Saturday, February 23, 2008

On Debates and Lobbyists

During the last two days the Democratic debate from Texas and the McCain-Iseman New York Times story have been the dominant news items within the [American] political world. FHQ made the decision to take the "take a step back and reflect" approach to both before jumping to bloggy, insta-reactions (not that anyone does that). And the question that pops into my head applies to both items: Did either event fundamentally change the outlook of the race for the White House?

The McCain campaign seems to have shifted the scrutiny back to the New York Times (the timing of the story, why it was sent to press with the information they had, etc) instead of inviting further scrutiny upon the relationship between McCain and lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. And the Times has never been a friend to the Right; conservatives actually came to McCain's defense on this one. So McCain seems to have avoided the firestorm on this one. While it may come back to haunt him later, the campaign's attention may be better spend on the financial situation it finds itself in vis-a-vis the FEC. That he may have to take matching funds during the primary period, hamstringing the campaign in the waning months of primary season, may potentially be the more damaging than the "scandal." Bob Dole's 1996 presidential bid comes to mind. His campaign's inability to compete during the summer months (because it had accepted matching funds and was out of money) put the former Kansas senator at a decided disadvantage as the race transitioned into general election mode.

On the Democratic side, Thursday's debate did little to alter the course of the race, despite how the candidates tried to spin it afterwards. Clinton and company still continue to be perplexed by Obama's ability to ward off nearly every attack as "the politics of the past." The message of change (one that focuses on changing the divisive politics of the past) is one that has taken root among a majority of Democratic primary/caucus voters so far and it is one that makes Obama almost impervious to attack. He will always have that Reaganesque, "There you go again," statement to fall back on. "That's just the politics of the past." That message resonates with voters or at least has so far. And given the how the debate went, has that changed? What we are left with is the wait and see game. Wait until March 4 and watch as the poll margins in both Texas and Ohio close between the two remaining Democratic contenders. Here's the latest from Real Clear Politics:



Robert said...

I agree with you on all three points. I don't think she scored in the debate. Her unusual closing comment made it look like she was bowing out. I think it all depended on the definition of "we" was. I believe she meant Barack and her rather than Bill and her. Have you seen the indication that in her debate comments she used borrowed language from Bill's 1992 campaign. How do you like my pretty citation?

The campaign finance issue is also strange. Apparently McCain is just going to spend and see what happens. Since the FEC is short four members out of six, there is not much they can do to censure him. Besides, what would they do if he wins, fine him. He can hardly condemn Obama for opting out of publicly funded dollars when this cloud is hanging over him.

I find it interesting that everybody, except you and me of course, is rushing to judgment on the Iseman case. Like most of these cases, more information will come out to sink him (and throw the Republican nomination into a bigger free-for-all than the Democratic one) or to make it look like another Dan Rather case of overeager journalists going after "conservative" Republicans. If it is overblown, it could actually help McCain rally his base. Time will tell. It took several months to resolve the Monica Lewinsky case. Glenn Richardson's situation is still up in the air.

Josh Putnam said...

I like that citation just fine. It looks good.

I've heard speculation on the similarities between one of her closing lines and one Edwards had used in past debates (everyone candidate being fine but worried about America), but the Bill angle I hadn't heard. See, when she's doing it too, it is just "silly season." Well, "there I go again!" Isn't there anything that hasn't been said in politics?

This FEC limbo situation is something to keep tabs on. Sure, the consensus is that the campaign finance rules are broken, but most people take that to mean spending being out of control. Now the very commission that monitors these things is teetering on the brink; wedged between a rock and a hard place. I was going to say the Senate and the White House, but I can't decide which is which in that analogy.

I'm still going to let this McCain thing play out. It just seems like "politics as usual." He may not be saying anything more on the matter , but he has surrogates from the campaign on CNN, CBS and FOX in the morning.