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Friday, December 21, 2007

Clinton, Obama, Edwards Tied in Iowa

Iowa Caucus Analysis, Friday, December 21st
Is this really happening? Is the most anticipated primary in this country's history about to hit its stretch run with the American public having no idea who is going to be the nominee of either party?

This blog has devoted a lot of ink to the Republican primary of late and for good reason. Huckabee's surge has transformed the Republican primary from a two-man race (Giuliani and Romney) to a legitimate four-man race (Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee, and McCain). Exactly how this has happened will be written about next week.

But I just have to address the Democratic primary today. It's too close. Too good. Too exciting.

So how important is the Iowa Caucus, anyway? Yesterday, CNN released its latest Iowa poll, which revealed that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards are in a statistical tie for the country's opening caucus, which is now under two weeks away. It reaffirms what we already knew. Any of the three can win the Iowa Caucus. Interestingly, it's the closeness itself that places more weight on the Democratic Iowa Caucus than at any time in its history. The three contenders are pouring money into Iowa, and the state is abuzz with the campaigns' ground troops. Iowa should serve as a microcosm of the country. Any of the three can win the Democratic nomination, and any of the three can be the next President of the United States. And to think that the next President might be chosen by Iowa and their funny caucus rules is mind blowing.

Do not forget those Iowa rules, which give reason to believe that the least likely candidate to win the Iowa Caucus is the national poll leader, Senator Clinton. It's that second choice wrinkle of letting voters re-align their allegiance after the first round of voting. It seems that no one who is not planning on voting for Clinton will end voting for her with their second ballot on January third. Obama and Edwards, meanwhile, seem to duopolize that second choice constituency. It is not unreasonable to expect that at the conclusion of the Iowa Caucus, both of those candidates will shoot up into the 30's while Clinton remains in the 20's.

On top of that, you cannot underestimate the day-of undecided voter, either. Think of the voters who have not made up their mind yet and look forward to being convinced on caucus day. They step out of their car and are met by throngs of younger-to-middle-age Obama and Edwards supporters who seem much more passionate about their candidate and their cause than the middle-to-upper-age Democrats who are sticking with Clinton. For better or worse, candidates of change are sexier than candidates of experience. Which of these are more likely to sway an undecided voter?

Are these two factors - the second choice ballot and the undecided voter - not a confluence of events that should have Camp Clinton shaking in their shoes? It is becoming evident that Clinton is not going to win the Iowa Caucus, and of late she has been losing ground in New Hampshire to Obama. This makes an Obama victory in Iowa, which is the most likely scenario, a disaster for Clinton, as his momentum in New Hampshire will only get ratcheted up a notch with an Iowa win.

What's worse is that Clinton cannot possibly afford to pull resources out of Iowa to create a firewall in New Hampshire to slow Obamamania. To fall back into the teens in Iowa against the two men running against her would be embarrassing for a campaign that already seems to be teetering, even though it's really not. The perception, however, is that she is losing control of a primary fight that many thought was wrapped up last summer, even though the polls still have her up double digits nationally.

And of course there's John Edwards, who most acknowledge has a great shot in Iowa, but then don't seem to see the dominoes that fall into place after that. People don't seem to realize that an Edwards victory changes the dynamic of this race. If Edwards get up 1-0-0 against the fundraising machines, the money advantage all but disappears. Free media coverage and extra donors await him on caucus night and the week following. He has labor ties to Nevada and geographical ties to South Carolina, both of which he can concentrate on while Clinton and Obama battle it out in New Hampshire. Moreover, there are large constituencies across the country just waiting to see if he can win Iowa before making a decision the other two. In other words, his support can only go up after Iowa. Way up. Trust me on this: Democrats can get as excited about an Edwards nomination as they can with either of the other two. A good-looking, articulate, inspiring, southern, liberal Democrat who rails against special interests in Washington? That's a winning campaign in the Democratic party.

The problem is, he's on the cusp of viability. The perception is that he's the least likely viable candidate of either party. The potential energy is filled to the brim for a powerhouse campaign, and an Iowa victory converts potential into kinetic.

And then hold on to your seats.

So yeah, Iowa's pretty important.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tancredo Drops Out

Here is a quote from my blog on the 28th of November:

"Prediction: Tom Tancredo drops out in December, now that his pet issue - immigration - is front and center. He was never in it to win it."

Then, on December 11:

"He didn't get in the race to win, but rather to raise immigration as a prominent issue in the primary. With that objective achieved, despite it probably having nothing to do with his candidacy, it's unclear why he stays in, other than to see the issue through."

Today, as predicted, Tom Tancredo dropped out of the Republican primary. His mission was a success. Immigration is front and center in the Republican discourse, with most candidates trying to boast about how tough they would be on illegal immigrants. Tancredo used his announcement to publicly endorse Mitt Romney which is significant, though not because he picks up Tancredo's 1% of the vote across the country. Rather, it's a useful endorsement because it brings over a couple percent in Iowa, where Romney's is locked in a death battle with Mike Huckabee, and also because of the immigration issue. Any Republican voter that had immigration as their chief issue but was vacillating between the top tier Republican contenders may now be convinced that Romney is the way to go, especially after Tancredo called Huckabee's record on immigration abysmal.

It will be interesting to see how Iowa polls develop over Christmas week.

Check back tomorrow for a recap of the week.

VP Candidates: Part Two

Iowa Caucus Analysis, Thursday, December 20th
Part 1 yesterday. Part 2 today:

Mike Huckabee
3) Newt Gingrich (Former Speaker of the House, Georgia) - Gingrich intended to run for this election, but eventually realized that in order to fundraise and campaign legally, he would have had to step down from his chairman position atop of "American Solutions." If he can find his way around that by the spring, what better way to gradually re-introduce himself to the public than through the Vice-Presidency, making a 2012 or 2016 nomination much more likely?

2) Condoleezza Rice (Secretary of State) - Easily, Huckabee's biggest weakness as a presidential candidate is that he has no foreign policy experience. Enter the rising star of the Bush Administration - the former national security advisor, the current Secretary of State, the highest ranking African-American in this country's history, and a woman to combat the female vote in a potential election against Hillary Clinton. To top it off, she's been the most popular member of Bush's cabinet, which means she brings the Bush supporters and appeals to many Bush detractors.

1) Norm Coleman (Senator, Minnesota) - The Huckabee VP is difficult, as it's much more difficult to balance a ticket that does not want to be balanced. Huckabee will not exchange values for votes. Coleman is a steadfast social conservative, and he's a highly ranked minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, which brings foreign policy experience to the ticket, not to mention a northern geographical balance.

John McCain
3) Jeb Bush - It would be almost poetic, wouldn't it? A McCain-Bush ticket. We could stay the course in Iraq for decades! But seriously folks, take a look at yesterday's post to see what Jeb Bush brings to a ticket.

2) Mitt Romney (Former Governor, Massachusetts) - McCain and Romney could use each other for several reasons. Southwest/Northeast, Senator/Governor, Experience on the national scene/Fresh on the national scene, terrifying glare/robotic stare. Romney is the only realistic contender for the Presidency who would accept the Vice-Presidency at this point. For one, it gives the public a chance to trust him more and see that his Mormonism won't impact his politics. Moreover, once Huckabee took his Iowa lead, Romney was staring at an early exit right in the face, which means the Vice-Presidency already doesn't look too bad.

1) Joe Lieberman (Senator, Connecticut) - Like you didn't see this coming. Lieberman's endorsement this week cements it. Outlined nearly a year ago on my old blog (horrifically written, may I add), this would be a tremendously different ticket than this country is used to, and it would almost certainly bring in a third party. If anything, this might even be a third party ticket if McCain doesn't get nominated!

Barack Obama
3) Mark Warner - See all the reasons stated under Clinton, yesterday.

2) Joe Biden - For all the reasons stated under Edwards. (Note: No Bill Richardson for Obama, as it's unlikely the Democrats will want to run an African-American with a Latino. Too many barriers to break in too important of an election.)

1) Wesley Clark - For all the reasons stated under Edwards. Both Biden and Clark shore up Obama's greatest perceived weakness - inexperience and foreign policy.

Mitt Romney
3) Jeff Sessions (Senator, Alabama) - How's this to balance Romney's perceived weaknesses? Sessions is one of the five most conservative U.S. Senators in the country, he's from the deep south, and is loud and proud of his disdain for illegal immigration.

2) Sam Brownback (Senator, Kansas) - Similar to Sessions, Brownback's conservative record cannot be questioned. He made a run at the White House but could never get national appeal or money. As a Vice-Presidential nominee, it's the perfect platform for Brownback to reach more people, and sets up another stab at the Oval Office in four to eight years.

1) Charlie Crist - See Crist under yesterday's Giuliani post. In short, I think is the most likely Vice-Presidential nominee of the Republican Party.


I'll be back tomorrow to wrap up the week that was in presidential politics.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top VP Choices for the Contenders

Iowa Caucus Analysis, Wednesday, December 19th
Today, I'll break up the final work week before Christmas with a gimmick column. I've had three readers broach the topic of who the Vice-Presidential nominees might be. It's a great topic. Which potential running-mates would fit best with the seven presidential candidates who have a realistic shot at running in a general election?

Many variables play into the decision making process. Examples include geographical balance, a balance of strengths and weaknesses, trying to fill gaps of experience of the presidential nominee, and also who can mesh well with the candidate on top of the ticket, to name a few.

So here are the top three VP choices for each of the candidates that might actually win and will need someone's hand to hold on the convention stage this summer. We'll do three candidates today, and four tomorrow. (Alphabetical order)

Hillary Clinton
3) Tom Vilsack (Former Governor, Iowa) - Vilsack dropped out of the presidential race to endorse Clinton, leading some to believe a deal was struck in order to ensure a Clinton victory in the Iowa Caucus. He would be helpful in the Midwest, which was swept by President Bush in 2004. However, if Obama or Edwards wins Iowa, which seems likely, the deal's probably off.
2) Bill Richardson (Governor, New Mexico) - With New Mexico and Florida as key swing states, a Latin-American VP brings those two states two the blue column immediately. Richardson will be on every Democrat's short list for many reasons, which we'll get to.
1) Mark Warner (Former Governor, Virginia) - In order to not alienate the entire south, Mark Warner is a very valuable addition to a ticket that is led by a northern Democrat. He was an immensely popular governor of what was considered a red state, bringing executive experience to Clinton's legislative background. The question is: Is he interested in the job? I wrote about this fourteen months ago on my old blog. I think he is.

John Edwards
3) Joe Biden (Senator, Delaware) - Taking a page out of Dick Cheney's playbook, Joe Biden could be a very valuable Vice-President. I can see a President making Biden the point-man on Iraq. No politician is more knowledgeable on the situation and equipped to deal with it, with the possible exceptions of John McCain and John Warner. Biden should accept the offer, as this election is his last whiff of the White House.
2) Wesley Clark (Former Supreme Commander Nato Allied Forces) - Both parties love him, he would be an incredibly capable advisor in military policy, and he is practically attack proof from the Republican propaganda machine. He also has roots in the Midwest, making an Edwards-Clark ticket competitive across the entire country.
1) Bill Richardson - In addition to what was written about him above, Richardson brings a lot of experience that Edwards, the former one-term Senator, does not have. Richardson has been governor, ambassador to the U.N., Energy Secretary (how important is that, these days?), and has served in the House. Perhaps most importantly, Richardson's wealth of experience and skills, but relatively lackluster personality in public, is perfect for a Vice-Presidential nominee who should not steal the spotlight, but should make people at ease about voting for the ticket.

Rudy Giuliani
3) Jeb Bush (Former Governor, Florida) - If Bush wasn't such a radioactive name, we could very well be seeing Jeb on top of most Republican primary polls. He was very popular as governor of a swing state, and conservatives trust the Bush name. This balances evangelical voters who are weary of voting for Giuliani.
2) Rick Perry (Governor, Texas) - How better to ease Republican fears about a New Yorker on top than by putting a Texan on bottom?
1) Charlie Crist (Governor, Florida) - On November 28th's Republican debate, I first floated the idea during a live blog that Crist was interested in the VP slot with any candidate. He makes a ton of sense for the same reasons Jeb Bush does, without fear of the Bush name poisoning the ticket.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One Sentence on Each GOP Candidate

Iowa Caucus Analysis, Tuesday, December 18th
Quick post today. Here is one sentence on each Republican candidate that should get you up to speed if your temporary residence this month has been next door to a megadrile.

Rudy Giuliani - He's giving up on all of the early states to concentrate on Florida, which would set up Super Tuesday, reminding us of an adage regarding eggs and a solitary basket.

Mike Huckabee - Contrarily to Giuliani, Huckabee is putting nearly all his efforts into the early primaries, counting on the momentum to roll over into Florida and Super Tuesday, reminding us of an old adage about a hare.

Duncan Hunter - Hunter reminds us of a tortoise, the reason for which has nothing to do with an old adage.

John McCain - McCain has temporarily taken the headline wars from Huckabee, earning numerous newspaper significant endorsements as well as one from party-crossing Joe Lieberman, which should excite independents who can vote in the Republican primary.

Ron Paul - He picks up about a point every month, which means if this election is held in 2047... he has a shot.

Mitt Romney - Romney's starting to throw some jabs at Huckabee, but if Romney doesn't make up ground by the end of the week, expect to see some right hooks starting on December 26th, Boxer Day. (Even I was taken aback at my cleverness there.)

Tom Tancredo - Speaking of Romney, if he doesn't win Iowa, he can still win New Hampshire, which keeps him alive to fight until Super Tuesday.

Fred Thompson - Wouldn't making Die Hard 5 be more fun?


I'm in the process of nailing down the top VP options for the contenders (both parties) for tomorrow's blog. See you then.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Republicans and Their President

Iowa Caucus Analysis, Monday, December 17th

President Bush has, roughly, a 34% job approval rating. Different polls vary a few percentage points (Rasmussen, Gallup, FoxNews have him a bit higher. CNN, LA Times, and Washington Post a bit lower), but his approval rating has been in the low-to-mid 30's for the entire year, so we can stop talking about the margin of error or positive and negative news cycles when it comes to his actual job approval from the American people. Approximately one third of the country has a favorable view of his job performance.

One of the numerous interesting aspects of this presidential campaign is that, for the first time since 1920, there is a two-term president whose vice-president is not running to replace him. Gore ran after Clinton, Bush I after Reagan, and Nixon after Eisenhower. Not since the relatively un-ambitious Thomas Marshall declined to campaign for the Presidency after Woodrow Wilson's two terms has there been such a vacuum heading into a presidential campaign cycle.

One of the last duties of an incumbent two-term President is to endorse his party's nominee. Of course, he has always left this to the party's primary process, waiting for the nominee to be evident, and then endorsing said nominee at the party's convention. Whether President Bush will follow this tradition remains to be seen.

However, another role of a two-term President is either as a sail or an anchor. A popular outgoing President, say a Washington, a Monroe, a Reagan, or a Clinton is a great asset to the Vice-President or to any other nominee of the party. The nominee of the popular President's party, not to mention the other candidates for that party's nomination, can throw their arms around the President, not only in the primary, but in the general election as well. They can succeed under the "party" line of four more similar, successful years.

But what of the candidates vying for that nomination whose President is unpopular? How does one effectively distance themselves from the man who leads the party, but has steered the party platform for eight years?

In the current situation, it is difficult for the Republican candidates not only because the President is unpopular by nearly a 2 to 1 margin across the country, but ironically because the President still has a majority of support in the Republican Party itself. Therefore, if the candidate wants to be President, they cannot too closely support the popular President. However, if the candidate wants to even have a shot at the Oval Office, they must be nominated, and for that to happen, he must support the President who is still popular in the party.

Tough spot.

So, as we read articles like this one from Breitbart.com, which talks about the two different ways that Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney orate their allegiance to President Bush, remember that the Republican candidates are walking a fine line. The Democrats can bash the President to win the nomination and the general. That's easy. However, with all the media scrutiny these days, a Republican candidate will have to eat all pro-Bush comments for lunch this fall.

In sum, there's a reason why Ron Paul can't win the nomination... but there's also a reason John McCain can't win the general.
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