This election has been going on for so long and has taken us in so many directions that we almost forgot Fred Thompson, the Tennessee senator best known as Arthur Branch on Law & Order, was ever in the race.
As America recovers from the gladiator-like contest that was Monday's Democratic debate, we look ahead to the next battleground, South Carolina. Well, not everyone: Recognizing that the state's large black population has decisively tipped the polls in Barack Obama's favor — in their endorsement, S.C.’s biggest newspaper called Obama the “only Democrat who plausibly can say that he wants to work with Americans across the political spectrum” — Hillary Clinton has basically abandoned the place to campaign in populous Super Tuesday states. Yeah, right — abandoned like a fox. Clinton’s got it all planned out, as usual.
• David Broder says that, given his demographic advantages, not winning South Carolina on Sunday would mean Obama's pretty much done for. [WP]
It’s not all Spitzer for Vanity Fair: The current issue also contains a towering Rudy profile, "A Tale of Two Giulianis," by Michael Shnayerson (whose sister Maggie is now the longest-serving editor at Gawker). In a lower-key fashion than last week’s dueling Newsweek and Village Voice features on Rudy’s supposed terror ties, Vanity Fair delivers a series of excellent mini-scoops on the man’s business practices. Case after well-researched case shows Giuliani peddling bits of his 9/11 reputation to just about any taker, from foreign governments to “typical denizens of the penny-stock world — dreamers and the occasional scam artist.” Shnayerson follows Giuliani’s paid-up crusade for the makers of OxyContin, first as a lobbyist, then a lawyer; his shilling for Nextel; etc. More disturbingly, he then catches Rudy putting plugs for his clients into his political speeches, which are then reported as legitimate news. The choicest tidbit, however, is the one where the author quickly settles a personal score.
New York's cynical presidential contenders might be floundering, but hey, have you heard that Dennis Kucinich has a hot wife? The Washington Post thinks you haven’t. Witness "The Love Song of Dennis J. Kucinich," an annoyingly “voicey” feature on the candidate’s martial bliss. (“No Wonder the Candidate Saw a UFO. He's Been Up There on Cloud Nine.”) The narrative’s the same as it’s always been: He’s a troll, she looks like Natasha McElhone with a tongue stud, and the marriage works because they’re both New Age weirdos. The Post even opens with that old chestnut about how Kucinich has “already won,” which might have been authored by the candidate himself, but still, as we’ve mentioned before, makes us feel weird when the papers run with it: There’s something awfully locker-room about it, this notion of a filly as a consolation prize. Or, rather, something out of Mad Men. “He is short, at 5-7,” we’re informed for the thousandth time in that retro-swinish cadence, “And she is — wow, she just keeps on going.”
What the hell happened? We headed into the new week secure in our conviction that New York is the nexus of the universe, and the rest of the world is finally coming to terms with it: Witness the election season dominated by an avowed Yankee fan and Rudy Giuliani. Then came the latest poll numbers. According to USA Today-Gallup figures, Hillary has slipped by eleven points in the last month, and Rudy by nine. (Hey! Nine-eleven! Spooky!) Obama is actually leading Clinton in Iowa, and a man named Huckabee is closing the gap with Rudy. Dems hoping to ride the Clinton coattails are increasingly nervous, and Hillary herself is beginning to fidget: She’s intensified her anti-Obama rhetoric, calling him an unqualified “talker” (in what the Times terms a “mellifluous voice”).
The cable-news outlets have a funny way of turning a potentially scary situation into a media farce. About an hour after “confirming” that both hostages have been released from Hillary Clinton’s Rochester HQ in New Hampshire, CNN is now saying there’s a third hostage still inside — which would explain why there's been little recent news from the scene. As with every real-time news event, the media are bound to change the story several times as facts get settled, except this time we can’t even agree on the story’s genre. Is this a scary situation with a real bomb and hostages? Or are we now looking at a guy with no hostages and a fake bomb strapped to his chest? If it's the former, you've got perhaps massive repercussions throughout the election cycle. If it's the latter, you've got a deranged remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Really, we just want to know how much we should be freaking out here.
Meanwhile, MSNBC says the suspect is a fellow named Leeland Eisenberg. Start counting how many times that bit of info changes. Also, his son-in-law says "he had been drinking" today. Oh, who hasn't ended up as the focus of the 24-hour news cycle after a few too many vodka-tonics?
Earlier:Breaking: Man With Bomb Takes Hostages at Clinton's N.H. HQUpdate: They got him! The last hostage was just released and the suspect is in police custody...
Remember how we told you two hours ago that Clinton’s camp is “circling the wagons” around New Hampshire, because, unlike Iowa, the state is a safe bet for Hill? Yeah, pretty much — except for the maniac with a bomb. A man allegedly holding an explosive device has taken hostages at Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Rochester, New Hampshire. The candidate herself is not there, but the bomb threat is apparently credible; a nearby school has been evacuated and negotiators are being brought in — along with a group of officers with guns drawn. CNN says two people are inside, although it’s unclear whether this means two hostages or a hostage and the perp. Stay tuned, obviously. —Michael IdovUpdate: CNN is reporting that the suspect is asking to speak to Senator Clinton; security has been tightened at Obama and Edwards's HQs.
Update, 3:34 PM: There are no more hostages inside, but the suspect is still in the building with a bomb-like device strapped to his chest. The Clinton campaign has released a terse statement ("We are in close contact with state and local authorities"). SWAT members have been able to contact the perp and "calm him down," although he remains inside.
Police responding to incident at Clinton campaign office [CNN]
Things haven’t been terrific for Hillary Clinton lately; even if she’s still the presumptive nominee, that narrative is simply not interesting anymore. That’s what we get for starting the campaign season in 2006. This week, the media have taken to emphasizing the fact that Iowa is still very much in play, news of which sent Hillary’s troops circling their wagons around sure-thing New Hampshire. Down south, in the meantime, a familiar story is playing out: Another Clinton fund-raiser got canceled because the host appears a little shady. This time, the scrubbed event was to take place at the Oxford, Mississippi, home of lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs. Although Hillary herself wasn’t going to show up — Bill was. Until this Wednesday, when the Feds raided the house and indicted Scruggs for trying to bribe a state-court judge. Just like with the fascinating Norman Hsu, we can’t quite put our finger on Dickie Scrubbs: He’s a Democratic donor (okay) who’s also brother-in-law to ultraconservative senator Trent Lott (huh); he’s a trial lawyer (boo) whose specialty was suing tobacco companies (ahh). Still, one lesson for the Hillary camp is clear: Don’t schedule events at the homes of people with names that sound like the Coen brothers’ characters. —Michael IdovHost Indicted, Clinton Fund-Raiser Canceled a> [WSJ]
In the days before Rudy Giuliani was a poll-topping juggernaut, we always assumed that one look at the ex-mayor in one of his famous drag guises would be enough to give nightmares to about 20 percent of the voters he'd need to get elected. But the days tick by, the primaries are near, and nothing's happening. Were we too cynical? Is the electorate enlightened enough to take the sight of its future president decked out like Dame Edna for the inconsequential joke it is? We didn't bother with a poll. We went straight to the gaping maw of American idiocy: the YouTube comments section. Specifically, the 1,611 comments to a clip titled “Rudy Giuliani in Drag Smooching Donald Trump.” Herewith, the cream of the popular reaction (original orthography preserved, naturally).
Last night’s Republican CNN/YouTube debate opened with fireworks: Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney heatedly debating whether Romney was responsible for hiring illegal immigrants to work on his house (and if so, would he recommend them to friends and neighbors). But like an actual fireworks display, it soon grew repetitive and numbing. For those of you who flipped to Kid Nation, here’s a rundown of the evening’s highlights.
Who's on top in the current slapfest between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, wherein both candidates lustily highlight each other's flip-flopping? Slate thinks "Romney is unlikely to win this tit-for-tat" because Rudy's got YouTube on his side — there's a lot of fairly recent sound bites of the former Massachusetts governor saying somewhat liberal stuff out there. On the other hand, it's not like Rudy hasn't got a formerly stellar gay-rights record just waiting to be fashioned into a Sodom-and-Gomorrah attack ad. In the meantime, both have discovered a perfect smear tactic: link the opponent to Hillary! Yesterday, Romney reached back to 1994 to remind voters that Giuliani "had nothing but praise" for Clinton's ill-fated health-care-reform plan. Which is, well, true. Funny thing, though, Giuliani himself recently accused Romney of "sort of [doing] Hillary's plan in Massachusetts." Following the whole interaction is, frankly, not unlike watching two kids kick a dead squirrel back and forth: Both keep yelling "ew," but nobody's man enough to stop, even though the squirrel is going to be kicked right back. One irony here is that both Mitt and Rudy are correct: Both used to be far less ideologically rigid when it came to concrete governance issues, hence the now-damaging quotes. Another irony is that their spat is reframing the Republican primary race as a two-way contest — leaving behind a handful of actual lifelong conservatives. In the end, the only one left undiminished is the squirrel. —Michael Idov Romney: Giuliani Praised Clinton Plan [AP]
Remember how much mileage the right got out of Hillary Clinton’s “planted question” flap, when a college student was asked to bring up the candidate’s environment record at a campaign event? Well, it appears Rudy Giuliani has got his own Jeff Gannon–esque superfan in one Richard Florino. The Rudy volunteer (and a co-chairman of his campaign in Windham County, New Hampshire), was called upon to lob the first questions in two back-to-back stops on Giuliani’s bus tour. The first one: “What makes the liberal Democrats so wrong about the threats that this country faces?” Good one! (Or, as Rudy put it: “Very, very interesting analysis.”) The second question, a day later, was a trenchant two-parter about both Democrats’ tax policies and Romney’s flip-flopping. Florino, of course, says he’s not a plant: “Basically,” he told the Daily News, “I just love politics.” Or maybe he just hates hard questions: He is likely the same Richard Florino whose ornery letter to New Hampshire’s Nashua Telegraph shames Hillary for being tough on General Petraeus. He works a Rudy plug into that one, too.
Tonight, the Democratic “hopefuls” (by which we mean one probable, two unlikelies, and four delusionals) are gathering for an 8 p.m. debate in Las Vegas. CNN isn’t even bothering with the respective Dem-candidate poll numbers in Nevada — they’re too busy matching Hillary up to Rudy (dead heat) and Romney (easy Clinton win). Which is funny, because the narrative of this debate seems to be more along the lines of “Can Hillary regain her momentum?”