Much has been written in the past few days about the financial disclosures of various presidential candidates. What those disclosures revealed will come as no surprise: All of the major candidates are doing pretty well for themselves. But sometimes these reports, which show how the candidates made their money, can create some sticky situations, especially when so much emphasis is placed on seeming "down to earth."
Just ask John Edwards. His finances have been the most scrutinized, due mainly to the millions he has invested in a hedge fund that included off-shore tax havens and subprime mortgage lenders. For most candidates, that wouldn't be a big deal. But Edwards has repeatedly talked of closing corporate tax loopholes and the plight of homebuyers struggling to keep up with their house payments. The story comes after others focusing on the size of his house (28,200 square feet) and the cost of his haircuts ($400).
The controversy surrounding Edwards is emblematic of one of the truths of politics: Image is everything. If you want to make your campaign a crusade against poverty and inequality, it could be difficult to justify participating in an exclusive hedge fund that benefits from the exact same things you speak out against, let alone owning a 102-acre estate while prepping for your TV appearances at a Beverly Hills salon.
How do the other candidates fare? Democrat Barack Obama was the only one of the six top-tier candidates to pull in less than $1 million. Much of his income came from royalties and advances related to his two best-selling books. Obama has much more money than the average American, but he's also very new to it — a perfect fit for a "rising star" candidate who portrays himself as living the American Dream.
Republican Mitt Romney projects a businesslike demeanor on the stump, and he's also expected to report some businesslike wealth, easily topping $100 million. What is a problem for Edwards — who is seeking to win the support of working-class voters — could be a blessing for Romney as he seeks backing from Republican primary voters who favor policies that benefit businesses and investors.
Some candidates' finances, while not presenting serious problems, could provide joke fodder for their opponents. Much of John McCain's money is a result of his marriage to the daughter of a beer mogul — not too far removed from John Kerry's marriage to "ketchup heiress" Teresa Heinz Kerry. As for Hillary Clinton, much of her wealth is derived from the heavy speaking fees commanded by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, potentially poking holes in Clinton's effort to portray herself as independent of her spouse.
Of course, money doesn't determine a candidate's image. On paper, it would be easy to call President Bush a well-heeled, Connecticut-born blueblood, but thanks to a Crawford ranch with a lot of brush to clear, the president was able to cultivate a reputation for being an easygoing Texas cowboy — and it helped him win two elections. — David Miller
What, No Tammy Wynette? Hillary Clinton is giving her supporters a chance to make a decision that will leave a mark on every one of her campaign appearances from now on — which song will play as she enters and exits the stage.
In a video posted on her campaign Web site, Clinton invites people to pick from a list of nine songs. All of them should sound familiar to anyone who's attended or watched a lot of campaign rallies in the past 10 years. Among the options are two songs by U2, "Ready to Run" by every Democrat's favorite country music trio, the Dixie Chicks, and The Temptations "Get Ready," which might be the most overplayed song in the modern history of political rallies.
The video is also pretty light-hearted and self-effacing, two qualities not often seen from Clinton, who won praise for her tough rhetoric on national security and terrorism at the most recent Democratic debate. After showing Clinton singing a horrendously off-key rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, she promises not to sing the selected song in public — unless she wins. — David Miller
Yet Another Wave of Speculation Begins: Keep an eye out for a lot of columns mentioning the latest issue of Time magazine, which includes an interview with former Vice President Al Gore. Inevitably, the article turns to the question of whether Gore is considering jumping into the 2008 race. His answer? "I haven't ruled it out. But I don't think it's likely to happen."
That line is couched between quotes from Gore and his wife, Tipper, that make it pretty clear Gore is leaning hard in the direction of not running. But since these remarks represents Gore's first direct acknowledgement of the rumors about his entry into the race since the Oscars, they're bound to get plenty of attention.
However, as long as Democrats indicate they're satisfied with the current crop of candidates, we're going to give Gore the benefit of the doubt. — David Miller
Unity Delegates Aren't Divided: On Wednesday, Unity08 — which plans on nominating a bipartisan ticket for 2008 via an online convention — released the results of a survey of its delegates. As one would expect, the survey shows that those drawn to Unity08 tend to be middle-of-the-road in their politics.
According to founders Doug Bailey and Jerry Rafshoon, most Unity08 delegates believe the upcoming election is not only the most important in their lifetimes, but also in that of their children. Unsurprisingly, they're frustrated with both major parties. They see issues such as energy independence, education, health care, terrorism, Iraq and climate change as important, while rejecting "wedge issues" like abortion, gun control and gay marriage.
"There are no surprises here," Rafshoon, a former White House press secretary said. "From the outset, we have believed that the American people know that America's political train has left the track and are ready to set it right with a Unity Ticket that pulls the best from both sides."
It's still unknown what kind of impact Unity08 will have on the race once it picks its ticket. But the survey results could be useful for whichever Democratic and Republican candidates go on to the general election — especially if they want to avoid a defection of the swing voters that wield so much influence. — David Miller
Speaking of Unity08… One if its co-founders, Doug Bailey, will be featured in tomorrow's installment of Political Players, an ongoing series of interviews with the leaders, consultants, and activists who are shaping American politics, conducted by CBS News' Brian Goldsmith. We won't give away all the details, but Bailey doesn't go easy on either party, and he also discusses his desire for Unity08 to do a much more than crown a mere spoiler — he wants a winner.
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By David Miller