More Colts In The Presidential Stable

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks at a news conference regarding his political future., in Omaha, Neb., Monday, March 12, 2007. Hagel said that he will make a decision on his political plans later this year. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Add Chuck Hagel to the growing list of political leaders who might want to run for president in 2008.

After failing to tamp down speculation that he was preparing to officially enter the race, the Nebraska senator announced Monday that he wants to wait a while longer before making that decision.

Following a flurry of activity of "official announcements" from the likes of Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, "wait and see" has replaced Internet declarations as the new trend in presidential politics. Hagel joins Al Gore, Newt Gingrich and even former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson in a group of potential late entrants that political watchers are keeping their eyes on.

Gore received a wave of attention last month when his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Oscar. His playful non-announcement in front of a huge television audience sparked a new round of speculation that the former vice president may try to revive his political career. Gingrich, who was treated like a rock star at a recent gathering of conservative activists, has long said he would wait until later in the year to make a decision, and Thompson, now a star on TV's "Law & Order," said Sunday that he would seriously consider running in 2008.

The thinking behind the waiting game goes something like this: With so many candidates already actively running — raising money, signing on supporters and sucking up media space — anyone who isn't already in is already far behind. Better to wait and hope voters find themselves searching for alternatives as the battles heat up, then rush to fill that void. If nothing else, it might help raise speaking fees and sell books.

Bill Clinton did not formally announce his candidacy until October 1991 — just 13 months before he was elected president. But Clinton's intentions were well-known among party regulars and the media for many months prior to his declaration. In that same year, then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo publicly agonized over a decision to run before finally deciding against it.

We may have to wait until the filing deadline in New Hampshire to find out if any of these indecisive would-be presidents end up hitting the racetrack or staying put in the stable.

Not Again! In 2004, America was introduced to the power of a new political tool: the "527s," groups defined by a loophole in campaign finance laws that allow them to operate outside of "soft money" regulations imposed on other campaign organizations. Here's how such groups are defined on the Federal Election Commission's Web site:
Entities organized under section 527 of the tax code are considered "political organizations," defined generally as a party, committee or association that is organized and operated primarily for the purpose of influencing the selection, nomination or appointment of any individual to any federal, state or local public office, or office in a political organization. All political committees that register and file reports with the FEC are 527 organizations, but not all 527 organizations are required to file with the FEC. Some file reports with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Confused? Well, the FEC helpfully tells us to visit the IRS Web site where we find this regarding required filings by 527s:
In addition to IRS filing requirements, some section 527 organizations must file reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). See the FEC website for more information.
It's complicated business, but these groups can raise unlimited funds for the purposes of influencing campaigns, usually through on-the-ground organizing or over-the-air advertising.

During the last presidential election, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth 527 was a prime player during the campaign, spending millions of dollars on TV ads criticizing Sen. John Kerry's service during the Vietnam War. The ads were harshly criticized by Kerry's campaign and many media outlets — but they were effective in attracting millions more in free media attention.

Perhaps seeking to replicate that effort, a pair of Massachusetts Republican consultants have started Mass Republicans for Truth and launched a Web site that examines the record of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, now a GOP candidate for president. The effort, which kicked off on Monday, is critical of positions taken by Romney in the past on issues ranging from taxes to abortion.

A Romney spokesperson told the Boston Herald, which originally reported on the group last week, the effort is a product of "disgruntled political operatives" and predicted "they're going to peddle a bunch of distortions and anger in their efforts."

The very presence of this type of group so early should be a canary-in-a-coal mine moment for the political process. It's almost certainly just the tip of the 527 iceberg for 2008.

Slippery Slope? Nevada Democrats this weekend pulled out of an arranged debate with the Fox News Channel, citing comments made by FNC president Roger Ailes about Barack Obama. Speaking at an industry gathering, Ailes said, "It is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don't know if it's true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, 'Why can't we catch this guy?'"

Whether that apparent attempt at humor was directed more at Obama or Bush is a little unclear (that Bush would be unfamiliar with the Illinois senator seems to suggest at least a slight dig at the president, no?). But it at least gave state Democratic leaders a chance to end an arrangement that had drawn criticism from liberal activists. Bloggers in particular were outraged that the party would partner with a news organization they view as holding a conservative point of view. Even before the partnership was officially ended, John Edwards had pulled out of the debate, citing what his campaign saw as unfair coverage of Democratic candidates.

It was a big victory for Democratic activists who have long complained about the network — but Fox isn't the only news organization that has been labeled biased by one side of the political spectrum or the other. If this type of boycott becomes a trend, will media outlets be subjected to some type of ideological litmus test?

What would it mean if activist pressures dictate the relationship between campaigns and media outlets. Obama reportedly had "frozen out" FNC reporters after the network discussed a false report about the school he attended as a child. Will campaigns be more aggressive in seeking retribution for stories they deem unfair — or just don't like?

Will Republicans stop making visits to The New York Times editorial board? Will they insist certain outlets not be included during trips to New Hampshire? Will they turn down potentially important interview requests because bloggers have a bone to pick with the reporter's past work?

Or will they realize that just about any media exposure helps and see the danger of picking fights with news organizations?

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version, coming soon to an in-box near you.

  • Vaughn Ververs

Comments