn't exactly the life of the party. On the stump, he looks and sounds like a church deacon."
The battle for the rural vote is getting messy. Edwards yesterday called for tougher enforcement of manure laws, in the campaign pledge that's least likely to get probed at a presidential debate. He would also "push for a national moratorium on building or expanding livestock confinement facilities," the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys reports, as he "stepped into a raging rural controversy this week."
So as Edwards got his shoes dirty, Clinton is holding a "Rural Americans for Hillary" lunch at a Washington lobbying firm "which just so happens to lobby for the controversial multinational agri-biotech Monsanto," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.
Edwards camp: "While corporate America and lobbyists may want someone like Clinton in the White House, regular Americans are ready for someone who will stand up for them and fight for real change." Clinton camp: "In 2004, John Edwards said 'If you are looking for the candidate that will do the best job of attacking the other Democrats, I am not your guy.' But he's become that guy now that his 2008 campaign has stalled."
And when Clinton dabbled in rural politics in New York this week, it wound up a distraction. Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., want to earmark $1 million for a Woodstock museum in peaceful and lovely Bethel, N.Y., but Senate Republicans yesterday stripped the "Flower Power Pork" from a spending bill, ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports.
Romney, now touting the endorsement of Bob Jones III, has much at stake in his speech today. He plans to focus on reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births, Politico's Mike Allen reports. "The agenda reflects an effort to tap into the changing priorities of religious conservatives," Allen writes.
McCain has never been a favorite among this set, but today he plans to cast himself as "only major candidate in either party" who has been pro-life his entire public career, ABC's Bret Hovell reports. "Wisdom suggests that we should be willing to give an unborn child the same chance that our parents gave us." McCain will say, according to remarks released by his campaign. "I know you might not always agree with me on every issue, but I hope you know I'm not going to con you," he will say, reprising a swipe he took at Romney last week, Hovell writes.
McCain could benefit from the continued uncertainty in the GOP race, National Review's Kate O'Beirne reports. "Republicans seeking to keep their party's base intact, while appealing to independents in order to have a shot at defeating Hillary, are taking another look at John McCain," she writes. "In a year when Democrats are heavily favored to win the White House, many conservatives are unwilling to experiment with the notion that a wholly new coalition, with fewer social and cultural conservatives, will coalesce around a socially liberal Northeast Republican."
McCain is pondering a seven-figure loan to keep his campaign running, Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza reports. "Rick Davis, who took over control of the day-to-day operations following a huge staff shuffle this summer, has broached the subject of a large loan to fund the campaign's activities in early states," Cillizza writes. "The idea was discussed as recently as a phone call this week with senior staffers, according to sources familiar with that conversation."
Thompson once hoped to lock up the crowd he's addressing today. That won't happen, but he is making a play to be seen as the solid conservative in the race. "I was a conservative then. I am a conservative today, and I'll be a conservative tomorrow. I was walking the walk when others weren't even talking the talk yet," Thompson said yesterday, per ABC's Christine Byun. He tossed immigration in the mix as well, accusing Giuliani and Romney of supporting "sanctuary cities," Byun reports.
More evidence that Thompson is registering with the GOP base, his false starts notwithstanding: "When it comes to building a base of small campaign donors he's showing the potential to keep pace with better-funded rivals," Bloomberg News' Julianna Goldman reports. Thompson signed up more than 74,000 donors in his fundraising quarter, "more than double the contributors Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani signed up during their first reporting periods. If Thompson keeps adding donors at this clip, he may be competitive in early primaries even though he trails Giuliani and Romney in cash raised."
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has placed a "hold" on the FISA bill -- keeping it in limbo for now, and giving him a fresh campaign issue to appeal to the liberal base with. Dodd "will block a Senate vote on a White House-backed surveillance bill because it would include legal immunity for telecommunications companies that helped intelligence agencies carry out warrantless surveillance of Americans," per USA Today's Richard Willing.
Could Brownback's departure give Huckabee the boost he's long been craving? New York Times columnist David Brooks finds plenty of reasons why he could still be a contender. "Huckabee is something that the party needs. He is a solid conservative who is both temperamentally and substantively different from the conservatives who have led the country over the past few years," Brooks writes. "His popularity with the press corps suggests he could catch a free media wave that would put him in the top tier. He deserves to be there."
Now that Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is here to stay, what next for the libertarian/constitutionalist/gynecologist? Per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf, Paul "faces a philosophical contradiction: Is he the principled agent provocateur, known as 'Dr. No' on Capitol Hill, trying to bring about a grass-roots anti-big-government uprising in American politics? Or is Paul a Republican presidential candidate with a libertarian bent, seeking big money contributions to fund a traditional campaign? More important for Paul, can he be both?"
How did Paul raise $5.3 million last quarter? His contributors include a wizard, a circus clown, and a street performer. "Paul has seemingly tapped into an affluent segment of fantastical occupation holders," per the Center for Responsive Politics' write-up. "The wizard gave him $500, and $2,300 checks -- the maximum allowed for the primary -- came from both the self-described clown and someone who toils as a 'human.' "
Michael Mukasey's glide path toward confirmation as attorney general is taking a tortuous route through torture. Mukasey "declined Thursday to say if he considered harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which simulates drowning, to constitute torture or to be illegal if used on terrorism suspects," Philip Shenon writes in The New York Times.
If Al Gore can't be drafted into the race, some of his supporters are intent on writing his name in, in New Hampshire. "Farrell Seiler of Hanover, the head of the Draft Gore, New Hampshire! campaign, said he was holding a series of meetings across the state to discuss his plan, especially given the fact that Gore was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to raise awareness of global warming," John P. Gregg writes in the Concord Monitor.
What ever happened to the Nevada caucuses that were supposed to matter so much? Jon Ralston, in the Las Vegas Sun: "I knew The Little Caucus That Could was getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment back East. But what's worse than that? How about being Claude Rains -- and I don't mean 'Casablanca,' I mean 'The Invisible Man.' "
Louisiana elects a new governor tomorrow, and the favorite in the first post-Katrina race is Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La., who may even avoid a run-off by cracking 50 percent. Jindal, 36, is a Rhodes Scholar who would become the first Indian-American governor in the United States. Reid Wilson of Real Clear Politics previews the race.
With Republicans descending on Florida this weekend for the state GOP convention and a Sunday debate, Florida Democrats are having some fun. Three words: Draft Katherine Harris.
"I'm part of the hippie generation." -- Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., railing against the earmark for the Woodstock museum.
"This is a very sad day for anyone who is a Yankee fan." -- Giuliani, on Torre, inviting dissenting opinions.
Wondering why Brownback is dropping out? This picture has the answer.
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