No, CBS Evening News is not re-making a famous spaghetti western. Instead, we're launching a weekly look at the most effective, most depressing and most what-planet-are-we-on events of the political week. The judgments are non-ideological – effective and depressing and weird events happen across the political spectrum – and we don't have a standard Olympic-style point-scoring standard for this feature.
For openers, we've chosen an obvious starting point: Sen. John McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. We've seen selections in the past change a campaign for the worse: George McGovern's pick of Sen. Tom Eagleton – whom he later dumped from the ticket, dooming whatever chance he had in 1972. Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Dan Quayle in 1988 proved liabilities for Walter Mondale and George H.W. Bush.
But the selection of Palin changed this campaign all the way to its roots. It fired up the socially conservative Republican base that had regarded McCain with wariness … if not hostility. It made "change!" a mantra that – at least temporarily – applied to McCain's campaign as much as it did to that of Obama, who had of course made "change" he theme for more than a year and a half.
That has energized a reluctant evangelical Republican base, promising that in the fall they might turn out in greater numbers than thought. It has put the change issue more on the side of the Republicans than we had thought. And it has made the prospect of a female vice president a potential appeal to former Clinton supporters.
However, the historical markers still favor the Democrats. People identify themselves as Democrats more than Republicans by 10 points. But, the outcome of this election is still as hard to predict as any.
But for nearly 60 years, every time I've walked into Yankee Stadium, my heartbeat begins to accelerate.
It happened the first time I went to a ballgame there, walking into the huge fortress, emerging from a tunnel into the startling blue sky and green outfield – having only seen baseball on a mid-century TV, I guess I assumed the real thing would be black and white. More than the physical power, it's the power of memories that the stadium holds that make its last season so poignant.
The midday Washington rally at which Ted, Caroline, and Patrick Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama may or may not have enough political weight to change the outcome of the primaries. What it definitely did have was a huge supply of political irony.
First, the candidate whose entire campaign is premised on the need to "turn the page," who defines the contest as one "between the past and the future," received the blessing of the political figure most solidly identified with a storied past. Ted Kennedy was elected to the United States Senate in 1962, when Barack Obama was 15 months old. He remains, after 45 years in the Senate, the "last liberal lion," the embodiment of a kind of Democrat anchored in a New Deal-Fair Deal-New Frontier-Great society era. For those of us of a certain age, our strongest memories of Caroline come from the magazine photographs of her dancing in the Oval Office, while her father clapped his hands … or more likely, from the black-and-white photos of her at her father's funeral.
For a lot more Americans, there's another iconic image – the grainy home movie footage of a teenaged Bill Clinton reaching out to shake the hand of President Kennedy at a Boys' Nation gathering in the early 60s. Back in 1992, the Clinton campaign showcased that image as a way to argue that the torch had been passed to another young, vigorous Democrat. And those pictures of the Clintons sailing with the Kennedys off Cape Cod during his Presidency were not exactly accidents.
1.The Democrats and Republicans have two completely different caucus systems.
The GOP takes a straight straw poll — secret ballot with one person, one vote. Whoever gets the most votes win. Simple. Democrats do it differently: Participants form "Presidential preference groups" by moving to different parts of the room. There is no secret ballot (which for some of us suggests that pressure and intimidation might just occur every once in while). The candidates who can't garner 15 percent are considered "non-viable" and their supporters either go home or may realign with more successful candidates. So the second choice of caucus-goers can prove decisive.
Democrats don't use the one-person-one-vote system. Each of the 1,781 precincts gets a certain amount of clout, depending on how big the Democratic turnout was in the last Presidential and gubernatorial contests. So if, for instance, Sen. Clinton turned out huge numbers in Cedar Rapids, it wouldn't be truly measured by the Democratic system — she'd get the same percentage of delegates whether 200 or 2000 people participated. In other words, it's very possible that the candidate who turned out the biggest number of participants statewide could lose — if an opponent's strength was spread more widely.
2. Turnout is really low compared to turnout in primaries.
So the reviews are in and the consensus is: Hillary had a bad night; maybe a bad, bad night. And the question is: So what?
Can a shaky debate performance really matter to a candidate who dominates the national polls, who leads (narrowly) in Iowa and South Carolina and (humongously) everywhere else; a candidate who just picked up the endorsement of AFSCME, one of the biggest public employee unions in the country?
Well, yeah ... maybe. And here's why. When Sen. Clinton followed her effusive praise of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to give illegal immigrants drivers' licenses with a refusal to back that idea, a single thought flashed through the minds of a thousand political junkies: "I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
It's not just that her birthday bash at Manhattan's Beacon last night raised some serious money. It's that as she hits this milestone, the political community has decided that she is somewhere between unmatchable and untouchable.
She leads her nearest rival Barack Obama, by some 30 points in the race for the Democratic nomination. She has leads ranging from the narrow in Iowa to the significant in New Hampshire to the astonishing--40 points or so--in California and New York.
April in Paris? Everyone's romantic dream. Autumn in New York? The best time of all in the Big Apple. Christmas in Killarney? Yes, 'tis grand to be Irish at holiday time.
Now how about … New Year's in Des Moines?
No, it's not a well-known song, it's where the Republican presidential candidates — and the army of operatives, organizers, and media types — will be spending their holiday season now that the Iowa Republican Party has decided to shift its first in the nation caucus date from January 14 to January 3. So, with the New Year's hangover still banging in our heads, and with the college football marathon only starting to wind down, Iowa Republicans will be gathering in school cafeterias, libraries, living rooms, and gyms to start the process of picking the next president.
INDIANOLA, Iowa-- On a bright warm late September Sunday, more than 12,000 Democrats have gathered at the Memorial balloon field in Indianola, to hear six Democratic Presidential candidates--a gathering a cynic might say will produce enough hot air to launch an armada of balloons. They are here for Senator Tom Harkin's 30th annual "Steak Fry"--Iowa being well north of the Mason-Dixon line, they actually don't dry the steaks, they grill them--and to attend a presidential "Cattle call" where cattle is in fact on the menu. It is also a place to measure the obstacles--and possible opportunity--for one of the longer of the long shot candidates.
When Delaware's Joe Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972, Hillary Clinton was in law school; John Edwards as at North Carolina State; Barack Obama was 11-years-old.
But even though Biden has spent more than half his life in the Senate, and has chaired the prestigious Judiciary and now the Foreign Affair committees--such background holds little sway in American Presidential politics; just ask the 41 sitting US Senators who have tried and failed to reach the White House since JFK did it in 1960. Clinton and Obama travel with Secret Service protection, and each has raised ten times the money Biden has. John Edwards still has the recognition and much of the organization he had in 2004, when he nearly won the Iowa caucuses. Even New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has spent nearly $2 million n Iowa media advertising; Biden has spent about $270,000.
If you ask a lot of New Yorkers, "What did you guys think of Rudy Giuliani the day before September 11th," you may well get an answer along these lines: "We were ready to say goodbye; we liked the job he'd done in making the city safer, cleaner, more confident, but we'd had enough." If you pursue the idea a little further, and ask those who cover politics about the Mayor's approval rating, they're likely to guess that it was somewhere in the mid-30s or low-40s.
The reality is more complex. By the fall of 2001, Giuliani had recovered from a series of missteps and bad breaks that had plagued much of those years: police clashes with minorities, including two fatal shootings of unarmed blacks; a messy domestic life including a separation from his wife that he announced at a press conference--apparently, the first time she'd heard he news. There were endless fights not with hoodlums, organized crime big-shots, and incompetent bureaucrats, but with street vendors, jaywalkers, cabbies, museum officials who display offensive materials.