It's hard out there for a frontrunner.
Ask Mitt Romney (not quite closing his biggest sale).
Ask Hillary Rodham Clinton (three generations of Rodhams plus a former president do not an Oprah make).
Ask Rudy Giuliani (the new master of the deflecting laugh has sure learned to smile on Sunday mornings -- but did he create a fresh immigration issue for himself Sunday evening?).
Or, for that matter, ask Mike Huckabee (sorry, governor, but 1992 was not 1982).
Perhaps fittingly for this campaign that's burning through this holiday season, voters seem to be shopping without buying. Huckabee's recent stumbles aside, at this chaotic moment in the race for 2008, candidates who are selling hope (and Hope, Ark.) are looking stronger going into the final stretch before Iowa.
That's what made Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., one of Oprah's favorite things. By the Obama campaign's count, more than 66,500 people attended Oprah-Obama rallies over the weekend; two-thirds of those who showed up in South Carolina on Sunday "had never communicated with the campaign before, per the campaign.
In the Palmetto State -- where the battle for black voters is most intense -- the Double-O team drew 29,000 people to a rally on Sunday. New York Post cover: "OMENTUM."
Why put herself on the line like this? Obama "speaks to the potential inside every one of us," Oprah said, per The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye. "Dr. King dreamed the dream. But we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality."
Sunday night, in New Hampshire: "I can feel that you are ready for a change," Oprah said. "Aren't you tired of the old way?" "Is he the one? I believe he is the one."
And in Iowa: "I am not here to tell you what to think. I'm here to ask you to think," Oprah said.
You can choose to believe or disbelieve whether it was a coincidence that the same weekend was chosen to debut Hillary Clinton's entire family. (Bill Clinton hits Iowa solo on Monday, and Chelsea dropped word that she'll be back in the Hawkeye State -- with her boyfriend -- before New Year's. What better venue to drop some big news?)
"Nothing is an accident in Hillaryland, and it worked," Kate Snow said of Camp Clinton's mom-and-daughter counter-programming on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday. "We're not just talking about Oprah this morning, are we?"
On the Republican side, the new Newsweek poll in Iowa lands Huckabee on the magazine's cover, with a 39-17 Iowa margin over Romney, R-Mass., that may be inflated, but surely shows something real.
"In Iowa, Huckabee's carefully cultivated persona as a kind, thoughtful man of unshakable faith is winning many converts," Newsweek's Holly Bailey and Michael Isikoff write. "Huckabee has gotten noticed in part by politely exploiting the voters' dissatisfaction with his rivals. . . . The way Huckabee sees it, all the attention—the good and the bad -- is a sign that he is where God wants him to be."
New York Times columnist Frank Rich sees Obama and Huckabee -- the two youngest candidates, and the two riding the biggest hot streak at this moment -- benefiting from similar dynamics. "Though their views on issues are often antithetical, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Obama may be united in catching the wave of an emerging zeitgeist that is larger than either party's ideology," Rich writes. "An exhausted and disillusioned public may be ready for a replay of the New Frontier pitch of 1960."
It's all deeply frustrating to the candidates who have spent the past year to establish front-running credentials at this moment. The Speech is in the rear-view mirror now, but Romney's view looking forward isn't that pretty now that he has more than Giuliani to contend with.
"He is neither the candidate poised to spring a surprise in Iowa or New Hampshire, nor the candidate judged by his fellow Republicans nationally as the top choice for the nomination -- or even the second or third," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "He has become burdened by a front-runner's expectations without many of the traditional assets. . . . Having bet on doing well in the early states, he will now live or die by the results."
Clinton, D-N.Y., has plenty of fight left in her (but with Chelsea Clinton, Dorothy Rodham, and Bill Clinton all on the trail for her over the weekend, she may not have many tricks left in her bag).
Bloomberg's Al Hunt sits in on a Democratic focus group to paint the broad picture. "This isn't an anti-Hillary crowd. She gets high marks for her experience, intelligence and toughness; these qualities, they suspect, are what voters demand," Hunt writes. "Their hopes and dreams, though, are with Obama, 46. If he can dispel misgivings about his electability or experience, the formidable Clinton forces may be powerless."
The Post's Dan Balz: "Her liabilities always were there lurking, but through much of the year, her opponents watched with envy and admiration as Clinton cruised to an overwhelming lead in national opinion polls, turning perceived weaknesses into apparent strengths. . . . But she could not erase all doubts about her, and now they have resurfaced: Is she too polarizing to unite the country? Is she too evasive to win voters' trust? Is she too calculating at a time when authenticity is prized in presidential campaigns? Is she too cold?"
Here's another Clinton story that's getting some buzz: The Los Angeles Times' Tom Hamburger and Dan Morain travel to Syracuse to tell the story of Clinton's embrace of "old-fashioned pork-barrel politics, first to build power in the state, then to extend it nationwide as she becomes a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. And to fuel her rise, Clinton has relied on the controversial funding device known as 'earmarking.' The earmarks enabled her to win favor with important constituents, many of whom provided financial support for her campaigns."
Key paragraph: "Since taking office in 2001, Clinton has delivered $500 million worth of earmarks that have specifically benefited 59 corporations," Hamburger and Morain write. "About 64% of those corporations provided funds to her campaigns through donations made by employees, executives, board members or lobbyists, a review by the Los Angeles Times shows."
Then there's Giuliani, R-N.Y., who played defense for his entire first Sunday-morning hour as a candidate. He smiled past the toughest allegations on "Meet the Press," but he gave no answers that will make the many questions -- about his business interests, about his wife's security detail, about Bernie Kerik -- fade.
"Rudy Giuliani yesterday defended his consulting firm's work in Qatar, saying he was bolstering a moderate Persian Gulf regime in its fight against Islamic terrorists," Mary Jacoby and Chip Cummins write in The Wall Street Journal. And he's not releasing his client list -- sorry, Tim.
Giuliani "insisted he had little to do with arranging a taxpayer-funded security detail to protect his mistress, Judith Nathan, now his third wife, though he was not asked why the costs were hidden in accounts of obscure city agencies," the New York Sun's Nicholas Wapshott writes. "The failure to address the issue will allow reporters to continue pressing for full disclosure."
ABC's Jan Simmonds notes that while Giuliani has been highly critical of Bill Clinton for not recognizing the threat posed by al Qaeda before 9/11, he said Sunday that he "wasn't very aware of it" before the terrorist attacks, either.
Yet all is not sweetness and light for the candidates with the hot hands. "As former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee soared to first place in polls among Republican presidential candidates in Iowa and to second place in many national polls, he is being gifted with both opportunity and further scrutiny," ABC's Jake Tapper and Kevin Chupka report.
He's explaining this statement from 1992 -- yes, after fMagic Johnson announced himself to be HIV-positive, and four years after the US surgeon general sent out a brochure to American homes saying "the AIDS virus is hard to get and is easily avoided." Huckabee's words: "If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague."
The AP also broke the story over the weekend that, also in 1992, he referred to homosexuality as "an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle." And, of course, there's Wayne Dumond. "In neither case has he admitted much in the way of personal error," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Jounral. "He has said he feels awful about the DuMond murder but said the prisoner's release isn't his fault. And yesterday he said he would word his statements about AIDS 'a little differently' today."
Huck may want to work on this response, from Fox News Sunday: "Would I say things a little bit differently in 2007," Huckabee asked rhetorically. "Probably so, but I'm not going to recant or retract from the statement that I did make."
And busy oppo-folks land this 1998 Huckabee quote on Drudge Monday morning: "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."
Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen thinks it's time for some Obama scrutiny: "Clinton's negatives are well-known, Obama's less so. Any shortcomings, inconsistencies or misstatements in Obama's past will be exploited by Republicans in the fall campaign if he's the nominee. It's best for Democrats to vet them now."
And the liberal blogosphere is taking note of Obama's feud with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "It's obvious that Obama feels comfortable attempting to trash the credibility of progressives like Krugman," Jerome Anderson writes on MyDD.com. "It's even more disturbing when coupled with the admiration that Obama holds for Republicans in his post-partisan quest. But this is just plain stupid."
Also in the news:
Sunday night's Univision debate proved two important points. First, Republicans can sound moderate on immigration when they feel like it without technically changing their positions. And second, the GOP field can indeed sustain a discussion when Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., isn't present. It was a kinder, gentler GOP field on the hot-button issue of the race. "Republican presidential candidates tempered their tough talk on illegal immigration and praised the Hispanic community's family values as they sought to stem the exodus of Hispanic voters from their party during the first debate of the GOP campaign to be broadcast in Spanish," The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson writes.
The candidates "largely avoided the sharp-edged attacks that have marked their recent forums," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "Instead, they used their first-ever Spanish language debate to walk a delicate line, trying to appeal to the largest minority group in the country without offending a Republican base deeply concerned about illegal immigration."
We'll see if Giuliani hears about this (apparent) clarification in his position: "Giuliani's position requires that illegal immigrants be identified, be given tamper-proof identification cards, and wait in line behind immigrants attempting to come to the country legally -- but allows a path to citizenship without leaving the United States," ABC's Bret Hovell, Matt Stuart, and Kevin Chupka report.
The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan provides the write-up that rival camps will be sending around on Monday: "Sen. John McCain and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani stood alone among the Republican presidential candidates in last night's Spanish-language debate in calling for some illegal aliens to be granted a path to citizenship," he writes.
Ryan Lizza looks at immigration in the GOP race in The New Yorker. "The emergence of Trancredoism as an ideological touchstone for two Republican front-runners is a stunning development, another indication of the Party's rejection of nearly everything associated with the approach taken by George W. Bush," he writes.
And Lizza gets a steaming McCain very, very close to saying something very, very interesting: " 'Both [Romney] and Rudy had the same position I did. In fact, Rudy was even more liberal. But, look, if that -- ' He paused and shrugged. 'I don't want to be President that bad.' "
ABC's Ron Claiborne puts together the "perfect storm" that would allow McCain, R-Ariz., to rise again. "A Romney loss in Iowa could open the door in New Hampshire for McCain," Claiborne writes. "While McCain's prominent support of the doomed immigration bill hurts him, he is also the rare Republican to talk about the issue of climate change -- a big deal to many in New Hampshire -- and the liability of his early support for the troop surge in Iraq has turned into an asset now that it seems to be succeeding."
Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., sees "America Rising" in his latest campaign pitch, a sort of second stage of "Two Americas." "The very wealthiest and most powerful have manipulated our government for their own ends," Edwards plans to say Monday in Iowa, as he launches an eight-day bus tour, per his campaign. "They use their wealth and their power to keep themselves wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else. And when they do that, they're holding America back."
After minimizing the value of celebrity endorsements, Edwards hits the trail this week with Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon, ABC's Jake Tapper reports.
(Forget six degrees: The temperature in Des Moines Monday morning was 11 degrees Fahrenheit.)
There are celebrities, and then . . . "Winfrey's visit was timed to maximize exposure while people are still paying full attention before the holiday season," John McCormick reports in the Chicago Tribune. This could be the biggest nugget in the story: "David Axelrod, Obama's top strategist, has been coy about whether Winfrey will be featured in campaign ads, but he stood atop a set of risers personally directing a camera filming the Des Moines event."
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder goes by the numbers in Iowa: "Between the day three weeks ago when the Winfrey-a-thon was announced and today, the Obama campaign signed up more than 1,300 new volunteers directly through the media of pre-Oprah publicity. And the second number to keep in mind is the roughly 12,000 new names and e-mail addresses that the Obama campaign obtained in the Des Moines area alone in exchange for tickets."
Clinton has a new ad up, and it's something of a counter to Obama: "It takes strength and experience to bring about change," she says in the ad. "I have a very clear record of 35 years fighting for children and families, fighting for working people, fighting for our future."
Another Clinton volunteer is out because of one of those "Obama is a Muslim" e-mails. "Linda Olson, a volunteer coordinator in Iowa County, had forwarded a similar version on Oct. 5, without comment, to 11 people. One of the recipients was Ben Young, a regional field director for Democrat Chris Dodd's campaign, who provided a copy to The Associated Press on Sunday," the AP's Nedra Pickler reports.
On ABC's "This Week," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., called for a special counsel to investigate the CIA's destruction of its interrogation tapes. "I think this leads right into the White House," Biden told George Stephanopoulos.
Biden has new ads set to go up in Iowa this week, with the focus on Iraq and his personal history overcoming tragedy. And he said on "This Week" that he remains realistic about what he has to do in Iowa. "If I'm not in the top three or there's not four people all bunched pretty close, yeah, I think the practical matter is everybody is out of the race. If I end up with the numbers the way you just read them in the national poll, sure I'm out of the race. But I'm not going to end up that way. I'm going to surprise you all."
Huckabee has a new ad running in New Hampshire. It's bio time, per Brian Lawson of New Hampshire Presidential Watch. "The thirty-second ad, titled 'A Better America,' features Huckabee discussing his childhood and shows newspaper headlines detailing his accomplishments has Governor of Arkansas," Lawson writes. And this time, he's tagged as an "AUTHENTIC CONSERVATIVE" -- not quite the same message as when he called himself a "CHRISTIAN LEADER" in Iowa.
The Washington Post started its "Frontrunners" series on Sunday, with Clinton the lucky beneficiary of part one. "There was an original Hillary, before she was so heavily coated by perception: a girl reared in a conventional postwar middle-class hamlet who, according to her youth pastor, Don Jones, was 'controlled and circumspect' even then," Sally Jenkins writes. "She was the conciliator of the 'push and tug' of her parents' differences, and she clung to centrism even during the '60s as her teachers in Park Ridge engaged in a conservative-vs.-liberal duel for her 'mind and soul.' "
Romney is Monday's subject. "The mind-set that now shapes Romney's candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination first crystallized after that fateful drive to the South of France: One does not merely strive for leadership; he is called to it through prayer and circumstance," the Post's Eli Saslow writes.
The New York Times picks up its profile pace as well. On Sunday, Mark Leibovich looked at Clinton's guarded private life: "Mrs. Clinton is guarded by nature, friends say, a fundamentally 'private person' despite her hyper-public profile. She has always been easier for many people to follow than to know, and people around her tend to speak of her in tones of distant awe, suggesting that they are more acolytes than friends."
Monday brings Michael Powell's look at Giuliani's years as a prosecutor (long before the rise and fall of Bernie Kerik). "Mr. Giuliani married aggressiveness to moral absolutes, reflecting his steeping, he said, in the Catholic catechism," Powell writes. "Asked about political corruption in 1987, he offered a wintry smile and said, 'I don't think there's anybody much worse than a public official who sells his office, except maybe for a murderer.' "
On the endorsement watch, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., tells ABC's Margaret Conley that he may stay on the sidelines. "I really have not made up my mind," Kerry said. "I'm inclined probably just to not be directly involved, but I need to see, sort of, more directly when I get back where I think things stand."
And is Newt Gingrich running for vice president? The former House speaker, R-Ga., had a well-crafted response on "This Week": "Since I'm from Georgia, I'll say the opposite of Sherman. You know, if drafted, I would run, and if nominated, I would serve."
"I'm not going to tell you." -- Sen. Clinton, asked by the AP about her favorite joke.
"Girls rule and boys drool." -- Child's statement to Chelsea Clinton, as she and her grandmother campaigned for her Sen. Clinton. Per ABC's David Wright and Eloise Harper, Chelsea laughed and said, "I am agreeing with the first half of the statement."
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