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Starting Gate: All In The Delivery

(Scott Olson/Getty )
Usually when someone uses the phrase, "style over substance," it's a complaint that once candidate or another is getting by with showmanship while giving little but lip service to policy issues. But in campaign 2008, it's starting to take on a different meaning – the ability of a candidate to appear above the fray while engaging in the same rhetoric that is gets others in the doghouse.

Barack Obama is one of those whose style has eclipsed any hint of negativity coming out of his campaign. When Hillary Clinton asserts that Obama's health care plan doesn't cover all Americans, it's often cast as an attack on her rival. That's not the case when Obama says that the former First Lady is too chummy with Washington lobbyists to bring about any real change.

When Clinton's New Hampshire co-chair openly wonders whether Obama ever sold drugs in addition to his admission of taking them, he's off the campaign and the result is a week's worth of stories about it. But as Howard Kurtz point out in the Washington Post today, little attention was paid when an Obama staffer reportedly asked one media scribe when the press would start looking into Bill Clinton's post-presidential sex life.

Likewise, Mike Huckabee has managed, with his style, to avoid being cast as a nattering nabob of negativity. His folksy wit, soft speaking style and religious emphasis somehow makes his criticisms pass with little comment, unlike Mitt Romney, whose has a far more direct style of drawing contrasts. As the New Hampshire Union-Leader reports today, New Hampshire officials are looking into phone calls being made to voters which contain positive messages about Huckabee – and negative information about his opponents. The effort is being done by a group with no official connection to Huckabee's campaign and he has called on them to cease. But the calls, and the work, go on.

Perhaps the ability of candidates like Huckabee and Obama to seemingly have it both ways – to be both positive and still draw contrasts – is a testament more to their opponents than themselves. The Clinton camp has long been engaged in the political game and have spent plenty of time in the dark arts of the craft. Romney's attempts to distinguish himself often come with a harsh edge, particularly his ads of late which some off looking like boiler-plate attack ads in a House race. With Huckabee and Obama clinging to slim leads in Iowa in most polls, they may yet prove that sometimes it's not so much what you say as how you say it that counts.

Iowa Movement: After a few weeks of polls in Iowa showing the Democratic race as Obama-Clinton-Edwards, a new Insider Advantage survey gives us the mirror image result: Edwards-Clinton-Obama. The poll put John Edwards at 30 percent support, followed by Hillary Clinton at 26 percent and Obama at 24 percent. However, that's among "Democratic voters who said they intend to participate in the Jan. 3 presidential caucuses." When narrowed to the more common "most-likely caucus-goers" criteria, Obama and Edwards both score 27 percent support, with Clinton at 24 percent.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Obama still holding a narrow lead over Clinton, but both picking up support at Edwards' expense. The Post poll has Obama at 33 percent overall with Clinton at 29 percent and Edwards at 20 percent.

A Fruitcake? In a pretty obvious response to Mike Huckabee's "Christmas" ad that has garnered so much attention this week, the Giuliani campaign has posted a Web-only ad featuring the candidate sitting in a red sweater-vest in front of a Christmas tree. "With the primaries coming so early this year, I've gotta tell you I'm having a little trouble getting my holiday shopping done," Giuliani says. "So I'll be working to everyone the same gift – a safe America, lower taxes, secure boarders, job growth, fiscal discipline, strict constructionist judges. And probably a fruitcake, or something." When an off-camera voice asks, "fruitcake," Giuliani responds, "What? It'll be a really nice fruitcakem with a big red bow on it or something like that." The ad ends with Giuliani sitting next to a Santa Clause, bidding all a "merry Christmas and happy holidays."

This "ad" brings to mind Giuliani's penchant for doing such shtick (remember those drag videos he did as mayor of New York?) and clearly appears to be a parody of Huckabee's TV ad. The campaign says it is showing some "holiday spirit" with the ad and that a different holiday TV spot will be released today to be run in New Hampshire.

Around The Track

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  • Romney is dismissing a photo of him attending a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in 1994, saying that he has attended a lot of events as a candidate and does not recall this specific one. The photo, circulated yesterday, served as a reminder of a mini-flap that roiled Romney's campaign earlier this year when it was revealed that his wife, Ann, had once donated to the pro-choice group.
  • Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns endorsed Obama yesterday saying, "at a time when our politics has descended into cynical slash-and-burn character attacks, Barack Obama has steadfastly presented a positive, unironic agenda for this country."
  • Former President George H.W. Bush may have formed a friendship with Bill Clinton over the last several years but he's not about to let that transcend family or party loyalty. After former President Clinton claimed that his wife would sent the two on a worldwide goodwill mission should she win, Bush's office released this statement: "Former President Bush wholeheartedly supports the President of the United States, including his foreign policy. He has never discussed an 'around-the-world mission' with either former President Bill Clinton or Senator Clinton, nor does he think such a mission is warranted since he is proud of the role America continues to play around the world as the beacon of hope for freedom and democracy." The former president also said he looks forward to supporting the GOP nominee.
  • The Iowa Republican and Democratic parties yesterday unveiled a new, joint logo for the caucuses, proving that when it comes to presidential politics, the differences between the parties can be less important than the primacy of their calendar position.