On this Presidents Day, the beginning of another big week in presidential politics. Today, John McCain receives the endorsement of the former President George Bush. Tomorrow, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue their close-fought battle in Wisconsin and Hawaii before turning Thursday to a debate at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas.
First to the Republicans before turning back to the fascinating Democratic race, in which the once overweeningly confident Clinton machine is exhibiting some fascinating behavior.
John McCain’s endorsement by George Bush the First won’t do much for him with the right-wing talk show, pundit, and blogger crowd which seeks — just like the netroots on the Democratic left — to impose a doctrinaire political correctness on “their” party.
But it will help further consolidate McCain’s hold on the operatives and functionaries of the national Republican Party, not to mention its fundraisers.
The Republicans’ talk show wing inveighed for months against McCain, mostly pushing Mitt Romney. Who, ironically, not all that long ago had a political background not unlike that of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, a moderate Democrat who narrowly decided against seeking his party’s presidential nomination. But the drumbeat of invective against McCain was to little avail, as McCain whipped former Massachusetts Governor Romney in next door New Hampshire before effectively winning the nomination in California, a primary closed to independent voters set up for a conservative by state party officials over the objections of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose endorsement helped push McCain over the finish line.
Now back to the Democrats.
At the end of December, I heard Hillary Clinton tell Meet The Press host Tim Russert that she was “in the campaign for the long haul.” Something she and her campaign are saying now. The difference was this. She said “the long haul” would end on “February 5th.”
Well, not really.
After Obama’s smashing victories on Chesapeake Tuesday, especially his amazing blowout win in Virginia, that erstwhile Cradle of the Confederacy recent red state where he drew more votes than all the Republicans combined, the Clintons are on the ropes.
In tomorrow’s contests, Obama has a slender edge in Wisconsin, a state which should go to Clinton, and Hawaii, where he was born. Until recently, Clinton led in Wisconsin, which is 92% white, with only a 6% black population, and a huge white blue collar vote. There’s also a sizable college grad vote, which is why candidates like Gary Hart have been able to win there. Hart, of course, is white.
Obama has campaigned steadily in Wisconsin, where Governor Jim Doyle announced his support, and Hillary had mostly left the state to Bill Clinton and other surrogates — though she’s running attack ads — until late last week. But a big storm has disrupted the plans of both candidates, causing them to cancel their planned rallies yesterday around the state.
Which freed Obama to pay a not-so-secret visit yesterday to John Edwards in North Carolina. Hillary visited him earlier, also seeking his endorsement, and actually succeeded in keeping the trip secret for a few days.
That’s because Hillary and her campaign have a distant and not infrequently poisonous relationship with the press. Which is odd, considering how fawning almost all the coverage was of her “inevitable” campaign last year. I kept saying and writing that Obama had a real shot at winning, but that was a distinctly small minority point of view.
Now that Hillary is in serious danger of losing to the upstart Illinois senator with the big ears and the funny name, her campaign is in full spin mode, even more so than before. And it was always an operation that insisted on winning each micro-news cycle. Which, since journalists develop an allergic reaction to too much spin, they are having increasing trouble accomplishing.
Hillary, who trails Obama among delegates won in the state primary and caucus contests to date, insists that she can and should win the nomination with the votes of unelected “superdelegates” and the votes of delegates from Michigan and Florida, whose primaries were disqualified by the Democratic National Committee for violating party rules. And in which all the candidates, including Hillary, agreed they would not compete. Which is why the press did not count those primaries as actual contests, and scoffed at Hillary’s faux victory party in Florida.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Franciscan I’ve been acquainted with for quite awhile, will chair the Democratic national convention in Denver. After she made it known at the end of the week that she believes that the nomination should not be decided either by the superdelegates or votes from Michigan and Florida, the Clintons rolled out a longtime consigliere of theirs, New Yorker Harold Ickes, in a weekend conference call. I wasn’t on that holiday weekend event, but the AP did a good job of capturing what I expected him to say.
He said millions of voters in Michigan and Florida would be otherwise disenfranchised — before acknowledging moments later that he had favored the sanctions. Ickes explained that his different position essentially is due to the different hats he wears as both a DNC member and a Clinton adviser in charge of delegate counting. Clinton won the primary vote in Michigan and Florida, and now she wants those votes to count.
“There’s been no change,” Ickes said. “I was not acting as an agent of Mrs. Clinton. We had promulgated rules and those rules said the timing provision … provides for certain sanctions, automatic sanctions as a matter of fact, if a state such as Michigan or Florida violates those timing provisions.”
Well, for one thing, Hillary herself agreed that the primaries in those states were not real contests. Which of course they were not. Now she is trying to rewrite history.
And Ickes, contrary to his comments over the weekend, was in fact Hillary’s agent on the Democratic National Committee, especially with regard to party rules around the primaries and caucuses.
As I reported in September 2007 on New West Notes, when Ickes was acting as her agent on the DNC, the Clinton campaign clearly agreed that the contests would not count. Indeed, Hillary campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, who was replaced in a shakeup last week put out this statement: “We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process. And we believe the DNC’s rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role. Thus, we will be signing the pledge to adhere to the DNC approved nominating calendar.”
And as I reported in July 2006 on NWN Ickes, acting as Hillary’s agent on the DNC, supported moving Nevada into the early group of contest states, but was unhappy about the addition of South Carolina. And he was right to be unhappy, for Obama’s huge victory in South Carolina there proved to be a major turning point in the race.
While the spin machine is running full tilt for the Clintons, the former president himself, in this desperate time, is returning to the sort of attacks on Obama that proved effective in New Hampshire and Nevada but ultimately backfired. Most Americans, even many Republican critics, had come to like the global statesman version of Bill Clinton. But the red-faced finger-wagger is decidedly more problematic. Nevertheless, he remains quite popular among many Democrats, and this is all-hands-on-deck time for the hoped-for Clinton Restoration.
Getting back to those eye-opening statements that sent him out of the limelight for awhile, Bill Clinton, campaigning Saturday in Texas, blamed Obama for the ouster of four vastly more experienced candidates from the race.
In the process sounding, quite disappointingly, like a resentful older guy.
“If you fought you made somebody mad, and you got cut up,” he declared, in what he says is Obama’s “explicit argument” against the former first lady. “We just have to turn over a new leaf. And it is actually an advantage not to have any experience because then you never made anybody mad.”
In Clinton’s view, this supposed strategy of Obama’s is very unfair and yet “has been very effective in this campaign.”
“It has already taken four candidates out, four good candidates out,” he said, referring to candidates who lost and dropped out, as candidates do in every presidential campaign. “And it would have taken Hillary out if she didn’t have so much grassroots support and so much guts in the face of a lot of what has happened here. ”
Clinton added that Hillary believes in “solutions, not speeches.” Which he says could be “a generational thing.” But he also touted his own speechifying, noting that even bigger crowds than Obama draws had listened to his speeches as president. He mentioned that he once drew a million people to a speech he gave as president in Africa. And over 100,000 to the Brandenberg Gate following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Which is a bit on the sad side.
Who knew that the most powerful political couple in America — who have spent decades honing what seemed to be the most powerful national political machine in the history of the Democratic Party — could be so easily made victims by this do-nothing talker the former president once again resentfully rails against?