The Gloves Come Off In the Presidential Primary Fight
After a brief respite for Thanksgiving, the presidential campaign this week is back with growing combat in both parties. With next month's California debate imperiled by the Writers Guild strike (CBS is the broadcast partner), the focus is increasingly on Iowa, though Republicans will debate on Thursday in Florida on CNN.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is attacking Barack Obama, who's taken a lead over her in Iowa. Obama and John Edwards are attacking Hillary. She'll get help on Tuesday from her husband the former president, who descends once again on Iowa to try to transfer his greater popularity there to hers and help her regain a lead, as he's done in the past.
On the Republican side, Fred Thompson attacked Fox News on Sunday for, in his view, having it in for him. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are attacking one another, and Giuliani is taking some swats at Thompson, who has some strength in the South, for good measure as a closet centrist. John McCain is after Romney.
And the surging Mike Huckabee, closing in on the lead in Iowa, is attacking the Saudis, for fostering US oil dependency and financing jihadist terrorism.
Barack Obama has built a small lead in Iowa, 30% to 26% over Hillary Clinton, with John Edwards still strong in third at 22% in a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Now that he has a lead in Iowa, Obama hopes to sustain and consolidate, maintaing his new generation/new ideas appeal and reassuring about his experience level. Which is still definitely on the thin side.
Knowing that the big dog, former President Clinton himself, is coming in once again, Obama over the weekend said that when he smoked marijuana, he inhaled. It will be interesting to see if Bill Clinton, who famously claimed he tried pot but never inhaled, takes that bait.
The spin is coming fast and furious. A Clinton spokesman sought to lowball expectations in Iowa, saying: "Our definition of success doesn't necessarily mean coming in first."
Meanwhile, Senator Clinton herself is attacking Obama for his lack of foreign policy experience and for having a universal health care program that is not so universal. Unlike Clinton, Obama would not require everyone to buy health insurance.
If Clinton can win in Iowa, her national frontrunnership will be affirmed. But if she loses, the floodgates of doubt about her will open, and the victor will be seen as freshly charismatic and an enormous media magnet. So to stave off that distinct possibility, Clinton has moved about a hundred staffers from elsewhere in the country into the Hawkeye State. And her husband is back this week for the latest in what will prove to be many stints there.
Hillary is still somewhat measuredly mocking Obama for citing his childhood in Indonesia as an example of his global experience. She has to convince that she has the right blend of change orientation of skilled experience to defeat the Republicans and serve as an effective president.
Obama and Edwards and others will work to undermine her experience angle, which rests more on her tenure as first lady than it does on her seven years in the US Senate, pointing out that none of her papers from the era have been made available to buttress her argument. She'll keep trying to fend off Democratic criticism of her as "repeating Republican talking points."
The happy trio, joined by the rest of the Democratic field, meet up again for another forum/debate in Des Moines at the end of the week. This event, focusing on black and Latino issues -- intriguing, given the lack of blacks and Latinos in Iowa -- will be on Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban's HD Net.
On the Republican side, Giuliani, who actually is a Republican candidate, will continue to find ways to work Hillary into his campaigning against his Republican opponents, as a not so subtle reminder that, on paper at least, he is the most electable Republican. He's going after Romney this week on his fiscal policies as Massachusetts governor and for his health care plan which, like Hillary's, requires the purchase of health insurance.
Meanwhile, a candidate running on a shoestring has rocketed into major contention. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has tripled his support in Iowa since the summer and now runs only four points behind Mitt Romney in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll of the first-in-the-nation Iowa Republican presidential caucuses.
Romney leads Huckabee, 28% to 24%, with Fred Thompson at 15% and Rudy Giuliani at 13%. Huckabee's supporters are more enthusiastic than those of any other Republican candidate and much more likely to stick with their man. But the guitar-playing former preacher, who has been vastly outspent by Romney, is drawing from a narrower spectrum of voters. Can he expand beyond it? Does he need to in a splintered field?
Huckabee was on the BBC World News just before Thanksgiving, fielding questions from a correspondent frankly concerned, as she put it, that America might have another administration devoted to pursuing a Christian religious agenda in world affairs. Accepting the premise of her questioning, Huckabee, who apparently does not believe in the theory of evolution, said that he's not that kind of Christian, and that there would be "no crusade" by a Huckabee Administration.
Even Ron Paul is showing a measure of strength, creeping up into the mid to high single digits in Nevada and New Hampshire and, more impressively, now raising a great deal of money. Word is that he's raised $9 million already in this quarter, with a goal of $12 million.
While the Democratic race is currently a race between two, possibly three candidates, the Republican race is more topsy turvy. Romney leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, but Huckabee is a major threat in the first-in-the-nation contest. The veteran McCain hopes to pull off a New Hampshire upset, especially if Huckabee wins Iowa. Giuliani wants to stay relevant early and blunt anyone else from challenging Romney in New Hampshire, but Florida is his first big firewall before California and other big states he expects to win on February 5th. Thompson has faded badly in New Hampshire but hopes to be strong in South Carolina and other Southern states.
Meanwhile, geopolitics impinge once again this week. President Bush hosts a brief Middle East peace conference at Annapolis. Prospects don't appear good. The Pakistan crisis drags on, with another former prime minister having just returned from exile in Saudi Arabia, with the blessings of his patrons there. Crude oil is bubbling up to $100 per barrel. Not a happy sign as America heads into the holiday season. Russia is on the verge of handing Vladimir Putin another smashing victory next weekend, this time in national parliamentary elections in which heads his United Russia party. And a major global conference on climate change is about to take place, in Bali. The Australian elections further isolated the Bush Administration on that issue.
Apropos of a number of these things, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a close conservative ally of President George W. Bush, was defeated Friday in his bid for another term as prime minister of Australia. Kevin Rudd led a strong victory for the Labor Party down under. Howard also became only the second prime minister in Australian history to lose his own seat in parliament.
Rudd promised repeatedly during his campaign to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. This will leave the US as the only advanced industrialized nation still on the sidelines with regard to the greenhouse effect. Rudd will also pull Australian combat troops out of Iraq. (Which is more symbolic than anything, since there are only about 600 Aussie combat troops there, with about a thousand, who will remain, at least for now, in security and support roles.)
Australia may put more troops into Afghanistan, where things aren't going all that well, given America's preoccupation with the current military effort to stabilize the Iraqi security situation as a precursor to a political settlement.
William Bradley blogs at PajamasXpress' New West Notes