Thursday, November 29, 2007

Romney's Competition is Evolving

A fellow columnist recently commented that although the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries are only around the corner, we are light-years away in terms of how much things may change in the interim. This past week proved exactly that. The primary had seemed destined to be a duel between Romney and Giuliani, but it’s shaping up to be a four or five man race.

As I mentioned earlier this month, Huckabee has been making significant progress in Iowa and causing worry for Team Romney. Romney is dominating in New Hampshire, but with the Iowa contest being moved up to five days before New Hampshire’s primary, a Huckabee win could devastate Mitt’s early primary momentum. Such events are clearly more of a boon to Giuliani than to Huckabee; by weakening Romney it propels Giuliani to the February 5th victory he’s shooting for (unless Huckabee can continue his new momentum into other states), but Giuliani has some problems of his own.

While Romney and others have been hammering at Giuliani for his close relationship with Bernie Kerik, Ben Smith of The Politico uncovered some more potentially damning information about Giuliani just hours before yesterday’s three-ring circus YouTube/CNN Debate. Smith discovered records which have been recently released under the Freedom of Information Act that reveal how during the months leading up to 9/11 Rudy had been allocating tens of thousands of New York City tax payer dollars to finance his security detail during weekend trysts to the Hamptons.

Smith admits he lacks any concrete evidence to demonstrate these trips were specifically related to Giuliani’s affair with Ms. Nathan (his current wife), but the inference is fairly strong considering the proximity of her residence to the hotels he and his security detail stayed at, and the frequency of his trips to the area during this time. The most troubling part about these allegations is not that he spent the money on the security (New York’s mayors are allowed to have 24 hour security), it is that the expenses were split up between different city departments even though it had nothing to do with these departments or their functions.

Of course when this was brought up by Cooper Anderson at the YouTube/CNN debate Rudy insisted there was no wrongdoing and “as far as he knew” everything was accounted for correctly. This didn’t come up again in the debate and Rudy got a pass. The other candidates will likely wait for the media to hash this out before they get in the mix; this story is not going away without a fight.

Speaking of the debate, what a circus! Where do I begin? Anyone who watched the Democratic YouTube debate remembers how silly and ridiculous the debate was; but the Republican debate takes the cake. After suspecting foul play concerning a openly-gay brigadier-general’s political associations, the head editor of The Politico did a quick Google search and found out that not only was he a member of Veteran’s for Kerry, but currently sits on Hillary’s steering committee for LGBT issues. The general’s question about the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell' policy was obviously not aimed to foster conversation between the Republican candidates, but purely an effort to make them all look uncompassionate and bigoted. The media and blogosphere are on fire debating whether this is another Hillary ‘plant’ and whether YouTube and or CNN knew anything about it. There is no question CNN knew about this; you really think they would fly this guy out to Florida and hand him a microphone without looking into who he was. If you have any doubts, I remind you that it only took a short Google search to see who he supported and in what capacity.

Bloggers have also discovered (with little investigatory effort) that several other questioners from the debate were Democrats who openly support Democratic candidates. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have Democrats or moderates involved in the debate process; but these debates are for the party electorate. The partisan bashing has its place in the general election. This is a time for Republicans to hear the candidate talk about the issues they care about, otherwise it is really a waste of their time.

On the bright side, the quirky themes and questions kept the candidates on their toes and highlighted some weaknesses and strengths previously unnoticed within more conventional venues. Fred Thompson demonstrated his more serious side by looking fairly displeased about the debate throughout. As a contributor to the Weekly Standard noted, “My cheers went to a listless Fred Thompson who easily qualified himself to be president in my book by looking all night like he would cheerfully trade his left arm for an early exit off the stage to a waiting Scotch and good Cuban cigar.” It might have been even more impressive if one the candidates had confidently came out and called the debate what it was.

Instead, most of the candidates were in a rush to malign each other face to face. Romney and Giuliani went at it over immigration, Huckabee and Romney over immigration, and McCain and Romney over waterboarding (see a pattern developing?). Thompson went decidedly negative with his YouTube commercial by airing the only attack ad of the bunch. His video consisted of footage from Mitt’s younger liberal times at a Massachusetts debate against Ted Kennedy 13 years ago and another clip from Huckabee’s earlier tax hiking and portly days. Not surprising, Rudy was laughing harder than ever, escaping unscathed. Maybe Thompson has given up running for number one and is hoping Giuliani will pick him for number two. Just a thought.

The candidate who seemed surprisingly presidential was John McCain. Even though many conservatives tend to disagree with his views on immigration and interrogation techniques, his calm and rational approach to the questions and accusations raised seem to place him on the moral high ground. It’s hard to debate interrogation and torture with a guy who spent years in the Hanoi Hilton; but that doesn’t mean he’s always right.

Depending on the criteria (as winners and losers are hard to identify and for what reasons), the candidate who seemed to benefit most from the debate was Huckabee. With the hype surrounding him this past week he needed to step up to the plate and show he can play hardball with the big boys, and that is what he did. He didn’t necessarily come off as the best of the bunch, but he showed he can compete. Mitt fared well considering the beating he was taking from all sides, but there were times during the debate when he seemed frustrated. Thompson did fine, but ‘fine’ doesn’t win elections; it can win you a position as a running mate though. McCain did okay too, but nothing worthy of a significant shift in popularity. Giuliani got trampled; while he successfully eluded the expense report questions for the time being, they are sure to return. His exchanges with Romney further highlighted his weaknesses on conservative issues, and mere promises of constructivist judges will no longer placate conservatives after what they have seen Bush do with non-military government spending despite his constructionist nominations.

If an asterisk candidate were to be mentioned it would be Ron Paul. Paul did a fine job with what I thought would be a devastating question to his campaign. He was asked whether he believed all the conspiracy theories about the Council on Foreign Relations and the North American Union his supporters frequently mention. Most mainstream Republicans see Paul as a wild eyed extremist libertarian, but Paul’s answer came off as sincere and logical.

Paul replied that most of these theories are not conspiracy theories, but competing ideologies. He pointed to the well known fact that the CFR is real, and that there have been significant steps taken toward the formation of a North American Union through NAFTA and the prospect of the guest worker program. He compared the current state of affairs to the formation of the European Union, recognizing that its formation was incremental, not fully conceived from the start.

Paul’s message should resonate with many conservatives who are uncomfortable with losing our national sovereignty under globalist policies on immigration, our U.N. involvement, and a potential major international highway being built from Mexico City to Montreal. By framing his candidacy as an ongoing dialogue between those who favor national sovereignty over the rising tide of globalization, Paul did his movement a favor and got the message out to mainstream Republicans to consider.

As I tell many of my friends and colleagues who are surprised at my lack of disdain for the Texas congressman, to me, Ron Paul’s ideas are just a hundred steps too far in the right direction. His rejection of government intervention and spending are conservative principles, but it isn’t practical to do away with the Federal Reserve, IRS, and foreign deployment of troops overnight; but scaling down incrementally is.

In the end I think Ron Paul realizes this. He knows he’s not going to win. Not long ago I saw him in Manchester, NH at a well attended rally. As always he expressed his amazement at the support he is receiving. He never intended on winning; only to help shake up the debate. I hope he continues to do so.

So what does this all mean for Romney? That all will depend on how well Huckabee can keep up his current momentum in Iowa and whether Giuliani can weather the attacks currents against him. In my humble opinion, things are looking pretty good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Off the beaten path...

I know this is a little off the beaten path, but I thought this tidbit might be interesting. My dad forwarded me an email and some pictures of Mitt "caught" helping clean up after the fire in San Diego. The catch? No press, no campaign, and no signs. His son, who apparently lives in the area, took his dad along to help some people in their local congregation. They didn't even know he was coming. Visit my site to see the story and pictures.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What Are These Endorsements Based On Anyway?

Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic blogged one of the funniest exchanges I have seen this primary season. The exchange was during an interview between radio host and Romney defender Hugh Hewitt and the executive director of National Right to Life, David O’Steen about NRTL’s endorsement of Fred Thompson. Although Hewitt supports Romney, he brought to light the absence of logic behind some of these strange endorsements we’re seeing.

HH: Well, that’s the same…David, David, this audience is very sophisticated. They don’t like double talk. He’s not where Huckabee is, he’s not where Romney is endorsing the amendment. What I’m trying to get to is why do you guys not care about that?

DO’S: Well, wait a minute, I didn’t want to talk about other candidates specifically.

HH: Well, come on.

DO’S: Look at the history of other candidates. I said he’s had a consistent pro-life position.

HH: Are you saying Huckabee’s not consistently pro-life?

DO’S: What did you say?

HH: Are you saying Huckabee’s not consistently pro-life?

DO’S: No, I’m not saying…I wasn’t talking about Huckabee. You were mentioning other candidates. I mean, you…

HH: But Huckabee is…

DO’S: Huckabee has been pro-life, yes. He’s pro-life.

HH: And he’s for the amendment. So why would you guys not go with him?

DO’S: Well, I’ll tell you, we’re also looking at what we view as electability.

HH: You don’t think Mike Huckabee is electable?

DO’S: Well, in the polls we’ve been watching, in the national polls, Fred Thompson has in the majority of them run second, Mike Huckabee hasn’t.

HH: David, have you been watching…David O’Steen is my guest from the National Right To Life Committee. Have you been watching the recent polls? Fred Thompson’s falling like a rock.

DO’S: Well, he’s running strong in South Carolina. The last national Real Clear Politics average I saw showed him running second to Rudy Giuliani.

HH: He’s got 6% in Iowa, and less than that, I think, in New Hampshire in the CBS poll released yesterday.

DO’S: But he’s running strong in Nevada and South Carolina. As I said, you know, everyone can look at polls, and the last Real Clear Politics average I saw, he was running second to Rudy Giuliani.

This interview brings up two important questions. First, who is more electable, Huckabee or Thompson? Second, what are these endorsements based on anyway?

Looking at the national RCP average can be very misleading; Thompson is doing quite well in the national polls compared to Huckabee, but Huckabee is better positioned to possibly win some early primary states. The RCP averages for Iowa show that Huckabee is quickly turning things around there while Thompson’s numbers have been stagnant since April when he wasn’t even an official candidate. Huckabee’s momentum could quite possibly give him an Iowa win and change his fortunes in the subsequent primaries.

Unfortunately for Thompson there is no similar prospect in sight. In New Hampshire, both Thompson and Huckabee are in the single digits after Thompson’s 11-12% showing in mid-October shriveled to 5% this month. Huckabee’s 7% may be small, but at least he’s moving up, and if the Iowa caucus takes place before the New Hampshire primary and he wins, he could take advantage of his low expectations by making a second or third place showing in New Hampshire and really shake the campaign up.

O’Steen argues that Thompson is doing well in South Carolina (16.8%) and Nevada (15%), but Thompson is hemorrhaging support in South Carolina (down from 23% in October) and in Nevada he can’t seem to gain any ground. In Florida his numbers are dropping like a roller coaster (from 22% in October to14% now), so count that state out.

Giuliani is playing a dangerous game banking on a February 5th victory in the delegate rich states, but at least he is leading in these states by wide margins. In California alone Giuliani has 32% while Thompson is sitting at 12%. Unless Thompson can pick up the pace in either the early states or put some heat on Giuliani in the latter, Thomson is in big trouble.

So why would NRTL endorse a candidate who clearly isn’t positioned to win when there are other pro-life candidates who are?

Paul Weyrich, the well known evangelical leader who recently endorsed Romney, suggested to the Washington Times that there was some financial dealing involved. The Thompson campaign of course responded with their own mud slinging saying that Romney tries to spread his money around wherever he can and that they would have endorsed him except for the fact he was pro-choice two years earlier. While this response explains why Romney wasn’t endorsed NRTL, it still isn’t clear why they would support Huckabee over Thompson.

Whatever their motivation is, it’s obviously not viability.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dick Morris Is Wrong About Mitt, Again

Dick Morris, former adviser to President Clinton and now mortal enemy of Hillary Clinton, loves to make predictions about election outcomes. Over the course of the year I have been following his columns concerning the Republican primary because his opinions are usually so conclusive and certain you would think he had successfully discovered time travel. To prove he hasn’t made such a discovery, I pieced together a few of his predictions over the year to demonstrate how wrong this guy who thinks he’s always right is.

Romney, who is panting after their (conservatives) support, is a political duck decoy, distracting onlookers from focusing their gaze on the real conservatives who might run. He can't win. He can't get nominated or even become the consensus candidate of the right wing. He's too Mormon (it shouldn't be an issue, but it is) and flip-flop-flipped from pro-life to pro-choice and back again. These problems, combined with his flip-flops on gay rights and stem cell research, make him incapable of becoming the right-wing candidate to oppose Giuliani.” – March 15, 2007

And yesterday…

Even as he continues to hold a convincing lead in the national race, Rudy Giuliani may be riding for a big fall in Iowa and the other early state primaries. Mitt Romney, despite his anemic national showing, could sweep Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, a trifecta that could give him such momentum as to sweep him to the nomination.

The numbers are scary for Giuliani (and since Mitt doesn't have a prayer in hell of beating Hillary in a general election, scary for us all). While he holds a lead in the national polls (Giuliani 30, Thompson 17, McCain 15, Romney 12, Huckabee 9 -- all data is from the average of the past five polls posted on, he is trailing badly in all the early states.

…But if Romney wins in Iowa, he will certainly win in New Hampshire -- where he already leads -- and in Michigan, where his father was governor and he has been working hard. Coming into Florida with that kind of momentum will make it very hard for Giuliani to come back.” -November 14, 2007 – The Hill

What is so humorous about this transition from Dick saying Romney doesn’t have a chance against Giuliani to him being in position to win, is that now Dick is certain ( I’m assuming that is what he meant by saying “Mitt doesn't have a prayer in hell”) Romney can’t win the general election against Hillary. Maybe Dick would be better served betting on the impossible.

Dick assumes Giuliani should win against Romney as long as he runs a traditional aggressive advertising campaign much the same way Romney is. This just isn’t he case. Giuliani himself is his campaign’s liability, not his campaign strategy. Dick said:

Rudy has brought this crisis on himself by foolishly running no television ads in any of the early primary or caucus states while Romney has advertised for six to eight months. In a classic hare-versus-tortoise scenario, Giuliani waited so long to show his colors on television that Romney may have built up an insurmountable lead in the interim.

Dick mistakenly assumes that it is in Giuliani’s best interest for the public to learn more about him. This just isn’t the case. Everybody already knows who Giuliani is. People know him as the New York mayor who made some good stump speeches following 9/11. What they generally don't know is that he's been divorced multiple times, lived with two gay friends, and fought for public funding for abortions.

Now everyone is starting to find out about his corrupt bedfellows such as the recently indicted Bernard Kerik, who Giuliani recommended to the Bush administration to lead the Department of Homeland Security. If Giuliani runs too many adds, or attracts too much attention to himself through other means, the negative issues will spread in the news like chickenpox in a preschool. Unfortunately for him, it looks like it is already happening.

Conversely, the Romney campaign has demonstrated a powerful correlation between advertising and an increase in support. His ads have been extremely successful in the early primary states, and there’s no evidence to suggest this won’t work throughout the rest of the country. While some believe the “Mormon” issue is the 5-ton elephant in the room, it hasn’t been impossible to overcome thus far, especially as evidenced by Romney’s drastically improved numbers in South Carolina. It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out as the campaign spreads west.

One thing is clear – Romney benefits by putting himself in the public spotlight whereas Rudy does not. There has been some dispute among Romney’s campaign advisers concerning whether they should start showing negative ads about Giuliani because the mud might come back their way. For now, with the Kerik and Regan/News Corp. headlines, Romney has no need to get his own hands muddy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

More, more, more...

...endorsements. The latest endorsement is from Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and one of the founders back in the day of the Moral Majority. The NY Times' Caucus has the details:
Mr. Weyrich, who has been described as the father of the religious right and also founded the Heritage Foundation, had been critical of talk that broke out earlier this year among Christian conservatives about bolting the Republican Party if Rudolph W. Giuliani, a supporter of abortion rights, is the nominee and backing a third-party candidate.

So now it appears he is backing up that criticism with action, lining up behind Mr. Romney, despite questions many Christian conservatives continue to harbor about his relatively recent conversation from supporter of abortion rights to opponent and his Mormon faith.

Yeah, it's practically unbelievable that Christians could get over their doubts. It's almost as if they had faith in Mitt Romney.

I'm just giving Luo, the author of the story (who I generally like for his fair reporting), a hard time. Indeed, Luo lines up the list of names of prominent social conservatives backing Romney:
Mr. Romney had lined up a host of social conservative endorsements up to this point, including James Bopp Jr., a major anti-abortion activist; Jay Sekulow, another prominent Christian conservative; and Bob Jones III, chancellor of Bob Jones University, most recently. But he had lacked one of the scions of the religious right, which Mr. Weyrich unquestionably remains.

Of course there's a much longer list than just those names. One important point to remember is that if these people were just looking for someone to advance their doctrinal beliefs, they would have chosen a different candidate. As Mitt has coined, neither he no anyone else is running for Pastor-in-Chief. If they were, there would be no question that the former pastor in the race would be the consensus candidate. Mitt represents not only a socially conservative voice, but a proven leader and executive.