Saturday, May 31, 2008

The End Times

How will Hillary Clinton devise an exit strategy for Iraq when she can't even come up with one for the Democratic primary campaign?

Yes, the Apocalypse nears - the last days of the bruising, interminable nomination battle between Clinton and Obama. The signs are everywhere: renegade preachers causing hell for candidates of both parties...earthquakes, tornadoes and cyclones...Hillary Clinton raising the specter of assassination...even a DNC Rules Committee meeting televised live on CNN. Surely, the end is near. And then what's a pundit to do?

But before we get to the are some things you may have missed: Our most recent song, "Torn Between Two Democrats," about those conflicted, undecided superdelegates...John Edwards endorsing Obama....John McCain campaigning in the Bay Area....Nancy Pelosi telling San Francisco reporters the Democratic nominee will be chosen by the end of next week...and President Bush sitting down for an exclusive interview with our CBS Radio White House correspondents, Peter Maer and Mark Knoller (hmm, that link seems to have disappeared, we'll work on that).

And now back to our blog.

It's over, Hillary. She knows it, too. Save your irate emails, Clinton supporters, I'm not taking sides, I just call 'em as I see 'em, and what I see here is a presidential nominee named Barack Obama.

Look, when I went out on my quadrennial limb six months ago, I said Hillary would be the nominee, and you all know how it pains me so to be wrong about something. Sigh. I guess it has to happen sometimes, even if it's only once every four years.

Clinton is still making blustery threats about taking her delegate fight to the credentials committee, or even the convention floor in Denver, but I really think that's just empty straw-grasping. She's a clear-eyed, pragmatic politician, and she well knows that to scorch the earth of the Democratic Party in a futile tantrum would be to close the White House doors to any future Clinton least until Chelsea turns 35. No, after the DNC decision on Michigan and Florida this weekend - giving Obama delegates from Michigan that he never even won - her best bet is to accept the inevitable, endorse Obama this Wednesday and hope he puts her on the ticket.

As for Obama - he's turning into a regular gaffe-a-minute George W. Bush. Did you catch his Memorial Day act? His Auschwitz mistake made national headlines - but it was his Sixth Sense moment that made me gasp. Yes, he told a veterans' group in New Mexico that his uncle had been among the first American troops to liberate Auschwitz. Well, it turned out to be his great-uncle, and it was Buchenwald, not Auschwitz. The GOP jumped all over him on that one, pointing out that the Soviets, not the U.S. Army, had liberated Auschwitz. A Republican spokesman even wondered if Obama's great uncle had served in the Red Army (yes, he's descended from Communists too, not just terrorists!)

I can forgive Obama a slip like that. Family history often gets distorted or misremembered over the years, although it would behoove him to get his death camps straight. For decades, I've been told that my lefthanded cousin Hank Sovern was an undefeated pitcher for the Yankees' AAA team, on the cusp of big league greatness, when World War Two broke out. He traded his pinstripes for GI khakis and never pitched again. Except, I can find no record of him in any baseball record book. So who knows? If I ever run for president, I won't bring him up.

But Obama's real jawdropper came earlier in that same Memorial Day speech. He began by saying "On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes – and I see many of them in the audience here today – our sense of patriotism is particularly strong."

Oops. Do you feel that chill in the air? BARACK SEES DEAD PEOPLE. Not a huge surprise, since he's from Chicago, where dead people are the key to winning an election. Apparently, as many Americans do, Obama confused Memorial Day - a tribute to those who give their lives in military service, dating back to the Civil War - with Veterans Day, which salutes living former soldiers and sailors, replacing the Armistice Day that began after World War One. His scripted speech didn't include the parenthetical about seeing fallen heroes in the audience. Apparently, he ad libbed that. Something tells me he didn't write this speech himself!

Now we all make mistakes. I made the mistake of underestimating Obama, and overestimating America's racism, when I predicted Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. We've all seen Hillary commit one faux-pas after another, and John McCain, too, pretty much on a weekly basis. But if President Bush said the things Obama said last week, the late-night comics and the pundits would have been merciless. Don't let your Obama love blind you to his flaws. He's still a politician, folks, and a fairly novice one at that.

And while I'm calling 'em as I see 'em...I covered John McCain's latest Bay Area campaign swing the week before last. No flag pin in his lapel. In fact, I've covered him at least five times in the last year, and not once have I seen him wear a flag lapel pin. Never. For that matter, I've never seen one on Hillary either (not in person; I have seen them wear them during debates or televised speeches). So why is Obama held to a higher lapel pin standard? Someone needs to start circulating pictures of ALL the candidates, sans flag pin, on the Internet.

And an odd tidbit from that McCain event: his press passes had "Visit to the United States" printed on them. Were these left over from some foreign dignitary's junket? Is McCain actually from Albania or something? Is what we've suspected all these years, true - that the Bay Area really IS the real America, and all those flyover heartland states are some bizarre foreign hinterland? The campaign staffers shrugged, and had no explanation. As the Apocalypse nears, maybe McCain is hoarding resources, and is bumming leftovers from the Pope's recent visit.

The devil is always in the details...

P.S. Here's the link to Obama's Sixth Sense moment, on YouTube.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Taking Stock

From the birthplace of stock car racing - the land of NASCAR, Billy Graham and Carolina pulled pork - we offer these late-night musings on the presidential race...after spending a whirlwind 60 hours on the North Carolina campaign trail:

Barack Obama won handily here. It looks like the final margin will be about 14 points, roughly half of what his lead once was, but significantly more than the late polls suggested he would get. The turnout was astronomical, more than 50% higher than the previous record. Black voters, who traditionally don't go to the polls very much here, turned out in staggering numbers, and more than 90% of them voted for Obama. He claimed his victory with a rousing speech that was focused more on the fall campaign against John McCain than on the dwindling battle with Hillary Clinton.

Clinton held on to a razor-thin lead in Indiana - as of this writing, just 23,000 votes ahead out of more than a million cast - but CBS News, alone among the major news organizations, called the race for her early, and she accepted the win with a victory speech of her own (five hours later, the other networks and AP finally ratified her win, and that breeze you just felt was someone in the CBS exit poll analysis department exhaling in relief).

Clinton's speech seemed a tad disingenuous to me - "it's full speed ahead to the White House"? - delivered with husband Bill and daughter Chelsea smiling wanly behind her - but what else is a candidate in her position to do? With only four weeks and six contests to go, she might as well stay in to the end at this point, and hope another Obama stumble or some change of heart among the remaining superdelegates somehow vaults her to the nomination.

Realistically, Clinton didn't get what she needed tonight (last night, at this point). She had hoped for a more decisive win in Indiana, and a close finish here in North Carolina. The Clintons spent a lot of time and energy in the Tar Heel State, sensing a chance to narrow the gap with Obama, and forcing him to campaign more here than he'd planned to. But instead of building on her Pennsylvania momentum, she will wake up in the morning further behind in the delegate count than she was before these two primaries, with precious few delegates still in play. It's as if Obama were ahead by a touchdown with seven minutes to play...and he just kicked a field goal, and now the clock has wound down to the two-minute warning. It will take a Hail Mary and then some for Hillary to win now.


Carolinians are sweet, generous, friendly people - churchgoing folk who are unfailingly polite and pleasant. When I asked a voter if one calls a person from Charlotte a "Charlatan" - he took no offense, laughingly telling me, uh, no, we are "Charlotteans" (pronounced Shar-luh-TEE-ans). I passed a Baptist Church whose marquee read "Yes! A Liberal Church!" The studio I borrowed at our local CBS Radio affiliate was plastered with Bible verses and inspirational sayings. Let's just say that "Our Daily Bread" and "Bible Study Primer" are not on the shelf in our San Francisco newsroom...

Race was definitely a factor here, and from what I can gather, in Indiana, too. Sixty percent of the white folk voted for Clinton. Very few would admit to me that race influenced their decision, but when pressed, it was clear that it did. One 76-year-old independent voter insisted she's not racist - but then said she voted for Hillary Clinton because "we have to keep the White House white." What does that mean? "Well, let's keep America, America. If Obama is the president, it wouldn't be the White House anymore, would it? That's not racist, is it?" When gently told that some people would think it is, she said "well, I want change - but not that drastically. I just want things to be the way they've always been. Is that racist? It's the White House, not the Black House." She said she would be voting for John McCain in November, no matter who the Democrats nominate. I think voters like this are in the minority, but they may well pose a problem for Barack Obama, when he tries to take that checkered flag in the fall - which, last time I looked, was black and white.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Running Mates, For Real

Okay, we joked last time about some goofy running mates for John McCain, as he begins what he calls his "embryonic" journey towards nominating someone for vice president. Now, who's really on his list...

But first, this brief disclaimer - I am in New Orleans right now, doing some Hurricane Katrina follow-up, and having a grand old time at Jazzfest, which the Big Easy is finally doing up in style again, almost three years after Katrina. The music has been sensational, the weather occasionally stormy, the partying severe. Stevie Wonder put on a show for the ages yesterday. Assuming I am fully recovered by tomorrow night, I am off to North Carolina to cover the primary there, so tune in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for coverage on KCBS (or listen at, and keep your eyes on the website for updates and blog posts.

Now back to John McCain. I must say there's too much to blog about during this campaign, and it's tough to keep up - we could talk today about Jeremiah Wright, or McCain and whether the Iraq war is all about oil - but I did promise some insight into the second slot on that GOP ticket, so here goes:

From what I've been able to gather, McCain has about 20 people under consideration, and they fall roughly into three groups: Vanquished Opponents, Esteemed Colleagues, and Longshots.

VANQUISHED OPPONENTS: These are the people McCain bested for the Republican nomination. They are:

MITT ROMNEY - He's campaigning hard for the job. Romney plans to run for president again, in 2012 if the Democrats win this time or if McCain wins and serves just one term, or in 2016 if McCain is a two-termer. Romney is back out on the stump, raising money for McCain and lobbying his delegates to back the Arizona Senator instead. He went to Nevada last week on McCain's behalf. He would love to be McCain's running mate, and would probably satisfy many of the conservatives who want one of their own on the Republican ticket.

MIKE HUCKABEE - An even better choice as far as some conservatives are concerned, Huckabee is anathema to others who don't like his tax and immigration policies. He brings a nice Southern balance, is a strong, folksy campaigner, and certainly meets the experience bar, which is critical to McCain, given his age. But there are a lot of negatives there, too, and the Democrats would pounce on Huckabee as too extreme to be president if anything were to happen to McCain.

RUDY GIULIANI - It's hard to imagine McCain choosing Giuliani. He brings more baggage than he's worth and the conservatives would howl. But sources tell me he's on McCain's list anyway, even though he's more likely to be considered for Homeland Security Secretary.

That brings us to the ESTEEMED COLLEAGUES:

McCain's Veep is most likely to come from this group. It includes Senators, Governors and one former member of the House:

JON HUNTSMAN, JR. - The governor of Utah, Huntsman was a strong early supporter of McCain, and has campaigned for him in the Intermountain West. He's only 48 and he's a Mormon. He has strong conservative and business credentials but critics would question whether he's really ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

CHARLIE CRIST - Florida's Governor came late to the McCain bandwagon but has raised his visibility and helped McCain hold off Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani in the Sunshine State. He'll be 52 this summer, a nice balance to McCain's age, but conservatives think he's too moderate. He's got a strong government resume, and is likely to run for president himself someday, whether McCain picks him this time or not.

SARAH PALIN - The GOP would love a McCain-Palin ticket, to counter whichever history-making nominee the Democrats select. She's the up-and-coming, 44-year-old Governor of Alaska. She's bright, personable and popular. The problem: she's only 44 and she's from Alaska, for heaven's sake. That doesn't really help McCain geographically, and two years as governor and a term before that as Mayor of Wasilla don't exactly make her Oval Office-ready. Plus, the cost of all that jet fuel taking her back and forth from Juneau would bankrupt the campaign.

KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON - Near the top of many pundits' lists, simply because she's a woman, from the South, with significant experience. But at 65, Hutchison may be too old. She benefits from the Republicans' lack of strong female contenders , though, and after 15 years in the Senate, McCain can make the case that she's ready to be his backup.

ROB PORTMAN - Who? Don't count this guy out. Rob Portman represented Ohio in Congress for 12 years, then filled two key posts for President Bush: director of the Office of Management and Budget, and U.S. Trade Representative. That gives him strong skills in two key areas. Despite all that experience, he's only 52 and has a bright political future. He's a rock-ribbed Cincinnati conservative and is tight with the Bush family. Nominating him for vice president would please the right wing and help McCain carry the battleground state of Ohio.

MEL MARTINEZ - Martinez could be very near the top of McCain's list. He is 61, Cuban-born, conservative, served in President Bush's first Cabinet, and is the popular junior Senator from Florida. He's got three very strong pluses in his favor: he's more conservative than McCain, is Latino, and has the right blend of relative youth and experience. Nominating Martinez would let the GOP make some history of their own, with the first Hispanic national nominee - unless the Democrats nominate Bill Richardson for VP a week earlier.

BILL FRIST - The former Senate Majority Leader from Tennessee flirted with a run for president this year but decided against it. He's as conservative as they come, and would certainly satisfy the party's right wing. He's experienced, young enough at 56, but may be pondering a run for Governor in 2010 and a future presidential bid of his own. He alienated some of his own party near the end of his Senate term and might not mesh with McCain.

MITCH MCCONNELL - He's a little old at 66, but well-regarded within the party, having risen to become Senate Minority Leader. The voters don't know him, but running mates are often plucked from relative obscurity, so that doesn't matter much. Kentucky's probably safe for the Republicans, but McConnell would help McCain appeal to the deeper South.

KIT BOND - Bond seems too old to me, at 69, but he's from the swing state of Missouri, and as a U.S. Senator and former Governor, has the right mix of experience to succeed McCain, if necessary. It's more likely McCain will choose someone in his (or her) mid to late 50s - old enough to be ready, young enough to run on their own after McCain is done.

JIM DEMINT - Both of South Carolina's Senators could be in the running. DeMint will be 57 this fall, served in the House before getting elected to the Senate, and is to the right of McCain - but also has a history of making some controversial statements that will be resurrected if he's the vice presidential nominee.

LINDSEY GRAHAM - South Carolina Senator Graham is powerful and high-profile, has military experience and is from a key Southern state. He'll be 53 this summer. You can bet he's working hard behind the scenes to get on the ticket with McCain.

TIM PAWLENTY - The governor of Minnesota, which has become a swing state, Pawlenty is only 47 but was an early and enthusiastic supporter of McCain's presidential candidacy. I met him when we were traveling with Governor Schwarzenegger in China - he seemed awfully young to me (gee, he's the same age as I am!) but was friendly and personable. Choosing him would be a reach - he's white, Catholic, and won't help McCain in the South.

HALEY BARBOUR - Really? Haley Barbour? It's hard to imagine McCain nominating him, but Barbour has transitioned well from partisan boss of the Republican Party to Governor of Mississippi. He gained widespread praise for his response to Hurricane Katrina - especially contrasted with what happened in neighboring Louisiana - and at 60, he's the right age. He's very conservative, and very popular across the Deep South.

MARK SANFORD - He's only 48, but the Governor of South Carolina checks off a few boxes for McCain. He's from the South, he's a solid conservative, but he's also thoughtful, popular and occasionally a bit of a maverick, like McCain. He didn't endorse McCain until late in the game, but that probably doesn't matter. He's considered a rising star in the party.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE - Forget it. Condi's coming home to Stanford, to teach and resume her role as an occasional guest expert on KCBS. Who would give that up to run for vice president? Yes, she's a black woman, but she's too closely tied to the Iraq war, and has never held elective office. Too many negatives for McCain to take that risk.

COLIN POWELL - Nope. If Powell and his wife ever decide they're ready for a run, it will be for president, not McCain's second slot.

MIKE BLOOMBERG - I don't see it. Again, why would someone like Bloomberg settle for the vice presidency? He would alienate the conservatives, and while a short Jewish billionaire from New York would make history, he wouldn't help McCain win the election.

JOE LIEBERMAN - An intriguing pick, Lieberman could help McCain form a "unity" ticket, though he's left the Democratic Party and become an independent. But voters might see Al Gore's vice presidential pick as a retread. It's more likely that Lieberman would be Secretary of Defense in a McCain administration.

ELIZABETH DOLE - It's too late for Dole. If she weren't a woman, she wouldn't even be mentioned. She's got the name and the pedigree, but she'll be 72 this summer - she's a month older than McCain!

So there you have it. Are you still with me? This post was necessarily long, and though I intended it to be fairly comprehensive, there could still be a dark horse out there that's not on this list. Look for McCain to name his running mate sooner rather than later; he won't wait until the convention, in late August. I expect him to make the decision in mid-June, after all the primaries are over, so that his choice can get out there and start attacking the presumptive Democratic nominee, who should be known by then.

See you next week from North Carolina.