Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Obama and the Farrakhan Trap

The Democratic frontrunner stepped in it Tuesday night.

By Byron York

Talking to reporters after the Democratic debate here at Cleveland State University, David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s closest adviser, insisted that Obama didn’t try to spin his way through a question on Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who recently praised Obama as “the hope of the entire world” who is “capturing audiences of black and brown and red and yellow.” “I thought that he was very forthright about it,” Axelrod explained. “The point is this: Louis Farrakhan said kind things about [Obama]. From what I read, he didn’t say it was an endorsement, and I think Sen. Obama made clear what his position on Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic statements was.”

The question stemmed from Obama’s initial answer when NBC’s Tim Russert asked, “Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?” Obama might have said, “No.” But instead, he seemed to go out of his way to denounce some of Farrakhan’s statements while not taking on Farrakhan himself (and even using Farrakhan’s preferred honorific in the process). “You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments,” Obama said. “I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can’t censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we’re not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally, with Minister Farrakhan.”

More than a few observers were taken aback by Obama’s not-so-deft sidestep. What if, the blogger Andrew Sullivan asked, it had been a question to John McCain about David Duke? And what if McCain had answered, “You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Dr. Duke’s racist comments. I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in a white man who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can’t censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we’re not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally, with Dr. Duke.”

And what if then, after the debate, McCain’s top campaign aide explained by saying, “The point is this: David Duke said kind things about [McCain]. From what I read, he didn’t say it was an endorsement, and I think Sen. McCain made clear what his position on Duke’s racist statements was.”

But Obama’s sidestepping didn’t stop there. After his answer, Russert asked again, just as directly, “Do you reject his support?” Obama might have answered, “Yes,” but instead tried his best to stay away from anything so definitive. “Well, Tim, you know, I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that he thinks I’m a good guy. You know, I — you know, I — I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is on those comments.”

At that point it became clear that Obama simply would not say that he rejected Farrakhan’s support, preferring instead to refer to, but not repeat, previous statements. It’s a common technique for a politician who doesn’t want to say something to say that he has said it before without actually saying what he says he said. Here in Cleveland on Tuesday night, Obama seemed to be heading in that direction until Russert pressed a bit more, bringing up Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s long-time pastor, whose magazine last year said that Farrakhan “truly epitomized greatness.” And then Hillary Clinton — who must have enjoyed seeing her opponent take a rare turn on the hot seat — added, “There’s a difference between denouncing and rejecting…I have no doubt that everything Barack just said is absolutely sincere. But I just think, we’ve got to be even stronger.”

At that moment, Obama was in trouble. If he continued to repeat his I-have-denounced-Minister-Farrakhan’s-anti-Semitic-statements position, he would clearly seem to be avoiding a larger critique of Farrakhan. So he rather nimbly suggested that it was all a matter of semantics, and if Sen. Clinton liked, he would reject as well as denounce. “Tim, I have to say I don’t see a difference between denouncing and rejecting,” Obama said. “If the word ‘reject’ Sen. Clinton feels is stronger than the word ‘denounce,’ then I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.”

The concession got Obama out of trouble. But it didn’t stop the talk in the spin room after the debate. Was Obama initially trying to nuance his way through the question? “Sen. Clinton was pleased that he came back later and…not only denounced it but rejected support,” said top Clinton aide Mark Penn. But Penn continued: “I think you have to listen to the answers. He did not reject what his minister said about Farrakhan. If you listen to the answers, he only responded to Farrakhan, and he never responded to the fact that his minister, if I have it right, said that Farrakhan was a person of greatness. So if you listen very carefully, I do not think he in fact rejected or denounced his minister praising Farrakhan — he only did that to Farrakhan.”

A few feet away, Rev. Jesse Jackson approached the question indirectly. He told reporters he was disappointed that there wasn’t a serious discussion of poverty in the debate; why was there no time to discuss the poor and time to discuss Louis Farrakhan? And if there was going to be a discussion of Farrakhan, how could it then leave out…Bill O’Reilly? “They mentioned the Farrakhan matter,” Jackson said. “He’s a free speaker, but in the case of O’Reilly, who suggested about Michelle Obama’s statement about love for the country, about the lynch mob — a very reprehensible statement. He comes under FCC and Fox scrutiny. And so I thought there was an imbalance there.”

(Jackson was referring to a recent incident in which the Fox News host, on his radio program, defended Mrs. Obama on her comment that she had not, in her adult life, been proud of her country until her husband’s run for president. “I don’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama until there’s evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels,” O’Reilly said. Later, O’Reilly, noting that his statement was in Mrs. Obama’s defense, said, “I’m sorry if my statement offended anybody.”)

In the end, what did Farrakhan’s prominent role in Tuesday night’s debate amount to? Perhaps it was all just of interest to the press. But Obama’s reluctance, at least initially, to reject Farrakhan’s support said something about the closeness of this Democratic race. There are a lot of voters out there who admire Louis Farrakhan. Why alienate them? “What I think we all have to be careful of, in the process of these elections, is people saying, ‘O.K., I support you,’ and then determining whether or not you would want or not want their support,” Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Clinton supporter, said after the debate. “I am confident that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would love to have the votes of people within the Farrakhan sect… Maybe you don’t necessarily embrace the leadership, but you embrace the fact that there are millions — not millions, but thousands — of people within that religion who on a daily basis are suffering from the same things all the rest of us are suffering from.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What you should know about John McCain

Things you should know about John McCain:

• John McCain was born in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone, a U.S. territory, while his father was serving as an active-duty naval officer.

• If elected, he would be the oldest president ever at inauguration (72) and the first born outside the continental U.S.

• Mr. McCain narrowly escaped being thrown out of the U.S. Naval Academy on many occasions. He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class.

• He spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, Vietnam, after his plane was shot down.

• Because of injuries from his time as a POW, Mr. McCain cannot raise either arm above his head.

• He has had three episodes of melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer.

• When he was a prisoner of war, he was the prison storyteller. He was once allowed 10 minutes with a Bible to refresh his memory so he could lead a Christmas service in the cell.

• Mr. McCain's father was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in 1981, the latest McCain to be buried there in a line dating back to the Revolutionary War.

• Mr. McCain's pets include Coco the mutt; Sam, an English springer spaniel; Oreo the cat; Cuff and Link, a pair of turtles; three parakeets; 13 saltwater fish; and finally, a ferret.

• Mr. McCain's first wife was Carol Shepp, a former Philadelphia model. He divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy Hensley a month later. He has seven children and four grandchildren.

• Mr. McCain appeared as himself in a cameo in the movie Wedding Crashers.

• When The Associated Press asked candidates for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination who their favorite Republican was, John Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman all said Mr. McCain.

Compiled by Bailey Shiffler

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How Right Is McCain?

The likely nominee is a "conservative." Here's what that means.

February 19, 2008

John McCain will be the Republican Party's presidential candidate in November. Most Republicans certainly know who John McCain is, but there still seems to be a question as to just what he is. President Bush said last week that there was "no doubt in my mind he is a true conservative." But is he a Ronald Reagan conservative, or more like a Bob Dole moderate? Or is he like Dwight Eisenhower, who claimed in the 1952 nomination battle that he was "just as conservative" as his opponent, Sen. Robert Taft?

Mr. McCain's lifetime American Conservative Union rating is 82, compared with conservative Sen. Sam Brownback's 94, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's 90, and liberal Sen. Olympia Snowe's 50. So he is much more conservative than liberal; indeed Americans for Tax Reform rates him at 83, compared with Hillary Clinton's 7 and Barack Obama's 8.

We know he has a tough streak, saying that when he looked into Russian president Vladimir Putin's eyes he "saw three letters: a K, a G and a B," and we know he has a temper. When Mitt Romney said to McCain in one of their debates, "Don't turn the pharmaceutical companies into the big bad guys," Mr. McCain replied, "Well, they are." In the words of Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mr. McCain "is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

* * *

So what are Mr. McCain's public policy beliefs? For starters, he would be America's most militarily experienced president since Ike. He piloted a Navy A-4 Skyhawk bomber in Vietnam, completing 22 missions before being shot down in 1967, captured, and often beaten during his five years of imprisonment. He believes in fighting terrorism to protect America. He intends "to win the war in Iraq" and views the Iraq debate as being over "whether we set a date for withdrawal, which will be a date for surrender, or whether we will let this surge continue and succeed." He will "make unmistakably clear to Iran that we will not permit a government that espouses the destruction of the state of Israel . . . and pledges undying enmity to the United States to possess the weapons to advance their malevolent ambitions."

Second, Mr. McCain is on the record as supportive of many conservative beliefs that are the opposite of liberal thinking. He will support the building of nuclear power plants to increase America's independent energy supplies. He is against Hillary Clinton's health-care program, including its individual mandate. And he is for individually owned Social Security accounts.

Mr. McCain is for school choice and competition--"That means charter schools, that means home schooling, it means vouchers"--and he voted for a bill to provide vouchers in the District of Columbia. In 2000 he said, "I would take the gas and oil, ethanol and sugar subsidies and take that money and put it into a test voucher program over three years to be used in every poor school district in every state in America."

He is for eliminating the alternative minimum tax and supports changing our tax system: "We have to reform the tax code. Nobody understands it. Nobody trusts it. Nobody believes in it. And we have to fix it."

He has supported free trade agreements, for "isolationism and protectionism doesn't work." He has a pro-life voting record, opposes partial-birth abortion and voted against allowing the Federal Marriage Amendment to come to the floor, while supporting state enactments of such amendment sif they choose. He believes the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to bear arms.

He favors a line-item veto for the president, which does not exist today, and has supported another very good spending idea: a constitutional amendment requiring a three-fifths vote of each house of Congress to raise taxes. Sixteen states have such a supermajority requirement, and McCain might add to his list a similar three-fifths vote to spend more than, say, 98% of the government's income.

And he has firmly stated that he is for appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, telling the Federalist Society he would "not only insist on persons who were faithful to the Constitution, but persons who had a record that demonstrated that fidelity."

On economic matters he believes "the first thing we need to do is stop the out-of-control spending." He has promised to eliminate the 10,000 or so earmark spending items (costing some $20 billion to $30 billion annually) that Congress adds to its other spending bills: "I will not sign a bill with any earmarks in it." That is a tough promise but a good start on fixing congressional overspending. In the Des Moines Register debate in Iowa last December, he said he would "eliminate subsidies on ethanol and other agricultural products. They are an impediment to competition. They are an impediment to free markets. And I believe subsidies are a mistake." Congress gives out nearly $3 billion in ethanol subsidies every year, and $15 billion to $20 billion in other farm subsidies, so this is a significant and positive policy change Mr. McCain is advocating.

Mr. McCain now supports making permanent the Bush income tax rate reductions because "I won't let a Democratic Congress raise your taxes and choke the growth of our economy." That is a significant improvement from his 2001 opposition to the Bush tax cuts, his 2004 opposition to making them permanent, and his sponsorship many years ago with Sen. Tom Daschle of legislation to eliminate tax reductions "tilted to the rich."

On the other side of the coin is Mr. McCain's most significant error: the McCain-Feingold legislation, which regulates what people and some organizations may say about federal candidates in the 60 days before an election. It is wrong thinking, wrong regulation, and in violation of the First Amendment. We need to know what Mr. McCain will do on this question if he becomes president; specifically, would he nominate judges--or Federal Election Committee members--who support the First Amendment?

* * *

Add it all together and John McCain is mostly conservative, but he is also much like Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt commanded the Rough Rider soldiers in the Spanish-American War. As president he was resolute, industrious and not particularly patient. He fought party bosses, sued to break up railroad trusts, was the "trustbuster" who launched 44 lawsuits against major corporations, gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the power to set rates, and led the fight to eliminate corporate election campaign contributions. He encouraged insurrection in Panama so he could build the canal, and built and sent around the world the Great White Fleet, the largest Navy America had ever had, to make clear to the world that we were leaders and meant business.

And Roosevelt's favorite saying was "Speak softly and carry a big stick," which sounds pretty much like the modern John McCain.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

McCain is learning to rein himself in

So this is what it looks like when the maverick becomes The Man.

By Mark Leibovich of the New York Times

Senator John McCain was sitting in the front of his fancy-pants front-runner’s plane, trying to get comfortable. He fidgeted, occasionally lapsing into un-McCainlike blandness: “There is a process in place that will formalize the methodology,” he said in describing how his free-form campaign style will assume the discipline expected of a probable Republican standard-bearer.

The position is unnatural to Mr. McCain, who has typically floundered when not playing the insurgent role. But now he is in the midst of an at-times awkward transition — from being one of the most disruptive figures in his party to someone playing it safer, not to mention trying to make nice with Republicans he clearly despises and who feel similarly about him.

“I’m trying to unify the party,” he says a lot these days, as if reminding himself. He is trying to remain “Johnny B. Goode” (the song blares over a loudspeaker at some McCain rallies), giving relatively cautious answers and trying to rein in his pugnacity, if not his wisecracks.

On a flight from Burlington, Vt., to Warwick, R.I., on Thursday, Mr. McCain volunteered that Brooke Buchanan, his spokeswoman who was seated nearby and rolling her eyes, “has a lot of her money hidden in the Cayman Islands” and that she earned it by “dealing drugs.” Previously, Mr. McCain has identified Ms. Buchanan as “Pat Buchanan’s illegitimate daughter,” “bipolar,” “a drunk,” “someone with a lot of boyfriends” and “just out of Betty Ford.”

It is only a matter of time before some viewer, listener or reader complains — recovering addicts, for example, mental illness sufferers, or, for that matter, Pat Buchanan himself.

Rebel image

One of the trademarks of Mr. McCain’s rebel image has been his inability to cloak his emotions, especially anger. He has been prone to volcanic blowups over the years. And while he would hardly be the first president with a temper, Mr. McCain has been ever vigilant of late about resisting provocation.

He mentioned his recent appearance in Washington before the Conservative Political Action Conference. (No adoring audience, the conventiongoers favored Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, in a straw poll, even though Mr. Romney had quit the race.)

“They booed me when I brought up immigration,” Mr. McCain said. “And, automatically, I just smiled.”

He repeated himself — “Smile! Smile!” — as if recreating an internal exercise that ensured this triumph of self-possession.

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who backed Mr. Romney in this year’s race, said Mr. McCain, of Arizona, deserved credit for having gone through the entire campaign “under stressful conditions” without any memorable outbursts.

“Does he have a capacity to control it?” asked Mr. Santorum, referring to Mr. McCain’s detonations. “Over the course of the campaign, I think he has managed to. But I think it is a legitimate cause for concern.”

The more famous McCain outbursts have been widely recalled in recent months, in part courtesy of the Romney campaign, which circulated a “Top 10 List” of Mr. McCain’s explosions.

The perception that he struggles to control his anger makes Mr. McCain angry. “I know I sound a little bit defensive,” he said. “But for the last 10 years, I’ve had very little significant disagreement with my colleagues, certainly not personal ones.”

That’s not exactly true: fellow senators and staff members cite more recent dust-ups involving profanities, red-faced exchanges and quick-trigger reactions. Still, only one entry on Mr. McCain’s Greatest Fits list occurred in the last year. He complains that people keep invoking “a problem I had with Chuck Grassley,” referring to the debate in which he shouted unprintable profanities at his Republican colleague from Iowa. “It was 12, 14 years ago,” Mr. McCain said. (It was, in fact, 16.)

Part of being “presidential” and “uniting the party” involves grinning and bearing a wide variety of grievances — in Mr. McCain’s case, from anti-immigration activists, right-wing talk show hosts and the many lawmakers and lobbyists Mr. McCain has crossed, undermined, annoyed and overshadowed over the years.

In addition to winning over his adversaries, Mr. McCain, 71, confronts many obstacles these days, all formidable. He faces well-financed and determined — if not unified — Democrats, questions about his age, and mounting fears about the economy (not his strong suit, he admits).

But Mr. McCain’s chief encumbrance might be himself, namely, his historic inability to play the role of go-along-get-along leader. His flirtation with being the front-runner early last year resulted in near disaster. He has charmed the news media with his quippy and accessible style, and made his political name as a party renegade.

Being on top with a growing staff, greater scrutiny and all the “best behavior” that demands does not necessary play to his strengths. “If he tries to be someone else, that’s a prescription for disaster,” said Bob Stevenson, a Republican strategist who was an aide to Bill Frist, the former Senate majority leader.

“But once you become the nominee of the party,” Mr. Stevenson said, “you begin a transition into a different role, and that transition might be steeper for John McCain than some previous nominees.”

It is with some satisfaction — and irony — that Mr. McCain cataloged the list of longtime Republican adversaries who have lined up in the last week to support him. “John Cornyn endorsed me,” Mr. McCain boasted in the interview, referring to the Republican senator from Texas at whom he directed a well-publicized string of profanities in a meeting last year.

So did Ted Stevens, Mr. McCain said, referring to the longtime senator from Alaska whose enmity for Mr. McCain — and vice versa — is well known. “It was pretty short,” Mr. McCain said of the Stevens endorsement.

'Cold chill down my spine'

“Thad Cochran endorsed me, too,” Mr. McCain marveled, referring to a very brief statement from the Republican senator from Mississippi who recently told The Boston Globe that the thought of Mr. McCain as president “sends a cold chill down my spine.”

Mr. Cochran, who declined to comment for this article, went on to call his longtime colleague “erratic,” “hotheaded” and someone who “loses his temper” and “worries me.”

Mr. McCain said he encountered Mr. Cochran on the Senate floor on Wednesday and the two exchanged a pro forma hug. There was no mention of Mr. Cochran’s criticisms. “What’s the point?” Mr. McCain said. The point — or one point — is that an earlier version of Mr. McCain might have approached Mr. Cochran with less gracious intent.

In the course of a day on the stump, he demonstrated repeatedly that the Old McCain was being retooled on the fly. As his bus wound through Boston on Thursday, Mr. McCain began to tell the gathered-around reporters a sweet story about Senator Edward M. Kennedy. It is an anecdote he has told publicly many times — about how Mr. Kennedy arranged an elaborate birthday celebration for Mr. McCain’s son Jimmy when he turned 11.

But Mr. McCain knows that public appreciation for Ted Kennedy is not the best way to win over the Republican base, so he prefaced the story with a request that it not be attributed to him. (Although he has told the story on the record many times.)

Mr. McCain was stretched out on a velour-covered seat, holding court. He was on his way to put a happy face on a pained encounter — an endorsement by Mr. Romney, a man whom Mr. McCain’s campaign had not long ago derided as a phony, flailing flip-flopper.

Reporters tried to incite Mr. McCain into a wisecrack. One asked if Mr. Romney had “flip-flopped” on his view of Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain grinned tightly, and spoke of how grateful he was for Mr. Romney’s support.

Upon arriving at Mr. Romney’s soon-to-close headquarters, Mr. McCain stood dutifully for a photo op. The onetime adversaries gripped and grinned behind a lectern, standing about as far away as two people shaking hands possibly can.

Mr. McCain stood to the side while his taller, tanner and better-rested former rival called him “a true American hero.”

In turn, the front-runner praised Mr. Romney for running a “hard, intensive, fine, honorable” campaign. “I respect him enormously,” Mr. McCain said, looking solemn, before catching himself and flashing an autopilot smile.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

McCain Rallies House GOP Members


WASHINGTON - Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain appealed to GOP House members for help rallying conservatives behind him, acknowledging the party must unite if it hopes to match the enthusiasm generated by Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

McCain met Wednesday with House Republicans in an effort to smooth over past conflicts and encourage critics to back his candidacy. McCain, all but assured the nomination, won Tuesday's primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

"I'm very gratified by the very warm reception that I received from the Republican conference this morning - a spirited and a good discussion of some of the issues," McCain told reporters afterward. "I'm very grateful for our pledge to work together."

McCain spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference where he was flanked by the House GOP leadership. The Arizona senator is working hard to reassure critics who are suspicious of his more moderate positions on some issues and of his tendency to work with Democrats.

Republican leader John Boehner, for one, was willing to set aside differences.

"Clearly, I've had some disagreements with Senator McCain over the years," said Boehner, an Ohio congressman. "But I've got to tell you, I've watched this presidential race unfold, and I've watched John McCain be a strong advocate for the principles I believe in."

GOP whip Roy Blunt called McCain "the best possible nominee for us to take back the House."

"The nominee who appeals to Reagan Democrats, the nominee who appeals to independents, the nominee who will unite conservatives in a way that assures he'll be not only the next president, but he'll be working with a Republican majority in the House," Blunt said.

McCain promised to work hard to elect Republicans to the House, and allowed the Democrats have generated more enthusiasm among voters to date.

Complicating his task is Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has stubbornly refused to leave the Republican race despite the seeming impossibility of overcoming McCain's commanding lead in the chase for convention delegates.

"Of course, I would like for him to withdraw today; it would be much easier," McCain said. "But I respect his right to remain in this race for just as long as he wants to."

Huckabee gave McCain big trouble Tuesday among conservatives in Virginia. There, exit polls showed 63 percent of white, born-again Christians supported Huckabee.

Even so, McCain noted, he won Virginia by more than 9 percent.

"In any election I've ever been involved in, a 9 percent cushion is very good," McCain said. "I also understand why many evangelical Christians would vote for Governor Huckabee. He is a Baptist minister."

As he did Tuesday night, McCain focused much of his criticism on Obama, Tuesday's winner on the Democratic side.

"I respect him and the campaign that he has run, but there's going to come a time when we have to get into specifics," McCain told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill. "I've not observed every speech he's given, obviously, but they are singularly lacking in specifics."

Link to article

Obama and McCain Spar From Victory Podiums

Alex Frangos reports from Alexandria, Va., on the presidential race.

The results were barely in tonight and the two sweepers, Barack Obama and John McCain began to rhetorically lock horns in a preview of the possible November match-up.

Obama, riding high on his eight contest winning streak, turned his words to the likely Republican nominee. “We honor his service to our nation. But his priorities don’t address the real problems of the American people, because they are bound to the failed policies of the past,” he said tonight at a rally in Madison, Wis. Alluding to Mr. McCain’s support of President Bush’s policies on the Iraq War and tax cuts, he said “George Bush won’t be on the ballot this November … the Bush-Cheney war, the Bush-Cheney tax cuts, will be on the ballot.”

McCain’s victory speech had some tart rejoinders aimed at Obama’s campaign themes.

“They will promise a new approach to governing, but offer only the policies of a political orthodoxy that insists the solution to government’s failures is to simply make it bigger,” McCain said.

Then he took a long verbal tour of Obama’s signature theme.

“Hope, my friends, is a powerful thing,” McCain said, “I have seen men’s hopes tested in hard and cruel ways that few will ever experience.”

He went on: “To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude.”

John McCain claws past Mike Huckabee

John McCain sweeps Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC
Barack Obama wins Democratic races
US presidential election: Follow it with us

JOHN McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has swept rival Mike Huckabee in three capital area primaries, even as polls pointed to his lingering weakness among conservatives.

The southern state of Virginia returned closer than expected results, with senator McCain tallying 50 per cent of the vote compared with Mr Huckabee's 41 per cent with most precincts reporting.

Pre-primary polls had given senator McCain a 2-1 advantage over the former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister.

The nation's capital showed a wider lead for senator McCain according to early reports: 67 per cent of voters to 17 per cent for Mr Huckabee, and Maryland had senator McCain winning with 55 to 33 per cent.

A CNN exit poll showed that while senator McCain took conservatives in Maryland 43-36, he still lost big among Virginia conservatives: 51 per cent of whom picked Mr Huckabee to 38 per cent for senator McCain.

The trio of victories provided a boost to senator McCain's campaign, already in high gear despite losing nominating contests to Mr Huckabee in the conservative southern states of Louisiana and Kansas earlier this month.


Senator McCain thanked the region's voters "for a clean sweep of the Potomac primary" during his victory speech and praised his rival, saying his "passionate supporters are a credit to him and our party".

"And my friends, he certainly keeps things interesting, a little too interesting at times tonight."

Senator McCain, a conservative who has garnered support from independent voters in the past, vowed to reach out to all voters in the Republican base, even ultraconservatives who are wary that his stances are too centrist.

"I will make my case to every American who will listen. I will not confine myself to the comfort of speaking only to those who agree with me. I will make my case to all the people."

Mr Huckabee vowed to continue his fight and told supporters the race was far from over. "The next several weeks are going to be the very intense weeks when a lot of delegates are at stake. And a lot will be decided as far as the long-term impact of where this process is going," he said.

"One thing that we have continually said, and I'm going to reiterate tonight, that the nomination is not secured until somebody has 1191 delegates. That has not yet happened."

Next fight

In his speech, senator McCain looked ahead to the White House race against the eventual Democratic party nominee.

"But now comes the hard part, and for America, the much bigger decision. We do not yet know for certain who will have the honor of being the Democratic Party's nominee for president," he said.

"But we know where either of their candidates will lead this country, and we dare not let them."

Democratic hopeful Barack Obama swept the area's nominating contests, carving into White House rival Hillary Clinton's powerbase and taking his winning streak to eight. However, the Illinois and New York senators remain in close fight for delegates.

Mr Huckabee has not engaged in bitter attacks against his rival, leading some experts to believe he might want to be senator McCain's vice-presidential nominee. But he did try to raise doubts about the senator at a breakfast meeting with reporters.

"If (McCain) is the nominee, I think the party will eventually coalesce around him," Mr Huckabee said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "I don't think he will be able to motivate" the base, "the footsoldiers."

Republican strategist Scott Reed said Mr Huckabee will eventually reach the end of his rope and give up.

"I just think Republicans need to give Huckabee some space and let him recognise it's mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination. There aren't any miracles in national politics, and he'll come to his own conclusion," he said.

- from AFP, Reuters

Saturday, February 9, 2008

McCain asks skeptical conservatives for support

With Romney dispatched, senator tries to rebuild key bridge

Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., gestures during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday in Washington, D.C. McCain spoke after rival Mitt Romney pulled out of the race during an earlier speech to the group.

WASHINGTON - Republican John McCain asked disgruntled conservatives to support his presidential bid on Thursday, shortly after Mitt Romney ended his struggling campaign and made McCain the all-but-certain nominee.

McCain assured a conference of conservative activists that he was one of them, citing his commitment to win in Iraq, halt Iran's nuclear ambitions and rein in the federal government while drawing sharp contrasts with potential Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

McCain's speech, which drew boos on the topic of illegal immigration, followed by a few hours Romney's surprise announcement at the conference that he was ending his run to allow Republicans to focus on the November election.

"I feel I have to now stand aside, for our party and for our country," the former Massachusetts governor told the shocked crowd, some of whom gasped and shouted "no, no" in response.

Pleas for party unity

McCain, who has built an almost insurmountable lead in delegates to the party's nominating convention, pleaded for party unity during his appearance at the annual conference.

McCain, the 71-year-old former Vietnam prisoner of war, has become a target of critics on the right for his moderate views on illegal immigration, his votes against President Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and his labeling in 2000 of some religious conservative leaders as "agents of intolerance."

"I know I have a responsibility, if I am, as I hope to be, the Republican nominee for president, to unite the party and prepare for the great contest in November," the Arizona senator told the activists gathered in a Washington hotel.

"And I am acutely aware that I cannot succeed in that endeavor, nor can our party prevail over the challenge we will face from either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, without the support of dedicated conservatives," he said.

Still a ‘two-man race,’ says Huckabee
Romney pulled out after losing 14 of 21 states on Tuesday, the biggest day of U.S. presidential voting ahead of November's election, while McCain romped to coast-to-coast wins and cemented his position as front-runner.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won five states on Tuesday, remains in the race but will have a difficult task overcoming McCain, who has rolled up more than 700 of the 1,081 delegates needed to win the nomination.

"This is a two-man race for the nomination, and I am committed to marching on," Huckabee said in a statement after Romney's withdrawal.

McCain's name was booed by some members of the audience when Romney mentioned him, but he drew mostly cheers when he appeared before the crowd — many of them McCain supporters brought in by the campaign.

Drawing some boos
He earned boos, however, when he brought up his support during last year's Senate debate for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. McCain has since said border security must come first.

"It is my sincere hope that even if you believe I have occasionally erred in my reasoning as a fellow conservative, you will still allow that I have, in many ways important to all of us, maintained the record of a conservative," McCain told the conference.

Some attendees said they were disappointed Romney was leaving, calling him the only conservative candidate in the race.

"This leaves me very concerned about the future of the Republican Party," said Nathan Shapiro, 22, a college student in New York. "I don't think McCain will carry on the traditions of the Republican Party. He's not a real conservative."

Romney said he was pulling out of the race in order to let Republicans prepare for a general election battle against the two remaining Democrats, both whom have campaigned to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

"In this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," he said.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

McCain's Lead Widens for GOP Nomination

AP Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON - Sen. John McCain padded his lead in the race for Republican national convention delegates Wednesday, claiming far more than his three remaining rivals combined as he prodded conservative critics to cut him some slack.
In a fresh sign of ferment in the Democratic race, campaign officials disclosed that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had loaned her campaign $5 million late last month, at a time when she was struggling to keep up with Sen. Barack Obama's television advertising in Super Tuesday states.

The delegate count was tight in the Democratic race, where Clinton held a relatively narrow lead of 98 over Obama in a struggle likely to reverberate through the spring.

McCain was easily outdistancing his GOP rivals, and hoping criticism from his own party would ease.

"I do hope that at some point we would just calm down a little bit and see if there's areas we can agree on," he said, one day in advance of an appearance before conservative activists who have shunned his candidacy.

Nearly complete delegate returns from coast-to-coast races on Super Tuesday left McCain with 703 delegates, nearly 60 percent of the 1,191 needed to win the nomination at the convention in St. Paul, Minn., this summer.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 260, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 190 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul 14.

Despite the lengthening odds, Romney and Huckabee showed no clear signs they were ready to exit the race.

The Democratic delegate count lagged, the result of party rules that shunned the type of winner-take-all primaries that helped McCain build his advantage.

On Tuesday's busiest primary night in history, Clinton and Obama were separated by 40 delegates, with several hundred yet to be allocated.

Overall, that left Clinton with 1,000, and Obama with 902, neither of them even halfway to the 2,025 needed to secure the Democratic nomination.

With little time to rest, both pointed toward the next contests, primaries in Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia plus caucuses in Nebraska, Washington Maine and the Virgin Islands over the next week. In all, those states offer 353 delegates.

At a news conference in Chicago, Obama claimed victory on Super Tuesday, saying he had won more states than the former first lady for the day and would wind up with more delegates by the time all were tallied.

He bluntly took issue with the suggestion that he, more than she, could be brought down by Swift Boat-style criticism in the fall campaign.

"I have to just respond by saying that the Clinton research operation is about as good as anybody's out there," he said.

"I assure you that having engaged in a contest against them for the last year that they've pulled out all the stops. And you know I think what is absolutely true is whoever the Democratic nominee is the Republicans will go after them. The notion that somehow Senator Clinton is going to be immune from attack or there's not a whole dump truck they can't back up in a match between her and John McCain is just not true."

He said he would be campaigning in all the states in the next round of primaries and caucuses.

Clinton's plans were not yet public for the next contests, and senior aides conceded Obama would have more to spend on ads.

"We will have funds to compete," Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, told reporters in a conference call. "But we're likely to be outspent again."

Asked whether Clinton and her husband, the former president, had decided to dip into their own wealth to finance their campaign, Penn said, "I'm not aware."

But a few hours later, Howard Wolfson, the campaign's communications director, said the senator had loaned money to her campaign late last month.

Officials with both campaigns have said Obama raised $32 million in January and that Clinton raised $13.5 million, a significant gap between the two that allowed Obama to place ads in virtually every Super Tuesday state and to get a head start on advertising in primaries and caucuses over the next week.

Anatomy of a comeback: How McCain pulled it off

By Elisabeth Bumiller and David D. Kirkpatrick

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, shares a laugh with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., right, on McCain's campaign charter plane shortly after landing Tuesday in San Diego.
On a Friday morning last July, Sen. John McCain packed a carry-on bag, boarded a cheap flight out of Baltimore and traveled alone to New Hampshire.

His campaign had just burned through $24 million and had nearly gone broke. His sunny comments about progress in Iraq had made him a target of derision. His calls for loosening immigration rules had outraged grass-roots conservatives.

So when McCain spoke at a campaign event in Concord that afternoon, he might have been the only one in the room who thought he could salvage his candidacy. "Everybody came that day to see the dead man walk," recalled Fergus Cullen, the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

The Arizona senator's victories on Tuesday night, which cemented his status as his party's front-runner, were part of one of the most remarkable resurrection stories in recent American politics. How it happened has as much to do with events beyond McCain's control — the success of the troop buildup he supported in Iraq, Rudy Giuliani's decision not to contest New Hampshire — as it does with the stubbornness of McCain, a former prisoner of war, to stick it out.

But McCain was also helped by factors that defied much of the conventional wisdom. His support for broadening access to citizenship rallied Hispanic Republicans pivotal to his success in Florida. His decision to talk about how moved he was when one of his North Vietnamese captors drew a cross in the sand for him at Christmas helped him win over many conservative Christians in South Carolina even as he was pilloried by national evangelical leaders and talk-show hosts.

Focus: New Hampshire

A critical factor was his campaign's decision to pour almost all of its scarce resources into trying to make an early splash in New Hampshire, a small state that fit McCain's budget and his style of campaigning in intimate town-hall meetings.

Finally, McCain's campaign could not have recovered without a last-ditch $3 million loan last fall, when the candidate, who is 71, put up as collateral his campaign mailing list, the principal asset of his political future, and took out a life-insurance policy to assure the bankers that they would be paid, even if he died.

McCain officially kicked off his campaign on April 25 last year, when he announced his candidacy to an often listless crowd in Portsmouth, N.H., then repeated his remarks later to a gathering pelted by cold rain in Manchester.

Although he had expected to raise $100 million by the end of 2007, his positions on the war and immigration turned off the small donors who had been his mainstay in his 2000 presidential race. McCain had also alienated many potential big donors — particularly those in the lobbying, telecommunications and military industries — with various legislative crusades.

At the same time, his campaign was spending freely. He had 150 people on his payroll and the highest-paid staff of any campaign of either party.

Changing tactics

The troubles exploded on July 10, when the campaign announced, at the very moment that McCain stood on the Senate floor opposing a withdrawal from Iraq, that his top two political aides, John Weaver and Terry Nelson, were departing. Speculation raced through both parties that McCain would soon withdraw from the race.

But three days later, McCain got off a Southwest Airlines flight in Manchester and began the long climb back up.

The first decision was to jettison the planned 30-state campaign — McCain could not afford it, anyway — and focus almost solely on New Hampshire, where he had upset George W. Bush in the 2000 primary.

"He said, 'I know how to campaign here in New Hampshire, this state is tailor-made for me, I'll live off the land,' " recalled Steve Duprey, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman and a top McCain supporter.

As McCain traveled in Duprey's Suburban to banter and argue with voters in small gatherings, Rick Davis, the new campaign manager, brought costs under control, if only because there was no money and no other choice. Davis and other senior advisers worked without salaries, as they do to this day.

A turning point came in a debate in Durham, N.H., on Sept. 5, when McCain took Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and one of his Republican rivals, to task for saying the "surge" strategy in Iraq was "apparently" working.

"It is working," McCain said, in a sharp response that drew largely good reviews and energized his campaign. "No, not 'apparently.' It's working."

A week later, McCain was on what his campaign billed as a "No Surrender" Iowa bus tour. The candidate packed a bus with former fellow prisoners of war from Vietnam and newly minted veterans from Iraq and stopped at VFW posts and American Legion halls across Iowa to argue that the strategy in Iraq was a success. The campaign became convinced that even those voters who disagreed with McCain took notice.

"He was willing to stake his political fortune," said Michael DuHaime, a top adviser to the Giuliani campaign. "People respect that."

Front-runner fades

But the campaign, which could scarcely afford the bus, was being dramatically outspent by Romney and Giuliani. It was able to broadcast only one New Hampshire TV commercial, made at cost by McCain's media consultant, but campaign advisers said it nonetheless nudged McCain's poll numbers upward.

By November, polls showed the public began to feel less negative about Iraq, where violence had declined. McCain's early support for increasing troop levels began to look prescient. At the same time, his closest rival for the nomination, Giuliani, began to fade after a series of critical stories about his years as mayor of New York City, and soon decided to pull out of New Hampshire entirely.

"The rise of McCain is literally tied to the decline of Giuliani," said Andrew Kohut, a pollster and the president of the Pew Research Center.

The $3 million loan kept the campaign alive into December, when it became clear that Fred Thompson, another Republican rival, was going nowhere. At the same time, a TV commercial that ran in late December about the cross in the sand, titled "My Christmas Story," seemed to be reaching evangelicals in South Carolina.

"In 2000, in spite of the urging of several of us, Senator McCain was reluctant to speak about how faith got him through his POW experience," said Gary Bauer, a prominent Christian conservative who became one of the few to endorse him eight years ago.

"In this campaign, he has been much more willing to show more of his own heart and his relationship with God, and I think that has contributed to the fact that essentially the evangelical vote is being divided three ways," among McCain, Romney and Mike Huckabee, a minister before he became Arkansas' governor, Bauer said.

By Jan. 3, when Huckabee was the surprise winner in the Iowa caucuses, McCain's advisers were jubilant that the victory had weakened Romney, then McCain's most serious competitor.

"Huckabee chipping Romney in Iowa was an enormous event for the campaign," said Steve Schmidt, one of McCain's senior advisers.

Pulling ahead

McCain's New Hampshire victory created the momentum that he and his advisers had long hoped for. The win in South Carolina followed, not least because McCain had in place a "truth squad" of establishment Republicans to repel smear tactics that had derailed his primary campaign there in 2000.

Last week, propelled once again by momentum and money that was at last rolling in, McCain managed to win Florida with big support from Cuban-Americans, a critical voting bloc. It was no accident that his first appearance in the state after his South Carolina victory was at a restaurant in Little Havana, where he was introduced only in Spanish by a crucial supporter, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami. At the same time, Giuliani, who had spent millions of dollars and weeks in the state, was in free fall, and ultimately lost the primary.

This week, as McCain grew more confident of winning, the maverick who had long defied and exasperated his party began promoting himself as a true conservative who could unify Republicans for the fight in November.

"The party always comes together after we have the nominee," McCain said after he touched down on Tuesday in Phoenix to watch election returns. "That's a legacy handed down to us from Ronald Reagan."

John McCain - New Face Of GOP

After amassing a huge delegate lead in 21 Super Tuesday contests, John McCain is the new face of the Republican Party. Despite loud and sometimes bitter opposition from some conservative corners, the Arizona senator has edged ever closer to winning his party’s presidential nomination.

Both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee pledged to fight on. But the sheer delegate deficit each must now erase to overtake McCain will make it harder by the day for them to have a realistic chance.

Charting a path to the nomination for either candidate at this point is challenging, at best. Some southern or quasi-southern states remain targets for Huckabee -- states like Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi. For Romney, who is out of home states to run in, the obvious targets are even less clear. But big states like Ohio and Texas would surely be on the list. What Romney does have is the money to keep running.

Big wins will be harder to come by now because just two pure winner-take-all contests remain - Virginia and the District of Columbia. The remaining states mostly allocate their delegates by congressional district winners, meaning it will be harder to overcome McCain’s delegate lead. And over half the delegates headed to the national convention have been selected already.

“Winning states is important, but it's really about delegates,” said Michigan Congressman Peter Hoekstra, a Romney backer. “Romney has to win enough delegates to get a reasonable number of people to look at him." True, but the bigger question is whether he can possibly cobble together enough to win.

Huckabee now looks very much like a regional candidate. He has not won outside of the South since Iowa and showed little strength in the Midwest, Northeast and West on Super Tuesday, despite winning five states.

Romney has proven he can win his various home states - Massachusetts, Utah and, earlier, Michigan. - but little else. What Romney did that Huckabee did not was demonstrate considerable strength nationwide, from Georgia to Colorado and points in-between.

Each will have something to hang on to after this day, Romney a likely second-place in the delegate count, Huckabee some statewide wins.

In the end, Romney has been stymied by better-known, more able candidates. He may also be the victim of a serious misunderstanding about what conservatism means today. Romney has sought to cast the race as being about who is more conservative, amplifying the mantra started by angry talk-show hosts protesting that McCain was not one of them.

But Romney seems to have missed his own stump speech in which he frequently talks about the three legs of the conservative coalition - economic, national security and social issues.

Among Republican primary voters nationwide voting on Super Tuesday, McCain won among those who cited the economy as their biggest concern, even as they thought Romney the best candidate to deal with it, according to CBS News exit polls. Whether those voters were conservative or not, they are speaking for the Republican Party.

McCain also won among those who cited national security as their top concern but finished third among those seeking a candidate who shares their values. In other words, McCain won two of the three legs of conservatism. Most importantly, McCain won the delegate rich (and winner-take-all) states giving him a big leg up on getting to the 1,191 needed to lock up the nomination.

McCain is for sure the choice of moderate and independent-minded Republican voters. There is also some evidence that he’s not the overwhelming choice among them.

Thirty-seven percent of primary voters on Super Tuesday called themselves pro-choice but just 51 percent of those voters chose McCain. And on immigration, one of the most contentious issues in this election, 54 percent said they oppose the deportation of illegal immigrants and just 46 percent of them voted for McCain. But McCain did not win traditional Republican states in the south or west, carrying more Democratic-friendly territory in the northeast as well as California.

The road to eventual victory may be daunting for Romney and Huckabee but the path to reconciliation within the party itself may prove more so. The rancorous debate that has erupted in recent days between Romney and Rush Limbaugh on one side attacking McCain and Huckabee on the other will need time to heal.

Limbaugh isn’t sounding optimistic about a coming-together anytime soon. “If down the road you think that the election of Obama, Hillary, or McCain is going to result in very bad things happening to the country,” he said on his radio show yesterday, “Who would you rather get the blame for it?”

Ironically, it’s the Democratic race which might relieve the pressure on Huckabee and Romney to bow out. Nothing would soothe a party with a financial and energy deficit than a head-start on the general election, allowing their nominee to repair the party and begin the fall campaign in earnest.

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