Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of Missing Persons

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 355

John Edwards withdrew from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination today. In leaving the field to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Edwards joins Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson in the ranks of former candidates. All of these men, now gone from the race, nevertheless left an indelible imprint on its terms of debate: Joe Biden on foreign policy generally, and Iraq in particular; Chris Dodd on restoring civil liberties and the rule of law; John Edwards on poverty; Bill Richardson on diplomacy and the environment. Every one of them had the courage of their convictions, and, in spite of a mass media that continually focused on prematurely simplifying the campaign to a two-person horse race, made their impact nonetheless, oftentimes through the simple act of refusing to go quietly.

And the supporters of these departed candidates are now left to sift through their feelings, their policy priorities, their character judgments, and to pick whom to now support between two candidates not of their original choosing. It is an uncomfortable and difficult process. My own chosen candidate, Joe Biden, left the race nearly a month ago, and I am nowhere near settled on whom to eventually give my allegiance.

But in Iowa, we were the luckiest of voters, because no matter who we may have originally supported, as Iowans we had the luxury of working for, speaking for and voting for the person we viewed as the most qualified to lead this nation out of the dark night of the past seven years. We had the luxury of participation without compromise. No one else can claim that privilege. And that is a shame.

Readers of this blog will know that I was never a John Edwards supporter. I never felt that John Edwards possessed the ability to bring people together that will prove so crucial in healing our country and helping it move forward again. But when I think of the race without John Edwards, without the last member of the non-hundred million dollar club, I feel a bit sad. Because now there are only two voices left to speak.

Eventually, of course, we'll be down to one voice. And Democrats will rally behind our nominee with energy and commitment that will propel our candidate to an historic victory in November.

Just give us a minute.

Everybody Needs a Hobby: Nader Forms Exploratory Committee

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 355

This is not a joke. Well, okay - it is a joke, but I am not making it up: Ralph Nader today announced that he has formed a presidential exploratory committee. Nader's got a web site and everything, so, gosh, he must be serious.

The political landscape trembles.

New Obama Ad: "Caroline"

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 355

The Obama campaign has debuted a new ad. The 30-second spot, titled "Caroline," follows up last Sunday's endorsement by Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy.

The ad began running yesterday in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles and on cable nation-wide.

If nothing else, this ad should win an award for film editing. The way in which the lead-off footage of President Kennedy transitions to Barack Obama walking into the ad at about the 8 second mark is simply breathtaking.

Clinton, Obama Issue Statements on Edwards' Withdrawal

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 355

The campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama issued statements today regarding the decision of John Edwards to withdraw from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Hillary Clinton

John Edwards ended his campaign today in the same way he started it - by standing with the people who are too often left behind and nearly always left out of our national debate.

John ran with compassion and conviction and lifted this campaign with his deep concern for the daily lives of the American people. That is what this election is about - it's about our people. And John is one of the greatest champions the American people could ask for.

I wish John and Elizabeth all the best. They have my great personal respect and gratitude. And I know they will continue to fight passionately for the country and the people they love so deeply.

Barack Obama

John Edwards has spent a lifetime fighting to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the struggling, even when it wasn’t popular to do or covered in the news. At a time when our politics is too focused on who’s up and who’s down, he made a nation focus again on who matters – the New Orleans child without a home, the West Virginia miner without a job, the families who live in that other America that is not seen or heard or talked about by our leaders in Washington. John and Elizabeth Edwards have always believed deeply that we can change this – that two Americas can become one, and that our country can rally around this common purpose. So while his campaign may end today, the cause of their lives endures for all of us who still believe that we can achieve that dream of one America.

Thoughts on the Florida Primary

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 355

McCain goes up big, Giuliani goes down hard, Romney goes on life support, and Clinton goes to Fantasy Land. Here are some morning after thoughts on the Florida primary.

John McCain

John McCain has got to be feeling good this morning. After wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina showcased strength with independent voters, last night's win in the "closed" Republican-only Florida primary showed that John McCain is at least viable with the GOP base. That combination, plus the thus-far unique phenomenon of consecutive primary wins on the Republican side, puts McCain at the front of the field.

The fact persists, however, that the Republican base remains fundamentally uneasy at various points with every GOP candidate this time out. And for conservative true believers, the expected endorsement as early as today of John McCain by Rudy Giuliani, viewed by many of the GOP faithful as ideologically suspect for his record of supporting abortion rights, gun control and gay rights, certainly won't make McCain any easier to picture as the ever longed-for heir to Ronald Reagan. For that reason, McCain's win in Florida, while significant for him and for the entire GOP field, nevertheless comes off feeling a little light, more in the nature of a coin-toss than a groundswell.

Which may sound like quibbling and sour grapes to some. And that may be true, but it is pretty much all that keeps Mitt Romney going at this point.

Mitt Romney

The question for Mitt Romney now is whether he's got any cards left to play in this race. So far, he's flipped ideological stances on major issues like abortion rights, continued to grapple with how best to explain his faith to a fundamentalist Christian GOP base that views Mormonism with deep suspicion, and has poured tens of millions of dollars of his own money to keep his presidential campaign afloat. Nothing has worked to this point, and only a win in Michigan, where his father was a hugely popular governor, has kept Romney's candidacy alive.

So it's hard to see what will turn things around for Romney at this point. The obvious thing to try is going hugely negative on McCain in the Super Tuesday states, but doing so becomes a question of glass houses, since McCain has shown himself to be no pushover on that front, often giving as good as he gets when it comes to slinging mud.

Rudy Giuliani

"New York - if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere..."
~ John Kander & Fred Ebb, "New York, New York"

These lyrics from the old Frank Sinatra chestnut can be said to articulate Rudy Giuliani's rationale for seeking the Republican nomination for president more clearly than "America's Mayor" ever managed to do himself.

Most politicians are in continual danger of crossing the line from hyping their own image to actually believing in it themselves. In Giuliani's case, that dose of kool-aide took hold long before he threw his hat in the ring for the 2008 nomination contest, and it showed from the very beginning. Iowa? Too small, too unfamiliar and too retail to matter. New Hampshire? We hope we'll get some votes there, but we don't expect to win (see Iowa). South Carolina? The same. But Florida? Ah, Florida...that's where it's going to be different. Closed primary, big media market, lots of retirees from New York, high name other words, all the makings of a Giuliani electoral triumph, setting the stage for a national turnaround on February 5.

That didn't happen, obviously. Notwithstanding the presence in Florida of all the factors just listed, Rudy Giuliani never troubled himself to do what candidates should have lasered into their foreheads as Job One: focus on voters, organize supporters, and go local. As a result, Rudy found himself talking past voters, his eye always on the ever-forthcoming National Campaign, and ultimately, his longed-for political cage match in the Fall with arch-enemy Hillary Clinton.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the same fate that befell Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side might as easily have befallen Barack Obama on the Democratic side. The difference is that Obama managed to take the hype around his candidacy and convert it from a personal talisman to a launching pad for a broad-based movement, and, crucially, built the political organization required to capitalize on that.

Ultimately, Rudy Giuliani always put more faith in the media than he ever did in the electorate, and it was his undoing.

Hillary Clinton

"Victory in Florida," proclaimed the title of an email the Clinton campaign sent to supporters this morning. This in spite of the fact that there was virtually no campaign waged in Florida by Barack Obama, out of adherence to the early state pledge all Democratic candidates (Clinton included) signed last year. But that isn't mentioned in the email, nor was the other minor detail that not a single delegate was awarded last night, due to DNC sanctions imposed on the Florida Democratic party for moving its primary earlier in the calendar than allowed by party rules. All mere quibbling, the Clinton campaign insists: people voted for Hillary in Florida yesterday, and a win is a win is a win.

Except when it isn't, of course.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, before he abandoned his longshot presidential bid to focus on his longshot reelection bid, would often send out emails claiming victory in this or that self-selecting on-line "primary." Hillary Clinton, claiming "wins" in Michigan and now Florida, skirts awfully close to that same line this morning. Such claims reek of desperation, and reinforce one of the major criticisms of her to be found across a broad spectrum of media and public opinion: that winning is the only thing that matters to Hillary Clinton.

Edwards to Quit Race Today

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 355

The Associated Press is reporting this morning that John Edwards will quit the presidential race today after Saturday's electoral death-knell in his home state of South Carolina.

According to AP, Edwards will announce his withdrawal at an event in New Orleans at 1:00 PM EST today.

I'll be back with more thoughts after the announcement.

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