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...