Civil Forum

By Al Giordano


The intro to yesterday's "Civil Forum" featuring both major presidential candidates by the Reverend Rick Warren called on the "need to restore civility" and "stop demonizing" each other in America. That's one example of how the forum was supposedly on McCain's turf (an evangelical Christian church) but stylistically was on Obama's (a post-partisan end to boomer generation polarization). This forum simply would not have been possible four years ago... nor twenty years ago. And I doubt very much that any other prospective Democratic nominee would have attended it, nor have walked away unscathed as Obama did yesterday.

(You can see the whole thing in YouTube segments, here.)

Warren is not your grandfather's Rev. Billy Graham. He's certainly no Rev. Jerry Falwell or religious-rightist. Stylistically, he stands somewhere between Tony Robbins' self-help inspirational schtick and Oprah Winfrey's talk show pulpit. Guys like him pioneered - in the realm of religion - many of the same techniques that grew the Obama campaign to count with 2 million donor activists. More than 400,000 ministers - including from other religions - have sought and received training from Warren on how to rally the faithful. In politics, that would be called training for community organizers.

So when Warren said that both Obama and McCain were "my friends," and "patriots," and gushed with feel-good admiration throughout the program for both of them, he was - like Obama - "turning the page" from the polarized politics of recent decades. That was very reinforcing to Obama's message. Far more lasting than any impressions left by the candidates' statements (as the more-watched Olympic results ticked across the bottom of the screen) was the imprint that melted away a summer of negative ads by both sides, and an inoculation against the negative campaigning to come among a particular demographic - Evangelical Christians - that in the past has been among the most vulnerable to such techno-marketing.

In 2004, among the 23 percent of voters that identified themselves as Evangelical Christians to exit pollsters nationwide, Republican George Bush received 78 percent of those votes to 21 percent for Democrat John Kerry: giving Bush a 13 percentage point advantage among all voters nationwide. McCain's not going to do better among Evangelicals than Bush: the question is whether Obama can cut into this most important part of what has been the GOP's base.

According to a Pew survey this month, McCain leads Obama among Evangelicals with 68 percent to 24 for Obama. That may seem marginally different than the 78-21 split between Bush and Kerry, but nationwide it's an advance of three percentage points for the Democrat if Obama can simply grab a similar one-quarter of the eight percent of undecideds in that subsample. Right there is the math for what could have been a Kerry victory over Bush in the national popular vote four years ago, and and what, if it occurs, will be an Obama victory in November.

So for Obama to have appeared at that forum, and been humanized by Warren in contrast to the attempts to demonize and attack his character to Evangelicals that have characterized the rival campaign, leaves the lasting impression among those that watched the forum on cable television.

Obama's open discussion of "faith" throughout the primaries, his use of "faith forums" in the Iowa caucuses and gospel concerts in the South Carolina primary, his tolerance (yes, that's the proper word for it) of religious views different than his own, and the intensive efforts (a la the Matthew 25 Christian group for Obama) to peel away Evangelical voters from the GOP base (particularly the younger ones) was grist for attacks on Obama from the identity-politics left during the primaries (remember the screeching, during the early primaries, over gospel singer Donnie McClurkin's views on homosexuality? Interestingly, so many of the same bloggers and commentators that slammed Obama then over his refusal to demonize McClurkin then are those that have today picked new complaints over what they see as Obama's unwillingness to demonize McCain in the ways they would prefer to see a presidential campaign run: it's as if some people don't know or can't even conceive of any other kind of presidential campaign than the ugly contests that produced Bush-Clinton-Bush).

Sure, the "Civil Forum" audience was mostly a McCain crowd, but in those 3,500 seats and among the million or more viewers via cable TV was part of that twenty-five percent or so of Evangelicals that, if Obama wins their votes in November, he will win the presidency.

July Fundraising: McCain $27 Million, Obama $51 Million

By Al Giordano



US military soldiers - overseas and at home - are among those that donate in much larger numbers to Obama over McCain (video hat tip, Jed).

They're not alone.

This just in from the Obama campaign, which says it had $65.8 million cash on hand as of the end of July:

CHICAGO - Senator Barack Obama's campaign announced today that more than 65,000 new donors contributed to the Obama campaign during the month of July, bringing the total raised for the month to over $51 million.  More than 2 million people have now contributed to the campaign.


The McCain campaign says it raised $27 million and had $21.4 million cash on hand as of July 31.

But McCain, once he receives his party's nomination, will be shifting to public financing for his campaign, with state by state spending limits, so he'll be dumping a fortune on the airwaves before this month is done - including during the Democratic National Convention August 25-28 - which, by law, he has to spend before he's the nominee. The real action on the GOP side this autumn will be through the Republican National Committee and "independent" groups which will have no shortage of dough to attack Obama in every way imaginable:

The Republican National Committee reported it had raised an additional $25.8 million, giving it a total of $71.5 million.
...fundraising by the RNC and other groups means McCain and his GOP supporters can draw on more than $100 million to battle Obama.



And that means that Obama's not out of the woods yet, and so the nationally televised Democratic National Convention will have to be a kind of fundraising telethon, too. Watch for the website URL and 1-800 number announcements, as well as a new line of campaign merchandise to share the stage in Denver.

Update: Ben Smith reports that for the first time this year, the Democratic National Committee has outraised the RNC: $28 million vs. $25.8 million for the month of July. (There's still a deficit in cash on hand, but it's a start.)

Also of Interest: Camp Obama is back in session. Here's a live blog from Austin, Texas.

And Saturday Reading: James Wolcott lights a candle for Lieberman as McCain's VP pick, and explains why Biden is an unlikely choice for Obama. (I do have to hand it to Obama, though, who must have Biden convinced he's on the docket: Normally, during an international dust-up like the one in Georgia, Biden would be all over the cable news networks. That he's not is an indication that at least he thinks he's got a shot at the number-two position, and so is laying low. Regardless of whom Obama chooses, he's accomplished something that nobody, but nobody, has ever accomplished in US politics: coming between Joe Biden and the TV news cameras.)

Oops! I spoke too soon. Joe Biden is now headed toward the TeeVee cameras in Georgia. (Actually, if you think about it, that's a good sign, since it means that he no longer considers himself in the running for you-know-what.)

The Mack the Knife Technique

By Al Giordano



In the context of what I've referred to as "the Mack the Knife technique" of politics - that in which you slip the dagger in quietly and cleanly so there's "not a trace of red" on your white gloves - NBC's First Read seems to have smelt the blood in the water:

Obama's stealth ad campaign: Over the past week, we've gotten our hands on a number of negative TV ads Obama's been running against McCain in key states like Ohio and Michigan. This is in addition to the tough spot, uncovered by Politico, that Obama's airing in Indiana. Clearly, the Obama campaign isn't interested in telling the media about every single McCain attack ad they're running. Perhaps this is because Obama's brand can't afford to be tarnished too much if he's seen as constantly running negative TV ads. So the campaign simply puts them on the air in key markets, doesn't tell the press about them, and layers those ads with positive ones being run nationally during the Olympics. Also, by not releasing to the media, it forces the McCain camp to wait a day or two before they see the ad. McCain's camp is much more comfortable unveiling their negative ads, perhaps because they want the free press that comes with them. But make no mistake, Obama's running plenty of negative TV ads, particularly in the industrial Midwestern states. In fact, one of Obama's biggest candidate strengths -- which doesn't get the attention it deserves -- is that he plays political hardball as well as his opponents; he just sometimes does it under the radar.

That's the Indiana stealth ad, above.

What's also going on is, I think, the use of specific ads and messages in specific states to then test - through polls and focus groups - whether and what kind of effect they have, for possible use in other states or nationwide.

We're seeing other national media begin to recognize, as Mark Halperin headlined an entry the other day: "This Man Won't Be Swift Boated."

There's a big difference (especially among Democrats) between putting out a press release that claims that you're playing tough, and actually being tough. That the Obama campaign doesn't see it necessary to call a press conference each time it smacks down its rival or airs a new comparative TV ad on the local, swing state, level is a sign of the kind of quiet confidence and execution of game plan that won it the nomination.

Just as the primary victory was the result of a plan laid out before a single state voted, the general election strategy seems - to this observer - to be the execution of a playbook that was drawn weeks or months ago and remains largely unchanged and immune to the armchair counsel and protestations out there.

And while some complain or worry that national level Democratic Party leaders and politicians aren't visibly on the attack sufficiently against McCain & Co., you have to, at least, concede this: neither are they prattling off-message much either. On the Republican side you've got Huckabee attacking a possible Romney pick as VP, while top religious right leaders gripe aloud about the potential McCain running mates Ridge and Lieberman (because they have moderate pro-choice positions on abortion), but the Democratic pols, unions and national organization leaders - who also have their favorites and their nemeses on the rumored "short lists" - are mainly keeping their counsel direct and under the radar of the press, for the most part. That's unprecedented for the traditionally splintered and rancorous Democrats, and a sign that Chicago has done what's necessary to promote discipline among competing leaders. It's better to keep some folks quiet altogether when they have a penchant for yakking in ways that distract.

Now, I have no problem with the Stop-Bayh Facebook page (I in fact agree with its sentiment but I haven't joined it mainly because I don't think such efforts are effective; I still don't think he'll be the running mate, but if it turns out he is, I wouldn't want to have to walk back from there). I also have no issue with Senator Clinton's name being put into nomination. I think that was also planned long ago, and that "Greek Drama Week" and its feigned Clintonian soap opera has been successful beyond my predictions (thanks, sort of, John Edwards!) at sucking the oxygen out of McCain's hospital bubble while Obama - who heads back to the mainland today - was able to recharge his batteries in Hawaii without incident. What a lost opportunity vacation week was for McCain!

Obama will come back sprinting and I'm sure the next few days will bring plenty of new developments for us - and an increasingly attentive nation - to analyze and talk about... now that Mackie's back in town!  

Convention Preview

By Al Giordano



2008 will go down in the annals as the year of the viral video.

This anonymously produced masterpiece captures the zeitgeist of the upcoming Democratic National Convention and general election campaign as well as or better than any "serious" reporting.


(Hat tip, Jed.)

VP Process of Elimination (Part II)

By Al Giordano



Many good colleagues have cited Marc Ambinder's statement yesterday as an admonishment not to read too much into the announced Democratic convention speakers list vis a vis the vice presidential pick:

The convention schedulers and Obama's VP team are entirely separate and segregated.


Oh, really? Who knew that the "convention schedulers" had such expansive, independent and autonomous powers and didn't have to clear their decisions through Axelrod & Plouffe (to whom the VP vetting team reports), and also to Obama himself?

Bzzzzt! That simply does not reflect how that campaign (or any presidential campaign in memory) runs its convention. The "convention schedulers" can propose, but it's the top staff that will dispose of their drafts and sign off on every speaker. That's reality. In that light, Ambinder's point makes little sense.

I'm not saying that it wouldn't be very easy for Obama to tap any one of the scheduled speakers as vice president (and simply move his or her convention speaking slot), nor am I saying that this "process of elimination" method will predict the VP pick. But as one who has read the tea leaves from Camp O very closely for a year now, nor do I think it would be out of character for intentional signals to be sent in this way.

If we use the "process of elimination" theory (and, caveat emptor, it's only a theory that takes place in a vacuum of hard information, of which I have almost none) the following VP prospects already have speaking slots at the convention, or have removed their names from consideration, or have said they won't be in Denver at all:

Sebelius (speaking Tuesday)
Clinton (speaking Tuesday)
Warner (keynote speaker Tuesday)

Strickland (speaking Tuesday, took himself out)

Rendell (speaking Tuesday

Napolitano (speaking Tuesday)

McCaskill (speaking Tuesday)

Schweitzer (speaking Tuesday)

Bayh (speaking Wednesday)

Biden (speaking Wednesday)

Richardson (speaking Wednesday)

Clark (says he'll be outside the country)

Powell (says he won't be in Denver)

Webb (took himself out)



And I don't consider these names dropped to be real possibilities, so I'll just draw a line through them to save us all the fuss and muss:

John Edwards
Chet Edwards






The Field can now confirm that this party leader that is very close to Obama and as "inner circle" as anyone on the short list does not expect to be picked for VP:



That leaves (among those that have been mentioned that do not yet have convention speaking slots announced):










The two names that stick out (because they surely will have speaking roles at the convention) are Kaine and Dodd. And that's verrrrrry interesting. Longtime readers and Field Hands know that I was focusing on Dodd in the early summer and more on Kaine in the late summer.

I think that either one would be a very strong pick, and that Kaine - not being inside Washington - would be the electorally stronger, and that Dodd would be the stronger for governing purposes (and no slouch on the campaign trail, either).

There's no question that much of the Netroots would be excited (at least for a day or two, until the next Armchairmen obsession erupts) about an Obama-Dodd ticket. And what civil libertarian and lover of the US Constitution wouldn't be?

On the other hand, since Dodd voted to authorize the Iraq war (along with Biden, Bayh, Clinton and Kerry), such a pick would take one of Obama's strongest biographical talking points against McCain off the table.

Even if Dodd and/or Kaine are not tapped for VP, there are still a couple of key slots left untaken at the convention: Who will put Obama's name into nomination? (That falls naturally on both of them but more so on Kaine, who supported Obama from the start.) And who will put the vice president's name into nomination? (I can imagine either doing that for the other, can't you? Then again, I could also imagine Al Gore serving in that role, duh.)

Also, having slept on Nate's "sloppy seconds" theory that having Virginian Mark Warner keynoting on Tuesday night could make Kaine anticlimactic for Wednesday, here's a counterintuitive thought: If Kaine were to be the VP nominee, who would be better to introduce him, to talk about Kaine's story, to familiarize the viewers with the new guy, than the governor under which Kaine served as lieutenant governor? Just sayin'.

I'd like to bring your attention to Booman's rating system for the potential vice presidents that would enthuse him, be acceptable to him, or upset him, because with one or two exceptions he sees it pretty much as I do:

Exciting: Sebelius, Reed, Brown, Dodd, Schweitzer.
Acceptable: Kaine, Daschle, Richardson, Henry (the governor of Oklahoma, now there's a dark horse), Clark.
Upsetting: Clinton, Bayh.


And since some will ask, here are my own strictly personal opinions utilizing the Booman ratings system:

Exciting: Sebelius, Kaine, Dodd, Schweitzer, Dean, Richardson.
Acceptable: Graham, Biden, Gore, Kerry, Napolitano, McCaskill, Chaffee.

(That's not to say that I don't find Biden problematic on criminal justice issues or McCaskill problematic on immigration reform, or don't think that a few of them are too associated with Washington DC; just that I would find each of them understandable as choices.)

Bite my tongue: Clark, Reed, Daschle, Brown, Powell.

Upsetting: Clinton, Bayh, Nunn.



Finally, I'd like to address Kos' post yesterday in which he expressed his own lack of enthusiasm for Kaine, but without offering particular reasons, and somewhat unfairly put him in the cell-phone throwing category of Bayh.

According to my tea leaves, Kos is right about this observation:

I'm starting to suspect that the Evan Bayh boomlet is designed to make Tim Kaine look better by comparison...


But I beg to differ on his counterpoint:

...because really, Evan Bayh is about the only Democrat who makes Tim Kaine look palatable by comparison as Obama's veep.
I'm trying to derive some hope from the fact the Obama campaign plans on releasing the name of the veep via text message. Because if people get that message and it says "Bayh" or "Kaine", too many of those phones will be thrown out the window of moving cars, or against the wall, or into a lake.


Well, this cell phone would be jitterbugging in the end zone if Kaine were the choice, and not only because it rings in the Spanish language that is also spoken by the Virginia governor.

Kaine profoundly "gets" the "change Washington" thrust of Obama's message and platform. Check out this interview from late last month with Charlie Rose:



And to further familiarize yourself with Tim Kaine, here he is, in action, four days after Tsunami Tuesday, one year after he endorsed Obama, urging the voters of his own state to back him in that vitally important Virginia primary (a state that Kaine - not Webb, not Warner - but Kaine delivered for Obama):



Now, if that's a reason for anybody to toss his i-phone, I must say that I don't get it, nor have I heard anybody state a compelling case against Kaine as VP.

The thing is, somebody will be upset by any of these choices (maybe even me). Obama can't worry himself too much about what I or anybody else thinks. He's got to pick someone he can live with and trust for four or eight years. And almost any of them will be preferable by any progressive yardstick than Pawlenty, Romney or, lord gag us all, Lieberman.

Senior Offensive

By Al Giordano


The conventional wisdom has it that Obama draws the younger voters and McCain will carry the day with the elder ones, but McCain's words on July 7 - calling the Social Security program "a disgrace" - are being used today, on the seventy-third anniversary of the program, by Democrats and senior citizen advocates in a concerted grassroots messaging campaign to portray the Republican nominee as a threat that wants to "privatize" Social Security.

That card, above, is just one of the pieces being moved out onto the chessboard today.

The AFL CIO is simultaneously rolling out this mailer:

"McCain's worth over $100 million... He owns 10 houses...he flies around on a $12.6 million corporate jet...he walks around in $520 Italian loafers."

"If John McCain lost his social security, he'd get by just fine. Would you?"



TPM reports:

The mailer will go out tomorrow to 50,000 retirees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, and more mailings will soon be dropped in those states, where the union is also planning a series of Social Security events.


Elderly protestors will shadow McCain today and tomorrow in Aspen, Colorado as he tries to wine and dine high-ticket campaign donors there, according to the Aspen Daily News.

The DNC posted this web ad yesterday featuring party rules chief and FDR grandson Jim Roosevelt suggesting that McCain is a danger to social security recipients:


Letters to the editor at local newspapers also seem to be part of the roll out:

At a July 7 "Town Hall" meeting in Denver, Sen. John McCain said, "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. It's a disgrace, and it's got to be fixed." Yet the same McCain received $23,157 in Social Security payments last year, according to his own income tax returns. If the program is so bad, why didn't he return his checks?


The same talking points are being repeated by surrogates from the chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party to four-time Idaho governor Cecil Andrus:

Let me put it bluntly: I am very concerned that John McCain would dismantle and destroy what is perhaps the single most important federal program for all Americans: Social Security. Like Bush, he supports privatization of Social Security.


A DNC press release (which isn't yet found on its website, suggesting that the organizing on this targeted campaign isn't yet quite as seamless as most Obama efforts to date) lists events in Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, Vermont, Ohio, New Mexico, Louisiana, Nebraska, Mississippi, Arizona and Utah, including the launch, by former vice president Walter Mondale, of a "Seniors Talking to Seniors" campaign to spread the talking points.

It's nascent, and still has a ways to go before gaining traction, but it's a smart move and should be deepened. This strategy puts McCain on his heels to defend himself (and expend resources) among his own aged constituency, gives working-class elderly Democrats - who largely supported Clinton in the primaries and whose comfort factor with Obama still wavers - a concrete and self-interested reason to come back into the fold (and offers senior activists a campaign to organize around and materials with which to do that), and it plants the seeds in the national media to force the question of privatization of Social Security onto the Q & A docket for the presidential debates to begin in September.

And to the extent this gambit forces McCain to make reassuring statements that he won't privatize Social Security, it will cause him trouble with the wealthier parts of his base that - like their ancestors from which so many of them inherited their privilege - have long considered Social Security to be a form of socialism inflicted on them by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The meme is still forming but here's betting that the words "privatization of Social Security" hit the national presidential debate and that the third rail will be touched. And that can only benefit Obama's chances in November.

User login


RSS Feed