The Friday Political Thread: No Hand Shows Edition


We survived two debates this week, an occurance which won't be repeated until… well, until three and a half weeks from now, when the Democrats and Republicans do back-to-back Jan. 5 debates in New Hampshire. Robert Novak's report is especially thorough this week and worth reading.

Unconvincing quote of the week…

"I always knew it would be hard."—Hillary Clinton, Dec. 14. Two weeks earlier she said she never considered the possibility of losing the nomination.

The week in brief…

– The much-loathed Des Moines Register debates hardly moved the needle in either campaign, although Fred Thompson showed signs of life, Hillary Clinton sounded flustered, and John Edwards announced plans to nationalize Hit & Run.

– New Hampshire Clinton backer Bill Shaheen (husband of the Democrats' Senate nominee against John Sununu) speculated—just being helpful!—that Republicans would pillory nominee Obama for his lifetime of hardcore drug use and dope dealing. Shaheen resigned.

– The energy bill, which needed 60 votes to break cloture, got 59.

The GOP rises again!
This might be a half-baked theory based on a bunch of random results and fooferah, but consider:

– Last Friday, Kentucky Secretary of State Crit Luallen, a Democrat, decided not to challenge Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom polls show has been weakened over the last year.

– On Tuesday, Republicans held on to two open House seats in Virginia and Ohio by 21 points and 14 points respectively. The Virginia result wasn't much of a surprise, but Democrats actually made a play for Ohio, spending DCCC money, sending Gov. Ted Strickland and Sen. Sherrod Brown to campaign for Democrat Robin Weirauch after a nasty primary (the Club for Growth went in against him) apparently weakened Republican Bob Latta. Latta's win was at the high end of Republican hopes.

– On Thursday, former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, a popular Democrat, decided not to run for Trent Lott's open Senate seat.

– The first poll pitting Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu against GOP Treasurer John Kennedy (who switched parties to run against her) has the second-term Democrat up only 46 to 42.

It feels very different from the winter of 2005, when Democrats were rushing into less-than-sure-thing races and Republicans were resisting Karl Rove's appeals to run for Senate. (Rove's the guy who flipped Kennedy in Louisiana.) Democrats are still cleaning up in fundraising and winning the general election, but the climate's a little worse than it was last year.

Final point: In the latest CNN poll (PDF), only 54 percent of undeclared voters want to vote in the Democratic primary. That's down from a high of 70 percent, and it's a factoid Democrats have been pushing all year as proof of their continued strength and the GOP meltdown.

Honest Barry. I try to get into the heads of Joe and Jane Iowa Voter, I really do… but it falls apart when the issue is drugs. Plenty of people think drug use is a character flaw, and I don't. So the way that Obama deals with his past drug use, as an awful youthful mistake that no boy should repeat, is probably the way to handle it even though it leaves me cold. Craig Crawford argues that it's not enough.

Throughout the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush managed to dodge detailed questions about his partying past in the same way that Obama's team is now doing – by calling foul against anyone who brings it up.

I don't think that's quite fair. Karl Rove's strategy included denying that Bush had ever used drugs and hoping that reporters would get tired of asking. Rove et al knew that Bush had been arrested for a DUI and simply covered it up for the entire campaign. That's not what Obama is doing. He's wisely been admitting what drugs he did (and what crimes he committed) for years. Still, we're a long way away from the maturity of Australia, where Bob Hawke probably became prime minister because of his legendary boozing abilities.

Debates are stupid.
Fred Thompson's going all in and stumping Iowa from next week to Jan.3. His tour is dubbed "The Clear Conservative Choice: Hands Down." That's a reference, of course, to his refusal to put his hand up or down to answer the DMR debate question on global warming. John Edwards put in a manful performance at the Democratic debate, but the second-day story was all about Obama smacking around Clinton when she laughed at a question about how many Bill Clinton advisers worked for him: "Hillary, I'm looking forward to you advising me as well." It's not like we're leaving behind a great era of American politics, but… seriously? Fred's angina counts for more than Romney's precision or Giuliani's daydreaming about endless meetings?

Below the fold…

– Jim Geraghty dreams about President Ron Paul: "I can't deny that it appeals to some dark corner of my fiscal conservative psyche."

– The Iowa Independent (part of the Center for Independent Media's new web mag network) has an Iowa cattle call that puts Ron Paul in third place.

– Matt Taibbi swoons for Barack Obama. (Fair warning: His last political crush was Kucinich.)

– Mark Hemingway tries to understand the youth-Ron Paul axis.

– Phil Klein talks to Arkansans about Mike Huckabee's pardons.

– Rich Lowry denies him clemency.

In a week that ended with buzz about drugs and dealing, I award the Politics 'n' Prog slot to Can. You can guess why.