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Posted by on Dec 29, 2007 in Politics | 1 comment

Democratic Republican Iowa Primary Race Closing: Fire In The Belly Time


It’s “fire in the belly” time for all the candidates — Republican and Democratic — running in the January 3 Iowa caucuses. Send in caseloads of Tums.

From one end of the state to the other, on radio, in print ads and in the all important TV air wars, the pace — and stridency — is increasing. And there is a reason why: it’s a down-to-a-photo-finish horse race amid see-saw polls. You can see the politicians’, media (and to be honest blog) feeding frenzy on several fronts:

Actor and former Senator Fred Thompson, who has been criticized as being so laid back in his campaign that he could be mistaken for a meditation student, is now enmeshed in a controversy over whether he REALLY has that you-know-what in his belly — or just a belly. But it DOES seem that Thompson was the victim of journalistic omissions.

USA Today’s excellent website blog On Politics had to run a clarification over what to some would seem to be a minor issue:

Bill Theobald of Gannett News Service has been following Republican Fred Thompson around Iowa. In a dispatch today from Burlington, Bill quotes the former Tennessee senator as saying he doesn’t like modern campaigning, isn’t that interested in running for president and “will not be devastated” if he doesn’t win.

Update at 2:45 p.m. ET: Bill calls to clarify that Thompson said he doesn’t like the process of running for president but he does want to BE president. He told the Burlington audience he would not have given up his acting career and time with his family to run if that were not the case.

Update at 6:35 p.m. ET: The Campaign Spot blog at National Review has posted what is says is a transcript of Thompson’s remarks (and also its opinion of how we’ve represented what Thompson said).

To be fair to USA Today: As a former newspaper journalist I can attest that sometimes there are indeed crossed signals. Also, in talking with a former editor of mine at my alma mater the San Diego Union-Tribune, I recently learned that the role of newspaper weblogs for newspapers means the long required super quick reporting has now gotten super quicker. Mistakes do happen which is why newspapers and magazines (and sometimes but not always blogs) correct them. USA Today corrected this quickly. It did not leave it hanging out there for a day.

The lively Republican site Red State had some critical words for the report and ran this full transcript it got from the Thompson camp:

The first place, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I wouldn’t be doing this. I grew up in very modest circumstances. I left government and I and my family have made sacrifices to be sitting here today. I haven’t had any income for a long time because I figured to be clean, you’ve got to cut everything off. I was doing speaking engagements and I had a contract to do a tv show. I had a contract with ABC radio…and so forth. A man would have to be a total fool to do all those things and to be leaving his family which is not a joyful thing if he didn’’t want to do it.

I am not consumed by personal ambition. I will not be devastated if I don’t do it. I want the people to have the best president they can have.

Why is this mini-flap important?

Because since Thompson entered the GOP race (too late) after a clamor for his entry as a “real” conservative alternative to the other front runners, Thompson has been type cast as a candidate who really didn’t want to do “whatever it takes” to get the nomination. It’s hard to get campaign funding and even comprehensive media coverage if it’s perceived that you really don’t care. Thompson’s poll numbers are not good and suggestions the he really doesn’t want to be in the race would make them worse. (If he was smart, he’d be lining up his next acting gig for sometime in the Spring.)

ROBERT NOVAK SUGGESTS ARKANSAS GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE’S CAMPAIGN IS LOSING SUPPORT: Novak, who has excellent sources, says Huckabee’s polling numbers are coming down. Perhaps this is due to his foot-and-mouth assertions (two of them) on Pakistan which would have been a field day for late night comedians if they were not still off the air due to the writers’ strike.

While public polls show Mike Huckabee leading Mitt Romney in Iowa, a new survey of an oversized sample shows Huckabee slipping and no longer ahead of Romney.

A private corporate interest commissioned a phone bank survey of 15,000 Iowans who say they will attend Republican presidential caucuses Jan. 3. It showed Romney with 30 percent and Huckabee at 26 percent. Sen. John McCain was third with 12 percent and Rudy Giuliani fourth at 9 percent. Fred Thompson had only 1 percent, with slightly fewer votes than Rep. Ron Paul (also at 1 percent).

Numbers for both Huckabee and Romney dipped sharply when Iowans were asked their second choice. In contrast, McCain was the leading second-choice candidate for both Huckabee and Romney voters.

Novak also provides a tidbit that would help Huckabee. He reports that former Kansas Senator and 1996 GOP Presidential candidate Bob Dole blasted Huckabee in letter for his comments on President George Bush’s foreign policy.

“Why have you joined the ‘Bush bashers’?” Dole asked in a letter to Huckabee that he made public. Dole, until now neutral in the 2008 contest, called Huckabee’s critique of Bush policy in Foreign Affairs magazine a “perfect example of 20-20 hindsight.

BUT HUCKABEE POSES A THREAT and is campaigning vigorously and the Republican establishment is reportedly out to stop him.

This is reminiscent of how McCain was greeted by the GOP powers that be in 2000 when they sought to pull out all stops to make sure he didn’t get the nomination and put their weight behind Bush.

The Republican establishment is galvanizing against upstart GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, worried that the former Arkansas governor is unreliably conservative and unprepared for the challenges of a general election campaign or the Oval office.

On the campaign trail here, Huckabee is winning over voters with a folksy, self-deprecating message rooted in the conservative tenets of faith and family. Recent polls show him overtaking chief rival Mitt Romney despite being vastly underfunded in the most expensive presidential campaign in history.

Huckabee’s surge in recent weeks appears to have stunned and maddened the party’s conservative hierarchy. While the GOP establishment hasn’t lined up behind any other single candidate, it has steadily raised the volume of its objections to Huckabee as his plausibility as a candidate has grown.


Responding to dual attack ads released by the Romney campaign yesterday, which targeted Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire, the former Arkansas governor today defended not only his own honor, but that of the Arizona senator’s.

“It’s not the most pleasant position to be in,” Huckabee said about the Romney ad that hits his record on spending, immigration, and sentence commutations for inmates. And using the matter-of-fact wit that has helped endear him to Iowans, he continued: “If I believe even half the stuff that’s in those ads, I probably wouldn’t even vote for myself, much less expect you to.”

But he didn’t stop there. As he did yesterday, he defended McCain from a twin attack ad that was released in New Hampshire. “Look, John McCain is a rival in the presidential race, but John McCain is an honorable, decent, true to heaven American hero.”

“It’s like Mitt doesn’t have anything to stand on — except to stand against,” he added.

A pro-Huckabee group has now gone after Romney on abortion.

Romney has begun saturating the airwaves in Iowa with TV ads, many of them going after McCain who he clearly sees as a rising threat.

But Fact has looked at these ads and detailed the inaccuracies in a post on Newsweek’s news site titled More Mitt Malarkey.

It’s make or break time for Romney:

If he flops in Iowa and New Hampshire after spending like a drunken member of Congress (they spend more than sailors) he’ll be political history. But Romney has a BIG problem: in terms of high profile bad media, he is second only to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Guiliani has gotten bad press on aspects of his life. Romney is gotten it from all sides on questions about whether he has any principles that aren’t changed when he’s trying to garner votes.

Romney is accused of changing his position often on issues and seems to have done just that — so much so that he appears to be the 2008 campaign’s TRUE “change” candidate…

As the Washington Post notes, the three campaigns seem to be taking a page from former President Bill Clinton’s political playbook:

Less than a week before voting begins, former senator John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama are engaged in an increasingly pointed duel over which man is the true messenger of “change” in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination — with both drawing heavily from Bill Clinton’s themes during his first campaign for the White House.

The two are battling on a trio of fronts, with each seeking ownership of the change issue, targeting Democrats who have ruled out supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and courting other candidates’ backers who may be forced to make a second choice on caucus night (under caucus rules, a candidate must get 15 percent of a precinct to gain delegates, and supporters of nonviable candidates often switch).

Edwards remains strong in Iowa and is receiving a boost from outside groups running advertisements on his behalf. That external help has become a flash point between Edwards (N.C.) and Obama (Ill.), who has publicly deplored the anti-Obama ads and mailings.

At the same time, President Bill Clinton is offering a new explanation to voters about why they should vote for his wife. Alluding to Pakistan, he suggests she is the only one really equipped to deal with a catastrophic unforeseen event:

Addressing more than 100 supporters gathered at a VFW hall here, Clinton said that there were four reasons to vote for his wife: her vision, her plans, her experience — the three reasons he has been giving in his stump speech until now — plus, he said, a fourth, the threat of the unknown.

“Here’s the other thing you need to know, the most important thing of all. You have to have a leader who is strong and commanding and convincing enough…to deal with the unexpected,” he said. “There is a better than a 50 percent chance that sometime in the first year or 18 months of the next presidency something will happen that is not being discussed in this campaign. President Bush never talked about Osama Bin Laden and didn’t foresee Hurricane Katrina. And if you’re not ready for that then everything else you do can be undermined. You need a president that you trust to deal with something that we will not discuss in this campaign….And I think on this score she’s the best of all.”

And, indeed, the focus of the campaign now seems to be shifting more towards foreign policy.

The prospect: this trend will CONTINUE as controversy grows in Pakistan over the murder of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the government’s explanation about what happened. Increased turmoil and political certainty there will likely mean voters will have the latest screaming newscast and print headlines on their minds — and some candidates will gain…and suffer.

A candidate’s personal fire in the belly does count.

But it only counts so much if there’s a scary fire in the world’s belly.

UPDATE: A reader in the first comment mentions Rep. Ron Paul. After doing a Google search and reading some Iowa stories we really should add this:

Ron Paul registers in the single digits in most polls, but he’s the top searched Republican presidential candidate on Google, according to the Web site’s trend history.

A large volume of hits for Paul in the last 30 days are coming from Iowa, as voters there prepare to caucus Jan. 3. The same holds true for most of his rivals, with the exception of Mitt Romney and John McCain.

Disproportionally, more of Romney’s searches in that span are coming from Utah, the seat of his Mormon faith. More of McCain’s hits are disproportionally coming from New Hampshire, where he won the Republican presidential primary in 2000.

People sought more information about the contenders around news events.

Fred Thompson saw a spike in searches in early September, about the time the actor-politician announced his bid for the White House. He’s now lower than he was in April. Romney saw an increase in the days surrounding his Dec. 6 speech on his faith.

Mike Huckabee has been surging in the polls and seeing an increase in the number of people searching for his name. While he’s a far second behind Paul, he’s just ahead of Romney.

UPDATE II: The Huffington Post’s Marc Cooper reports from Iowa that Hillary Clinton has changed the tone of her campaign for its closing days:

Eldridge, Iowa – Barack Obama and John Edwards might want to change the world. But Hillary Clinton wants to protect you against it.

That’s the unmistakable message that Senator Clinton is pounding out in this final phase of the campaign to capture the Iowa caucuses. In a world brimming with danger and uncertainty, she argues as she blitzes the Hawkeye State, there’s no time to waste daydreaming about pie-in-the-sky promises of reform.

Instead, the American people must choose a leader ready to immediately start fixing the problems that already exist and one who is immediately ready to face the inevitable and “unpredictable” crises looming right over the horizon. And that would be Clinton.

“We know some of the challenges that await the next president,” Clinton told a packed crowd at a junior high school Saturday morning. “But no matter how much we know, we can’t possibly anticipate all the problems.”

The razzamatazz cheerleading, sloganeering style that punctuated her earlier campaign events has now been replaced by a sedate, somber, even grave tone coming from the podium. Clinton never raised her voice, never elevated the mood, and at times sounded like a concerned, responsible parent telling the kids that something terrible was taking place outside the door but not to worry because Mom and Dad – or in this case Hill and Bill- would take care of it.

Read it in its entirety.