Monday, January 21, 2008

Leaving Las Vegas

PREDICTION: Fred Thompson is toast. He drops out of the race and endorses John McCain.

ANOTHER PREDICTION: John Edwards isn't quite toast yet, but he's definitely day-old bread. If he can't make a stand in his native state of South Carolina this Saturday - and he won't - he gets out after Super Cali Tuesday, Feb. 5. It's worth it to him to stay in that long, because he does keep accruing delegates...and he may end up with enough to put Clinton or Obama over the top at a brokered convention. That won't be enough to win him another shot at the vice presidency, but it could give him leverage to make some sort of deal. Maybe a Cabinet post. Attorney General? No. But Secretary of Labor, maybe, or HUD. In another country, he could be Minister Without Portfolio for Poverty and Social Justice, or some such thing.

RAUCOUS CAUCUS: What a surreal scene at Saturday's at-large Democratic caucuses on the Vegas Strip. My favorite moment: a Wynn Hotel cocktail waitress, with proportions not found in nature, wearing a revealing dress and impossibly high heels, going nose-to-nose with a housekeeper, in a perfectly pressed maid's uniform, over which Democrat is more electable. The Latina housekeeper kept yelling "But Obama is colored! Obama is colored! America no vote for a colored man!" while the waitress was shrieking "Change! He'll bring change! We need change!" The maid was using her Hillary Clinton sign as a shield against the other woman's wagging finger. Eventually, each retired to her side of the Lafitte Ballroom and cast her ballot. Hillary won the room, 189-187.

ANOTHER PRICELESS SCENE: Hillary Clinton, wearing bright red, working the casinos for votes, talking politics with two women who work at Mandalay Bay, also wearing bright red...except showing considerably more cleavage, and a lot more leg. Hillary seemed undaunted by the women's attire as she talked about health care and the economy. A politician on Election Day does not see clothing, or hairstyle...they see VOTER. But the photographers trailing Clinton sure seemed to snap a few more shots than usual during that exchange.

FRIENDS OF BILL: Many of the Hillary Clinton voters I met in Nevada - not a majority, but a substantial number - said they were voting for her because of her husband. Some assume that Bill Clinton will really run the country if Hillary wins. Some cited the strong economy during the Clinton years, saying obviously the Clintons know how to manage the country better than the Republicans. One simply shrugged and said, "I like Bill Clinton. He was a great president. If I vote for her, it's like I'm voting for him all over again." Hillary had better keep Bill's hot temper and loose lips under control though, or there could be a fierce backlash in a general election.

CORRUPTION, OR INCOMPETENCE?: All of the Democratic campaigns are accusing the others of playing dirty. The Edwards people say both the Obamas and the Clintons cheated. I saw no cheating at any of the caucus sites, but I did see chaos, confusion, disorder, anarchy - break out the thesaurus and look up "cluster@#%." Few Nevadans knew what they were doing. They weren't sure how to run a caucus, or how to vote in one. I guarantee that when the national delegates are awarded later, at Nevada's state convention, they won't break exactly the way the popular vote did, in either party. Many of the state delegates will change their votes, depending upon which candidates are still in the race.

MMMM, DONUTS: Mitt Romney cleverly locked up the Homer Simpson vote with his early-morning visit to a Republican caucus site in suburban Summerlin, a heavily Mormon area out on the western outskirts of Las Vegas. He arrived armed with dozens and dozens of Krispy Kreme glazed donuts, hot coffee, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Romney shook hands, picked up babies, kissed old acquaintances and West Coast relatives, signed autographs and posed for pictures for about an hour. He joked with supporters and media alike, referring to his always-perfect coif as a "helmet head." He showed off the photographic skills he's acquired in a year on the campaign trail, teaching novices to stand with the sun behind them, instead of behind Romney, to snap a better picture of him. He was wistful about the lack of Dunkin' Donuts on the West Coast - Boston's best - and told Sovern Nation (that would be me) he was confident about his chances in California, and would be back this way often in the next two weeks to try to win the Feb. 5 primary. He demurred when I asked him why his campaign fell apart in South Carolina, and whether another lightly-contested caucus - much like Wyoming's - was a suitable consolation prize. Instead of answering, he offered me one of those glazed donuts. I told him I was on my new January diet, and that I didn't need the blast of sugar at 7:30 in the morning. I also told him if he brings donuts to Oakland, they'd better be either chocolate-frosted or filled with jelly. By the way, he won the Summerlin caucus, and the statewide vote, in a landslide. (You can see a brief clip of Romney giving out donuts, with me hovering nearby, that my friend Robin caught on MSNBC - click on the link over there in the right. I don't know how to embed the link here!)

Okay, that's it for now. Nevada was exhausting - a three-day marathon whirlwind of little sleep, a lot of adrenaline, and a lot of racing around Vegas covering Obama, Clinton and Romney. No time for gambling or glitzy shows. Besides, the presidential race seemed to be the best show in town, although it didn't come with mixed drinks and the participants were dressed more conservatively. The presidential candidates have left the building. Thank you very much.

P.S. For those of you who haven't seen it yet on YouTube, or CNN, or Fox News, or Drudge...I'm also linking the video clip of Bill Clinton's meltdown last week in Oakland. The former president was campaigning for Hillary at Everett and Jones BBQ, and got hotter than Dorothy's hottest sauce when Channel 7's political reporter, Mark Matthews, asked him about the casino caucus lawsuit in Nevada. Bill went ballistic. It's the second time in a year I've seen him lose his cool like this. Mark stood his ground and was respectful and non-combative. You can see my microphone darting in and out; the ABC-7 cameraman did his best to shoot so tightly you couldn't see it, but it's there some of the time. My boss loves it when our logo gets that kind of international TV play! The link is over there to the right, in the Weblinks section.