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Leading With The Left
The daily view from the oasis

January 23, 2004 PERMALINK
How Did They Do?
(posted Jan. 23 1:45 AM ET)

How did the major Dems do in last night's debate, relative to yesterday's LiberalOasis suggestions?

Wesley Clark

LO was looking for Clark to shore up his Dem credentials -- superficially by his presentation, and substantively with an anecdote explaining his shift from Nixon to McGovern.

On the plus side, Clark sounded buoyant and sincere giving his basic explanation:

When I got out of the military, I looked at both parties. I'm pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-environment, pro-labor.

I was either going to be the loneliest Republican in America or I was going to be a happy Democrat...

...I'm in this party now, and I'll bring a lot of other people into this party, too. And that's what we need to do to win in November.

However, Fox News' Brit Hume gave Clark the perfect opportunity to give a good personal anecdote.

After citing some of his past GOP-sounding comments, he said:

I think it is not unreasonable to ask you when you first noticed that you were a Democrat.

But Clark simply relied on his votes for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, without connecting the dots how he got to that place.

That was probably unsatisfying to some, and those still questioning his Dem conviction may continue doing so.

In that respect, he didn't significantly advance his candidacy last night.

Howard Dean

Dean didn't pull out the killer joke LO was looking for.

And while he gave several crisp responses, generating a good amount of applause, it was a somewhat low-key performance (he was hampered with a bad cold).

Also, he made one potential mistake.

Hume asked about his comment earlier in the day that he leads with his heart, not his head, saying "people may be alarmed about that."

Dean said:

Well, I'm sure there's a lot of people who are alarmed, because they've been alarmed by all kinds of folks who've criticized some of things I've said.

But I truly believe that we absolutely have to stand up for bedrock Democratic principles.

Dean committed a cardinal sin when dealing with the media: repeating the words of a loaded question.

Doing so runs the risk of next-day stories that say: "Dean conceded that 'there's a lot of people who are alarmed' by his controversial remarks."

However, a scan of the early stories from the wires, NY Times and W. Post indicate that Dean dodged a bullet. No one seems to have pulled that quote.

So overall, a pretty good performance, but not the breakout performance that could really reverse the dynamic of the race.

However, Dean didn't put all his chips in the debate basket yesterday.

He offered a mild joke about the "Iowa Yell" earlier in the day.

His extended interview, with his wife, on ABC's Primetime Live (directly following the debate, which aired on ABC in NH) was quite good -- very endearing and humanizing.

And his David Letterman Top Ten was also well done.

That should at least lead to a lot of folks talking about him today, and possibly in a more favorable light.

Will it be enough to win? Or at least place a strong, Clintonesque, "Comeback Kid" second?

Time will tell.

John Edwards

LO wanted to see if Edwards could handle the unexpected, to help address concerns about his inexperience.

He got the chance with this question from ABC's Peter Jennings:

...could you take a minute to tell us what you know about the practice of Islam that would reassure Muslims throughout the world...that President Edwards understands their religion, and how you might use that knowledge to avoid a confrontation...?

Edwards meandered a bit, but wasn't knocked off stride.

He took the opportunity to list the world leaders from the region he had met with.

He candidly conceded that "I would never claim to be an expert on Islam" but:

I think I do understand the tragedy of the day-to-day lives of people who live in Arab countries, who live lives of hopelessness and despair.

I think that contributes to the animosity that they feel toward the United States.

A touch condescending perhaps, but not politically damaging.

And he finished by saying the solution is moving beyond "relationships with the leaders of these Islamic countries" to "be able to communicate directly with the people."

A touch vague, but the right idea, and understandable considering how little time these guys get to give answers.

So, points for staying on his feet.

John Kerry

LO was watching to see if he could avoid being long-winded, and give succinct compelling answers.

He got the first question of the night, and whiffed.

The question was how he would respond to Republican attacks that he has a long history of voting for tax hikes.

He said:

That's a fight I look forward to, because if George W. Bush wants to stand there beside me and defend raising [sic] taxes for people who earn more than $200,000 a year, which are the only people who might be argued will have a tax increase by rolling back the Bush tax cut that they rushed through, instead of giving all of America health care and education so we truly leave no child behind, that's a fight we deserve to have in this country.

That's a fight we will win.

That's one long sentence. And long sentences won't win that fight.

Plus, he went on until he needed to be cut off by Jennings.

A bad start, but he recovered somewhat.

In particular, he gave very strong answers when asked, pointedly, about his time as Vietnam era protest leader, and also on MTBE pollution of New Hampshire water.

Nothing awful happened to knock him off of his new frontrunner perch.

But neither did he convincingly put to rest any doubts about his campaigning skills, which could have solidified his current lead in the polls.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 22, 2004 PERMALINK
Advice For Everybody
(posted Jan. 22 2 AM ET)

What could be the biggest Dem debate so far is tonight at 8 PM ET (live on Fox News, recap on ABC's Nightline).

John Kerry and John Edwards are up, Clark is slightly down and Dean is down the most, but no one's position is firm and a breakout performance could be pivotal.

What should they each do to make their mark? LiberalOasis has advice for all the major candidates.

Wesley Clark

The knocks that Clark isn't a real Dem won't stick if Clark comes across like a real Dem, and explains how he became one.

Clark's best strength is his well-articulated foreign policy and anti-terrorism vision.

But everybody knows that, or at least, no one is worried about how a general stacks up against Bush on the issue.

People are less sure what a Clark Administration means domestically.

And his general response that he voted for Reagan and Nixon for national security reasons feeds the notion that he has no deep interest in domestic policy.

Now, Clark has been taking steps to address this.

He has an ample set of policy papers.

And in a NH town hall last night, aired on C-Span, he communicated his basic views on the environment, poverty and progressive tax simplification with sincerity and passion.

If he can display such passion on domestic issues tonight, he's halfway home.

But there's still a missing piece: how did he get from Nixon and Reagan to Clinton and Gore (and McGovern and Moore!)

He could fix that by shelving the typical closing statement of rehashed stump speech lines.

And instead, share an personal anecdote that helps explain what moved him to become a full-fledged Dem.

That could complete the puzzle.

Howard Dean

Ahh, the speech.

Dean had the right idea with his post-caucus speech, showing confidence and determination. (See LO's "Can Anyone Spin Second?").

But of course, it was not exactly executed right.

There were concerns that he wasn't presidential and likeable enough, and he walked right into them. The resulting spin has been brutal.

What to do then?

First, he should take a page from Reagan.

In the first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984, Reagan's performance was so shaky, doubts grew about his old age and his faculties.

His 26 point lead in the polls was cut in half. Mondale was back in it.

But in the next debate, when Reagan was asked about his age, he was ready. With perfect comedic timing, he said:

I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign.

I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.

Not only did the crowd roar in laughter, the joke reversed the doubts that he was losing it, because he put himself in command of the room.

(Mondale later said he pretty much knew it was over at that moment.)

A great joke about the "Iowa Yell" could do the same for Dean.

He once was the most likeable candidate, the one best connecting with the people.

Showing he can skillfully laugh at himself would put to rest notions that he's lost it, and remind voters about his likeable traits.

Of course, the joke has to be great, and has to be delivered great.

A failed joke is painful to watch. That's why jokes are risky.

But that's also why they pay off so well when they work.

After that, Dean needs to simply be presidential.

He's been low-key the last two days, but a low-key debate performance would be the worst thing he can do.

It would be akin to Al Gore's post-sigh debate against Dubya. He would look weak and defeated.

Dean at his best has a novel charisma. It needs to shine tonight.

John Edwards

Edwards is under the least pressure and therefore has the easiest job tonight.

He turned enough heads this week that he can come in single digits and still be viable for the red state primaries on Feb. 3.

And if he can stick to his shiny happy positive campaign, he'll keep winning kudos from the people and press.

But now that he's a looming threat to other candidacies, will he be ready to handle any surprises?

He clearly wasn't ready at the last debate, when Carol Moseley Braun ripped his Senate record.

He was taken aback and somewhat stumbled through a response (little noticed, with all the focus on Dean).

And on Tuesday's Inside Politics, he was caught badly ducking a voter question on how much a gallon of gas costs -- "We're not taking tests."

Edwards has the best candidate skills of the lot, but the weakest experience.

But he'll ease those concerns if he can better handle the "unexpected."

We'll see if he gets the chance tonight. Though as the low man in NH, he may get a pass in this debate.

John Kerry

He's returned to the frontrunner seat, up big in the Boston Herald poll.

But as he, Dean and Clark all know, it's not so easy to stay there.

In The Hill, Josh Marshall smartly laid out the big potential pitfall for Kerry.

Marshall notes Kerry resuscitated his campaign by "dropp[ing] his distant manner...delivering speeches more to the point and from the heart".

But now that his back isn't to the wall, Marshall asks will he revert to his previous form, and lose support from voters worried he lacks the charisma to beat Bush?

There are some early signs that he is reverting -- two long-winded performances, his victory speech and his post-SOTU interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw.

Neither performance was fatal. They're simply warnings.

And this debate could easily be good for Kerry.

He often does well when the rules force him to keep answers short.

And he usually has one good joke to loosen his image.

But he's facing NH voters who already know him pretty well, and weren't convinced a mere month ago.

They're definitely giving him a second chance, but a dull performance could give the others a new opening.

He needs to stay in that Iowa groove, and keep those answers crisp.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 21, 2004 PERMALINK
Yawn Of The Union
(posted Jan. 21 12:30 AM ET)

It was supposed to be a Karl Rove Special: scheduling the State Of The Union the day after the Iowa caucuses.

The idea was, in part, to overshadow the Dems, and make them look small compared to the regal setting of the SOTU.

Sorry Karl. It's the SOTU that's going to get overshadowed.

Why? The Dem race right now is more compelling copy than the warmed over talking points that made up Bush's speech.

What in the SOTU do they think is going to get big play?

Bush's umpteenth, defensive defense of the Iraq war?

(Karl, don't you find it pathetic that you still have to give this the hard sell 9 months later?)

The predictable calls to extend the PATRIOT Act and the tax cuts?

The continued shameless milking of 9/11?

The blaming of others for the failure of Leave No Child Behind, since he was unable to provide a single shred of evidence that it's working?

The very detailed, two-sentence proposal to partially privatize Social Security?

The hilarious attempt to call for reduced dependence on foreign oil?

And of course, the crucial finger wag at our nation's sports team owners to "get rid of steroids now"?

(George, you were rejected for Commissioner of Baseball. Get over it.)

The lack of substance has to make you wonder if the Bushies have anything left for a final act, anything to build a engaging second-term vision.

In fact, there was so little to chew on in the speech, NBC spent most of its post-SOTU wrap-up talking about the Dem primary.

Karl also thought the icing on the cake would be a tour of three swing states (OH, AZ, NM) to further obscure the NH primary.

But the NH primary is providing real drama. Three recycled speeches won't.

And so, the Bush re-election campaign kicks off with a whimper. Nice work Karl.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 20, 2004 PERMALINK
What Happened?
(posted Jan. 20 2 AM ET)

Last month, after Dean's endorsement from Al Gore, LiberalOasis said:

For Dean to lose, he has to blow it big on his own, though the pressure of relentless attacks can increase the chances of that happening.

And after Dean lashed out at Dem party chief Terry McAuliffe:

...by themselves, comments like that won't sink Dean...

But if a thin-skin persists, making Dean look weak and provoking him into saying something fatally unspinnable, all bets are off.

LO wasn't predicting anything like what happened last night. (You may recall LO has said Dean's nomination is a "near-certainty").

And while it's very difficult to determine exactly what Iowa turned on, since so much was happening all at once, it seems that Dean allowed a thin skin to show at exactly the wrong time.

In fact, that's what Dean's team seems to think, according to today's USA Today:

...Dean was thrown off balance by a barrage of criticism in debates and TV ads from other campaigns.

Aides say the low point came nine days ago, when Dean lost his temper with an elderly man who praised Bush at length at a town-hall meeting.

"You sit down," Dean barked, a moment that was aired on local TV. "You had your say, and now I'm going to have my say."

LO would add that soon after that, Dean said, "I'm going after everybody because I'm tired of being the pin cushion here."

That was reminiscent of what helped sink John McCain in his campaign against Dubya.

It's well-known now that Bush savaged McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary, spreading wild rumors under the radar.

Less remembered is that McCain was so livid, he responded above the radar, in a TV ad where he personally said Bush "twists the truth like Clinton."

Bad move. McCain looked like the harsh attacker, even though he was counterattacking.

(Bush later put up an ad where he lamented that the Clinton charge was "over the line.")

Dean took similar bait, and fell into the same trap.

Moreover, Dean's vaunted "hard count," rumored to be as big as 50,000, clearly didn't materialize.

Whether or not Dean really had a big hard count, his vote total calls into question how powerful his organization really is.

All of that doesn't take anything away from what the Kerry and Edwards campaigns accomplished.

LO said after Kerry's staff shakeup in November, that he was "better off" without such leaking naysayers on his payroll.

LO never said he was so better off that he would run away with Iowa, but clearly, the counterproductive leaks ended and his campaign sharpened.

And Edwards, who always had potential but hadn't connected with voters for some time, smartly found the gap in the race.

With Gephardt, Dean and Kerry firing potshots, he stood out playing up his positive campaign.

Both campaigns, which LO said didn't show any fight last month, found their fight and didn't quit.

So what's next?

If everyone prematurely crowned Dean before, everyone will prematurely dismiss him now.

Remember, we've only seen Dean face withering attack.

We don't know how well Kerry, Edwards and Wesley Clark will hold up now that they are moving to the forefront.

In fact, Clark and Kerry have been going at each other all week in New Hampshire. That sniping will likely get big play now.

Will one come out looking good? Or will the fighting raise questions for both?

How long can Edwards last running a so-called positive campaign before questions get raised about him and he needs to push back?

If these guys get scuffed up, Dean still has the resources to hang around and make people give him a second look.

But he'll have to realize that thin skins are fatal, his organization isn't unstoppable yet, and simply being against the war isn't going to win this thing.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 19, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Jan. 19 2:15 AM ET)

All the major candidates, and three of the major candidates' campaign managers, hit the Sunday shows.

For the most part, the candidates just reiterated their basic pitches.

But one key item quietly hovered over the proceedings: the inside buzz about "hard counts."

First, some background.

The hard count is the number of voters each campaign has identified, by name, as committed supporters of their campaign.

Political pros conduct hard counts because they don't like leaving things to chance.

They go into a campaign estimating what the overall turnout will be and how many raw votes they need to win.

Then they set a hard count goal and go find those voters.

(One thumbnail rule is for your hard count to be 60% of your final goal, assuming that voters who lean to your candidate and some undecideds will usually cover the rest.

That rule doesn't readily transfer to a caucus situation, where a couple of hours of one's time is required to vote, a big disincentive to weak supporters.

On the other hand, according to press reports and polls, there does seem to be a lot of soft supporters and undecideds, along with heightened interest, in Iowa right now. So who knows.)

In turn, if they can indentify all the committed supporters they need (and also ensure they have a way to get to the polls), they'll be pretty confident of victory on election day.

Part of the problem for the pros this time around is no one can be sure what the overall turnout is going to be.

Assumptions are that it will be higher than the roughly 60,000 that attended the relatively hum-drum ''00 caucus, and could break the record of 125,000 in '88. (Some say that the oft-repeated '88 figure may be inflated by 30,000).

So no one can really know if their hard count is good enough.

Or can they?

Back to Sunday.

The Sunday Boston Globe reported this:

...rumors swirled that Dean aides have locked down 50,000 caucusgoers, more than enough to win...

As you could deduce from above, a 50,000 hard count, plus 33,000 more using the 60% thumbnail rule, would win easily no matter what the turnout.

The hard count portion alone would make up 40% in a 125,000 turnout scenario, plenty good in a four-way race.

Now, is the B. Globe report coming from Dean team confidence/cockiness, or rivals looking to embarass him?

According to Daily Kos, who has poli sci prof Tom Schaller on the ground in Iowa:

...the question on everybody's lips at Chequers bar last night was this: "What's Dean's hard count?"

Steve McMahon, Joe Trippi's partner in the Dean brain trust, looks like Sylvester grinning with Tweety Bird in his mouth.

He won't give the number, of course, but he seems very confident that his hard count will be a high enough numerator no matter what the denominator.

Cocky perhaps, but his mouth is shut on the actual number.

Similarly, on Meet The Press, US News' Roger Simon also reported Dean team confidence:

...they feel confident that as long as the vote count doesn't go above 135,000...that they have a hard count to sustain a victory.

That could imply a 50,000 hard count, which would constitute 37% of turnout in a 135,000 scenario.

But if some version of the thumbnail rule is being applied, it could also imply a 40,000 hard count, which would yield a solid 30% on its own, or even 35,000 (26%).

Nevertheless, it's unclear from Simon's comments if he is getting his numbers from Dean people or not.

So where else would the Boston Globe get an estimated hard count of 50,000?

Perhaps from John Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill.

The Boston politico was on Fox News Sunday, calmly repeating the Boston Globe "rumor" as fact coming from the Dean camp:

They said today in the Boston Globe that they have 50,000 number-ones [insider lingo for committed supporters] that they're going to bring to the polls. We know that.

We have a lot of enthusiasm on our side. We have a lot of Iowans. We have the most state senators. We have the governor's wife.

We have veterans, 10,000 of whom are going to go to the caucuses.

We like the way it's going. But we understand exactly how hard it's going to be to get one of the three tickets out of Iowa.

Whether or not the 50K is planted misinformation from Cahill, she's still conducting some devious bar setting, trying to dampen Kerry's expectations, and jack up Dean's.

Of course, she's fighting the tide, since the press is raising Kerry's expectations and dropping Dean's.

And of course, Kerry's team isn't alone in this game.

Newsweek reported that Dean people were possibly talking up Kerry earlier, to box out Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark.

Meanwhile, back at Meet The Press, Gephardt was dabbling in the numbers game himself:

TIM RUSSERT:╩How many voters do you think it's going to take to win tomorrow night?

GEPHARDT:╩I think about 35,000.╩The number in the year 2000 was a total of 60,000 people.

In 1988, the last time we had a big caucus out here, it was about 100,000, maybe 90,000.

So I think 30, 35, 40,000 is a winner.

No indication if he has a hard count of that size or not, other than his insistence that he's going to win.

All this information above might be useful to gauge how well Dean's and Gephardt's organizations actually function, if we learn what the raw vote totals are.

But as Slate reminds us, we won't.

The Iowa Dem party doesn't release that info, since that's not what determines how many delegates each candidate wins.

The best we can say is, if Dean or Gephardt pulls it out in Iowa, he can probably thank his hard count.

If Dean doesn't, either his count was shoddy or a rival inflated it. And we may never know which it is.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Polling: It's Not Just for Morons Anymore

USA Today ran poll results in its 1/15 edition that showed 56% of those asked felt Democrats should nominate a moderate, versus 26% wanting a liberal and 14% wanting a conservative.

In effect, the poll was asking Democrats where they, themselves, sat on the issues.

The problem is that the poll, like most polls, is inane.

The pollsters didn't offer any definition of what such terms as "liberal," "conservative," or "moderate" mean, so they are really asking folks to label themselves using arbitrary, subjective tags.

Should anyone be surprised that the majority of people see themselves as "moderate" in an age when "liberal" is still the "L-word"?

(Although after a few seasons of that new lesbian show, that may change.)

Or where "conservative" rings more GOP-sounding, and being a Republican isn't a nice thing to be in the Democratic Party? (Unless you're Wes Clark, of course.)

Somewhere in the world there is a little, beady-eyed mad scientist who is gleefully rubbing his hands at the genetically-deformed creatures he has unleashed on the world.

Devoid of any soul or any mental connection to the real world, our evil geneticist calls them homunculi. We call them pollsters.

So, in that vein, I did some of my own polling using Zogbyism and Gallupaganda to reveal some remarkable things about the American people. Here are the results:

BUSH APPROVAL RATINGS
4,568 registered voters were asked the following questions, and then given ice cream:

"Do you feel that President Bush has done an acceptable job in office despite his obvious mental handicaps?"

Yes: 55%
No: 25%
Couldn't fill out the poll form: 15%

"If President Bush were revealed to have been convicted of a DUI, which (face it) we all know he was, would you be surprised?"

Surprised: 2%
Not surprised: 89%
Lay off drunks already!: 1%

"Do you agree with the overwhelmingly popular opinion that Bush is a saint, a man sent from God Himself, and is incapable of doing wrong?"

Yes, agree with popular opinion: 75%
No, but I'm open to listening in case he is sent from God: 13%
No, but I'm a godless atheist and you shouldn't listen to me anyway: 3%
Can't answer, too busy shooting abortion doctors: 1%

OPINIONS ON DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES
2,932 registered Democrats were asked the following questions and then rudely told to leave:

"If Joe Lieberman switched parties and ran as a Republican, would you be surprised or just say to yourself, 'aw, heck, I knew it all along'?"

Surprised: 5%
Not surprised, because I knew it all along: 54%
Who's Joe Lieberman again?: 25%

"Would you consider switching to the Republican Party if we gave you a thousand dollars right now and promised you free porn for life, or are you still a hardcore, baby-eating Democrat?"

Would switch faster than a gecko on a hotplate: 89%
Throw in chocolate chip cookies, and it's a deal: 1%
I'm hardcore Dem, and eat babies: 0.3%
I'm Australian and feed babies to crocodiles, so can't answer: 0.5%

"Given the fact that Dick Gephardt has been the leader of the House Democrats during a period of declining Party power, should we really give him the control of the White House, or instead let him have a talk show on public access cable where we can throw apples at him?

Elect Dick: 32%
Throw apples: 32%
Elect Dick, then throw apples: 32%

"Isn't that Howard Dean angry, angry, angry? And wouldn't it be better if he wasn't so gosh-darned angry? Doesn't that make you angry? Grr!!!"

Yes: 25%
No: 23%
What?: 15%
Huh?: 11%
Can you repeat the question?: 14%

Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.

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