I guess we'll never know exactly what Bob Kerrey was thinking when, over the weekend, he referred to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" and mentioned his Muslim father and grandmother, or when he referred to Obama's childhood school in Indonesia as a "secular madrassa" on CNN yesterday. But maybe that's exactly the point. You have to admit there's a certain tactical brilliance at work here either way: Using people like Kerrey as surrogates--which is to say, people with a reputation for slightly offbeat pronouncements--means never having to say you're sorry.
New York magazine's John Heilemann has an interesting column up today comparing Mike Huckabee with Pat Buchanan. I have a few quibbles--I don't think Huckabee's worldview is even close to being as coherent as Buchanan's (it may not even be coherent enough to call a "worldview"), and, unlike one of Heilemann's sources, I think this thing called the GOP establishment still exists and could ultimately thwart Huckabee's candidacy--but it's a smart, provocative take on the Huckabee phenomenon. See this in particular: On countless levels, however, 2008 is aeons away from 1996, let alone 1992.
Via Ambinder, I see that Fred picked up the endorsement of nutty anti-immigrant Iowa Congressman Steve King today. (How nutty? He's like Tom Tancredo, but without the soothing rhetoric. He also happens to be wildly popular in conservative Western Iowa.) Ambinder says it's bad for Romney, which it surely is. But I'd say also bad for Rudy, who almost certainly won't be finishing higher than fourth now that Fred has a little mo' in the state. --Noam Scheiber
I can't entirely put my finger on it, but I've gotten a strange vibe from the Bill Clinton we've seen over the last few weeks. Beginning with that ill-considered swift-boat discussion after Hillary's lousy debate performance in Philadelphia, continuing through his presence in various campaign-disarray stories last week, and culminating with his Charlie Rose interview on Friday and today's Patrick Healey story in the Times, the impression I get is this: The former president is more concerned with demonstrating his loyalty to Hillary than with getting her elected president.
This story in today's Times nicely quantifies how Rudy's fortunes have changed--in New Hampshire, most immediately, but really across the country: Mr. Huckabee’s rise also comes at a delicate time for Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has been slipping in national polls and who failed to lift his standing in New Hampshire with a heavy advertising campaign. Mr. Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, scaled back his campaign in New Hampshire to concentrate his efforts on the later states. ... The Giuliani campaign believes that Mr. Huckabee’s momentum will fade.
Jonathan Martin has a piece up this weekend based on an interview he did Friday with Mitt Romney. What's striking, as Martin notes, is how much Romney has gone from upbeat "overdog" to sober, near-fatalistic underdog: “If it were essential to me to win, if to put bread on the table I had to win this election, if to feel good about myself I had to win this election I might be more anxious about this,” he said. “But instead I’m happy to describe to the people of Iowa who I am, and they can look at me in my totality and decide if I can help this country.
As Mike says, no one seems to want to concede that their candidate is even in the running for the DMR endorsement. While corresponding with one campaign aide last night, I felt like I was more likely to win the endorsement than his boss. One reason, as Mike says, is expectations-setting. I got the impression another reason was that no one wanted to "jinx" something they didn't yet have in hand--or, perhaps less superstitiously, somehow antagonize the Register editorial board by seeming too presumptuous.
It’s a long-shot, I know. But consider the following: 1.) The Register’s own David Yepsen raved about Biden’s performance in the paper's debate yesterday. Given the Register’s self-importance—it aggressively promotes its debate as the leading event in the run-up to the caucuses—it wouldn’t shock me if it decided to go with the debate’s (Yepsen-appointed) winner. 2.) Local papers like the Register tend to fancy themselves guardians of civility and substantive inquiry—the opposite of the muckety-mucks in the national media who obsess over polls and other horse-race ephemera.
Okay, okay. So it was a completely lame debate: Another inexplicable decision to take meaty topics off the table. Very few questions designed to elicit confrontation. Extremely confining time limits. And all of this humorlessly enforced by a controlling, schoolmarmish moderator. Oh, and there was also the ludicrous presence of Alan Keyes, who managed to make the cut even though Dennis Kucinich has been barred from today’s Democratic installment. Having said that, the debate did do one thing: It nicely illuminated the central divide among the GOP front-runners.
Marc Ambinder makes a good point about Hillary and Edwards in today's debate: "Clinton and Edwards repeatedly wove their answers into a larger argument, and Obama generally kept his answers to his answers." Edwards began or ended (sometimes both) practically every response with a line about the powerful, greedy interests blocking reform in Washington, which only he, a lifelong fighter, would have the gumption to defeat.