Ghost of Harold Stassen

Sanders and the Republican Establishment in New Hampshire?

Bernie Sanders could be the key to whether an establishment Republican candidate emerges with any strength coming out of New Hampshire in February.


That’s right – Bernie Sanders’ strength as a campaigner over the next month may well have an impact on the Republican race.  Among the rules that are left unsaid around this time of year is that Iowa does a middling-to-poor job of choosing Republican nominees, whereas it has done a pretty good job of choosing Democratic nominees.  For the Republicans, think back to 2012 – not Santorum, but Romney; 2008, not Huckabee, but McCain; 1988, not Dole, but Bush; 1980, not Bush, but Reagan.  For the Democrats, let’s remember that Carter emerged from Iowa in 1976; Mondale won there in 1984; Gore in 2000; Kerry in 2004; and Obama in 2008.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, is where Republican nominees frequently find their footing – Romney, 2012; McCain, 2008; Bush, 1988; Reagan, 1980 – especially where a more hard-line conservative wins in Iowa.  In those years, New Hampshire acts as the counteracting force.

But New Hampshire has another wrinkle to it.  Undeclared voters, i.e., those who are not registered in either the Republican or Democratic Party, may vote in either primary.  So in order to read the tea leaves, it is important to look at the dynamic on both sides.  They currently represent approximately 40% of the New Hampshire electorate.  In 2008, the last-minute shifting of independents may have been the decisive factor in handing the nomination to John McCain after he had been declared a dead-man walking in the fall of 2007.  When Barack Obama emerged as the surprise winner of the Iowa Caucus in 2008 (remember, many pundits had Edwards edging out Clinton in a close race), it in effect took some pressure off of independent voters to find their “anybody but Clinton” – Clinton didn’t win.  Meanwhile, conservative Mike Huckabee did win in Iowa, which sent independents in New Hampshire to find their establishment pick.  I haven’t seen any stats on it, but I’m willing to guess that more independents broke to vote in the Republican primary after Huckabee’s win in Iowa, and that this last-minute break gave an advantage to McCain.

How does this all play in 2016 race?  I’m not willing to make any predictions, but I think it’s worth thinking about the dynamics of independent voters in New Hampshire.

Right now, Cruz and Trump seem to be running a tight race in Iowa, and that could truly go either way.  If Trump wins, it is possible that the result in Iowa will have little effect on New Hampshire, where Trump is ahead in double digits in the latest poll.  A conservative Cruz victory, on the other hand, might drive more independents into the Republican primary.

But what is more interesting is the Bernie Sanders quotient, especially when one considers the theory that Sanders and Trump – from opposite sides of the aisle, loosely speaking, since neither is a true party regular – are both tapping into the same base of dissatisfied voters.  They are much more similar as candidates in terms of their economic populist, anti-partisan, anti-establishment spirit than they are different – especially if you are looking at them through the lens of an independent voter.

Sanders is a New Englander, which gives him a huge edge in New Hampshire.  Clinton looks like she has a lock on Iowa, so the anti-Clinton voters among the independents in New Hampshire may have a greater interest in breaking for the Democratic primary in New Hampshire to support Sanders.  Current polls show Clinton winning there, too – which is why the next month is key for Sanders.  Can he make a strong closing enough argument to New Hampshire independents to attract them to the Democratic primary?  As a vote against the establishment?

If he does, then the New Hampshire primary will lean more to the Republican base, which might very well favor an establishment candidate.  Trump still holds a good lead in New Hampshire, but is helped there by a fractured lineup of establishment Republican candidates, all clustered together in the latest polls – Rubio, Christie, Kasich and Bush.  If Sanders takes independents to the Democrats, the party regulars may be left in New Hampshire with enough juice to propel one of those establishment candidates into the challenger position against Trump.  Today it is still difficult to see who might emerge – and perhaps the establishment field is too fragmented for this dynamic to have any effect at all – but regulars could well galvanize around Rubio or Christie at the last minute, making one of them look like a credible alternative.  If Cruz wins in Iowa and Trump wins only weakly in New Hampshire, there’s still an opening for a Rubio or a Christie if they show surprisingly well in New Hampshire.

Perhaps the establishment PACs would do well to throw some pro-Sanders ads into the mix in New Hampshire …

Ben Carson on the Rapture

“Carson was recently put in the position of reassuring voters that yes, he does believe in a Rapture, just not the exact same Rapture as other evangelicals.”  OK, but does he believe there’s an Antichrist in the Democratic field?





We’re talking Horse Race now on the Cocktail Hour … I predicted, back in January of 2007, that McCain would find himself in a freefall over his deadpan support of President Bush’s Iraqi misadventure; and sure enough, within a few months, John McCain was no longer a front-runner. I also predicted that Newt Gingrich would emerge as the voice of the Right, but he was effectively outflanked over the summer by what looked initially like the promising candidacy of actor/Senator Fred Thompson. Not only was I wrong about that one, but so was Gingrich.

Instead, Mike Huckabee, a formidably smooth political actor, has emerged as a voice of the Social Right, and will likely be the winner in Iowa. It is the emergence of Mike Huckabee that now convinces me that John McCain is the most likely candidate to receive the Republican nomination this summer … that, combined with the long, slow slide of Rudy Giuliani. But the moment that really sealed the idea in my mind was when Independent/Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman publicly endorsed John McCain for president two weeks ago. You see, Rudy Giuliani’s strategy was being the national front-runner while skipping Iowa and New Hampshire. Skipping New Hampshire was an easy decision, since it neighbors Mitt Romney’s former home state, a fact which usually gives such candidates an advantage. Under the old Giuliani strategy, if Mitt Romney were to win in Iowa and New Hampshire, Giuliani would be able to spin the victories as faits accomplis, the result of Romney’s outrageous campaign spending in Iowa and his “favorite son” effect in New Hampshire. Then, Giuliani would drive hard in Michigan on January 15, Florida on January 29 and Super Tuesday on February 5, proving his national electability. Florida was going to be a key win for Giuliani.

Huckabee’s rise in Iowa now means that Mitt Romney is no longer Rudy Giuliani’s main rival. The first winner during the 2008 campaign will be treated as a front-runner, for at least a nanosecond. And while Mike Huckabee won’t win in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney will be severely weakened by Huckabee’s success on a shoestring budget. In fact, this dynamic is already playing itself out in McCain’s rising numbers in New Hampshire, to some degree at Romney’s expense.

So, what’s left? Lieberman’s endorsement of McCain now means that Florida is in play for Giuliani, whose campaign has already been plagued by character leakage. The kind of older “Security Conservative” voter in Florida who might have supported Giuliani now has many reasons to question whether Giuliani has the character to lead us in a post-9/11 world. Lieberman’s timely endorsement of McCain will no doubt come as a reminder to such voters that McCain is a man of character. Besides, they love Lieberman in Florida. McCain will use New Hampshire as his second debut in the 2008 race, and the old Republican guard will turn to him to be the “Anti-Huckabee.”

The Democratic race is much harder to gauge at this point. I mentioned last January that Barack Obama’s greatest enemy was the process of anaerobic decay, and that there was a Harvard wonk in him just dying to expose itself during the primary debates. I still believe I was correct on both accounts — Obama’s “newness” wore off quickly as Hillary Clinton sped to an early lead in national polls, and Obama was stiff and deadly serious in most of the early debates. Obama’s secret has been peaking late, and waiting for Hillary Clinton to make a mistake. When Senator Clinton was tripped up on an immigration question in Philadelphia, Obama was ready — not with a position statement or a direct attack, but with a star power offensive. The Oprah Effect, ultimately immeasurable by statistical tests, will best be described by historians as having given Barack Obama a second chance at the nomination at the precise moment that Hillary Clinton looked vulnerable. It was the thing that John Edwards did not have at that same moment, the thing that has relegated him to sloppy seconds in the battle for media attention.

That having been said, it is still possible that Hillary Clinton will win in Iowa. It is still possible that Barack Obama will win in Iowa. It is still possible that John Edwards will win in Iowa. It is still possible that Joe Biden will come in third. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Barack Obama will win in Iowa; he will be in for a close race in New Hampshire, and may in fact lose there; but ultimately, that he will prevail as the “Anti-Clinton” candidate through Super Tuesday and beyond. (Incidentally, if Hillary Clinton happens to win in Iowa, that might make New Hampshire that much more difficult for John McCain to win, since independent voters may cross to the Democratic side to engage in an Anti-Clinton onslaught.)

I further predict that the vast majority of potential voters will have lukewarm feelings about both the Republican and Democratic nominees; and that while one of the mainstream candidates will certainly win the White House this November, Americans will yet again feel let down and dissatisfied by the whole experience.

He may be the wrong candidate … but he just delivered an excellent speech on faith and politics in America. Mitt Romney says:

No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

That’s about right.

#1. Members of the political press and unaffiliated Republican pols, gearing up for the meat grinder that the 2008 presidential race will certainly become, have all been scratching their heads and wondering aloud how Rudolph Giuliani can be leading in the early Republican primary polls when evangelicals, the so-called base of the party, should have a serious problem with his three marriages, two divorces and estrangement from his son. Typical of this sentiment, from the AP a little over a week ago:

Republican strategists say Giuliani’s troubled family relationships are likely to hinder his standing among conservatives who already have questions about his positions on social issues. They say the estrangement could raise a question in voters’ minds: If Giuliani can’t keep his family together, how will he keep the country together?

True, there have been statements of concern by evangelical leaders over Giuliani’s domestic circumstances. Richard Land, who is head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, recently stated that Giuliani’s 2002 divorce from Donna Hanover was more than just a regular old divorce; it was more like “divorce on steroids,” Land said. “To publicly humiliate your wife in that way, and your children. That’s rough. I think that’s going to be an awfully hard sell, even if he weren’t pro-choice and pro-gun control.”

As usual, though, the conventional wisdom only has it half-right, and Richard Land’s assessment of Giuliani gives us a clue about why. Evangelicals do not vote as a bloc, and they do not live their lives in uniformity, either. If you just listen to an episode of New Life Live, for example, one of many Christian lifestyle talk shows flying around our radio airwaves, you’ll immediately be struck by how much dysfunction exists in the lives of some people who are trying hard to lead Christian lives. Not only are divorces commonplace (a 2004 survey by George Barna Research, incidentally, found that 35% of born-again Christians have been divorced, which is the same percentage as you’ll find in the non-born-again population), but such topics as alcoholism, drug abuse, porn and sex addictions, adultery, and all manner of broken families form the bedrock of the discussions that take place on the program — and without exception, much to the credit of the hosts, such problems are dealt with in a forgiving and quite practical way.

It should be no surprise at all, then, that evangelical conservatives might flirt with voting with either the twice-divorced, thrice-married Rudy Giuliani, the once-divorced, twice-married John McCain, or the twice-divorced, thrice-married Newt Gingrich — who just happen to be three out of the top four Republican “candidates” in this pre-primary season. They can be said to reflect the American Christian circumstance, similarly to the way that some divorced evaneglicals also reflect the American Christian circumstance.

If McCain’s divorce is a “molehill” to Giuliani’s “mountain” of a divorce, according to Richard Land — who speaks on behalf of believers in a Bible that, according to Baptists, calls divorce a sin — then, at least as it concerns presidential preference among the voters of the Christian right, some divorces must be okay. Perhaps the average evangelical does not care so much if his or her presidential candidate has sinned — it’s more about whether he is repentant, and whether his social policies generally seek to restrain sinning or ignore the existence of it. Judging by McCain’s sinking poll numbers and Giuliani’s recent unmistakable ascendance, however, our working theory should be that Giuliani has the respect of a large portion of the Republican electorate on the basis of other attributes — his leadership after 9/11, for example — and that this may, just may, be more important to a few evangelical voters than either the question of sin or the state of one’s domestic life. That is to say, that some evangelical Christians may be quite forgiving and practical people. But we shall see …

#2 Is there anyone left in America who doesn’t believe that Fox News is a conservative news network? I’d seriously doubt it; however, recent coverage leads me to observe that Fox News ought to be given an award by the folks at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Apart from the fact that most polls put the support of American voters in favor of the Iraq War at somewhere around 30%, does anyone really remember the mainstream media — CNN, CBS, NBC or ABC, for our purposes — covering the “peace movement” so much these days? For the most part, those TV networks don’t bother with the radical left. They live in the political center — they eschew both long-haired, post-neo-Marxists and Ann Coulter alike.

Fox News, however, has contributed, perhaps unwittingly, to an outright revival of the media presence of the left-wing fringe. In yesterday’s coverage of the 4th anniversary of the war, Fox spent much of the day trotting out loonies who denounce Bush while claiming to have seen UFOs, and showing footage of protesters staging a “die-in” in San Francisco’s financial district. I would be tempted to say that such reporting actually earns Fox its marketing slogan, “fair and balanced,” were it not for the fact that Fox News generally dismisses the existence of moderate and even conservative voices who disagree vehemently with Bush’s prosecution of the war — good church-going people from here in the Heartland who wear suits that are too nice for lying down in traffic, and who would sooner ask their congressman for a tax increase than admit to having seen a UFO.

Of course, we know what Fox is about when they bring out the loonies — they’re seeking to trivialize dissent. The result, however, is that the crazy die-in people and the UFO guy get free publicity and great big TV audiences. Strange bedfellows, don’t you think?

#3 AMEInfo reports the following today:

Rumours that Algeria, Iran, Qatar, Russia and Venezuela will establish a gas cartel along the same lines as Opec next month have been re-iterated by the Russian daily Kommersant and reported by the AFP. It is widely believed an upcoming meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Doha on April 9 will be the venue for the announcement. Russia seemingly poured cold water on the idea last month.

Don’t get distracted by the substance of this — it won’t necessarily mean higher natural gas prices for us here in the U.S. in the short-term, at least not in a pre-Liquid Natural Gas world, in which gas will jump from continent to continent.

Look, instead, at the form of such activity. While we’re sparring with Venezuela and accusing Iran of waging war against us in Iraq, Russia looks like it is lending its imprimatur as a world power to a venture that will attempt to amplify the influence and economic significance of such nations within their own regions. Not hard to see Russia’s interest in doing that, is it? As an example, Venezuela currently imports a lot of gas and has had difficulty developing its own offshore fields. Rather than benefiting as a seller of natural gas, in the short term, what it really hopes to do is to capture the undying loyalty of Colombia and Bolivia, a pair of real gas exporters, by giving them a theoretically more favorable market into which to sell their gas. Then Chavez will ask them something like, “what has the U.S. done for you lately?”, and Russia will get Venezuela’s props for helping it build its South American empire. The outcome is less direct U.S. influence, and more indirect Russian influence.

GhostA former Vice President goes ice fishing and poses with a puny perch dangling from his line. A 68-year-old Senator dons athletic shorts and runs a 60-yd. dash in a San Francisco track meet. A man who once orbited the earth turns up at a cattle show and enters a contest to guess the weight of a black Simmental bull; first prize is a dozen vials of bull semen.

Such hijinks can mean only one thing: the quadrennial silly season has started again. Twenty-one months before the presidential election and a full year before the first caucus or primary, a drove of Democratic hopefuls are formally declaring their candidacies. A few, heaven help the electorate, have been campaigning unofficially for more than a year.

— Walter Isaacson, Time, Feb. 23, 1983

We’re only a month off from the analogous date in the 2008 presidential campaign; and with the announcement of presidential exploratory committees being formed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last week, coming mere weeks after the announcement of the formation of exploratory committees by John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, my landscaper, my pharmacist and my dog, no one can seriously deny that this quadrennial silly season – which has all the portents of being the silliest of this or any prior age — is already under way.

Although it is generally against my better judgment to add my voice to the cacophony of prognosticators and political psychoanalysts who have already begun to handicap this race – hey, what the heck, this is the Internet, and he who hesitates in the Land of No Restraint at this point is surely napping under granite and clay. Thus, I offer the following few useless observations of my own – some of them, amplifications of my New Year’s Eve post — on the beginning of our present silly season:

· If you saw John McCain on Meet the Press this past Sunday, defending what has become, in the words of Democratic candidate John Edwards, the “McCain Doctrine” – a last-ditch escalation of American troop presence in Iraq – you saw a man who has had premonitions of his own defeat in 2008. Far from appearing as the wide-awake maverick that he was during the 2000 campaign, McCain looked like he was just having no fun at all. He has, in an effort to win over the Republican establishment that he has frequently bucked away from during his last 25 years of service, sealed himself within box after politically-claustrophobic box – lending full support to the sinking ship of the Bush administration, reaching out to evangelical conservatives who announce on their own airwaves that they can never, ever, EVER stomach voting for him for president — and, in the process, he is losing his national base, the independent voter, and probably all of his maverick instincts. Striving to be the establishment candidate has sucked all the verve out of McCain; and by February of next year, we will either see McCain’s voice reduced to a whispering monotone, or we will see some public evidence of that famous McCain temper. Either way, it will not be pretty.

· McCain’s main challenger, at least today, is Rudolph Giuliani, and there is no doubt that he is a formidable one. Evangelicals and the folks on the far right refuse to say they won’t vote for Giuliani – at least not yet. Giuliani, of course, hasn’t been in McCain’s unenviable and punishable position of being the Man Who Has Most Often Collaborated with the Enemy [i.e., the Secular Humanist Democrats]. Although, in the eyes of such Republican regulars, Giuliani has a checkered personal past and a history of supporting socially liberal policies, his credibility as a candidate is that his resume is assumed to be a winning argument in the war on terror; the right wing of the party, today, may be banking on the idea that Giuliani will reward its support of his candidacy by not participating in the Culture War. It’s kind of a You Scratch My Back and I Won’t Scratch Their Backs construct. And yet … Giuliani appears on the Today show this morning looking like a man who may not be sure yet how to become president. As he lends tepid support to President Bush’s State of the Union address, his eyes open unnaturally wide, like a little boy riding on the handlebars of his brother’s speeding bicycle. (On Giuliani’s eyes, see also this Gawker post.)  With the launch of the silly season, Giuliani realizes that in order to maintain his anti-terror credentials during a long campaign, he is going to have come up with a riff that sounds tough without sounding stupid to a public that has basically rejected President Bush’s brand of uncrenulated (smooth-brained) toughness. He hasn’t found the riff yet. His appearance this morning suggests to me, if I may be so bold, that he is still unsure about whether he has the stomach to tackle that issue while also trying to preserve some personal dignity within a process that seems designed to make him look like a man of undisciplined appetites, like the Paris Hilton of Presidential Politics. With the recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showing that Hillary Clinton and Rudy are currently the front-runners in this race, one hastens to recall that Giuliani once backed out of a closely-contended race against Hillary, for New York’s open Senate seat in 2000 (yes, he said it was because of cancer, but…). That’s a crucial fact – it either means that the old hairs are standing up on the back of his neck again, or, because it is now a matter of regret that he didn’t do it last time, he has to do it this time.

· If McCain’s potential candidacy is now smelling suspiciously like last month’s casserole at the back of the fridge, and Giuliani ultimately loses control of the push-me-pull-me forces that currently guide his potential candidacy, where will the Republicans go? The venerable Yepsen says the vague and flip-flopping Mr. Mitt Romney is the best organized candidate in Iowa – but we all know what organization gets you if it isn’t paired with a soul to match – no love in the gym come caucus-time. Ask Mr. Dick Gephardt. Iowa will point to one or two front-runners, and if I’m an Iowan squinting at the stage, I think I may only be able to see one actual president up there – and it looks like it could be Newt Gingrich. He’s tanned, rested and ready, he has no affiliation with the repudiated Bushies, and, dad-gummit, he’s actually sounding more and more like a statesman these days. And if you don’t believe me on this, perhaps you’ll believe this guy, David Brooks of the New York Times, who says on The Chris Matthews Show: “Newt Gingrich is going to come in a close second in one of the first three Republican primaries. Be on the cover of Time and Newsweek. He will have his moment. And he will be the alternative to whoever the real nominee is …”

· In those shots of the Senate Democrats during President Bush’s State of the Union address last night, we saw Hillary Clinton sitting near Barack Obama. What do you say, if you’re Senator Obama, to the woman whose front-running status you are poised to steal? What do you say, if you’re Senator Clinton, to the guy who’s sneezed all over your playbook?

· Barack Obama, also appearing on Today this morning to talk about the SOU, by contrast looks like a guy who is determined to dive into the heat of battle. Determined, with a capital D, and serious as all get-out. Obama’s biggest enemy today, it seems to me, is the natural process of anaerobic decay. Obama’s freshness on the political scene is, like fresh produce, particularly sensitive to exposure to oxygen and sunlight and a two-year long 24-hour news cycle; and as the silly season matures, he runs a serious of risk of growing rancid and emitting noxious gases. How often can you fall back on your best stuff? Fastball pitchers will tell you, not often enough. And for all the charisma that he’s accused of marshalling to date, one suspects that inside the toothsome, shirtless Alpha male, jogging through the Hawaiian surf and projecting all that patented hope and audacity, there is a straw-hatted, furcoat-wearing, pennant-waving Harvard wonk in him just screaming to get out and strut his stuff for the public at large. If it does, which seems inevitable, a debate between Obama and Senator Mrs. Rodham Clinton will surely be as soporific as a John Kerry one-man show. The gods of music and rhetoric are probably grateful, at this point, that John Edwards is still in this race. And here’s the point – Edwards might start looking like the only living thing on the moonscape if “being front-runners” permits Obama and Clinton to set the pace of the campaign. In other words, the Democrats might not care too much about the unspoken peril of anointing a woman or a black man as their standard-bearer, but if they have learned anything from 2004 (or 1988, or 1972, or 1956) it is that they sure as hell might want to find someone who has a pulse. As a credible off-pace, insurgent candidate, Edwards is already scoring points in Iowa. Edwards passes the “I’d have a beer at the backyard barbecue with that guy” test of presidential politics; I’m not sure that either Clinton or Obama do.

· The most interesting entry of the week was that of Governor Bill Richardson, a man whose resume reads like a fictional super-dude from a Tom Clancy or Ian Fleming potboiler. Through no fault of his own, however, he’s also a Westerner – and while we can sit back and admire Cowboys for their jaundiced independence on the silver screen, we don’t really get them. That’s part of their appeal as icons, but we rarely think of electing icons. We the People, after almost 250 years of this institutional engine of ours chugging along, still do not feel altogether comfortable sitting in the same drawing room with the Westerner. A West-Coaster, maybe, but a Westerner? Maybe it’s the furry pants or the spurs. In Richardson’s case, he is also, paradoxically, potentially the latest sufferer of the usually fatal Bruce Babbitt Syndrome – he’s a quirky, jowly Western governor whose relationship with his home constituents is built, at least in part, on his reputation for enjoying a good yuk around the campfire, but whose attempts to translate that into a national stage presence may be fundamentally challenged by a lack of national political gravitas. Sure, he’s served in Washington, but most prominently as a backroom guy, under the protective cover of President Clinton’s administration, not as a free agent roaming the Sunday shows. He is, most significantly, a made-to-order veep pick – and although I believe him when he says he’s got a great job as governor of New Mexico and wouldn’t want to be vice-president … I guess I believed John Edwards when he said much the same in 2004, too, before he spent 4 months running around the country asking people to ELECT HIM as vice-president. My second choice for most-likely-to-be-offered-the-spot, handicapping that notoriously unstable process from the comfort of my naïve easy chair on a Wednesday in January of ‘07: Jim Webb of Virginia.

Keep the faith, friendly readers. Keep the faith.

Since it is more likely than not that the 2008 presidential primary races will be wrapped up by the end of 2007, here’s a few predictions for the success of the front runners in 2007:

  • John McCain, anointed today as the Republican front runner, will lose his edge as his “more troops in Iraq” drumbeat gets picked up by the White House and results in little good news.
  • With McCain fading, the front runners are likely to be Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani is immensely popular, and the race is probably his to lose. Watch the others galvanize around trying to beat him by attacking him on his immigration record — an “open doors” policy that seems to be at odds with his track record on security. Romney also has feet of clay, with news of his old flip-flops showing the conservatives within the party that he’s not necessarily the concervative loyalist that he portrays himself to be.
  • If McCain fades, and Giuliani stumbles, look for Gingrich to get more attention from party regulars.
  • On the Democratic side of the aisle, everyone says Hillary Clinton has the organziation and the cash to steamroll her way to victory. It makes her formidable, no doubt — but there have been “unbeatable” candidates in the past with money (Gramm in 1996) and organization (Gephardt in 2004) have watched others make acceptance speeches at the convention. Her reluctance to completely distance herself from the Iraq War will probably be her Achilles’ heel.
  • Both Obama and Edwards are formidable candidates in their own way. Edwards could be the sleeper pick if Obama decides not to run; if Obama does to decide to run, it is hard to see how any Democrat other than Hillary Clinton could beat him. If Obama runs, watch him fight Hillary to the death in a campaign reminiscent of the Ford vs. Reagan campaign in 1976. Too close to call from our armchair here in 2006.
  • Bill Richardson’s got a lock on the veep spot if he wants it.

Happy New Year!

Earlier this week, Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas, announced the formation of an exploratory committee to consider his candidacy for president in 2008. Never heard of him? Here’s a little background on him:

Who would Jesus vote for? Meet Sam Brownback. Nobody in this little church just off Times Square in Manhattan thinks of themselves as political. They’re spiritual — actors and athletes and pretty young things who believe that every word of the Bible is inerrant dictation from God. They look down from the balcony of the Morning Star, swaying and smiling at the screen that tells them how to sing along. Nail-pierced hands, a wounded side. This is love, this is love! But on this evening in January, politics and all its worldly machinations have entered their church. Sitting in the darkness of the front row is Sam Brownback, the Republican senator from Kansas. And hunched over on the stage in a red leather chair is an old man named Harald Bredesen, who has come to anoint Brownback as the Christian right’s next candidate for president.

. . . “I am a seeker,” he says. Brownback believes that every spiritual path has its own unique scent, and he wants to inhale them all. When he ran for the House he was a Methodist. By the time he ran for the Senate he was an evangelical. Now he has become a Catholic. He was baptized not in a church but in a chapel tucked between lobbyists’ offices on K Street that is run by Opus Dei, the secretive lay order founded by a Catholic priest who advocated “holy coercion” and considered Spanish dictator Francisco Franco an ideal of worldly power. Brownback also studies Torah with an orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn. “Deep,” says the rabbi, Nosson Scherman. Lately, Brownback has been reading the Koran, but he doesn’t like what he’s finding. “There’s some difficult material in it with regard to the Christian and the Jew,” he tells a Christian radio program, voice husky with regret.

. . . The nation’s leading evangelicals have already lined up behind Brownback, a feat in itself. A decade ago, evangelical support for a Catholic would have been unthinkable. Many evangelicals viewed the Pope as the Antichrist and the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon. But Brownback is the beneficiary of a strategy known as co-belligerency — a united front between conservative Catholics and evangelicals in the culture war. Pat Robertson has tapped the “outstanding senator from Kansas” as his man for president. David Barton, the Christian right’s all-but-official presidential historian, calls Brownback “uncompromising” — the highest praise in a movement that considers intransigence next to godliness. And James Dobson, the movement’s strongest chieftain, can find no fault in Brownback. “He has fulfilled every expectation,” Dobson says. Even Jesse Helms, now in retirement in North Carolina, recognizes a kindred spirit. “The most effective senators are those who are truest to themselves,” Helms says. “Senator Brownback is becoming known as that sort of individual.”

Full article here.

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