Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Former GOP senator, vet backs Obama

By: Alexander Burns

Former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), who was the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the United States Senate, is the latest Republican to back Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Politico learned Sunday.

Pressler, who said that in addition to casting an absentee ballot for Obama he'd donated $500 to the Illinois senator's campaign, cited the Democrat's response to the financial crisis as the primary reason for his decision.

"I just got the feeling that Obama will be able to handle this financial crisis better, and I like his financial team of [former Treasury Secretary Robert] Rubin and [former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul] Volcker better," he said. By contrast, John McCain's "handling of the financial crisis made me feel nervous."

The former senator added that he hoped the next president would help place restraints on executive pay, and said: "I don't think [McCain] will take action in that area, or he's as likely to."

Pressler, who said that he had never voted for a Democrat for president before, added, "I feel really badly. I just hate to go against someone I served with in the Senate. I voted and I got it mailed and I dropped it in the mailbox, and it tore at me to do that."

Currently an adjunct professor at Baruch College in New York, Pressler served in the Senate from 1979 through 1997, and prior to that spent two terms in the House of Representatives.

During the 104th Congress, from 1995 to 1997, Pressler chaired the Senate Commerce Committee. When Pressler was defeated for reelection in 1996, McCain took over his chairmanship.

After leaving office, Pressler formed a legal and lobbying firm, The Pressler Group, and in 2002 unsuccessfully sought election to South Dakota's sole seat in the House of Representatives.

He joins a growing list of Republicans who have thrown their support to Obama in recent days. Last Sunday former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama on NBC's "Meet the Press." On Thursday Obama picked up the support of former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, who was joined on Friday by former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.

Like some of Obama's other Republican supporters, Pressler said he had concerns about his party's fiscal policy, particularly the war in Iraq, that went beyond the presidential campaign.

"We have to be a moderate party. We can't be for all these foreign military adventures. We have to stop spending so much money. My God, the deficit is so high!" he said. "The Republican Party I knew in the 1970s is just all gone."

Despite his support for Obama, however, Pressler emphasized that he intended to stay in the GOP and described himself as a "moderate conservative."

"I'm not leaving the Republican Party. We're going to reform it," he said, but added: "In the general election, if you have disagreements, you should not vote the party line."

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Second-Guessing the Vice-Presidential Pick

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Gov. Sarah Palin at a campaign stop on Monday in Leesburg, Va.


Last week, Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor, said that Senator John McCain might now be on the verge of winning Pennsylvania — the mainly Democratic state where Mr. McCain is investing considerable time and energy in these final days of his presidential campaign — had he chosen Mr. Ridge as his running mate.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina and one of Mr. McCain’s closest friends and advisers, has in recent days been quite direct in saying that he counseled Mr. McCain to choose Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut for the second spot. Mr. Lieberman, he said, would have been a breakthrough choice, winning Mr. McCain plaudits and support from independent voters who are weary of partisanship.

Mr. McCain may still win the election. Still, anticipating that he will fall short, the pre-postmortems have already begun, both inside and outside his campaign headquarters. And without question, the biggest one is whether he would have been in a better position today had he not chosen Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running-mate.

The answer, in the view of many Republicans and Democrats, is almost certainly yes.

In choosing Ms. Palin, Mr. McCain and his advisers set aside the traditional criteria for picking a running-mate — such as choosing someone who could deliver a battleground state — in favor of selecting someone who could upend the story line of the campaign. The idea was that Mr. McCain could benefit on several fronts:

¶Ms. Palin’s reformer credentials would buttress his own, and strengthen his ability to run against Washington, which potentially would appeal to moderate and independent voters.

¶Her views on social issues would help mend Mr. McCain’s strained relations with conservatives.

¶And as a woman, she would give Mr. McCain a chance to compete for women voters who had supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and were upset at how she was treated by Senator Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Now, a week before the election, it seems that only one of those predictions has come true, that Ms. Palin would help Mr. McCain with conservatives.

Fergus Cullen, the Republican chairman of New Hampshire, said he considered her a good pick, all things considered, arguing that she “energizes new and different people.” She still draws huge enthusiastic crowds as she campaigns in Republican areas.

But polls, most recently one conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, underline the extent to which her standing in the public eye has declined during the campaign — particularly among women and independent voters, the very groups Mr. McCain hoped she would help him with. More than that, there has been a steady increase in the number of people who say she is unqualified to be president, and even some conservative commentators now criticize Mr. McCain’s judgment in choosing her.

Meanwhile, the initial hesitation voiced by the small group who were skeptical — who thought that Ms. Palin was an unknown quantity, largely unvetted, who had the decided disadvantage of never having gone through anything like a national campaign before — has been borne out in this campaign, most recently over the disclosure that the Republican National Committee had spent $150,000 on clothes and accessories for Ms. Palin and her family. There is clearly tension between the McCain and Palin camps over how she has handled herself, and how the McCain campaign has handled her.

What Mr. Ridge said about how Mr. McCain would have fared in Pennsylvania with him on the ticket might have been impolitic or self-serving; but it is hardly a revolutionary view, and it is shared by, among others, some of Mr. Obama’s top advisers. The race would be very different today if Mr. McCain had Pennsylvania in his column and not the Democrats’.

The argument against selecting Mr. Ridge was that, because he supports abortion rights, he would have further damaged Mr. McCain’s standing with conservatives. But given the stark differences between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama and the looming prospect of a Democratic sweep in Washington, some Republicans wonder whether conservatives really would have sat out the election just because Mr. McCain’s running mate was a moderate on social issues. Mr. McCain might have been able to portray such a choice as a sign of political independence, and Mr. Ridge’s views on abortion might have won Mr. McCain the hearing from Clinton supporters that the Palin pick once promised.

Mr. McCain also passed over Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who has strong family ties to Michigan, where his father was a long-serving governor. Republicans in Michigan believe that Mr. McCain would not have had to concede Michigan, another Democratic state he once hoped to carry, had the ticket been McCain-Romney.

“I think Romney would have helped in Michigan, Nevada and Colorado, maybe even New Hampshire,” said Saul Anuzis, the Republican state chairman in Michigan.

Mr. Anuzis said that he liked Ms. Palin as a selection, but Mr. Romney would have been better for his state and a few others.

Beyond that, Mr. Romney’s associates argue that his business background would have given Mr. McCain’s ticket some economic ballast that would have been helpful when the financial crisis and its economic aftershocks reshaped the race. Mr. McCain might well be in a stronger position today in Minnesota — yet another state Republicans once hoped to take back from the Democratic ticket — had he chosen its governor, Tim Pawlenty, as his running mate. And associates of Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, argue that Mr. McCain would not be worrying about that flank had he put Mr. Crist on the ticket.

All of this, of course, is second-guessing, which Mr. McCain and his party can do at leisure after Nov. 4 if indeed he loses the race.

“There may be plenty of time for dissection later, and there are too many R’s doing that now,” said Mr. Cullen, the New Hampshire party chairman.

He put himself in the camp, not of questioning Ms. Palin’s selection, but “of those who question how the McCain team handled Palin after the convention, allowing her public image to get defined by others in a way that may prove permanent, possibly destroying a promising national political figure in vitro.”

Still, if nothing else, Ms. Palin does seem poised to do one thing for Mr. McCain: Deliver him the very Republican state of Alaska, and all three of its Electoral College votes.

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McCain Claims Surrogate Meg Whitman 'Founded' eBay; Actual Founder Is Obama Supporter Pierre Omidyar

John McCain continued his string of gaffes this morning by claiming that Meg Whitman, a national co-chair for his campaign and potential pick for Treasury Secretary, had "founded" eBay with five employees.

In fact, Whitman joined eBay as CEO in 1998, three years after it was founded by Pierre Omidyar, a Barack Obama supporter.

Omidyar endorsed Obama on his blog in May:

"Barack Obama is showing a mirror to America, and despite the bad stuff we see in our reflection, we see that we are fundamentally good and strong and proud, and we can overcome our challenges by working together, across all sorts of lines, be they partisan, racial, cultural, religious, or whatever.

That's something unique about Barack Obama's America -- our America -- and that's the America I want to live in. "

Whitman has been lauded for turning the then-30 employee eBay into a multi-billion dollar auction site during her ten years as CEO. She now sits on its board. Recently eBay took drastic measures to spur growth by firing ten percent of its workforce. Days later, McCain suggested Whitman as a potential pick for Treasury Secretary.

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Feds disrupt skinhead plot to assassinate Obama

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

Obama assasination plot disrupted Play Video AP – Obama assasination plot disrupted

WASHINGTON – Two white supremacists allegedly plotted to go on a national killing spree, shooting and decapitating black people and ultimately targeting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, federal authorities said Monday.

In all, the two men whom officials describe as neo-Nazi skinheads planned to kill 88 people — 14 by beheading, according to documents unsealed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.

The spree, which initially targeted an unidentified predominantly African-American school, was to end with the two men driving toward Obama, "shooting at him from the windows," the court documents show.

"Both individuals stated they would dress in all white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt," the court complaint states. "Both individuals further stated they knew they would and were willing to die during this attempt."

An Obama spokeswoman traveling with the senator in Pennsylvania had no immediate comment.

Sheriffs' deputies in Crockett County, Tenn., arrested the two suspects — Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark. — Oct. 22 on unspecified charges. "Once we arrested the defendants and suspected they had violated federal law, we immediately contacted federal authorities," said Crockett County Sheriff Troy Klyce.

The two were charged by federal authorities Monday with possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threatening a candidate for president.

Cowart and Schlesselman are being held without bond. Agents seized a rifle, a sawed-off shotgun and three pistols from the men when they were arrested. Authorities alleged the two men were preparing to break into a gun shop to steal more.

Jasper Taylor, city attorney in Bells, said Cowart was arrested on Wednesday. He was held for a few days in Bells, then moved over the weekend to another facility.

"It was kept under lid until today," Taylor said.

Until his arrest, Cowart lived with his grandparents in a southern, rural part of the county, Taylor said, adding that Cowart apparently never graduated from high school. He moved away, possibly to Arkansas or Texas, then returned over the summer, Taylor said.

Attorney Joe Byrd, who has been hired to represent Cowart, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday. Messages left on two phone numbers listed under Cowart's name were not immediately returned.

No telephone number for Schlesselman in Helena-West Helena could be found immediately.

The court documents say the two men met about a month ago on the Internet and found common ground in their shared "white power" and "skinhead" philosophy.

The numbers 14 and 88 are symbols in skinhead culture, referring to a 14-word phrase attributed to an imprisoned white supremacist: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children" and to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H. Two "8"s or "H"s stand for "Heil Hitler."

Court records say Cowart and Schlesselman also bought nylon rope and ski masks to use in a robbery or home invasion to fund their spree, during which they allegedly planned to go from state to state and kill people. Agents said the skinheads did not identify the African-American school they were targeting by name.

Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, said authorities took the threats very seriously.

"They said that would be their last, final act — that they would attempt to kill Sen. Obama," Cavanaugh said. "They didn't believe they would be able to do it, but that they would get killed trying."

He added: "They seemed determined to do it. Even if they were just to try it, it would be a trail of tears around the South."

An ATF affidavit filed in the case says Cowart and Schlesselman told investigators the day they were arrested they had shot at a glass window at Beech Grove Church of Christ, a congregation of about 60 black members in Brownsville, Tenn.

Nelson Bond, the church secretary and treasurer, said no one was at the church when the shot was fired. Members found the bullet had shattered the glass in the church's front door when they arrived for evening Bible study.

"We have been on this site for about 120 years, and we have never had a problem like this before," said Bond, 53 and a church member for 45 years.

The investigation is continuing, and more charges are possible, Cavanaugh said. He said there's no evidence — so far — that others were willing to assist Cowart and Schlesselman with the plot.

At this point, there does not appear to be any formal assassination plan, Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said.

"Whether or not they had the capability or the wherewithal to carry out an attack remains to be seen," he said.

Zahren said the statements about the assassination came out in interviews after the men were arrested last week.

The Secret Service became involved in the investigation once it was clear that an Obama assassination attempt was part of this violent far-reaching plot.

"We don't discount anything," Zahren said, adding that it's one thing for the defendants to make statements, but it's not the same as having an organized assassination plan.

Helena-West Helena, on the Mississippi River in east Arkansas' Delta, is in one of the nation's poorest regions, trailing even parts of Appalachia in its standard of living. Police Chief Fred Fielder said he had never heard of Schlesselman.

However, the reported threat of attacking a school filled with black students worried Fielder. Helena-West Helena, with a population of 12,200, is 66 percent black. "Predominantly black school, take your pick," he said.

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Some voters 'purged' from voter rolls

By Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein
CNN Special Investigations Unit

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- College senior Kyla Berry was looking forward to voting in her first presidential election, even carrying her voter registration card in her wallet.

"Vote suppression is real. It does sometimes happen," said Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University.

"Vote suppression is real. It does sometimes happen," said Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University.

But about two weeks ago, Berry got disturbing news from local election officials.

"This office has received notification from the state of Georgia indicating that you are not a citizen of the United States and therefore, not eligible to vote," a letter from the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections said.

But Berry is a U.S. citizen, born in Boston, Massachusetts. She has a passport and a birth certificate to prove it.

The letter, which was dated October 2, gave her a week from the time it was dated to prove her citizenship. There was a problem, though -- the letter was postmarked October 9.

"It was the most bizarre thing. I immediately called my mother and asked her to send me my birth certificate, and then I was like, 'It's too late, apparently,' " Berry said.

Berry is one of more than 50,000 registered Georgia voters who have been "flagged" because of a computer mismatch in their personal identification information. At least 4,500 of those people are having their citizenship questioned and the burden is on them to prove eligibility to vote.

Experts say lists of people with mismatches are often systematically cut, or "purged," from voter rolls.

It's a scenario that's being repeated all across the country, with cases like Berry's raising fears of potential vote suppression in crucial swing states.

"What most people don't know is that every year, elections officials strike millions of names from the voter rolls using processes that are secret, prone to error and vulnerable to manipulation," said Wendy Weiser, an elections expert with New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

"That means that lots and lots of eligible voters could get knocked off the voter rolls without any notice and, in many cases, without any opportunity to correct it before Election Day."

Weiser acknowledged that "purging done well and with proper accountability" is necessary to remove people who have died or moved out of state.

"But the problem is it's not necessary to do inaccurate purges that catch up thousands of eligible voters without any notice or any opportunity to fix it before Election Day and really without any public scrutiny at all," she said.

Such allegations have flared up across the United States during this election cycle, most notably in Ohio, where a recent lawsuit has already gone to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There, the state Republican Party sued Ohio's Democratic secretary of state in an effort to make her generate a list of people who had mismatched information. But Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said generating such a list would create numerous problems too close to the election and possibly disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.

The Supreme Court last week ruled against the GOP on appeal of a lower court order directing Brunner to prepare the list.

In Florida, election officials found that 75 percent of about 20,000 voter registration applications from a three-week period in September were mismatched due to typographical and administrative errors. Florida's Republican secretary of state ordered the computer match system implemented in early September.

In Wisconsin, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen sued the state's election board after it voted against a proposal to implement a "no-match" policy. The board conducted an audit of its voter rolls and found a 22 percent match failure rate -- including for four of the six members of the board.

The Brennan Center has also documented cases across the country of possible illegal purging, impediments to college student voting and difficulties accessing voter registration.

A lawsuit has been filed over Georgia's mismatch system, and the state is also under fire for requesting Social Security records for verification checks on about 2 million voters -- more requests than any other state.

One of the lawyers involved in the lawsuit says Georgia is violating a federal law that prohibits widespread voter purges within 90 days of the election, arguing that the letters were sent out too close to the election date.

"They are systematically using these lists and matching them and using those matches to send these letters out to voters," said McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Georgia.

"It's not, you know, an individualized notion of people maybe not being citizens or not being residents. They're using a systematic purging procedure that's expressly prohibited by federal laws."

Asked if he believed that eligible voters were purged in Georgia, McDonald said, "If people who are properly eligible, are getting improperly challenged and purged, the answer would be 'Yes,' " he said.

Elise Shore, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said letters like those sent to Berry appear to violate two federal laws against voter purging within 90 days of the election.

"People are being targeted, and people are being told they are non-citizens, including both naturalized citizens and U.S.-born citizens," said Shore, another plaintiff in the Georgia lawsuit. "They're being told they're not eligible to vote, based on information in a database that hasn't been checked and approved by the Department of Justice, and that we know has flaws in it."

Georgia's Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican who began working on purging voter rolls since she was elected in 2006, said that won't happen. If there are errors, she said, there is still plenty of time to resolve the problems. iReport.com: Are you voting early?

Handel says she is not worried the verification process will prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot.

"In this state and all states, there's a process to ensure that a voter who comes in -- even if there's a question about their status -- that they will vote either provisional or challenge ballot, which is a paper ballot," she said.

"So then the voter has ample opportunity to clarify any issues or address them," Handel added. "And I think that's a really important process."

Handel denied the efforts to verify the vote are suppression.

"This is about ensuring the integrity of our elections," she said. "It is imperative to have checks and balances on the front end, during the processes and on the back end. That's what the verification process is about."

So someone like Kyla Berry will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot when she votes, but it's up to county election officials whether those ballots would actually count.

Berry says she will try to vote, but she's not confident it will count.

"I know this happens, but I cannot believe it's happening to me," she said. "If I weren't allowed to vote, I would just feel like that would be ... like the worst thing ever -- a travesty."

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Republican fears of historic Obama landslide unleash civil war for the future of the party

By Tim Shipman

John McCain - Republican fears of historic Obama landslide unleash civil war for the future of the party
Mr McCain is now facing calls for him to sacrifice his own dwindling White House hopes and focus on saving vulnerable Republican Senate seats Photo: EPA

Aides to George W.Bush, former Reagan White House staff and friends of John McCain have all told The Sunday Telegraph that they not only expect to lose on November 4, but also believe that Mr Obama is poised to win a crushing mandate.

They believe he will be powerful enough to remake the American political landscape with even more ease than Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

The prospect of an electoral rout has unleashed a bitter bout of recriminations both within the McCain campaign and the wider conservative movement, over who is to blame and what should be done to salvage the party's future.

Mr McCain is now facing calls for him to sacrifice his own dwindling White House hopes and focus on saving vulnerable Republican Senate seats which are up for grabs on the same day.

Their fear is that Democrat candidates riding on Mr Obama's popularity may win the nine extra seats they need in the Senate to give them unfettered power in Congress.

If the Democrat majority in the Senate is big enough - at least 60 seats to 40 - the Republicans will be unable to block legislation by use of a traditional filibuster - talking until legislation runs out of time. No president has had the support of such a majority since Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election. President Reagan achieved his political transformation partly through the power of his personality.

David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, told The Sunday Telegraph that Republicans should now concentrate all their fire on "the need for balanced government".

"It's hard to see a turnaround in the White House race," he said. "This could look like an ideological as well as a party victory if we're not careful. It could be 1980 in reverse.

"With this huge new role for federal government in the economy, the possibility for mischief making is very, very great. One man should not have a monopoly of political and financial power. That's very dangerous."

In North Carolina, where Senator Elizabeth Dole seems set to loose, Republicans are running adverts that appear to take an Obama victory for granted, warning that the Democrat will have a "blank cheque" if her rival Kay Hagen wins. "These liberals want complete control of government in a time of crisis," the narrator says. "All branches of Government. No checks and balances."

Democrats lead in eight of the 12 competitive Senate races and need just nine gains to reach their target of 60. Even Mitch McConnell, the leader of Senate Republicans, is at risk in Kentucky, normally a rock solid red state.

A private memo on the likely result of the congressional elections, leaked to Politico, has the Republicans losing 37 seats.

Ed Rollins, who masterminded Ronald Reagan's second victory in 1984, said the election is already over and predicted: "This is going to turn into a landslide."

A former White House official who still advises President Bush told The Sunday Telegraph: "McCain hasn't won independents, nor has he inspired the base. It's the worst of all worlds. He is dragging everyone else down with him. He needs to deploy people and money to salvage what we can in Congress."

The prospect of defeat has unleashed what insiders describe as an "every man for himself" culture within the McCain campaign, with aides in a "circular firing squad" as blame is assigned.

More profoundly, it sparked the first salvoes in a Republican civil war with echoes of Tory infighting during their years in the political wilderness.

One wing believes the party has to emulate David Cameron, by adapting the issues to fight on and the positions they hold, while the other believes that a back to basics approach will reconnect with heartland voters and ensure success. Modernisers fear that would leave Republicans marginalised, like the Tories were during the Iain Duncan Smith years, condemning them to opposition for a decade.

Mr Frum argues that just as America is changing, so the Republican Party must adapt its economic message and find more to say about healthcare and the environment if it is to survive.

He said: "I don't know that there's a lot of realism in the Republican Party. We have an economic message that is largely irrelevant to most people.

"Cutting personal tax rates is not the answer to everything. The Bush years were largely prosperous but while national income was up the numbers for most individuals were not. Republicans find that a hard fact to process."

Other Republicans have jumped ship completely. Ken Adelman, a Pentagon adviser on the Iraq war, Matthew Dowd, who was Mr Bush's chief re-election strategist, and Scott McClellan, Mr Bush's former press secretary, have all endorsed Mr Obama.

But the real bile has been saved for those conservatives who have balked at the selection of Sarah Palin.

In addition to Mr Frum, who thinks her not ready to be president, Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan's greatest speechwriter and a columnist with the Wall Street Journal, condemned Mr McCain's running mate as a "symptom and expression of a new vulgarisation of American politics." Conservative columnist David Brooks called her a "fatal cancer to the Republican Party".

The backlash that ensued last week revealed the fault lines of the coming civil war.

Rush Limbaugh, the doyen of right wing talk radio hosts, denounced Noonan, Brooks and Frum. Neconservative writer Charles Krauthammer condemned "the rush of wet-fingered conservatives leaping to Barack Obama", while fellow columnist Tony Blankley said that instead of collaborating in heralding Mr Obama's arrival they should be fighting "in a struggle to the political death for the soul of the country".

During the primaries the Democratic Party was bitterly divided between Barack Obama's "latte liberals" and Hillary Clinton's heartland supporters, but now the same cultural division threatens to tear the Republican Party apart.

Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin's critics as "cocktail party conservatives" who "give aid and comfort to the enemy".

He told The Sunday Telegraph: "There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?"

Mr Frum thinks that Mrs Palin's brand of cultural conservatism appeals only to a dwindling number of voters.

He said: "She emerges from this election as the probable frontrunner for the 2012 nomination. Her supporters vastly outnumber her critics. But it will be extremely difficult for her to win the presidency."

Mr Nuzzo, who believes this election is not a re-run of the 1980 Reagan revolution but of 1976, when an ageing Gerald Ford lost a close contest and then ceded the leadership of the Republican Party to Mr Reagan.

He said: "Win or lose, there is a ready made conservative candidate waiting in the wings. Sarah Palin is not the new Iain Duncan Smith, she is the new Ronald Reagan." On the accuracy of that judgment, perhaps, rests the future of the Republican Party.

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Obama is the better choice

US presidential elections involve a fabulous expense of time, effort and money. Doubtless it is all too much – but, by the end, nobody can complain that the candidates have been too little scrutinised. We have learnt a lot about Barack Obama and John McCain during this campaign. In our view, it is enough to be confident that Mr Obama is the right choice.

At the outset, we were not so confident. Mr Obama is inexperienced. His policies are a blend of good, not so good and downright bad. Since the election will strengthen Democratic control of Congress, a case can be made for returning a Republican to the White House: divided government has a better record in the United States than government united under either party.

So this ought to have been a close call. With a week remaining before the election, we cannot feel that it is.

Mr Obama fought a much better campaign. Campaigning is not the same as governing, and the presidency should not be a prize for giving the best speeches, devising the best television advertisements, shaking the most hands and kissing the most babies.

Nonetheless, a campaign is a test of leadership. Mr Obama ran his superbly; Mr McCain’s has often looked a shambles. After eight years of George W. Bush, the steady competence of the Obama operation commands respect.

Nor should one disdain Mr Obama’s way with a crowd. Good presidents engage the country’s attention; great ones inspire. Mr McCain, on form, is an adequate speaker but no more. Mr Obama, on form, is as fine a political orator as the country has heard in decades. Put to the right purposes, this is no mere decoration but a priceless asset.

Mr Obama’s purposes do seem mostly right, though in saying this we give him the benefit of the doubt. Above all, he prizes consensus and genuinely seeks to unite the country, something it wants. His call for change struck a mighty chord in a tired and demoralised nation – and who could promise real change more credibly than Mr Obama, a black man, whose very nomination was a historic advance in US politics?

We applaud his main domestic proposal: comprehensive health-care reform. This plan would achieve nearly universal insurance without the mandates of rival schemes: characteristically, it combines a far-sighted goal with moderation in the method. Mr McCain’s plan, based on extending tax relief beyond employer-provided insurance, also has merit – it would contain costs better – but is too timid and would widen coverage much less.

Mr Obama is most disappointing on trade. He pandered to protectionists during the primaries, and has not rowed back. He may be sincere, which is troubling. Should he win the election, a Democratic Congress will expect him to keep those trade-thumping promises. Mr McCain has been bravely and consistently pro-trade, much to his credit.

In responding to the economic emergency, Mr Obama has again impressed – not by advancing solutions of his own, but in displaying a calm and methodical disposition, and in seeking the best advice. Mr McCain’s hasty half-baked interventions were unnerving when they were not beside the point.

On foreign policy, where the candidates have often conspired to exaggerate their differences, this contrast in temperaments seems crucial. For all his experience, Mr McCain has seemed too much guided by an instinct for peremptory action, an exaggerated sense of certainty, and a reluctance to see shades of grey.

He has offered risk-taking almost as his chief qualification, but gambles do not always pay off. His choice of Sarah Palin as running mate, widely acknowledged to have been a mistake, is an obtrusive case in point. Rashness is not a virtue in a president. The cautious and deliberate Mr Obama is altogether a less alarming prospect.

Rest assured that, should he win, Mr Obama is bound to disappoint. How could he not? He is expected to heal the country’s racial divisions, reverse the trend of rising inequality, improve middle-class living standards, cut almost everybody’s taxes, transform the image of the United States abroad, end the losses in Iraq, deal with the mess in Afghanistan and much more besides.

Succeeding in those endeavours would require more than uplifting oratory and presidential deportment even if the economy were growing rapidly, which it will not be.

The challenges facing the next president will be extraordinary. We hesitate to wish it on anyone, but we hope that Mr Obama gets the job.

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Dozens Of Call Center Workers Walk Off Job In Protest Rather Than Read McCain Script Attacking Obama

By Greg Sargent

Some three dozen workers at a telemarketing call center in Indiana walked off the job rather than read an incendiary McCain campaign script attacking Barack Obama, according to two workers at the center and one of their parents.

Nina Williams, a stay-at-home mom in Lake County, Indiana, tells us that her daughter recently called her from her job at the center, upset that she had been asked to read a script attacking Obama for being "dangerously weak on crime," "coddling criminals," and for voting against "protecting children from danger."

Williams' daughter told her that up to 40 of her co-workers had refused to read the script, and had left the call center after supervisors told them that they would have to either read the call or leave, Williams says. The call center is called Americall, and it's located in Hobart, IN.

"They walked out," Williams says of her daughter and her co-workers, adding that they weren't fired but willingly sacrificed pay rather than read the lines. "They were told [by supervisors], `If you all leave, you're not gonna get paid for the rest of the day."

The daughter, who wanted her name withheld fearing retribution from her employer, confirmed the story to us. "It was like at least 40 people," the daughter said. "People thought the script was nasty and they didn't wanna read it."

A second worker at the call center confirmed the episode, saying that "at least 30" workers had walked out after refusing to read the script.

"We were asked to read something saying [Obama and Democrats] were against protecting children from danger," this worker said. "I wouldn't do it. A lot of people left. They thought it was disgusting."

This worker, too, confirmed sacrificing pay to walk out, saying her supervisor told her: "If you don't wanna phone it you can just go home for the day."

The script coincided with this robo-slime call running in other states, but because robocalling is illegal in Indiana it was being read by call center workers.

Representatives at Americall in Indiana, and at the company's corporate headquarters in Naperville, Illinois, didn't return calls for comment.

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Messy trial ends with a decisive verdict

By &

Ted Stevens walks to court.

Sen. Ted Stevens, shown Oct. 27 on his way to his trial, was found guilty of failing to report gifts.
Photo: AP

The trial of Sen. Ted Stevens was at times sloppy, chaotic and bogged down in contradictory testimony — but in the end, the federal jury took swift and decisive action in branding the Alaska senator a corrupt politician who violated the trust of his office.

In a historic decision that leaves one of the Senate’s giants in political limbo, Stevens, 84, was convicted on seven counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in improper gifts and home renovations he received from 1999 to 2006. The verdict is a stunning blow to a political career that has lasted more than 40 years and covered Alaska’s entire history as a part of the United States.

Stevens’ lawyers have already started talking about an appeal, but unless he resigns in the coming days, Stevens faces more dire realities: a Nov. 4 reelection bid, a sentencing hearing and potential expulsion from the Senate even if Alaskan voters still decide to return him to Washington.

In a statement on his website, Stevens said he was “obviously disappointed in the verdict but not surprised given the repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct in this case.”

“I am innocent,” Stevens said. “I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate.”

The prosecution’s successful case relied on e-mails between Stevens and Alaska businessman Bill Allen, former CEO of Veco Corp., the company that carried out the renovations to Stevens’ Girdwood, Alaska, chalet that were never reported in Senate financial disclosures. The Justice Department also relied on testimony from Allen and several of his employees who gave damaging details about doing special favors for the senator.

The Monday morning quarterbacking for Stevens’ high-profile defense team — led by Washington über-lawyer Brendan Sullivan — will center on whether the senator’s own testimony hurt him.

Stevens insisted on taking the witness stand last week and was even warned by Judge Emmet Sullivan that he had no obligation to do so. In two days of testimony, Stevens showed why he has a reputation as one of the most intimidating and hot-tempered members of the Senate. Stevens talked back to prosecutor Brenda Morris and criticized her questions at times, yet tried to portray himself as completely uninvolved in the family finances that revealed the $250,000 in illegal gifts and services.

The Justice Department indicted Stevens on July 29, and Stevens took another huge legal gamble by asking for a speedy trial to resolve the charges before Election Day.

Stevens could be sentenced to up to 35 years in federal prison, although considering his age and lack of previous convictions, he is unlikely to receive anywhere near the maximum sentence. The motions hearing is scheduled for Feb. 25, and Stevens’ attorneys have already told Judge Sullivan they would file motions by early December to overturn the verdict.

Prosecutors were not without their own problems during this trial, and Judge Sullivan scolded them repeatedly about their failure to turn over to defense counsel all the materials and documents they had on Stevens. At one point, Judge Sullivan considered a defense motion to dismiss the charges or order a mistrial after it was revealed that DOJ officials secretly flew one witness back to Alaska without telling the defense team.

But Judge Sullivan, who earned praise from court watchers for his handling of the difficult trial, declined to go along with the defense motion, and he tempered any criticism of prosecutors in his jury instructions despite his clear unhappiness at times with the Justice Department team.

Stevens does have some legal options still open to him.

Robert Cary, a Stevens defense attorney, signaled that the senator would offer a motion for a new trial, which would set aside this verdict, or he could ask for an appeal. Those motions would be ruled on by Judge Sullivan long after Stevens’ political fate is decided, so the Alaska Republican may have lots of time to play out that string.

With his bleak legal and political future, Stevens at least knows he won’t live out his final days penniless should he resign or lose his Senate seat. Thanks to an exemption in Senate rules, the crime of filing false reports is not one of those that would lead to the revocation of a senator’s pension.

“It’s really a very small list” of crimes that cause the loss of a senator’s pension, said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “This is just another example of why this list isn’t good enough, because members can always find new ways to violate the law that won’t be on that list.”

Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, said federal sentencing guidelines would limit the maximum sentence Stevens receives to somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 to 34 months because the senator does not have any prior convictions. And she said the judge could give Stevens a shorter sentence, in light of his age.

Leading up to the verdict announcement, it wasn’t clear to most observers that this would be a slam-dunk conviction. The verdict came after a tumultuous four days in the jury room. First there were complaints about an unruly juror, then another had to be replaced when she left Washington following the death of her father. Finally, jurors on Monday discovered a discrepancy in the indictment that had been overlooked by prosecutors.

The verdict was also a huge win for the Justice Department — especially Morris, the lead prosecutor in the case, and her team of lawyers and investigators. Simply investigating a lawmaker of Stevens’ standing and reputation was a risky proposition, much less indicting and convicting him.

The heart of the government’s case against Stevens centered on the nearly total overhaul of his Girdwood home during 2000 and 2001. Allen, a close friend of Stevens, turned on him in testimony, saying that Stevens never paid for the renovations or reported them on his annual financial disclosure forms.

Stevens countered that he paid more than $160,000 to other contractors for the home renovation project. Stevens and his wife, Catherine Stevens, said she handled the couple’s finances and that the senator was not closely involved in the remodeling.

The pivotal moment in the proceedings appeared to come when Stevens and his wife took the stand. Both told disjointed stories that failed to follow a cohesive narrative, and prosecutors were able to dissect their claims during cross-examination.

“This case has been a long time coming,” Morris said during her closing comments to the jury. “This trial has exposed the truth about one of the longest-sitting senators.”

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