Judging from Sunday night’s Republican debate, and the criticisms coming from Democrats, right now the presidential race is mostly about Hillary Clinton, whose birthday is this week. She turns 60 on October 26th. Look for the glitterati of New York and LA to have a field day.
George W. Bush, with near record levels of unpopularity, doesn’t get much mention these days from the Republicans seeking to replace him, but the wife of his Democratic predecessor certainly does.
The Republican race is in a phase in which the leading candidates are trying to shore up appeals to more conservative elements in the Republican base vote. The effort comes with most of the top candidates having shaky bona fides in that regard. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have both been moderate to liberal on social and other issues, and Giuliani hasn’t changed his positions. John McCain has been more consistently conservative, except on immigration, campaign finance, and the environment, but he’s faded from his leadership position. Fred Thompson has under-wowed as a candidate. Mike Huckabee stirs the hearts of social conservatives with his traditional views on their issues, but hasn’t been able to raise money.
Rudy Giuliani, who has done the best in the Republican debates, told a conference of social conservatives on Saturday in Washington not to fear him. He would appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, he said, seeking common ground by citing his devout Catholic schoolboy past. But he didn’t back away from his pro-choice stance, and scored rival Mitt Romney for changing his positions.
Last night’s debate in Florida was the first big event since the candidates appeared Friday and Saturday before a conference of social conservatives in Washington. Mike Huckabee was the favorite of the crowd. Mitt Romney narrowly won a straw poll. Fred Thompson reportedly disappointed, and finished fourth in the straw poll. Rudy Giuliani tried to assuage concerns without changing his views.
So the candidates are attacking one another, and promising to be the best to go after Hillary, who simply drives many Republicans wild. This makes it a good strategy to try to stir up Republican voters, who polls show are much less satisfied with their candidates than are the Democrats.
With Clinton in the lead, her Democratic rivals are going after her, too. It makes sense, as we learned last week that she has the most money.
We’re learning more about the campaign finance picture in the presidential race. The Democratic candidates are in much better shape than their Republican counterparts. In the vital area of cash on hand, Hillary Clinton leads on the Democratic side while Rudy Giuliani leads on the Republican side.
Among the Republicans, Rudy Giuliani has $11.2 million cash on hand to Mitt Romney’s $9.2 million, Fred Thompson’s $7.1 million, and John McCain’s $3.5 million. The Libertarian Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an asterisk in the polls, has $5.4 million.
Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton has $35 million to Barack Obama’s $32 million, John Edwards’ $10 million, and Bill Richardson’s $5 million.
Edwards is going after Hillary for ties to lobbyists, and is expanding his attack now to her questionable fundraising, notably, to date, from the Asian-American community. Her campaign has already had to return $850,000 raised by disgraced political fundraiser Norman Hsu, who is suspected of using straw man contributors to launder money into campaigns. Now it looks like many of her Asian contributors in New York are questionable, as well.
Meanwhile, for her part, Hillary is campaigning against Bush, launching a new TV ad campaign called “Trapdoor,” arguing that Bush and the Republicans have brought a new era of economic insecurity to America.
She’s continuing her theme of change, which she’s done a good job of at least partially coopting from Obama and Edwards, by emphasizing her standing as the first major woman candidate.
And this week she spends several days campaigning in the West, a major opportunity area for Democrats, going up and down the West Coast and hitting Nevada and Colorado. She has some general election problems in the Mountain West, which her campaign wants to begin to address.
Giuliani will continue his emphasis on Florida, a key early state now for Republicans — though not for Democrats, who are honoring Democratic rules against its move into the first group of contests — and Thompson is spending two days there to try to cut into Giuliani’s lead there.
All the Republican candidates are likely to participate in a senior citizens forum in Iowa.
McCain will continue his quiet move back into contention in New Hampshire. In addition to his staunch support for the Iraq War, which he says has been totally mishandled until this year, he’s renewing some old Cold War rhetoric against Russia, saying it should be tossed out of the G-8.
Russia’s moves last week — with Vladimir Putin holding high-level meetings in Iran, denying the US any use of its base in Azerbaijan against Iran, and holding out the prospect of advanced weapons sales — make US strategy in the region even more problematic.
The Russians want the US to back off its proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe and give Russia a free hand with states on its periphery. But Putin didn’t get that agreement when Condi Rice and Bob Gates went to Moscow recently, so the fast re-emerging power — fueled by record oil prices — is making further mischief for an America pinned down in Iraq.
Look for the old Cold War rhetoric to have a resurgence with McCain and the other Republicans as they try to reassure conservative Republican primary voters of their toughness.
William Bradley blogs at New West Notes