Starting Gate: Choosing Time

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Last-minute shoppers are getting their business wrapped up this week and it's no different in the political world where a slew of endorsements have come down in the last couple of days. The most coveted, of course, was the nod given by the Des Moines Register to Hillary Clinton and John McCain this weekend – but that wasn't the only action.

Clinton has of late nabbed the support of former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey and Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell. McCain has now been endorsed by major newspapers in Iowa, New Hampshire and Massachusetts and gets a boost today from Independent Senator and one-time Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman. McCain and Barack Obama were endorsed by the Boston Globe yesterday. Even John Edwards is getting into the act – he'll get the support of Iowa First Lady Mari Culver (Gov. Chet Culver says he will remain neutral).

For McCain, these endorsements are an important source of vindication for his decision to run again eight years after nearly capturing the GOP nomination but all the public support in the world is unlikely to make much of a difference for him in Iowa, where he's well behind. His chances in New Hampshire look brighter but it's still an uphill battle, especially for independent voters who fueled his success in 2000 but are likely to gravitate toward the Democratic race in some numbers.

For Clinton, these endorsements help reinforce her place as the establishment candidate but it's a risky position at the moment. Should Clinton finish second – or worse, third – in Iowa, that top-heavy strategy could begin to unravel quickly, especially with New Hampshire voting just five days later. Should Obama charge out of the gate with two big wins, he would head to South Carolina looking to deliver a knock-out punch.

Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton, the Des Moines Register and Manchester Union-Leader, governors, senators and celebrity endorsements aside, it's still the voters who will make the decisions about who the nominees will be next fall. That's why the candidates are spending less time with their famous friends and more time knocking on doors courting those whose endorsements on caucus/primary day means the most.

Charge Of The Paul Brigade: Ron Paul's campaign says the libertarian-minded Republican candidate raised just over $6 million yesterday, eclipsing it's previous one-day haul of $4.2 million in November. Paul's latest "money bomb" dropped on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party and is the largest one-day campaign haul ever. Paul's campaign says the event brought the campaign's 4th quarter total to $18 million.

Paul has attracted a surprisingly large and loyal following with his message of smaller government and advocacy for ending the war in Iraq and could wind up having a large impact on the nomination fight. Paul has garnered about 7% support in most recent polls in New Hampshire – precious votes that may come at the expense of another candidate. With $18 million in the bank, Paul can certainly compete to get his message out.

The "M" Word: In an interview with the Washington Post after making his endorsement of Clinton, Bob Kerrey raised eyebrows when he seemed to go out of his way to discuss Obama's Muslim background. ""It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim," Kerrey said. "There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims and I think that experience is a big deal."

Attending services at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Mason City, Iowa yesterday, Obama did not address those comments directly but did talk about why he joined the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago when he was a community organizer. "What I found during the course of this work was, one, that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they come together and find common ground," he told worshipers. "The other thing I discovered was that values of honesty, hard work, empathy, compassion were values that were spoken about in church .... I realized that Scripture and the words of God fit into the values I was raised in."

Around The Track

  • Rudy Giuliani has reduced his spending in New Hampshire, according to the Nashua Telegraph. Meanwhile, the Politico reports that Giuliani is increasingly hunkering down in Florida, looking for a win there on Jan. 29th.
  • Practice makes perfect as organizations and campaigns in Iowa hold mock caucuses.
  • Mike Huckabee is growing ever more critical of the Bush administration's foreign policy. "American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out," he writes in a new essay in Foreign Affairs. "The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists."
  • Actor Judge Reinhold is backing Bill Richardson for president. We wondered why HDNet was running a Beverly Hills Cop marathon this weekend.
  • Stopping by a livestock auction yesterday, Clinton said she feels as though she's the one on the blocks and invited Iowans to do their best to inspect her. ""I know you're
    going to inspect me. You can look inside my mouth if you want. I hope by the end of my time with you I can make the case for my candidacy and to ask you to consider caucusing for me."
  • New Hampshire's Dixville Notch is getting ready for it's quadrennial close up.