By Al Giordano
This is one of those unscripted moments that changes the dynamic of a campaign. McCain doesn't know how many homes he owns!
It will be the subject of late night television comedy monologues and plenty of speechifying at the Democratic National Convention next week.
And here's a viral video that came out a few days ago, now with more than 200,000 views on YouTube, with more of the skinny on McCain's mansions:
The McCain camp's response in fact reveals a new weakness:
Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses? Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people "cling" to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who's in touch with regular Americans?
Actually, um, yes, he does, and, yes, he can!
And whatever plans the GOP had to raise the "convicted felon" card (Rezko) against Obama just went out the windows of seven condominiums and ranches like hot air from a punched tire. Whooosh! Now the response need only be, "hey, I only have one house!"
(And here's a goombah public service announcement from yours truly: Italian-American working class families have been eating and growing arugula in the garden next to the tomatoes for generations; there's nothing novel or boutique or elite about that food among that part of the Roman Catholic swing vote. Put that microtrend in your pipe and smoke it, old man!)
Three-hundred-sixty-five degrees - Burning down the house!
Update from the St. Petersburg Times (with graphic aid):
John McCain, sounding not exactly like a man of the people, said yesterday he didn't know how many homes he has. The Barack Obama is jumping on it:
"The campaign will spend the day surveying Floridians by phone to ask this question: "Yesterday, John McCain couldn't remember how many homes he owns because he has so many. The Obama campaign is trying to find Floridians who, like McCain, have lost track of the number of homes they own. Do you know how many homes you own?" The campaign will announce the results of the search late this afternoon.
Paging Dr. House!
Update II: Here's Tim Kaine, demonstrating flawless application of the Mack the Knife technique:
Smiling as he twists the dagger, and nary a trace of red. That's how to do it.
Update III: Obama's already on the "if you have just one house, like me" wavelength:
By Al Giordano
Here we are at the Thursday before the Democratic National Convention, and Obama headquarters has successfully kept its VP nominee under wraps, leaving the rest of us to speculate idly as we pass the time.
Nate notes that the geography of the Barack Obama's voyage from Springfield, Illinois (Lincolnian birthplace of his presidential campaign, where he'll appear on Saturday) to Denver, Colorado offers a "very good bio-building" opportunity for his vice presidential nominee, if that choice is Kansas governor (and Ohio native) Kathleen Sebelius (and if that choice is even known by Saturday). He speculates:
Start out in Springfield, and proceed to Sebelius' childhood home in Cincinnati by route of Indianapolis and Dayton. Big media appearances on Sunday AM in Cinncinati, and proceed to St. Louis by that evening, with a quick stop in Evansville or Bloomington, Indiana in between. Travel to Kansas City overnight, begin your Monday with an AM event there, and then cross the state line into Kansas and proceed to the state capital in Topeka...
Of course, minus Ohio the geography also favors Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, another oft-mentioned VP possibility.
And then there's this report out of Montana, where Governor Brian Schweitzer is the sheriff:
In what will be his fifth visit to Montana as a presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama will make a campaign stop Tuesday in Billings.
So, again, we're back to nobody knows nothin'.
The suggestion of a bus tour from Springfield to Denver, though, is compelling, through 57 swing-state Electoral Votes: 11 in Indiana, 20 in Ohio, 11 in Missouri, 6 in Kansas and 9 in Colorado. (And as Nate points out, a toe-touch in El Dorado, Kansas, from where Obama's late mother hailed, would make for good national theater, too.)
Iowa's 7 Electoral Votes, and Omaha, Nebraska's one, are not far off that path, either.
And then there were Obama's own words to Time magazine reporters Karen Tumulty and David Von Drehle yesterday when asked what he wants people to conclude from his VP choice:
Hopefully, the same thing that my campaign has told the American people about me. That I think through big decisions. I get a lot of input from a lot of people, and that ultimately, I try to surround myself with people who are about getting the job done, and who are not about ego, self-aggrandizement, getting their names in the press, but our focus on what's best for the American people.
I think people will see that I'm not afraid to have folks around me who complement my strengths and who are independent. I'm not a believer in a government of yes-men. I think one of the failures of the early Bush Administration was being surrounded by people who were unwilling to deliver bad news, or who were prone to simply feed the president information that confirmed his own preconceptions.
Tumulty concludes that the "pick is either Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana (low profile, both executive and foreign policy experience, but a supporter of the Iraq War), or a surprise whose name has not been circulating on the pundits' short lists."
Funny, but I don't get the same reading at all (the quote is like a Rorschach test upon which we can project our preexisting biases). I just don't think anybody sees or will buy Evan Bayh as "independent" or ready to "deliver the bad news" to his prospective boss. His strength is, rather, his docility and easy domestication to never upstage the boss.
That independent, straight-talking, shoe more readily fits... Brian Schweitzer.
A friend asked me recently, "have you ever been able to predict a vice presidential nominee?" The answer is no. Decisions like that simply are not based on normal data and the criteria changes from person to person, from year to year.
And if the pick doesn't come today, before the weekend's low-attention news cycle, it might not come until the convention next week, which will send the Great Mentioners into a frenzy of speculation that it will be an already established big name such as Clinton... or Gore... leaving Howard Dean as the final Hail Mary pass among the few names that need little introduction, and the only one of those that would be received as a DC outsider, which his rebel chairmanship of the DNC has miraculously not tarnished.
The likelihood that it will be a "three point shot" (i.e., someone considered to be from outside of Washington, such as a Schweitzer, a Sebelius or a Kaine) diminishes if the sun goes down today without a cell phone text message sent to two million close personal friends. Choosing a running mate not from the US Congress would allow Obama to run against Washington during a "change year" election (that was key in his defeat of the Clinton machine). There are understandable arguments for some DC insiders, too (mainly in the realm of "experience" and, in some cases, such as that of Chris Dodd, ideological), but the price - to cede so much of the outside turf - would be high, indeed.
I'm lighting a candle for the three point shot.
Update: Andrew Sullivan writes that an Obama-Bayh ticket would be one "in which a young duo - visually different - somehow amplify the themes of newness and generational change. Against McCain, the theme of generational change is essential to the Obama message."
That got me wondering about the age of the mentioned VP prospects, and it turns out that there are two younger than Bayh (Kaine, who is considered to have been vetted, and Michael Moore's proposal: that chief vetter Caroline Kennedy pull a Cheney and pick herself). Here are the relevant birthdates.
Older than Bayh:
Biden: November 20, 1942
Kerry: December 11, 1943
Dodd: May 27, 1944
Clark: December 23, 1944
Clinton: October 26, 1947
Richardson: November 15, 1947
Gore: March 31, 1948
Sebelius: May 15, 1948
Dean: November 17, 1948
Warner: December 15, 1954
Schweitzer: September 4, 1955
Bayh: December 26, 1955
Younger than Bayh:
Caroline Kennedy: November 27, 1957
Kaine: February 26, 1958
Still, Obama is younger than all of them:
Obama: August 4, 1961
In terms of generations, only Kaine and Kennedy really qualify - and only marginally so - as post-boomer (or what we who were there understand was the punk rock generation).
Update II: Nate was right on the concept if off on the exact itinerary. Here it is:
SUNDAY, AUGUST 24, 2008
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
MONDAY, AUGUST 25, 2008
Quad Cities area, Iowa
TUESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2008
Kansas City, Missouri
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
(No swings through Sebelius-land but the Montana stop - on the day the VP nominee gets that moment in the spotlight - sure is interesting!)
(Also, these stops are all in states and cities where Obama beat Clinton: not where one would take her on tour if the number two. Just sayin'.)
By Al Giordano
If my memory serves me, this is the first moment of the general election campaign in which the aggregate state-by-state "poll of polls" on RealClearPolitics shows McCain with an Electoral College lead:
But if you're Barack Obama, this map - coming up six Electoral College points short of the 270 needed for victory - is not a bad starting point at all from which to develop the game plan for the next eleven weeks. The Obama organization's ability to steal "red" states on that map is much, much greater than McCain's ability to take "blue" ones.
So let's play along and assume - even though it is premature to do so until both conventions have occurred - that this map is the starting point.
As everybody knows, turning Ohio or Florida would change the outcome. But the "fifty state strategy" has turned the corner on the 2000 and 2004 obsession over those two states. There are multiple other paths to change the game this time.
For example, if nothing on this map changes except for Virginia (paging Governor Kaine), Obama wins.
The same goes for Colorado, where a million or more phone calls will be made from a stadium next week. (Or let's pretend McCain wins Colorado but loses in mountain states Nevada and Montana: the Republican would still lose the election.)
The same goes for Kansas (paging Governor Sebelius).
Or what if African-American voter registration and turnout goes through the roof and suddenly Georgia (hello, Mr. Barr!), or North Carolina, and/or Mississippi break the mold?
I've said it before: Pollsters are going to have an unusually difficult time this fall factoring in new registrants and turnout among youths, African-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans.
What happens when, as university students go back to school in swing states, more than half of the student body gets registered in that state in a single weekend? In that case, it's not just a matter of new registrants, but of youngsters changing the state in which they vote. Don't think the Obama campaign has that up its sleeve? Check in with a college student in any battleground state in the coming weeks and report back to us.
See, 96 of McCain's 274 Electoral Votes on that map come from seven states where his lead is four percentage points or less in the aggregate "poll of polls": Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada and Indiana. That's a vast territory to defend.
Among Obama's 264 Electoral Votes on that map, only 36 come from just four states where he is leading by less than five points: Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Minnesota.
And that's why field organization - registering new voters and turning them out on Election Day - is more important than the kinds of "messaging" matters that The Armchairmen fret about so loudly.
And here's my final thought: Remember the Democratic primary contests? When Obama was still the underdog, his troops were working harder and more "fired up and ready to go." It was after his 11-state winning streak in February that Senator Clinton got to play the underdog and made quite the ride of it, even though the math was insurmountable for her ever since she had lost Wisconsin and Hawaii on February 19. A lot of us knew that Obama had the nomination in the bag way back then, and, frankly, the grassroots just wasn't working as hard and began to rest on its laurels.
Obama plays the underdog role much better than he plays the frontrunner. Those that have constructed their echo chamber as a "panic room" are mainly trying to hold up their own illusions that Obama ever was safely ahead. They fear what would happen if suddenly the conventional wisdom shifted to a belief that McCain is going to win.
My own sense is counterintuitive: Let's have a month or two when people think McCain's got the upper hand, just like they thought that Clinton had the upper hand in January and early February. That's what it took for Obama's volunteers to work harder and donate more: February was his single greatest fundraising month, and the day after losing New Hampshire marked his single greatest fundraising date. Likewise, Clinton had better fundraising in the later months when she was perceived to be the underdog, too.
I'm not sure we'll get that, by the way. My greater sense is that the polls will remain neck-and-neck straight through to a nail-biting finish (but I'll be watching to see which pollsters adjust their demographic estimates based on new voter registrations among key groups: the rest will simply be offering chaffe).
In sum: There's no need to hold up the sky. Let it fall! It's the ground where the real action is going to take place. In fact, it already is. But if you're too busy writing "panic diaries," you're not out there to see it for yourself.
Al writes: I've mentioned that there will be too much going on in Denver next week during the convention for me to report all by myself, so we'll be involving the Field Hands Denver Posse and we're also bringing in a ringer.
Please join me in welcoming Katie Halper, co-founder of Laughing Liberally, who will be terrorizing the media and the party insiders next week in Denver with the Field Hands, much in the same way that she did at Netroots Nation in Austin last month. She'll be assisting with the blogging here on The Field next week (and if we find a video shooter or two in time, we may even supply video reports).
The Week's News in Review
By Katie Halper
Bush flip flops on Putin's soul. It seems like only yesterday that Bush said of President Vladimir Putin: "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue... I was able to get a sense of his soul." Now, Bush accuses the Russian president of "bullying and intimidation." It remains unclear whether Putin has changed or Bush has bad soul-dar.
Condoleezza Rice leaks conscience to the press. [or "in rare moment, Condoleeza Rice let's conscience slip."] The Secretary of State said "military power" is "not the way to deal in the 21st century."
In a similar episode, the AP lets the truth slip, referring to Joe Lieberman as "the Democratic vice presidential prick* in 2000..."
William Kristol lies only 1/4 of the time. Since joining The New York Times Op Ed team in January, William Kristol has already forced the paper to issue four corrections. Although Kristol founded the Weekly Standard, he prefers writing for The New York Times, where he can push the neo-con agenda, bring down Obama, and destroy the credibility of a newspaper he hates, all at the same time.
McCain's cone of silence could be confirmed by Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. The McCain campaign insists that the presumptive Republican nominee was in a cone of silence during Rick Warren's interview of Obama. Some, however, suggest that, since McCain was traveling in his motorcade, "he may not have been in the cone of silence" and might have had "some ability to overhear" the questions. This leaves the McCain campaign in the unenviable position of holding the world's first nationally televised presidential audiological test in order to prove that the cone of silence was unnecessary because the senator is hard of hearing.
Bored with just stealing American jobs, immigrants turn to taking away our medals.
By Al Giordano
I've just penned this review of an important book that comes out tomorrow: Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era, by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (2008, Celebra). Here's an excerpt:
Taking on the System should not only be required reading for candidates for office and those that run their campaigns, but also for non-electoral and anti-electoral activists, too.
Chapter Five is titled "Feed the Backlash," and is summarized:
"When your enemies begin to notice you - and attack you - you have arrived. Instead of avoiding confrontation with gatekeepers and opponents, embrace it and feed it. Stoking the flames of controversy brings visibility to your issues, raises your profile and effectiveness, and begins a cycle of ever-increasing attention that you can use to your advantage."
It covers not only how to "embrace the attacks" but also "when to ignore the attacks." These are the simple techniques that the late Abbie Hoffman worked so hard to teach the few of us then-youngsters that would listen, back in the 1980s, when his own generation had pretty much used him up and spit him out. Today, in 2008, we have a current teacher from a new generation who discovered many of these techniques through his own experience, amended and mutated them to better fit the new century and its domination by media, and who now - as his multiple hat tips to Saul Alinsky suggest - has come to see his work in the tradition of the great community organizers that had been mostly forgotten for so many years.
Taking on the System goes on sale tomorrow. If you're an activist, a journalist, or an aspiring change agent of any tendency, the $23.95 price of admission ($16.29 online) will be the best and most economical college tuition you ever paid. And if you know somebody that is, or tries, or wants to be one of those things, and you sometimes wish they would just be better at it, then don't dawdle: purchase a second copy for him or her. This is the most coherent guide to political organizing - on or off the Internet - penned in a generation.
Read the whole review.
By Al Giordano
Adam Nagorney and Jeff Zeleny of the NY Times claim Obama's vice presidential pick is down to Bayh, Biden or Kaine. Mark Halperin hints it's Biden. They all may be victims of head fakes. Or not. I don't claim to know.
But if it is Biden, here are some interesting angles.
Biden comes from a Democratic state (Delaware) with a Democratic governor (Ruth Ann Minner) so his possible vacancy from the US Senate could be quickly filled with another Democrat. That's not the case with Bayh. If it came down to a choice between those two, that fact alone probably pushes Biden over the top.
Also, Biden is chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Guess who's next in line to take the chairman's gavel in the event of Biden moving on? It's Chris Dodd! That's a consolation prize for Dodd and for foreign policy progressives, human rights watchers and Latin American democracy advocates in particular (and a long overdue nightmare for Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, his death squads and his mercenary DC lobbyists Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson).
Biden as vice president would also remove him from consideration for Secretary of State in an Obama administration: that would certainly please Bill Richardson (and maybe John Kerry?).
My preference would be for the "three point shot" - that Obama pick somebody from outside of Washington such as Kaine or Sebelius or Schweitzer. There's little doubt in my mind that as running mate Biden - when those flash bulbs start popping - will stray off message and undercut Obama at various points during the campaign (he can't help himself) no matter what kinds of electronic monitoring bracelets Patty Solis Doyle has concocted for him. (Although the daily struggle to keep Biden, if he's the veep nominee, on the leash will make for entertaining copy in the coming months. And Solis Doyle did get some practice, albeit with mixed results, in her efforts to house train Bill Clinton earlier this year.)
And Biden's horrid record on crime and civil liberties as a drug war hawk is just plain embarrassing (and goes hand in hand with his tendency to seek out TV cameras and do the pander dance for them). Then again, a vice president has no direct authority over those matters and removing Biden from the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations committee (and from his third-in-line post - behind Leahy and Kennedy - on the Judiciary committee) and stuffing him in the vice presidential closet wouldn't be the worst thing for good legislation in Congress in the coming years.
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. But it's realpolitik: If you're not a big Joe Biden fan, there are consolation prizes for you, too, in "promoting" him to that dungeon manse on the southeast corner of 34th and Massachusetts Avenue!
(I'm not saying he's the choice. I'm just speculating on "what if?")