The inability of any of the current candidates to dramatically break out of the pack in last week's televised debate did little to soothe GOP concerns and set the stage nicely for Thompson's speech this weekend to an important conservative group in California. But if the early reports on his address to the Lincoln Club of Orange County are any guide, any opportunity to build on the buzz was missed.
One particularly disheartening review was turned in by conservative columnist Robert Novak, who wrote, "Lincoln Club members, like many conservative Republicans, have been unimpressed by the existing field of Republican hopefuls and envisioned Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. They did not get it Friday night."
Novak's description of a rather tepid reception among the gathered GOP faithful is unlikely to derail what has become a sort of presidential campaign-in-waiting. But it does illuminate the potential drawbacks associated with the kind of spontaneous exuberance and high expectations that have surrounded Thompson thus far. At what point does the hype grow larger than the candidate himself? — Vaughn Ververs
More Cowbell? Speaking of possible candidates waiting in the wings, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reiterated Sunday his intention to make a decision this fall about whether or not to jump into the race. Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," Gingrich said he would wait and see if any of the other candidates take up the ideas and proposals he will be developing over the summer before making a decision.
But if those ideas are anything like the one he has forwarded for general election debates, it's hard to see the rest of the field jumping on board. Dismissing events like last week's debate as little more than a reality TV show, Gingrich said the eventual nominees should meet for a series of nine 90-minute debates between Memorial Day and Election Day in 2008 with no moderator. Considering what it takes to get the campaigns to agree to the traditional two or three presidential debates, don't set your TiVos just yet. — Vaughn Ververs
Obama Faces An Unfriendly Crowd: Democrat Barack Obama typically speaks before massive crowds that offer thunderous applause. But when it came time to deliver a major speech on energy independence, he opted for a crowd that might greet him with skepticism — the Detroit Economic Club.
The auto industry executives in the crowd — as well as the auto worker unions that wield significant influence in Michigan's Democratic politics — have strongly resisted attempts by lawmakers to impose higher fuel-economy standards on vehicles produced in the United States on the grounds that it would cost too much money and result in job cuts.
But while Obama pitched his plan, which includes higher fuel-economy standards, greater reliance on alternative fuels and assisting automakers with health care and technology costs, as a way to save the American auto industry, he also took that industry to task, criticizing their use of "armies of lobbyists" to preserve the status quo.
Ruffling the auto industry's feathers has always been a no-no in Michigan, which could be one of the key prizes among the glut of states expected to hold nominating contests on Feb. 5, 2008. But environmental issues are now so prominent, especially among Democrats, that Obama may face little risk in putting forward his plan.
Besides, it's unlikely that Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat would actually disagree with what Obama said. By bringing his proposals directly to those who have resisted similar ideas, he did it in a way guaranteed to get some attention. — David Miller
Give Early To Win Late: Sure, Rudy Giuliani might have the decided edge among Republicans in some of those national polls we see on a weekly basis, but nominations are won state-by-state, starting in Iowa and New Hampshire. That's the message in the latest "state of the race" fund-raising appeal sent out by John McCain's campaign today.
In it, chief strategist John Weaver argues the compressed primary calendar — with mega-states like Florida, California, New York, Texas and many others looming early — is making New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina all the more important. From the memo: "As of today, Senator McCain has built a tremendous organization in those states. And, the state-by-state polling reveals voters in these states have heard his message and are moved by it. The American Research Group released a handful of statewide polls this week showing Senator McCain leading in the key early states: Iowa (+7), New Hampshire (+5) and South Carolina (+13)."
Of course, in order to take advantage of strong showings in those states, campaigns are going to need the money to buy advertising in some of the most expensive media markets in the country to take advantage of any early success, and McCain campaign manager Terry Nelson is using that reality to appeal for contributions. After all, that second quarter reporting deadline is only 54 days away. — Vaughn Ververs
Huckabee's Evolving Campaign: Republican Mike Huckabee was one of three candidates during last week's GOP debate who did not raise his hand when asked if they believed Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was correct.
But Huckabee sought to take the issue off the table on Monday, implying he doesn't necessarily believe in the creation story as depicted in the Bible. "I believe there is a God. And I believe God put this whole creative process in motion," he told the Associated Press. "How he did it and the time frame in which he did it, I honestly don't know. Nor do I think it's relevant to being president of the United States."
But it could be relevant to being elected president of the United States, Huckabee joked. "I think I'll get stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger, and the other guys will get weaker and weaker and weaker," he said. "It's the process of natural selection. I'll be naturally selected to be the nominee for president."
If survival of the fittest does dictate the election, Huckabee has cause for celebration. After all, he's lost 110 pounds since 2003, an achievement none of his rivals can claim. — David Miller
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By Vaughn Ververs and David Miller