Watching the twentieth Democratic debate last night was kind of like watching a rerun of Seinfeld for the twentieth time: There were some entertaining moments, but for the most part, you knew exactly what to expect. Moderator Tim Russert gave us a couple of fresh angles asking about Louis Farrakhan’s endorsement of Barack Obama and the candidates’ familiarity with Russia’s “successor” to Vladimir Putin. Clinton and Obama are supposedly all about “change,” but in terms of the dynamics of the race, little of it seems to have come about in Cleveland last night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: It made for another one of those close contests the experts make so much hay out of.
In a conference call with reporters today, Eliot Spitzer said that he would be heading to Ohio to rally voters on behalf of New York's junior senator, just as she is posting a dip in the polls there. Spitzer was on the line with New Jersey governor Jon Corzine and Ohio governor Ted Strickland to discuss economic development, in a call that was arranged by Hillary's people. The first question from reporters was about Spitzer's plan to issue driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. According to the Observer, Spitzer batted away the idea that Hillary Clinton's hedgy attempts to support him cost her political capital. "The answer is no," said Spitzer. "I have not had any conversations with her about it. I'd just point out that Barack Obama is for my policy on driver's licenses, so I don't see that that's been an issue." When he heads to Ohio, he'll join Corzine, who's also headed there to help out Hillary. Since she's in fighting mode lately, it makes sense to bring out the steamroller. But he's kept himself pretty distant from her over the past few months. Will he still be as effective if he's not revved up?
Spitzer Sells Clinton, Says Driver's License Mess Didn't Hurt Her [NYO]
Update: According to the Sun, Spitzer stopped short of saying that he would stump for Clinton, but left open the possibility "if this continues."
“Meet me in Ohio” was Hillary Clinton’s challenge to Barack Obama over the weekend. Never mind that the two were already scheduled to debate there tonight (“See you Tuesday!” would have been less dramatic). Their last debate before the mini–Super Tuesday primaries on March 4 — and, perhaps, their last ever — promises an airing of issues connected to health care and NAFTA, both of which Clinton and Obama have been recently feuding over. In mailers and speeches, Obama has claimed that Clinton supports NAFTA and sending working families into poverty with her health-care mandates. Clinton disagrees. And the popular opinion actually seems to favor her position — take that, SNL!
Above is the terrifyingly shrill clip of Hillary Clinton's sarcastic comedy routine about Barack Obama that's been making the rounds today. Some people seem to think the crack, which she delivered at a rally yesterday, is good for her, because it shows her funny side. Other people found it "unattractive." We kind of found it to be both riveting and appalling at the same time. Also, we can't help but suspect that Hillary felt empowered to pull the stunt because of Tina Fey's rather surprising, rabble-rousing Clinton endorsement on Saturday Night Live the day before. We have that video after the jump. Watching both these videos, you kind of have to admit that Tina's on to something. Bitch may be, in fact, the new black.
Over the weekend Hillary Clinton dispelled any notions that she was ready to concede defeat and slink away into the night by lambasting Barack Obama for his allegedly dishonest critiques of her positions on health care and NAFTA. Mike Huckabee isn’t done either — he skewered his own reluctance to leave the race on Saturday Night Live. Plus, Ralph Nader somehow thinks it’s a good idea to run again. And while the primary landscape is still shifting, many people are already strategizing about the general election.
John McCain’s presidential campaign is rather desperately lacking for youth and glamour. It badly needs to soften the affect of the Senator’s grim hawkishness without soft-pedaling his national-security credentials. And in the last 48 hours, it has had to find a defense against the New York Times’ semi-allegations that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist who had business before his Senate Commerce Committee.
Almost by accident, one answer has emerged to all these conundrums: Cindy McCain.
"There is something relatable about someone following a dream when he doesn't have a chance, an outsider who knows he is talented and is just looking for a way in," "Maxim film critic" Pete Hammond told Reuters of Ratatouille, the Pixar movie in which a sophisticated rat called Remy fulfills his dream of becoming a French chef. Heartwarming stuff, right? It gets better. "Even in our presidential race, where either a woman or an African American is about to win a major party nomination — just like a rat running a French restaurant — who would ever have thought that would happen?" Hammond added. Right? And who would have ever thought that a news service would refer to a freeloading sexist-racist blurb whore who actually recently managed to get himself fired from Maxim as a "film critic"? Even in a land where impossible dreams come true, that's a bit much.
This Year Oscar is in Love—With a Rat [Yahoo!]
Related: Fearless Couch Potato: Pearl Should Have Stayed Home
Hooo boy! The Times really opened up a box of bees when they published their insinuating John McCain story late last night. If you haven't seen it, it concerns McCain's high-horse attitude toward ethics, which may have been compromised in part by a close, perhaps romantic relationship with attractive lobbyist Vicki Iseman during McCain's first run for president eight years ago. The paper (using a half-dozen reporters and thousands of words) described confrontations that staffers had with both McCain and Iseman to stop what appeared to be an inappropriate intimacy. By late last evening, political blogs and news programs were exploding with reactions. McCain's camp was outraged at what they called a "smear." It quickly surfaced that there had been a long period of debate inside the Times as to when to publish the piece, and whether to do it at all. The McCain camp claimed that the paper ran with it after hearing that The New Republic was going to publish a story about the infighting at the paper over its inflammatory contents. Some critics even went so far as to speculate that the liberal Times wanted to wait until the Republicans had a presumptive nominee before blowing a hole in his candidacy. Woweee. Whether any of this affects McCain remains to be seen (we cannot wait for the smackdown that Cindy McCain is bound to lay down today). But the scandal addresses something that's been itching us in the back of our heads for a long time: Why the heck is Mike Huckabee still in this race?
On the back of their respective strong wins in Wisconsin, John McCain has trained his sights on Barack Obama. He called the Illinois senator "naïve" for his position on bombing Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan and labeled his position on whether he would accept public campaign financing as "Washington double-talk." Obama lashed back through a spokesman, who said, "John McCain is in no place to question anyone on pledges when he abandoned the latest campaign-finance-reform efforts in order to run for the Republican nomination and went back on his commitment to take public financing for the primary." Obama also had an editorial this morning in USA Today about working toward a compromise on financing with McCain. "I am committed to seeking such an agreement if that commitment is matched by Senator McCain," Obama wrote. "When the time comes, we will talk and our commitment will be tested." Wait, wait, wait. What started off as a bunch of bickering this morning suddenly morphed into what we've been expecting for a few weeks now: Obama is using the old Hillary tactic of running as the de facto nominee. He's already fighting McCain directly and treating the primary competition as though it's over. And McCain's helping him do it. Now, this doesn't mean anything, really; we saw how it didn't quite work for Hillary. But it does mean it's about time to add a new candidate to our trademarked New York Electopedia! Everyone welcome John McCain! How much money is he worth? How did he do in high school? What does he eat? The Electopedia has all of your answers.
The 2008 Electopedia [NYM]
Barack Obama bested Hillary Clinton again last night by very wide margins (seventeen points in Wisconsin, 52 points in Hawaii), cutting into her core constituencies. (John Heilemann broke it all down.) Basically, Obama captured every demographic: men, women, whites, blacks, the educated, not as educated, dog people, cat people, children, mannequins, ghosts, etc. So, once again, the pundits are left pondering whether the Clinton campaign can pull a McCain-esque resurrection and overcome the ever-expanding Obama juggernaut or whether this primary campaign will at some point in the near future finally, mercifully, come to an end.
The cheeseheads have spoken. And the message they delivered in the Democratic primary in Wisconsin was loud and unequivocal. There are fancier (or gentler) ways of interpreting it, but what the hearty souls who braved the subfreezing temperatures to cast their votes from Milwaukee to Menomonie announced was this: Virginia and Maryland weren’t anomalies; Barack Obama has the Big Mo; and Hillary Clinton is close to being forced from the stage by another lady — the fat one who likes to sing.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent Presidents' Day weekend bickering. Clinton's campaign called out Obama for “plagiarizing” Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick in one of his recent speeches; Obama admits he should have credited Patrick but says that the two are good friends who often discuss speech-making ideas (Patrick has come out in Obama’s defense). The accusation either marks a new level of pettiness for Clinton (whose campaign, by the way, now admits they will probably go after Obama's pledged delegates) or a valid critique of Obama’s honesty. Whether the issue will be on primary voters' minds today remains to be seen, but as always, the pundits have plenty to say about it.
Forget the battle over superdelegates; the Clinton campaign has decided to turn regular delegates into wild cards. Though the handful of citizens that you vote for on primary day are "pledged" to a candidate, they are not bound to vote for that candidate at the convention. "Pledged delegates are not really pledged at all, not even on the first ballot," writes Roger Simon on Politico.com. "This has been an open secret in the party for years, but it has never really mattered because there has almost always been a clear victor by the time the convention convened." A senior Clinton campaign official confirmed to him that "as we get closer to the convention, if it is a stalemate, everybody will be going after everybody’s delegates All the rules will be going out the window." This is going to sound baaaaad to voters who went through the trouble of pulling the lever for each delegate under their chosen candidate's name, thinking that they were selecting people who would automatically help his or her cause. Also, after Hillary's well-publicized efforts to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida (where she won handily) at the convention even though they were punished by the DNC, this is going to come off as particularly underhanded. The Clinton official who says that "everybody will be going after everybody's delegates" may be correct. But the fact that we're hearing about Clinton considering it first is going to reflect poorly on her. It just sounds like she's playing dirty. This is where Barack Obama's high-school-basketball years are coming in to his advantage. As anyone who has ever played ball knows, if you're going to steal the ball by fouling an opposing player, you don't announce it to the refs before you do it.
Clinton Targets Pledged Delegates [Politico]
Whether you think superdelegates are as useless as a third nipple or a great way to get the party elite more involved in the nomination process, you have to at least admit they’ve made for very interesting political discussion. And despite a certain candidate’s momentum, said superdelegates are going to have to help decide this thing. Obama says the superdelegates should follow the “will of the people” (a phrase that will be used seven times in this post) by supporting whoever has more pledged delegates; Clinton maintains that the superdelegates should do whatever they think is best. Both positions, of course, reflect where each camp expects to stand after the last primary votes are tallied on June 7, in Puerto Rico. But like a lot of things in this race, the debate over superdelegates isn’t quite so simple. Plus, a bonus round: Should the regular Florida and Michigan delegates be seated?
Another day, another huge disappointment for Hillary Clinton. Just a week ago, we were scared silly by the prospect of the proverbial smoke-filled room. (How were we even going to fit all 796 superdelegates in there?) But after last night’s latest shellacking — soundly and provocatively analyzed by our own John Heilemann — we’re left wondering if this race isn’t already over. If you want to be technical about it, it’s not, and we’ll keep counting the votes until there’s actually a winner (unlike, say, certain state party leaders in Washington state). After all, history's record of political meltdowns is long (and entertaining), and Obama is in far from an untouchable position. Remember the Dean scream? Macaca? Anything can happen right?
If you happened to be watching TV last night at, oh, around ten o’clock, you may have witnessed the moment when, symbolically, the presidential primaries ended — and the general election began. Out in Madison, Wisconsin, in the speech celebrating his clean and decisive sweep of the Potomac primary, Barack Obama ignored his current opponent and trained his fire instead on the man who may stand as his future rival, John McCain, arguing that “his priorities are bound to the failed policies of the past.” A few minutes later, from a stage in Alexandria, Virginia, McCain belittled Obama as blatantly as possible without ever mentioning him by name: “To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude.”
And where in all this, you might well wonder, was Hillary Clinton? In El Paso, Texas, imploring, in effect, “Hey! Remember me?”
Today’s Potomac primary (Chesapeake primary?) in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland is expected to deliver another sweep to Obama and add to the woes of the Clinton campaign. Since the draw that was Super Tuesday, she’s been hit by a string of bad news: her $5 million self-loan, her remarkable fund-raising being overshadowed by Obama’s even more remarkable fund-raising, being routed in last weekend’s primaries, her campaign shake-up, and a slew of recent polls that show her to be the weaker candidate against John McCain. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Clinton? Or is the tunnel more like that superlong one proposed to run between Long Island and Westchester and destined to deposit her back at home?
Man, the election is all about the superdelegates these days, huh? As Obama surges into the Potomac primary, the press remains unwilling to start making predictions about a serious downturn in Hillary's chances. They've learned their lesson from New Hampshire, after all: There's no telling what will happen in this race. Instead, the media is focusing on getting hysterical about superdelegates, and the possibility that the influence of those 796 unpledged party officials will swing the primary results away from the will of the voting public. But who are New York's superdelegates? Who are these people who have the power to, well, take power away from us? They include Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Eliot Spitzer, our 23 Democratic congressmen, and Democratic National Committee officials like Randi Weingarten. Many of the above have worked extensively with Hillary Clinton since she was elected senator and are likely to swing her way. Today, the Sunspoke with Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who is one of our Clinton supporters. "I'll be with Hillary to the end," said Velazquez, when asked about critics of the superdelegate system who would like it to more accurately reflect the will of the people.
Even if Obama’s victories in this past weekend’s primaries and caucuses did nothing to clarify the delegate count (either he’s up, or down, or they’re tied — nobody knows for certain), he certainly now has that treasured “momentum” going for him. Obama’s wins in Nebraska, Washington, Maine, and Louisiana weren’t even close. And in the Virgin Islands, he won the popular vote 92 percent to 8 percent (as the old saying goes, “As the Virgin Islands go, so goes the nation”). It looks likely as well that he’ll sweep the Potomac primary tomorrow and Hawaii and Wisconsin on February 19. Obama even won a Grammy last night — over Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is shaking up her campaign staff. So, are the superdelegates still headed to that smoke-filled room?
At this moment, David Shuster may very well be booking a flight to a remote island somewhere. During a discussion of Chelsea Clinton's recently elevated role in Hillary's campaign on MSNBC last night, Shuster asked whether the 27-year-old was "sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way." (Click above to view.) His point, some have interpreted, was that the only type of person that would campaign for their mother is some kind of street whore. Shuster made an on-air apology today, but so far Hillary is unwilling to bury the hatchet. Her communications director, Howard Wolfson, told reporters that Hillary might pull out of MSNBC's planned debate on February 26 in Ohio. "I, at this point, can't envision a scenario where we would continue to engage in debates on that network," he said in a conference call. Now, instead of ignoring Fox News, whose invitation to host a Democratic debate Hillary finally (unilaterally) accepted a few days ago, Hillary's shutting out MSNBC. It's like the networks just switched their acceptable/pariah roles. Those with sharp memories may recall a similar Chelsea-attack episode in 1993, when Mike Myers claimed on SNL that Chelsea Clinton, 13 years old at the time, was "not a babe." If Chelsea's the type of person to look for a silver lining, she might note that at least the inappropriate, disparaging comments about her have improved over the years: She went from being unattractive to being so attractive that people will pay to have sex with her. Remember to thank Shuster for the compliment, Chelsea. —Dan Amira MSNBC's Chelsea Comment Angers Clinton [Guardian]
Update: Shuster has been suspended temporarily from appearances on NBC and MSNBC because of his gaffe.