Pundits Deal From the Race Deck on South CarolinaAs 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]
This Thing Is Still Wide OpenThe rapidly emerging conventional wisdom after tonight’s victories in New Hampshire for Hillary Clinton and John McCain runs as follows:
• Both races are still up for grabs, although the Democrats have probably narrowed to a Barack-Hillary face-off.
• We’ll all be sick of hearing about The Cry very soon.
• Unless McCain runs the table through Florida, even Rudy still has a shot, because Republican momentum is so divided.
On the big question of the night — why were the polls showing Obama with a double-digit lead so wrong, and how did Hillary come back? — there are many answers. Because the media underplayed the margin of error, says Talking Points Memo. Because Democrats like a fighter, says Slate. Because people like to look racially progressive when they talk to pollsters but turn conservative in the voting booth (a.k.a. the “Bradley Effect”) says the National Review and many others (Franklin Foer has a less depressing variation on this theme, too.) Because New Hampshire voters didn’t want to copy Iowa again, says the New Republic. Because of voter backlash against the media’s Obama hype, says Andrew Sullivan. One thing is for sure: The year ahead is going to be pretty interesting.
‘Vanity Fair’ Makes New Giuliani Ad Seem Even Nuttier
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.
Worst Prez-Candidate Profile You’ll Read All Year — We Hope!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.”
New York’s Dominant Politicians: So Last MonthWhat 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”).
Cable News Makes a Hostage Situation Very Confusing 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.HQ
Update: They got him! The last hostage was just released and the suspect is in police custody…
Breaking: Man With Bomb Takes Hostages at Clinton’s N.H. HQ
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 Idov
Update: 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]
Clinton, Campaign Fatigue, and a Man Named DickieThings 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 Idov
Host Indicted, Clinton Fund-Raiser Canceled [WSJ]
Rudy Drag Video Elicits Intelligent Commentary
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).
Republican Debate: All the Sexy HighlightsLast 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.
Giuliani-Romney Slapfest: Productive!
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]
Totally Impartial Politics Fan to Giuliani: ‘Why Are You So Awesome?’
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’s Dem Debate: Swift Boats Ahoy!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?”
Giuliani’s First TV Spot: It’s No ‘United 93’
It’s a pivotal moment in the 2008 race: The day voters get to see Giuliani’s ferrety smile in a softly lit close-up. That’s right, the Republican front-runner finally answered the public clamoring for more multimedia Rudy and premiered his first TV campaign spot, which will begin running today in New Hampshire. The ad goes straight to Giuliani’s credentials: eight years running New York City, “the third- or fourth-largest government in the country.” (About that “third or fourth” thing — they couldn’t look it up?) As we know, whenever Giuliani mentions his hometown, he’s forced to perform a complicated two-step of praising it and dumping on it at the same time; this time he does it with, um, pictures.
It’s Final: Clinton Is UnelectableSometime last week, the narrative of Clinton’s candidacy changed from the inevitability of her nomination to, as today’s Daily News lede helpfully summarizes, “Where did Hillary Clinton’s mojo go?” We dare propose it went right up the widening gyre of the news cycle: At this point, the media continue an enthusiastic pileup — while lamenting that pileup’s largely imaginary toll. (“Clinton remains way ahead in national polls,” the News admits in the story’s tenth graph, “Though some have shown a slip.”) Not to worry: The next, equally specious, chapter will probably be about how the victimized Hillary is racking up sympathy votes. With any luck, we can go through five or six more of these twists before Iowa, basing each one on a 3 percent shift in a poll with a 4 percent error margin. In the meantime, the latest outrages.
Claws Out: Clinton Accused of Killing CatWant a preview of what it will be like to have Hillary as a general-election candidate? Here’s a ghost of scandals past, Kathleen Willey, hawking her new book on (but of course) Fox News:
“She’s behind the secret police. She’s the one who sets up the war room when he goes out and he does what he does and he zeroes in on women.”
“She” is Hillary, of course, and “he” is Bill. For our younger readers just tuning in to the wonderful world of politics, Willey is a former White House staffer who accused Bill Clinton of making a pass at her in the Oval Office. Her story didn’t stick — even Ken Starr found discrepancies in it — so she’s become a minor footnote to the Lewinsky era. Until now! Among other revelations in Willey’s book, titled Target: A Sensible SuperstoreCaught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton: Hillary tried to intimidate Willey by having a scary jogger kill her cat Bullseye (seriously, between this and tossing Socks out, the woman is not getting a single cat vote in 2008). Also, Kathleen’s husband committed suicide in 1993 — or did he? Also, the manuscript for the book almost got stolen.
Just to reiterate — this is a person with a publishing deal and major cable-news bookings, a year before the elections. Yeah, this is going to be great. —Michael Idov
Sex Assault Accuser Lobs Fresh Charges At Clinton Duo [Fox News]
Oh God: President Giuliani?With Pat Robertson’s surprise endorsement delivering unto Giuliani a whole new demographic we’d never guess would swing his way, the air of inevitability surrounding Rudy has never been thicker. It could be, as a colleague suggests, that our East Coast bubble obscures the actual, awesome extent of his heartland popularity; it could also be that, after McCain’s sad diminution, the Republicans have simply been unable to produce a serious rival. Either way, 362 days before the general election, the swelling certainty of Rudy’s nomination is making the Democratic field look like a tossup. Even stranger, the man is nigh invincible, and not just because he survived a Mob assassination plot (that probably never happened). Rudy’s been making gaffes left and right — big ones — and yet the only stories on him that get any national pickup are folksy character profiles. (We even contributed to the trend by publishing a letter from his former chef, who painted him as “a man of simple taste pacified with a slice.”)
Scandalous Obama Pic: Where’s His Hand?You know, it’s nice to see something finally get Obama’s goat. After taking the high road on just about every occasion, including a recent pileup on Hillary during the last Democratic debate, he was on the verge of making the John Kerry mistake — refusing to engage his critics and coming off aloof. (Compare this to Giuliani, who, at a recent campaign event, sternly lectured a 9-year-old girl on Democratic spinelessness.) The “compromising evidence” that has Barack crying dirty tricks is so monumentally idiotic there’s barely a joke to be made about it: It’s a widely e-mailed photo of the candidate not holding his hand over his heart during a recitation of the pledge of allegiance.
What If Rudy Married Elizabeth Kucinich Next?We’re not huge fans of the trope that follows Elizabeth Kucinich around. (You know: “Dennis doesn’t need poll numbers — he already won”). It’s flippant and ever-so-slightly swinish. That said, yesterday Mrs. Kucinich spoke at the same breast-cancer summit as Judith Giuliani, and you know what? Screw it: Dennis already won. Elizabeth (a) showed up in a stylish pink coat hinting at, but not aping, the breast-cancer ribbon color, (b) spoke knowledgeably and off-the-cuff about the British health-care system, and (c) stuck around to chat.
McCain Orders Code Red on GiulianiGod knows you don’t need to dig too deep or spin too hard to catch Rudy Giuliani saying something awful. Usually, you just have to wait five minutes into a given public appearance — yesterday’s “I hope to do for the country what Bernie Kerik did for the city” comment comes to mind. And that’s why today’s flap over the candidate’s “torture joke” strikes us as a bit of a reach. Rudy made a funny about how, if sleep deprivation is torture, then his campaign schedule is torture, too. Before you knew it, John McCain demanded an apology, and the ex-Marine who runs McCain’s Veterans Advisory Committee in New Hampshire said, “His hyperbole is an insult to all American soldiers who have had to endure real torture.”
Great News for Clinton!Last month, Hillary Clinton garnered the doubtlessly coveted endorsement of George McGovern (1972, one state won, 17 electoral votes). This weekend brought another exciting bit of news on the Losers 4 Hillary front: the enthusiastic endorsement by Walter Mondale (1984 nominee, one state* won, 13 electoral votes, worst defeat in Democratic Party’s history)! With Michael Dukakis silent, we’re waiting for Alf Landon to rise from the dead and break party rank just to give the campaign that extra touch of certain doom.
*Plus the District of Columbia, if you insist.
Unsurprisingly, Mondale Endorses Hillary [Democratic Underground]
Giuliani Does Not Sleep. He Waits.Either as a result of a major weekend push by Giuliani’s handlers or by pure serendipity, today wound up as a kind of Meet-the-real-Rudy Media Monday. The AP’s folksy profile, which started things off, illustrates why global newswires shouldn’t be in the folksy-profile business. “Rudy Giuliani minces no words and suffers no fools,” the piece starts. “He eats peanuts with the shells still on.” It goes on like this, about his tender-age love of boxing and opera and his “volcanic eruptions of pique,” basically verging on a Chuck Norris joke (Giuliani’s tears cure 9/11 first responders’ syndrome. Too bad he never cries) throughout.
Anti-Clinton Video: The New ‘Dick in a Box’?When we heard that an anti-Clinton video is racking up Dick in a Box–type numbers in online views (1.4 million on GoogleVideo, 350,000 on YouTube), we figured that the author, Peter Paul, had gotten his hands on photos of Hillary high-fiving Bill over Vernon Jordan’s corpse or personally strangling Socks. Imagine our disappointment when the incriminating clip turned out to be a long, whiny hate letter from a spurned supporter: a video equivalent of what Jezebel.com terms a Crap Email From a Dude.
Mob Allowed Giuliani to Live, Wear Leather VestsThis bit of today’s news will undoubtedly be welcome in the Giuliani campaign HQ: Yesterday, a witness at a trial mentioned a mob-boss summit in the fall of 1986 where a hit on Rudy Giuliani was seriously discussed. The Gambinos wanted the pesky prosecutor dead; the Bonannos demurred. Giuliani lived to milk his landmark Mafia investigation all the way to City Hall — and now he can easily squeeze it for an additional bio-burnishing PR tidbit as a presidential … sorry, what were we saying? We can’t concentrate because we’re staring at the bewildering photo of ‘86-era Rudy that accompanies the story. What’s that look he’s going for? It’s like … a leather-daddy Woody Allen with Paul Simon’s hair. Forget the crime-fighting cred: Rudy better hope this story doesn’t get any traction.
Court Told Mob Bosses Voted on Whacking Giuliani In ‘86 [NYDN]
Rangel Actually Embarrassed by SomethingCongressman Charlie Rangel has always had a sharp tongue, and now he seems to be putting it at the service, so to speak, of Hillary Clinton: Yesterday, he rolled out exactly the kind of red-meat attack on the GOP candidate field that Clinton (whom Rangel supports) would be far too civil to launch. “Two people, six spouses,” Rangel told CNN, referring to the total number of marriages between Rudy Giuliani and Judith Nathan. “It’s a little complicated if you’re not religious, especially if you’re running against a Mormon.” He added: “There are enough moles on this man that embarrasses those of us who have sought public life.” Wow. First of all, we’re not sure where Rangel was going with the Mitt Romney crack, but it wasn’t anywhere good. And second, moles? Those are not moles — they’re weasels!
Rangel: Giuliani ‘Embarrasses Us’ [CNN]
Hmm: Chinese Dishwashers Gave Clinton ThousandsNot a month after the Norman Hsu flap (and eleven years after the Chinese government supposedly tried to help finance Bill’s reelection), Hillary is on the defensive about taking money from Chinese immigrant benefactors. This time, it looks even more awkward. As the L.A.Times reported late last week, the candidate’s fund-raising swing through the Chinese community of New York resulted in $500 to $2,300 donations from people identified as “dishwashers, waiters and street stall hawkers.” Of the 150 donors on paper, 50 couldn’t be located, and at least one openly says he hasn’t contributed to the campaign. An April fund-raiser in a poor neighborhood fetched $380,000.
Giuliani Wins NASCAR Support That Spitzer DeservesToday we learned that Rudy Giuliani is the favored presidential candidate of Jeff Gordon and several other NASCAR superstars whose names we didn’t recognize but whose support may open up a huge southern Christian demographic for the thrice-divorced Catholic Brooklynite. It’s the most popular sport in the country, people! We dutifully checked HuffPo’s indispensable FundRace tool, and, indeed, there it was: Gordon’s $2,300 contribution to the Rudy campaign (offset slightly by Riverside Drive’s Jeff Gordon, a Columbia professor, throwing $250 at Hillary).
Magical Michelle Obama Hijacks the Straight-Talk ExpressThe Obama campaign went into mild damage-control mode this week because Barack’s wife, Michelle Obama, said her husband must win Iowa — if not, then the campaign is “just a dream.” Obama’s people say she was ginning up the ground troops (the remark was made in Iowa). But guess what: She’s right. Obama needs to be a massive hit in Iowa. Aided by the Republicans who use her as a fundraising scarecrow, Hillary Clinton has been incredibly successful acting like she’s already been nominated — her lead is continuing to widen. If she aces Iowa, the self-fulfilling prophesy of her candidacy will just domino from there. (This is how we ended up with Kerry in 2004.) There’s no shame in framing Iowa as a do-or-die state for Obama — in fact, saying it out loud right now could be a shrewd move that will get more non-Iowans to come down and work the state. More importantly, though, the incident highlights why Michelle Obama is our single favorite thing about this entire campaign season.
We Guess the Republicans’ Favorite Bible VersesLast night in New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential candidates were asked to quote their favorite Bible verse. Leaving aside the matter of what-the-hell- kind-of-question-is-this, the Dems did pitifully. Obama name-checked the Sermon on the Mount but didn’t hazard a quote. Hillary evoked do-unto-others, which she referred to as the Golden Rule. Flower child Mike Gravel came up with, simply, “The most important thing in life is love.” Finally, Dennis Kucinich took the godless cake by going straight to the so-called “Prayer from St. Francis,” which as the Caucus explains, hadn’t seen much circulation before World War II. We’re wondering how the other side would stack up against the same challenge.