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Monday, March 3, 2008

McCain's Economy Platform:

WASHINGTON -- Imagining how John McCain, the Navy war hero, would play the role of commander in chief has been easy. Imagining how John McCain, the policy maverick, would lead as chief executive of the U.S. economy has been tougher.

In a wide-ranging interview last week, Sen. McCain offered the most-detailed account to date of his thinking on economic issues.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee cast himself as a defender of the Bush tax cuts he voted against, but added caveats to a "no new taxes" vow he made on a Sunday television talk show two weeks ago.

[Go to slideshow.]
Review Sen. McCain's economic policies, and how he got to know what he knows.

On Social Security, the Arizona senator says he still backs a system of private retirement accounts that President Bush pushed unsuccessfully, and disowned details of a Social Security proposal on his campaign Web site.

Sen. McCain said the Federal Reserve should cut interest rates now to bolster the economy, but added that as president, he couldn't be so explicit on monetary policy. "Presidents have to be careful so they're not perceived as putting undue political pressure on the Fed," he said. "So I would certainly be more careful than I am today."

With the U.S. economy softening, he said he might have "a couple of fireside chats with the American people because of what we see in the [consumer] confidence barometers." But he added that the most potent economic stimulus would be to assure Americans that taxes won't go up in the future and to "call for a meaningful -- and I mean meaningful -- approach to simplifying the tax code so that it's fairer and flatter."

[Sen. McCain speaking at a meeting in San Antonio in February.]
Sen. McCain speaking at a meeting in San Antonio in February.

Those who know him well expect that a McCain presidency would be hard to categorize -- a conservative populist who acts by instinct rather than economic ideology. For businesses, that could make him hard to predict; for opponents, hard to pin down. In his 25 years in Congress, the Arizona senator has defined himself on economic issues more by his adversaries than by overarching economic principle.

"Sometimes he sees excesses in government and sometimes he sees excesses in the corporate world, and both make him sick," says John Raidt, a longtime McCain policy aide.

As chairman or senior Republican member of the Senate Commerce Committee -- which oversees old-line industries such as railroads as well as businesses such as the Internet -- he has squeezed broadcasters to hand back valuable airwaves and cable companies to let consumers pay for individual channels, rather than having to buy an expensive bundle. Despite these fights, media industries now are among his biggest campaign contributors, realizing that even if he loses the presidency, he'll still have a big say in their businesses as a lawmaker.

But his congressional assignments haven't forced him to wrestle with broader issues of tax, monetary and Social Security policy.

Retirees' Nest Egg

A centerpiece of a McCain presidential bid in 2000 was a plan to divert a portion of Social Security payroll taxes to fund private accounts, much as President Bush proposed unsuccessfully. Under the plan, workers could manage the money in stocks and bonds themselves to build a nest egg and, at retirement, also receive reduced Social Security payments from the government. Proponents say the combination of the nest egg and government payouts could give a retiree more than the current system, but opponents say the change would undermine the Social Security system.

[Go to Q&A.] MCCAIN Q&A
'I'm always for less regulation. But I am aware of the view that there is a need for government oversight.'
Read excerpts from Sen. John McCain's interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Sen. McCain's 2008 presidential campaign Web site takes a different view, proposing "supplementing" the existing full Social Security system with personally managed accounts. Such accounts wouldn't substitute for guaranteed payments, and they wouldn't be financed by diverting a portion of Social Security payroll taxes.

Mr. McCain's chief economic aide, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office, says economic circumstances forced changes concerning Social Security policy. Vast budget surpluses projected in 2000 evaporated with a recession, the Bush tax cuts and the cost of responding to Sept. 11.

As a result, the McCain campaign says the candidate intends to keep Social Security solvent by reducing the growth in benefits over the coming decades to match projected growth in payroll tax revenues. Among the options are extending the retirement age to 68 and reducing cost-of-living adjustments, but the campaign hasn't made any final decisions.

[John McCain]

"You can't keep promises made to retirees," says Mr. Holtz-Eakin, referring to the level of benefits the government is supposed to pay future retirees. "But you can pay future retirees more than current retirees."

Asked about the apparent change in position in the interview, Sen. McCain said he hadn't made one. "I'm totally in favor of personal savings accounts," he says. When reminded that his Web site says something different, he says he will change the Web site. (As of Sunday night, he hadn't.) "As part of Social Security reform, I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it -- along the lines that President Bush proposed."

Sen. McCain says that as president he would start negotiations with Democrats to fix Social Security. The program's trustees say by 2041, projected tax revenues will cover only three-fourths of currently promised benefits.

On the Democratic side, the two contenders have been far from clear what they would do also. Sen. Barack Obama has said he would raise the ceiling on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax to boost revenue, but he hasn't specified the size of the tax increase. Sen. Clinton calls for personal investment accounts on top of existing Social Security, similar to what the McCain campaign Web site suggests, but she hasn't laid out how she would fix the program's looming insolvency.

Fine Line on Taxes

On taxes, Sen. McCain is walking a fine line between courting keep-taxes-low Republicans while insisting he is the candidate of fiscal discipline. Two weeks ago, ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked him on "This Week" if he were a "'read my lips' candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?" referring to a pledge made by President George H.W. Bush, which he later broke. "No new taxes," Sen. McCain responded. "But under circumstances would you increase taxes?" Mr. Stephanopoulos continued. "No," Sen. McCain answered.

Asked in The Wall Street Journal interview to clarify, Sen. McCain softened that stance. "I'm not making a 'read my lips' statement, in that I will not raise taxes," he says. "But I'm not saying I can envision a scenario where I would, OK?"

Behind the scenes, his campaign is searching for ways to pay for Sen. McCain's tax proposals. In addition to extending the Bush tax cuts, the 71-year-old candidate would slash the corporate income-tax rate from 35% to 25% at a cost to the Treasury of $100 billion a year, estimates Mr. Holtz-Eakin.

In all, his tax-cutting proposals could cost about $400 billion a year, according to estimates of the impact of different tax cuts by CBO and the McCain campaign. The cost will make it difficult for him to achieve his goal of balancing the budget by the end of his first term.

To pay for the cut in corporate tax rates, Sen. McCain is considering eliminating some corporate tax breaks listed by a bipartisan tax reform panel appointed by President Bush, who ignored its report. The panel outlined different ways to change the tax code to spur U.S. competitiveness.

Among the candidates for elimination are a 2004 break for manufacturers -- written so broadly that it includes computer software makers, construction firms and architects -- a low-income housing credit, and tax breaks for life-insurance companies, credit unions and exporters. Undoing those breaks would raise a maximum of around $45 billion a year, still leaving a big hole.

"There could be a fairer, flatter tax proposal that I might embrace, that you might look at the minutiae of it and say, well, that's going to increase somebody's taxes," he says. "But they eliminate the inequities, the complexities, and all of the things that characterize our tax code today."

Sen. McCain began to prepare himself for campaigning on economics late in 2005 when Mr. Holtz-Eakin and conservative Kevin Hassett, a veteran of the 2000 McCain campaign, started sending him four-page weekly briefing papers on tax reform, trade and other issues. Sen. McCain also consults with business and political leaders including Cisco Systems Inc. Chief Executive John Chambers; former Republican Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, a deficit hawk; and former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who hails from the deficits-don't-matter side of the party.

Sen. McCain rarely makes a public appearance without supporters with strong business or economic pedigrees, such as former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina or Mr. Kemp. At town-hall meetings earlier in the campaign, he sometimes turned over economic questions to them.

As a presidential candidate, Sen. McCain has faced hostility from the political right because he voted against two rounds of Bush tax cuts. "I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportional amount that went to the wealthiest Americans," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" in January. He also said the tax cuts weren't matched by spending restraints, as he had wanted.

Now, given the worsening economic situation, he says it's important to fight to extend the tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2010.

While other candidates were scrambling in January to put together stimulus plans to boost flagging consumer spending, he proposed long-term tax cuts which could take years to come into law. "In the shorter term, if you somehow told American businesses and families, 'Look, you're not going to experience a tax increase in 2010,' I think that's a pretty good short-term measure," he says.

Sen. McCain also favors making corporate tax credits for research-and-development permanent and eliminating the alternative minimum tax. The AMT was designed years ago to keep the wealthy from using deductions to avoid paying taxes altogether, but, unless altered, will ensnare a growing number of middle-class taxpayers.

To show he can control spending, Sen. McCain cites his long record as a spending hawk, who battles sweetheart deals between the Pentagon and defense contractors, as well as projects that lawmakers of both parties cram into appropriations bills -- "earmarks," in budget lingo.

Congressional earmarks total $18 billion a year, according to the Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C., research group -- and each has a member of Congress who will ferociously fight to keep that spending going. Mr. Holtz-Eakin, the McCain adviser, says that earmarks actually cost $60 billion a year, counting programs that started in earlier years and get funded year after year.

Another source of spending cuts eyed by the McCain campaign is a White House hit list of underperforming or redundant programs. But again, the numbers are relatively small -- $18 billion annually -- compared to the cost of Sen. McCain's tax plans, and the programs include housing loans, education grants, and water projects popular with Congress.

The uncertainty involved in estimating the future costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also could make it hard for him to make his budget targets. The CBO estimates spending on the wars at about $145 billion this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Sen. McCain's admirers say that by running for president as a spending hawk, he will tilt the politics of Washington in favor of spending restraint, in the same way George W. Bush's promotion of tax cuts during the 2000 campaign helped him build momentum for his plan. "If he proposes [a balanced budget] and doesn't get it, that doesn't mean it won't have a positive effect of having a lower series of deficits that there otherwise would be," says Barry Anderson, a former senior budget officer during Republican and Democratic presidencies.

Taking On Industry

Another question is how Sen. McCain would regulate business. He has fought with the drug industry to allow the importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada and permit the government to negotiate over drug pricing; tangled with broadcasters to force them to hand over transmission channels so they can be used by police and fire departments and other users; and taken on the airline industry over a consumer-rights bill, among other slugfests.

But some lobbyists in industries he has targeted are sanguine, figuring Sen. McCain won't focus much on issues such as drug importation once he has a bigger stage. One member of Sen. McCain's health-care task force, which endorsed drug importation, was a former McCain aide, Sonya Sotak, who lobbies against drug importation in her day job as an Eli Lilly lobbyist. "I don't impose my professional views on the senator," she says.

During his years at the Commerce Committee, Sen. McCain became the focus of lobbying from the telecommunications and health-care industries, given his focus on those fields. Now, health professionals, lobbyists, and individuals in the computer, television and movie industries are among his largest industry contributors, says the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The law firm of Philadelphia-based Blank Rome LLP, which lobbies for cable company Comcast Corp. and drug company Abbott Laboratories, among others, is among Sen. McCain's largest contributors. The firm's employees have donated $188,000 to him, according to the center.

"My desire to support McCain has nothing to do with any client of my law firm," says David Girard diCarlo, the firm's chairman. Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who backs Sen. Clinton, is a senior official at Blank Rome, which has raised $113,000 for the Democratic presidential candidate.

Climate Change

Sen. McCain's biggest regulatory effort is likely to come in the field of climate change. Along with independent Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who was then a Democrat, Sen. McCain introduced the earliest version of a cap-and-trade system in 2003, and the pair have refined their ideas since. Under their plan, the government sets emissions goals. Companies that can't meet their targets must buy permits to produce carbon dioxide, either from companies that produce less CO2 than they are permitted, or from the government.

The system may require a large regulatory apparatus. In the latest McCain-Lieberman version, the government would auction off carbon-emission permits. According to Harvard economist Robert Stavins, such sales could raise $50 billion to $100 billion a year.

An Energy Department analysis says Sen. McCain's plan raises energy prices so much that it would reduce economic growth.

"I hear this interesting argument that somehow this would cost more money to our economy," says Sen. McCain. But, "I am absolutely convinced that innovation, technology, and using the entrepreneurship of America will come up with technologies which will save money, be a boon to our economy, and clean up our environment." He's unlikely to get much argument on this from his Democratic opponents; Sens. Obama and Clinton co-sponsored Sen. McCain's legislation.

Original here

How did the Clinton campaign get here?

BATTLEGROUND: A supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton at a rally in Westerville, Ohio.

Just a few months ago, few imagined she'd be struggling to catch up to Obama. But her team has been riddled with feuding and second-guessing at the top.

WASHINGTON -- As they mapped out a campaign schedule for Bill Clinton, top aides to Hillary Rodham Clinton kept his time short in South Carolina. They were probably going to lose the state, they figured, and they wanted their most powerful surrogate to move on to Georgia, Alabama and other Southern states.

But the former president shelved the plan, according to campaign aides. Day after day he stayed in South Carolina, getting into angry confrontations with the press and others. In the end, Hillary Clinton lost the Jan. 26 vote there by a 2-to-1 margin and saw her standing with African Americans nationwide become strained.

Hillary Clinton may be one of the most disciplined figures in national politics, but she has presided over a campaign operation riven by feuding, rival fiefdoms and second-guessing of top staff members.

Those tensions partly explain why Clinton today stands where, just a few months ago, few expected she'd be: struggling to catch up to Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. If she loses either of the crucial contests Tuesday in Texas and Ohio, Clinton may face calls from senior party officials to end her campaign.

Some polls show her leading in Ohio but tied in Texas; the race in both states is considered close.

Already, some in Clinton's senior staff are pointing fingers over what went wrong, with some of the blame aimed at Clinton herself. As the race unfolded, neither Clinton nor anyone else resolved the internal power struggles that played out with destructive effect and continue to this day.

Chief strategist and pollster Mark Penn clashed with senior advisor Harold Ickes, former deputy campaign manager Mike Henry and others. Field organizers battled with Clinton's headquarters in northern Virginia. Campaign themes were rolled out and discarded, reflecting tensions among a staff bitterly divided over what Clinton's basic message should be.

The dispute over Bill Clinton's schedule shows how easily plans can unravel. Some campaign staffers didn't expect to win South Carolina overall, but "our strategy was to go after specific districts in South Carolina" to add to the delegate total while freeing Bill Clinton to spend time in other Southern states, said a Clinton campaign aide.

But Bill Clinton said " 'I need to be in South Carolina,' " the aide said. "It was a one-man mission out there."

Obama, who leads Clinton in delegates, would pose problems for any candidate. But aides to Clinton said the dysfunction within her campaign team made its task that much tougher.

Joe Trippi, a senior advisor to John Edwards' now-dropped Democratic campaign, said: "At some point the candidate has to step in and bust heads and say 'Enough!'

"If there's fighting internally, the candidate has to step up and make it clear what direction she wants to go and stop this stuff dead in its tracks. Otherwise there's going to be a struggle for power and control right until the end. It's crippling."

Last month, after a series of defeats, Hillary Clinton chose a new campaign manager, replacing Patti Solis Doyle. But she left in place many senior people, including Penn and Ickes, who have been involved in incessant turf wars.

As the campaign faces a make-or-break moment, some high-level officials are trying to play down their role in the campaign. Penn said in an e-mail over the weekend that he had "no direct authority in the campaign," describing himself as merely "an outside message advisor with no campaign staff reporting to me."

"I have had no say or involvement in four key areas -- the financial budget and resource allocation, political or organizational sides. Those were the responsibility of Patti Solis Doyle, Harold Ickes and Mike Henry, and they met separately on all matters relating to those areas."

Howard Wolfson, the campaign's communications chief, answered that it was Penn who had top responsibility for both its strategy and message. Another aide said Penn spoke to Clinton routinely about the campaign's message and ran daily meetings on the topic.

One running debate within Clinton's campaign was whether her defeats -- she has lost 11 straight contests -- were due to organizational lapses or a faulty message.

Some aides say organizational problems were the most significant, as Obama outworked Clinton in many states and sent in organizers earlier.

That problem may go back to well before the lead-off contest, in Iowa. In June, Clinton's Iowa staff requested 150 organizers; headquarters approved a budget for 90.

By September, Iowa staff were sending out warnings about Obama's strength. "We are being outnumbered on the ground on a daily basis by his campaign, and it is beginning to show results," said a memo to top campaign officials on Sept. 26, about three months before the state's caucuses.

Clinton's "call time into Iowa is routinely cut. . . . Not only does Obama spend more time in Iowa . . . but he spends more time making political phone calls into Iowa as well," the memo said. "His persistence and one-on-one approach has earned Obama the support of several key activists who are decision-makers in their counties."

The memo asked for 100 more field organizers "immediately."

Later, Clinton did bring more organizers to Iowa. She finished third, behind Obama and Edwards.

The campaign also had trouble settling on a way to confront Obama. Top aides could not agree on whether, or how, to attack him.

"Why aren't we attacking him?" Bill Clinton asked at a high-level staff meeting Dec. 1 at the Clintons' Washington home, according to people familiar with events. With aides sitting around the dining room table, Bill Clinton said it was time to get more aggressive with Obama.

The following day, in Iowa, Hillary Clinton called a news conference to execute the strategy of questioning Obama's character. "Now the fun part starts," she said.

But the attacks were sporadic. Aides warned that Iowans dislike personal attacks, so Clinton quickly pulled back. Sustained criticism of Obama didn't come until later in the campaign season.

Another unresolved question went to the core of Clinton's identity. Penn wanted to emphasize her "strength and experience" and her command of issues -- an approach the campaign adopted.

But others worried that in emphasizing her steely resolve, the campaign was ignoring the reality that many voters disliked Clinton. They wanted to humanize her.

The campaign produced a 60-second television ad before the Iowa caucuses that attempted to do so. In it, Clinton told the story of her mother leaving Chicago on a train at age 8, accompanied only by her 3-year-old sister, to live with grandparents in Los Angeles. It was a poignant story that campaign aides hoped would also highlight Clinton's interest in children's issues.

But Penn tested the advertisement with voters. He reported back that it did not play well in Iowa, and it never aired -- leaving some aides grumbling that an opportunity had been missed.

The dispute flared anew after Clinton's defeat in South Carolina. At a meeting in the Arlington, Va., headquarters, Penn and others gave a PowerPoint presentation on what was billed as a new message: Clinton would be championing "Solutions for America."

Henry, then the deputy campaign manager, objected, according to people at the meeting. He said it sounded like a repackaging of the old message that Clinton was a strong leader rather than a warm person. Indeed, a top item in the PowerPoint was "strength and experience" -- a theme Clinton had been stressing for months.

Henry asked: "Is this what we're doing, or is it up for discussion?"

Penn said Clinton had already approved the new message.

At that point, Henry asked if the campaign had learned anything from its defeats. It should be clear, he said, that voters want to see a more human side of her.

"This is not bringing out the humanity in her," Henry said, according to people present.

Penn countered that the reason for many of her defeats, particularly in smaller states, had been a lack of organization, not the message -- a swipe at Henry and others in field work.

In the end, Clinton backed Penn. Henry left the campaign. And Clinton has been casting herself as someone in the "solutions business" -- a message she repeats as she makes a stand in Ohio and Texas.

The campaign dubbed her final weekend appearances in Texas and Ohio "Solutions for America" rallies.

" 'Solutions for America,' " one campaign aide said. "It sounds like something you'd buy at the pharmacy."

Original here

Clinton Campaign Paying Black Sign Holders in Texas?

I found this blog entry today and my jaw literally dropped reading it. With everything going on in this campaign, that's saying something.

The entry is from a blog called Back Talk Lakewood/East Texas. The entry is from Keri Mitchell, who says:

"I stopped at the intersection of Lovers Lane and Greenville this afternoon, and immediately noticed people standing on each corner (and on a couple of the medians) holding Hillary Clinton signs. Another thing immediately apparent, especially because of the race and gender issues in this presidential election, was that each person holding a sign was black.

I rolled down the window to ask one of the men what group the sign-holders belonged to, and he told me Southern Fried Marketing. I asked if they supported Hillary Clinton for president, and he replied: "Paid for."

You can read the entry and the comments for yourself here.

I work in marketing, so I know how crass an industry it can be, but when we are talking about the election of the president of the United States of America, I have some morals. I would hope that Hillary Clinton's campaign would have some, too, but the way things are going that might be asking a bit much.

Reading this blog post brought to a head something that I've been thinking about the last week or so. Which is that many privileged, liberal white women seem to be very willing to turn a blind eye to issues of race and equality as long as it suits their agenda. And I say this as a privileged, liberal white woman.

I find so many woman I talk to still so enthralled by Hillary Clinton, so in awe of her. I decided to support Barack Obama quite a while ago, yet I have still been able to have reasonable conversations with these woman, friends all, about the primary. But lately I just find myself repulsed that many of these same white women don't seem at all concerned about or aware of issues of racism. About issues of global womanhood. About class. About issues of civil rights and civil liberties. About rising above micro identity politics to demand the best of everyone, instead of falling into the fatal trap of making excuses and pointing fingers.

To me, the idea that Hillary Clinton and the supporters who donate to her campaign are paying black people to hold signs for her, when she's facing the first serious black candidate for president, is simply horrifying.

I look forward to supporting a candidate for president that happens to be female. But never, ever like that.


The blog is affiliated with a magazine called Advocate. I don't live in Texas, so I don't read it, but here is how it is described on their site:

"Beginning with our Lakewood/ East Dallas publication in 1991, we've been distributing our magazines in four Dallas neighborhoods for 15 years. With a compelling mix of friendly features and hard-hitting news stories, our publications are the best way for our 200,000-plus readers in Preston Hollow, Far North Dallas , Lake Highlands and Lakewood/ East Dallas to find out what's going on in their neighborhoods each month."

The blog is called Back Talk blog, and it's the Lake Highlands edition.

The company that the sign holder mentions is called Southern Fried Marketing. I looked them up, but the most extensive profile of them seems to be their myspace page. They describe themselves on that page as:

"Southern Fried Marketing (S.F. Marketing) is the premiere frontline marketing company for the Southwest region. Our mission is embedded in the very fabric of our company. S.F. Marketing prides itself on providing innovative guerilla marketing opportunities for today's professional that desires a competitive marketing edge."

Original here

Editorial: We recommend Barack Obama

Texas Democrats have a chance to make history as they choose between two qualified presidential candidates. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton often seem to be singing from the same hymnbook, but that doesn't mean this race is a close call.

On questions of substance and leadership style, Mr. Obama is the better choice.

In sharp contrast to Mrs. Clinton's antics mocking his optimism, Mr. Obama has shown that it is possible to have both hope and intellectual heft. Her campaign has confused proximity to power with work experience, selectively taking credit for her husband's accomplishments.

At times, Obama-mania has threatened to obscure the substantive differences between the two candidates' proposed policies. A close examination shows that Mr. Obama is on the right side of several key issues.

Both senators aim to overhaul our health care system by lowering premiums and expanding subsidies. Mrs. Clinton's more mandate-centered approach could be a tougher sell, while Mr. Obama allows for more individual choice and avoids the appearance of insurance by coercion.

Both Democrats offer a significant upgrade from the current administration on environmental and energy issues. Both plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase our reliance on renewable resources. But Mr. Obama has rightly acknowledged the need to include nuclear energy in the mix; Mrs. Clinton has hedged.

Mr. Obama has echoed many of this newspaper's reservations about America's flawed death penalty system. And while he still allows for capital punishment in particularly heinous cases, he championed much-needed reforms in his home state. Mrs. Clinton, at times, has been an avowed death-penalty supporter; recently, she has chosen instead to highlight her push for more DNA testing.

Mrs. Clinton once touted NAFTA as one of her husband's biggest successes but now is threatening to withdraw from the free-trade accord. Mr. Obama is making similar threats but at least seeks ways to deliver on NAFTA's promise: microfinancing and financial aid to create jobs and increase incentives for Mexicans to stay at home.

On Iraq, Mrs. Clinton seeks an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops that, she says, could be completed over a single year. Her plan offers minimal military recourse in the likely event of chaos and civil war following America's withdrawal.

Mr. Obama has a slightly more gradual, flexible drawdown plan with the possibility of keeping a sizeable force in Iraq or nearby to pursue al-Qaeda fighters, train Iraqi forces and deploy quickly when crises erupt.

Mrs. Clinton's plan also is problematic because it hinges on holding talks with our enemies. She wants all of Iraq's neighbors – including Syria and Iran – to join a U.S.-organized regional security conference. But she hasn't explained how to accomplish this if Iran and Syria fail to accept the preconditions Mrs. Clinton insists that such "rogue regimes" must meet before her administration would meet with them.

Mr. Obama favors limited dialogue without preconditions, reasoning that communication – as opposed to silence – is the best way to resolve differences between enemies. That's sensible.

All in all, Mr. Obama offers Texas Democrats the best choice for leadership, for judgment – and for substance.

Original here

Obama Backers Urge Clinton to Exit if She Loses

WASHINGTON — Top supporters of Senator Barack Obama, joined by at least one prominent Democrat yet to endorse a candidate, put pressure on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday to bow out of the presidential race unless she scores clear victories in the crucial big-state primary contests on Tuesday.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Senator Barack Obama waited to take the podium as he was introduced at an event at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, on Sunday.

“I just think that D-Day is Tuesday,” said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former Democratic presidential candidate who has yet to throw his support behind either candidate.

And two Obama supporters, Senators John Kerry and Dick Durbin, pushed for Mrs. Clinton to withdraw if she does poorly at the polls on Tuesday.

Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont hold primary contests that day, and the Clinton campaign, trailing in the delegates needed for nomination and having lost the last 11 straight contests, has acknowledged that the New York senator needs to win at least Ohio or Texas. Both candidates were campaigning Sunday in Ohio.

With Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, able to profit from the Democrats’ infighting, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, leveled unusually tough attacks against Mr. McCain on Sunday.

“He runs on his integrity, but he doesn’t seem to have any,” Mr. Dean said on CNN. “John McCain has a history of doing what it takes, regardless of what the ethics are. I think he’s going to be a flawed candidate.” He also called the Arizona senator a “situational ethicist.”

Dean appeared to be referring to reports, including one in The New York Times, that suggested that McCain sometimes applied tougher ethical standards to others than to himself — a charge Mr. McCain has spiritedly denied.

Mr. Richardson, saying that it was vital to Democrats’ hopes in the general election in November to mount a positive, unifying campaign, said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” that “whoever has the most delegates after Tuesday, a clear lead, should be, in my judgment, the nominee.”

For that to be Mrs. Clinton, she would have to significantly exceed the results predicted by polls, which now show Texas a virtual toss-up, while Ohio voters narrowly favor her. In the smaller states, Mrs. Clinton holds a lead in Rhode Island while Mr. Obama has the edge in Vermont.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton held a rally at Westerville North High School in Westerville, Ohio, on Sunday.

Howard Wolfson, the communications director of the Clinton campaign, offered no hint on Sunday that Mrs. Clinton was considering whether to drop out of the race if she did not win on Tuesday. He argued again that Mrs. Clinton had shown her ability to win the big states that would be needed for a Democratic victory in November. “Our coalition of states is broad, it’s diverse,” he said on the ABC News program “This Week.” And Mrs. Clinton, he added, had “a very strong case to make” that she would be the stronger Democrat candidate against Mr. McCain.

And a Clinton supporter, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Mrs. Clinton should ignore the pressure to bow out and decide for herself what is best. “Hillary Clinton is a major candidate,” Ms. Feinstein said. “She has every right to stay in the race if she chooses to do so.”

Still, some senior Democrats who have endorsed Mr. Obama stepped up the pressure on Mrs. Clinton on Sunday.

Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, said Mrs. Clinton would need more than narrow victories to remain a viable candidate.

“Hillary Clinton has to win a big victory in both Ohio and Texas,” he said on the CNN program “Late Edition.”

“It’s not just winning a little bit,” he said. “In order to close the gap on pledged delegates, she’s got to win a very significant victory.”

And Mr. Durbin, Mr. Obama’s fellow Democratic senator from Illinois, said the mathematics of the electoral calendar would make it very difficult for Mrs. Clinton to win the nomination even if she broke even with Mr. Obama in the delegates allotted Tuesday.

“If, in fact, there is no measurable change on Tuesday,” he said on Fox, Mrs. Clinton would need “extraordinary percentages” in the remaining contests — averaging 62 percent of the delegates yet to be decided, by his calculation, to go on to victory.

“I hope ultimately she makes an honest appraisal of her chances,” Mr. Durbin said. “I hope after Tuesday her decision is made on the basis of the unity of the party.”

By The Associated Press’s count, Mrs. Clinton trails Mr. Obama by 109 delegates, with 2,025 needed for nomination. The four states voting Tuesday will award a total of 444 delegates.

But Karl Rove, the former senior political adviser to President Bush and architect of his presidential election victories, said such calls from Democrats for Mrs. Clinton’s withdrawal were unwise and unbecoming.

“I think it’s a mistake for his campaign to be calling for her to drop out,” Mr. Rove said on Fox. That would be seen as “rubbing her nose” in the fact that she is trailing, he said. “It’s up to the delegates at the convention to decide who wins and loses,” he added.

While there has been a growing expectation that Mrs. Clinton would drop out if she did poorly on Tuesday, it is less clear what lesson she might draw from a mixed result. She could, for example, win the popular vote in Texas but lose narrowly in the delegate battle, since Texas has a mixed primary-and-caucus system and Mr. Obama has regularly outperformed her in caucuses.

And some political analysts said that Mrs. Clinton — who has clearly sharpened her attacks on Obama, even as he has been outspending her — appeared to have made some headway in recent days in raising doubts about his experience and readiness to be commander in chief.

If Mrs. Clinton does stay in the race, the next big contest is not until April 22, in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Clinton holds a strong lead in polls there, but many Democrats fear continued negativity over that extended period between her and Mr. Obama could seriously damage the party, giving Mr. McCain vital time to mend divisions in the Republican Party between him and some conservatives.

Original here

Westerville: Part Two

Following up on Karen’s post.

The program at Westerville Central High began an hour late, due, in part to Obama’s tardiness from this morning and to the time it took for him to greet inside and outside overflow supporters here. Yesterday, the campaign ran out of the 1,700 tickets they allotted for this “smaller” town hall meeting. An additional 750 lucky folks got into an overflow room where they will be able to hear Obama piped in through a speaker system. Eight hundred more people were turned away, according to Lieutenant Anthony Caito, a fire marshal for Genoa Township. “There were more people standing outside the Obama event," according to ace AP reporter Phil Elliott, who attended both events.

I feel that I should underline: this is a different event than Clinton’s, which was a pep talk for canvassers. This is a “smaller” town hall, though small in Obama-world means 3,200 seeking entry. “One of the things that we’ve done is mix in smaller town hall meetings and intimate conversations like the one we did this morning on the economy,” said Ben LaBolt, Obama’s Ohio spokesman. Indeed, this morning Obama spent more than an hour speaking with a group of just 100 people in Nelsonville, Ohio. “I don’t think anyone can doubt Senator Obama’s ability to draw large crowds in Ohio,” LaBolt added, pointing to recent rallies that drew 11,000 attendees in Dayton and Cincinnati and 7,000 in Cleveland.

Obama attracted no such press luminaries (unless you count omnipresent Richard Wolffe of Newsweek, who posed for at least one snap-happy fan, and ABC’s Terry Moran, who was there to do an exclusive interview World News Tonight). I’m not sure what that means except that the press probably doesn’t except any surprises out of Obama over the next few days.

After a winding introduction from Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Obama took the stage to chants of “Obama! Obama! Obama!” and thunderous applause as a thousand people stomped their feet on the bleachers. As with almost every rally, someone screamed, “I love you, Obama!” To which, as always, he responded, “I love you, too!” Obama spokeswoman Jenn Psaki swung by as be began to give us a heads up that he planned to “push back” on Clinton’s foreign policy criticisms. And after remarks of the subprime mortgage crisis and the economic woes facing Ohio, Obama did hit back hard citing Clinton’s red telephone commercial:

Now, let me just make one last point because we’re getting very close to election time and we’ve consistently put forward these economic plans over the course of the campaign. And yet Senator Clinton continues to insist that we provide speeches and she provides solutions.

And the press has sort of bought into this because they want to keep the contest interesting, and I understand that. This is a fight about the facts because we have been very specific about every issue under the sun in the last few days and Senator Clinton has been running around telling people that our entire campaign, according to her, is only based on the fact that I gave a speech in opposition to the war in Iraq from the start. That is the only basis of my campaign. And then, on the other hand, she has, supposedly, all this vast foreign policy experience.

Now, I have to say when it came to making the most important foreign policy decision of our generation – the decision to invade Iraq – Senator Clinton got it wrong. She didn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate, Jay Rockefeller read it, but she didn’t read it. I don’t know what all that experience got her because in my experience if you have a National Intelligence Estimate and the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, 'You should read this, this is why I’m voting against the war,' then you should probably read it. I don’t know how much experience you need for that.

She didn’t first give diplomacy a chance. And to this day, she won’t even admit that her vote was a mistake or even that it was a vote for war. And so besides that decision to invade Iraq, we’re still waiting to hear Senator Clinton tell us what precise foreign policy experience that she is claiming that makes her prepared to answer that phone call at three in the morning.

After taking questions, Obama circled back to Clinton and tried to explain his criticisms of her.

Senator Clinton is a strong candidate… and I’ve tried as much as possible to not talk about the flaws of the other candidates but why I’m right. And I think that the reason that we’ve done well is because people understand that it isn’t about the 10-point plan because we’ve all got 10-point plans… but about who can bring the country together and who can fight the special interests.

As a closing argument it's powerful and it hits directly at Hillary's claim of experience. Obama has made a concerted effort to avoid the listy, meat-and-bones political speeches, keeping his rhetoric soaring and inspirational while directing folks to his website, which actually does have a surprising amount of policy on it. It also touches on his strength with voters: they have very similar platforms ("we all have 10-point plans") and if all things are equal, judgment (his Iraq vote) and energy are much more alluring.

Okay, we just landed in Chicago and I wanted to update per Mike M.'s point. Obama did kind of flub the Rockefeller reference, but he did it in a sly way that was factually correct but left the audience with the incorrect impression the the current Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, voted against the war in Iraq. Actually, Bob Graham was chairman at the time and he did read the NIE and he did cite it as one of his justifications for voting against the war. Rockefeller held an impromptu press conference in Westerville before we left, explaining the subtleties: he did read the NIE but he voted against the war. His, and Obama's, criticism of Hillary is that she never read the NIE before she cast her vote. The Clinton campaign was quick to jump on the flub, sending out this press release:

“Sen. Obama is so desperate to divert attention from his limited national security experience that he's not just misleading voters about Sen. Clinton, he's also misleading voters about his own supporters. That is not change you can believe in.” -- Clinton spokesperson Phil Singer

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Bush spends 452 days at Crawford ranch.

Number of days President Bush has spent at his ranch in Crawford, TX. His stay there this past weekend with the the Danish prime minister marked Bush’s 70th visit as president. President Ronald Reagan, one of the modern presidency’s most “famous vacationer[s],” spent just 335 days at his ranch in Santa Barbara, CA.
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An hour and a half with Barack Obama

I've tried very hard to keep politics out of this blog -- despite nearly overpowering impulses to the contrary -- for two reasons: one, there's no reason to alienate people who don't share my political views, as wrong-headed as those people may clearly be; two, there's no reason to expect my opinion on political issues should be any more valid than any other reader of what, these days, passes for the New York Times.

That said, in light of the extraordinary events playing out around us right now in the runup to the presidential election, I would like to share with you a personal experience that I was lucky enough to have early last year.

Early in 2007, a friend of mine who is active in both high-tech and politics called me up and said, let's go see this first-term Senator, Barack Obama, who's ramping up to run for President.

And so we did -- my friend, my wife Laura, and me -- and we were able to meet privately with Senator Obama for an hour and a half.

The reason I think you may find this interesting is that our meeting in early 2007 was probably one of the last times Senator Obama was able to spend an hour and a half sitting down and talking with just about anyone -- so I think we got a solid look at what he's like up close, right before he entered the "bubble" within which all major presidential candidates, and presidents, must exist.

Let me get disclaimers out of the way: my only involvement with the Democratic presidential campaigns is as an individual donor -- after meeting with the Senator, my wife and I both contributed the maximum amount of "hard money" we could to the Obama campaign, less than $10,000 total for both the primary and the general election. On the other hand, we also donated to Mitt Romney's Republican primary effort -- conclude from that what you will.

I carried four distinct impressions away from our meeting with Senator Obama.

First, this is a normal guy.

I've spent time with a lot of politicians in the last 15 years. Most of them talk at you. Listening is not their strong suit -- in fact, many of them aren't even very good at faking it.

Senator Obama, in contrast, comes across as a normal human being, with a normal interaction style, and a normal level of interest in the people he's with and the world around him.

We were able to have an actual, honest-to-God conversation, back and forth, on a number of topics. In particular, the Senator was personally interested in the rise of social networking, Facebook, Youtube, and user-generated content, and casually but persistently grilled us on what we thought the next generation of social media would be and how social networking might affect politics -- with no staff present, no prepared materials, no notes. He already knew a fair amount about the topic but was very curious to actually learn more. We also talked about a pretty wide range of other issues, including Silicon Valley and various political topics.

With most politicians, their curiosity ends once they find out how much money you can raise for them. Not so with Senator Obama -- this is a normal guy.

Second, this is a smart guy.

I bring this up for two reasons. One, Senator Obama's political opponents tend to try to paint him as some kind of lightweight, which he most definitely is not. Two, I think he's at or near the top of the scale of intelligence of anyone in political life today.

You can see how smart he is in his background -- for example, lecturer in constitutional law at University of Chicago; before that, president of the Harvard Law Review.

But it's also apparent when you interact with him that you're dealing with one of the intellectually smartest national politicians in recent times, at least since Bill Clinton. He's crisp, lucid, analytical, and clearly assimilates and synthesizes a very large amount of information -- smart.

Third, this is not a radical.

This is not some kind of liberal revolutionary who is intent on throwing everything up in the air and starting over.

Put the primary campaign speeches aside; take a look at his policy positions on any number of issues and what strikes you is how reasonable, moderate, and thoughtful they are.

And in person, that's exactly what he's like. There's no fire in the eyes to realize some utopian or revolutionary dream. Instead, what comes across -- in both his questions and his answers -- is calmness, reason, and judgment.

Fourth, this is the first credible post-Baby Boomer presidential candidate.

The Baby Boomers are best defined as the generation that came of age during the 1960's -- whose worldview and outlook was shaped by Vietnam plus the widespread social unrest and change that peaked in the late 1960's.

Post-Boomers are those of us, like me, who came of age in the 1970's or 1980's -- after Vietnam, after Nixon, after the "sexual revolution" and the cultural wars of the 1960's.

One of the reasons Senator Obama comes across as so fresh and different is that he's the first serious presidential candidate who isn't either from the World War II era (Reagan, Bush Sr, Dole, and even McCain, who was born in 1936) or from the Baby Boomer generation (Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, and George W. Bush).

He's a post-Boomer.

Most of the Boomers I know are still fixated on the 1960's in one way or another -- generally in how they think about social change, politics, and the government.

It's very clear when interacting with Senator Obama that he's totally focused on the world as it has existed since after the 1960's -- as am I, and as is practically everyone I know who's younger than 50.

What's the picture that emerges from these four impressions?

Smart, normal, curious, not radical, and post-Boomer.

If you were asking me to write a capsule description of what I would look for in the next President of the United States, that would be it.

Having met him and then having watched him for the last 12 months run one of the best-executed and cleanest major presidential campaigns in recent memory, I have no doubt that Senator Obama has the judgment, bearing, intellect, and high ethical standards to be an outstanding president -- completely aside from the movement that has formed around him, and in complete contradition to the silly assertions by both the Clinton and McCain campaigns that he's somehow not ready.

Before I close, let me share two specific things he said at the time -- early 2007 -- on the topic of whether he's ready.

We asked him directly, how concerned should we be that you haven't had meaningful experience as an executive -- as a manager and leader of people?

He said, watch how I run my campaign -- you'll see my leadership skills in action.

At the time, I wasn't sure what to make of his answer -- political campaigns are often very messy and chaotic, with a lot of turnover and flux; what conclusions could we possibly draw from one of those?

Well, as any political expert will tell you, it turns out that the Obama campaign has been one of the best organized and executed presidential campaigns in memory. Even Obama's opponents concede that his campaign has been disciplined, methodical, and effective across the full spectrum of activities required to win -- and with a minimum of the negative campaigning and attack ads that normally characterize a race like this, and with almost no staff turnover. By almost any measure, the Obama campaign has simply out-executed both the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

This speaks well to the Senator's ability to run a campaign, but speaks even more to his ability to recruit and manage a top-notch group of campaign professionals and volunteers -- another key leadership characteristic. When you compare this to the awe-inspiring discord, infighting, and staff turnover within both the Clinton and McCain campaigns up to this point -- well, let's just say it's a very interesting data point.

We then asked, well, what about foreign policy -- should we be concerned that you just don't have much experience there?

He said, directly, two things.

First, he said, I'm on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I serve with a number of Senators who are widely regarded as leading experts on foreign policy -- and I can tell you that I know as much about foreign policy at this point as most of them.

Being a fan of blunt answers, I liked that one.

But then he made what I think is the really good point.

He said -- and I'm going to paraphrase a little here: think about who I am -- my father was Kenyan; I have close relatives in a small rural village in Kenya to this day; and I spent several years of my childhood living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Think about what it's going to mean in many parts of the world -- parts of the world that we really care about -- when I show up as the President of the United States. I'll be fundamentally changing the world's perception of what the United States is all about.

He's got my vote.

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