Pure Horserace: Establishment Strikes Back

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., gesture during a speech before the National League of Cities meeting in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2007.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Hillary Clinton reportedly is poised to receive a big boost in the crucial state of Iowa. According to a report by The Associated Press, Clinton is expected to win the endorsement of former Iowa governor and one-time presidential candidate Tom Vilsack on Monday.

When Vilsack announced the end of his fledgling campaign last month, he immediately became one of the most sought-after endorsements for the rest of the Democratic field. His apparent decision to latch onto Clinton's campaign this early shows just how far along we are in this nominating process.

Vilsack could have sat on the sidelines throughout the summer and been courted by the entire Democratic field. In past campaigns, such an approach would have been considered a smart move — it would have allowed the importance of his eventual endorsement to grow and provided him with maximum impact as the actual voting drew near. But this is no ordinary campaign season.

Hollywood celebrities, activists and bloggers have been drawing the battle lines within the Democratic Party for months now, with the most fiercely fought front between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. The two campaigns clashed publicly over remarks made by Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a former Clinton supporter who's now backing Obama. Since then, Democrats of all stripes have increasingly gotten the message: When it comes to the Clinton campaign, the time to choose is now.

It's one reason the recent ad on YouTube received so much attention. Aside from the mystery of who made it (it turned out to be a Democratic operative working for a firm with links to Obama), the imagery hit home for many. The ad, a replica of a 1984 Apple commercial, imagines an Obama insurgent taking literal aim at the Clinton "Big Brother"-like machine.

If Vilsack indeed throws his support to Clinton next week, you can chalk up another coup for the establishment campaign. In the equally important state of New Hampshire this week, the husband of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen announced he will be a state and national co-chair for the Clinton campaign. Bill Shaheen told reporters that his wife would remain neutral, but his involvement is no small matter.

Endorsements are great for press releases and valuable for organizational and fund-raising purposes but as the campaign unfolds, events can overwhelm all else. Still, establishment candidates have put together a pretty solid track record of late in both parties. John Kerry, George W. Bush, Al Gore and Bob Dole all marshaled institutional support to fight off challenges to the nomination.

Honey, I Shrunk The Party? Even as his overall approval ratings have declined, President Bush has always enjoyed solid support among self-identified Republicans — but according to a new poll, fewer and fewer Americans are aligning themselves with the GOP.

The Pew Research Center survey indicates that only 35 percent of Americans say they are solid Republicans or lean toward the party — perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Bush's approval rating has been stuck at around 35 percent for months.

The percentage of people aligning with the GOP is the smallest percentage in the survey's history and a decline from 43 percent in 2002. Meanwhile, the percentage identifying as Democrats has increased from 43 percent in 2002 to 50 percent today.

Most of these changes are apparently due to shifting attitudes among independents and a decline in the number who identify as partisan Republicans. The survey indicates that the number of independents who lean toward the Democratic Party has steadily increased since 2001, but the number leaning toward the GOP has remained flat, at around 10 percent, since Bush took office. In the same time period, the percentage of solid Republicans has fallen to 25 percent, a decline of 5 percentage points.

The easiest explanation is to attribute this shift to the president's own performance in office, particularly in relation to the Iraq war. But the poll shows that Americans views on many issues are shifting toward the stances typically associated with Democrats.

The survey shows that, since 1994, support for government assistance for those who cannot help themselves has increased 12 percent. The percentage of people who support allowing school boards to fire gay teachers has declined 11 percent. Welfare programs for the needy — even if they increase government debt — are now supported by 54 percent of Americans, up 13 percent since 1994.

Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time: One of the brightest achievements on Mitt Romney's presidential resume is his widely praised performance in steering the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from near-disaster to smashing success. So it's no surprise that Romney would have friendly relations with that city's mayor, Rocky Anderson. In fact, Romney vouched for Anderson in a 2003 campaign ad for the mayor's re-election.

Now he may be wishing he didn't. Anderson has gained national recognition for his anti-war activism of late. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the mayor has gone so far as to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. That's put Romney in a tight spot as he campaigns for Republican votes. "I do not endorse or support his views on President Bush or almost any other issue, particularly that's unrelated to being a mayor," Romney told the AP this week. In politics, friendship is fleeting.

Connecticut Senate Caucus Gets Even More Awkward: Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd joined the bulk of the Democratic establishment last year in backing his state's Senate nominee, Ned Lamont. That put a public strain on Dodd's longtime relationship with fellow Sen. Joe Lieberman, who lost to Lamont in the primary but eventually won the general election as a third-party candidate. Lieberman has angered many Democrats because of his continued support of the war in Iraq.

Now Lamont is backing Dodd's presidential bid, according to the Stamford Advocate. Lamont's anti-war campaign could help boost Dodd's image among important party activists, but it might make those Connecticut caucus events a little more uncomfortable.

By Vaughn Ververs