The Note: Waiting for Fred
What an actor needs to learn about timing
By RICK KLEIN
July 31, 2007
Lessons learned in the two months that former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., has been "testing the waters": 1. Having a campaign shake-up does not require having a campaign (though having a meddlesome spouse helps). 2. Folksy observations do not answer questions about lobbying work on behalf of abortion-rights groups (and the flies called "opposition research" buzz really loudly come fall). 3. No one politician can possibly fix all the things that plague the GOP (even if that politician plays a problem-solver on TV). 4. Some actors look better in the middle distance than in tight shots.
As Thompson gets his first of many close-ups today with a federal financial filing, the question must be asked: Did Thompson miss his moment? If Thompson had jumped into the race in late spring, when the GOP was in full angst mode over its presidential field, his announcement would have itself provided a major lift. The storyline: a smooth-talking (conservative) giant-to-the-rescue -- irresistible to the party faithful, and filling a discernable void in the field.
But with officials indicating that Thompson will barely top $3 million in money raised in June -- far less than the goal the campaign let linger publicly -- his fundraising announcement combines with staff turmoil to tell a muddier story. "The amount . . . was less than the $5 million that Mr. Thompson's supporters had hoped for and has met with some disappointment inside his camp, which has also been buffeted in recent days by staff defections and high-level disagreements," write The New York Times' Susan Saulny and David Kirkpatrick.
The Thompson camp contends that the $5 million goal was never real (though they did little over the past eight weeks to knock it down), and say the $3 million they raised in 26 days puts them in a great position. Maybe he's done far better in July, but a slice of perspective: former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., topped $3 million by about 2 pm on his "national call day" in January.
Yes, national and local polls place Thompson squarely in the mix. But add disappointing numbers to Thompson's churning staff and a series of message-free speeches, and this savior may need to rescue himself before he turns to rescuing a political party. "Many Republicans have turned queasy as Thompson has ousted part of his original brain trust and repeatedly delayed his official announcement, which is now planned for shortly after Labor Day, in the first two weeks of September," Politico's Mike Allen writes.
Big political news from Maine to Alaska yesterday -- a chief justice hospitalized after a seizure (and he's the young one!); the first meeting between a new British prime minister and the president (enough with the toothpaste jokes); an FBI raid of the home of the most senior Republican in the Senate; and a push to impeach the attorney general of the United States (though not a serious one). Glad you didn't take a vacation this week?
Meanwhile, for the presidential frontrunners, a pair of profiles appear that the campaigns never wanted written -- and that cut in much different ways for their candidacies. Vanity Fair's Judy Bacharach takes on Judith Giuliani -- let's just say that the Giuliani campaign won't be passing this one around. The profile opens with the indelible image of Judy's security detail pushing aside Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., at an event to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11; this was after Rudolph Giuliani left the mayor's office, and before he married Judy. Things get less flattering from there: "Who does Judith Stish Ross Nathan Giuliani think she is?" Bachrach writes. "These days, even with her husband, a freshly minted multi-millionaire, far ahead of the competition in the Republican presidential polls, no one, least of all Judith, 52, seems to have a clue. In a way, this is understandable. There have been so many different Judiths."
The New York Times' Jodi Kantor looks at Chelsea Clinton -- the 27-year-old who would be the "first first child twice over" -- and paints a mostly flattering portrait (while not talking to Chelsea herself). "Lately, Ms. Clinton has been able to have her celebrity and control it, too, enjoying the perks but fewer of the drawbacks she used to suffer," Kantor writes. "Now Ms. Clinton must decide whether to surrender some of her privacy to help her mother, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination." Friends talk plenty about mother-daughter similarities, and Kantor adds: "Ms. Clinton's friends call her devoted to her mother and her presidential run, if a bit leery of the accompanying madness of the race."
ABC's Kate Snow sits down with former President Bill Clinton tonight on "Nightline," and he tells her that he would keep an office in the White House's East Wing if his wife is elected president. (He also plans to take care of some "first lady" duties while continuing his foundation work.) He's pledging to hold his tongue when possible in the rough-and-tumble of the presidential race. "She's big enough to handle her own political fights," Clinton says. "When I feel people talking about someone I am not familiar with, I want to step in, and I do have to hold my tongue because it's . . . you know, again I'm trying to do what's helpful."
Another candidate seeks to jump-start his campaign with a book. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., is having his memoir, "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," published today -- an occasion the campaign has marked to launch a second announcement tour of sorts. Biden's media rounds will land him on everything from NPR and CNN to Letterman and "The Daily Show" by the end of this week, while much of his family fans out across Iowa. If Biden has a moment, this could be it.
This tough-guy moment from the book won't hurt -- though it seems a bit pat to be 100 percent accurate. Biden said President Bush pushed back at him in 2004 when he called publicly on the president to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But Biden didn't give. "I looked at Cheney," Biden writes, per The Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr. "Mr. Vice-President, I said, full disclosure, were you not a constitutional officer, I'd fire you too. Simple reason, Mr. President, can you name me one piece of substantial advice given about the war in Iraq that's turned out to be true?"
Also in the news:
Chief Justice John Roberts remains hospitalized in Maine today after suffering a "benign idiopathic seizure," meaning doctors found no tumor, stroke or any other medical explanation, per the AP's Mark Sherman. Local reports had Roberts "foaming at the mouth," though ABC's Dan Harris reported on "Good Morning America" that the chief justice was kept overnight only as a precaution. Roberts, at 52 the youngest member of the Supreme Court, is expected to recover fully in plenty of time for the Supreme Court's fall session.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, had his Alaska home searched yesterday by the IRS and FBI "as part of a broad federal investigation of political corruption in the state that has also swept up his son and one of his closest financial backers," The Washington Post's Dan Eggen and Paul Kane report. Beyond the implications for Stevens -- a senator for four decades -- it's another reminder that the "culture of corruption" remains with us (and it's not just a GOP problem) in the very week that Democrats are pushing an ethics and lobbying overhaul. "Stevens is among more than a dozen current and former members of Congress who have come under federal investigation in the past three years over allegations related to their ties to lobbyists, defense contractors and other corporate interests," Eggen and Kane write.
Per the Anchorage Daily News, agents were at Stevens' home for more than 10 hours, "hauling off undisclosed items from inside and taking extensive pictures and video."
Former President Clinton yesterday told the Democratic Leadership Council that he had no interest in getting involved in "that little spat" between his wife and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., last week. But this is Bill Clinton we're talking about: He "waded right in -- in a way that sounded like the Clintons might be seeking a truce with Obama in the debate over the proper role of presidential diplomacy when dealing with assorted bad guys on the world stage," Politico's David Paul Kuhn and John F. Harris write. He suggested that he saw little disagreement on "the big question, and that is: Should we have more diplomacy? The answer is yes. Then you can parse their answers to the specific questions and decide who you think is right," Clinton said. (He also said it "galls" him that fighting poverty has become popular among politicians, since it suggests that he and the DLC only care about the middle class. Hear that, John Edwards?)
The Clinton camp said the former president was speaking extemporaneously and did not coordinate his message with his wife's campaign -- good, since Obama seems not to have accepted any treaty terms. "The notion that somehow we have had an effective foreign policy by not talking to people is part of the perceived conventional wisdom that got us into this war in Iraq," Obama said yesterday outside a fundraiser in Dallas, per The Dallas Morning News' Gromer Jeffers Jr.
Oprah's September fundraiser for Obama is already sold out, per the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet. "There's a waiting list, but since there probably will be few no-shows at the glitzy Winfrey party, contributors are being steered to other, smaller Obama events," Sweet writes.
Giuliani is set to unveil his healthcare plan today in New Hampshire -- but his plan really isn't a plan. "No one should expect a 700-page health care proposal to be sitting on chairs at the Rochester town meeting, Giuliani campaign staffers cautioned," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Rather, they said, this is more about a guiding set of principles, including empowering individuals and not government bureaucrats, respecting states as places where innovation occurs, limiting the role of the federal government to helping the market work more effectively, and creating a mandate-free health care delivery system that builds on what currently exists."
The former mayor tried out a fun line yesterday in New Hampshire, as part of his call for lower taxes and less government. "That's what makes America great, not this nanny government that Democrats want to give us, where government controls your entire life," Giuliani said, per the AP's Philip Elliott.
Fred Thompson may not yet be a candidate, but he appears to have pledged to sign a complete overhaul of the federal tax code if he becomes president -- replacing all federal taxes (including the income tax) with a 23 percent retail sales tax. "Asked last week on camera if he would sign the fair tax bill if it were passed by the House and Senate, the former 'Law & Order' actor appears to respond to the question by saying, 'Yeah, absolutely,' " ABC's Teddy Davis reports. A Thompson spokeswoman, however, said the non-candidate "has taken no such pledge."
John Edwards isn't the only candidate rejecting the "war on terror" label. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., said in Iowa yesterday that the term isn't accurate. "Terrorism is a tactic. It is not the thing with which we are at war," Tancredo said, per Radio Iowa. "Characterizing it or mischaracterizing it that way is something that we should not do. We should understand exactly who it is that we are fighting."
President Bush had a good initial meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- positive because they "appeared to be in lockstep" on the issue of Iraq, Time's Brian Bennett writes. "There were no signs of any rift as Bush and Brown held their first joint press conference," he writes. "Quite the opposite; they were down-right chummy. Bush played the cut-up and Brown came out of his shell." Said Bush as the press conference concluded: "Good job."
Why can't the Democrats end the war? And will September truly change things? House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said in an interview with The Washington Post that a positive September report by Gen. David Petraeus would probably split the Democratic caucus and further delay congressional efforts to change strategies in Iraq. "I think there would be enough support [among conservative Democrats] to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us," Clyburn said.
"No, I was not." -- Vice President Dick Cheney, on whether he was tempted to take any presidential actions during the 125 minutes he had presidential powers last weekend. Cheney also weighed in on the Scooter Libby verdict (he still disagrees with it) and whether his office belongs in the executive or legislative branch: "The vice president is kind of a unique creature, if you will, in that you've got a foot in both branches."
"May he recover swiftly and have a complete change of judicial philosophy." -- "Bubbolas," a reader at MaineCoastNow.com, on Chief Justice Roberts.
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