Friday, February 29, 2008

Obama Responds: I Will Never Use "Threat Of Terrorism To Scare Up Votes" (with video)

Greg Sargent (TPM's Election Central), with video (00:58).
Okay, Obama has now directly responded to Hillary's ad asking who you want in the White House at 3 A.M. when the red phone rings and your kids are safely asleep.

And his reply suggests that the Obama camp is grabbing at this as an opportunity to draw the contrast yet again that they've been drawing throughout the campaign -- that judgment, rather than the reflexive use of force, is what's required most in national security crisis situations.

Here's some vid of Obama responding at an event today...

"Obama's got ground game"

Shrewd grass-roots organizing has helped the candidate grab primary victories nationwide, and could prove key to vanquishing Hillary Clinton in Texas.--- Walk into Barack Obama's Texas headquarters down the street from the state Capitol, and you're immediately reminded of the complicated rules of the weird primary/caucus hybrid coming up here next week. "Ask us about the Texas Two-Step," says a huge sign painted to look like the state flag, with a giant Obama smiling down from the blue stripe on the left.
Running phone banks, volunteers remind early voters to save the receipt showing they've already cast a ballot if they want to caucus on March 4 after the polls in the primary close. (Texas Democratic Party rules allow for participation in both.) Obama's staff here calls preparation for the Texas election "the Olympics" of field organizing, but they seem more than ready for it.

The emphasis on organizing -- which has helped the campaign harness enthusiasm about Obama and propel a nationwide political movement -- has been one of the keys to Obama's success so far. Beginning with the 23 caucuses and primaries on Feb. 5, Obama has steadily built a delegate lead by simply playing to win just about everywhere the calendar took the campaign. Hillary Clinton's wins have been blunted by Democratic Party rules that award delegates proportionately -- and Obama racked up blowout wins in states where Clinton never gave him a serious run.

Obama's winning streak left Clinton aides floating a line of spin that has flown about as well as the Hindenburg: "Well, of course he won there -- he tried to." Now, grass-roots organizing could wind up being the deciding factor in the campaign, unless Clinton surprises and pulls out big wins in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont next Tuesday.

From the start, Obama's campaign devoted more resources to field work in far more states than Clinton's did. One of the first advisors to sign up with Obama was deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand, one of the Democratic Party's top grass-roots organizers. Obama won the Iowa caucuses in part by drawing out new voters who hadn't shown up in previous elections. His campaign built subsequent wins in similar fashion in states that followed. Months before Super Tuesday, Obama had paid staffers operating in every state -- including nine employees working out of four offices in North Dakota, where a Democrat hasn't won the general election since 1964.

In the Super Tuesday states, by primary day, Obama had more than 500 paid campaign employees working on the ground. He even had two staffers in Alaska; Obama won the state's caucus 75 to 25, taking nine of the 13 delegates up for grabs. The Obama ground game rolled on. Throughout February, it deployed across Midwestern states -- some of which rarely vote Democratic in the fall -- with staff (18 in Kansas alone) and reaped big victories.

The day after Obama won the South Carolina primary by a bigger than expected margin, South Carolina field organizers headed to Virginia, Maryland and D.C., which voted Feb. 12. Clinton's strategy, meanwhile, was pegged to wins in big states on Feb. 5. But she was so unprepared for what came next that a week later, she lost Virginia -- where Clinton's national campaign is headquartered -- by 29 points. That loss said it all: Polls in January had her up big there.

Considering Obama's background as a neighborhood organizer in Chicago, his campaign's focus on the ground game isn't surprising. "The value [placed on] community organizing comes from the top down," said Buffy Wicks, the deputy field director in Texas, referring to her employer's paradigm. "For us, it's people talking to their neighbors; that's the premise of our program."

Indeed, the strategy is built on frequent, personal contact with voters. In the first few weeks working in Texas, for example, supporters called more than 15,000 voters. "We don't want people to get all stressed out about worrying about Social Security policy section 8.47," Wicks said. "We want them to say, 'This is why I'm concerned about this issue, because of my own experience,' and we really try to foster that with our activists," she said. "We believe politics is personal, and the things that happen to you in your life shape your views." At a session in Austin for precinct captains last week, organizers told more than 20 volunteers to tell voters why they like Obama: "Remember, it's not kumbaya-ish, it's really powerful."

In Texas, Obama is relying on a network of precinct captains that has been growing daily. The campaign trained more than 4,000 of them (Texas has about 8,300 precincts) in statewide sessions last week that sometimes drew overflow crowds. The campaign is also shrewdly leveraging technology: Its 29-page info packet takes volunteers through the Texas Obama Precinct Captains Web site, which the campaign set up to give activists direct access to a massive database on voters. They can print out address lists that help them walk their neighborhood looking for Obama voters, or read from scripts while doing outreach by telephone from home. Whatever they find then gets uploaded to the Obama database through their own computers, which frees up field staffers who, in previous campaigns, might have spent hours typing in the same information. "The campaign should be there as a space to invite people to become involved in it, as opposed to giving people busywork," Wicks said.

At Obama rallies with overflow crowds, the campaign collects e-mail addresses and invites people to join the precinct captain network. All the online tools also tell volunteers how to quickly get in touch with organizers offline, and they let the campaign keep track of what its activists are up to without having to check in on them constantly. By the time aides opened their 10 regional headquarters around Texas last week (which, in turn, will supervise smaller satellite offices), there were already volunteers on the ground working all over the state.

Part of Obama's advantage, of course, also comes from how readily voters appear to be flocking his way -- the momentum has been feeding on itself. Now that he's on a winning streak the campaign doesn't have to seek out supporters so much as it needs to figure out what to do with them when they show up. "I wanted to be a part of it," said Mark Barker, 27, an advertising copywriter in Austin, who came to the precinct captain training and signed up to make 200 calls to strangers in his neighborhood even though he'd never been active in politics before. "I didn't want to look back and leave anything on the table" in this election, he said.

This field campaign has seized opportunity in the groundswell. Around the country, Obama staffers have linked up with networks that supporters built up themselves long before paid field organizers even arrived. "It was a seamless thing, where the campaign kind of came here, kind of stood outside the doors, and said, 'Knock knock, tell us what you need,'" said Mark Keam, a lobbyist for Verizon who, on his own time, organized Fairfax County, Va., for Obama three months before a campaign worker showed up there.

The campaign kept working with the lists of voters and volunteers that Keam's group had put together on its own. The volunteers had already set up their own field structure in each of the county's nine smaller jurisdictions, so the official Obama organizers rolled with it. "You normally see this omnipresence of the heavy hand of the national campaign, all the way down to much more local organizational efforts, but that is not the case here," said former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a national chairman of the campaign who barnstormed small Midwestern states including Kansas and North Dakota before Super Tuesday. (Obama deputy campaign manager Hildebrand ran Daschle's losing 2004 campaign for reelection in South Dakota.)

Obama aides suggest their field plan illustrates a broader point about leadership. "We netted more delegates out of Kansas than [the Clinton campaign] did out of New Jersey," said Obama strategist Robert Gibbs. "For the candidate or the campaign that seems to discuss that they're ready from Day One, they didn't seem to have a plan from Day One for this campaign."

Clinton, meanwhile, is finally now putting serious muscle into organizing -- but it may be too late. The one-time front-runner, who by most accounts must win Texas to stay alive in the race, said last week of the state's complicated setup, "I had no idea how bizarre it is. We have grown men crying over it." (Besides the two-part voting, Texas Democrats award a greater number of delegates for winning precincts where the party did well in the last two elections -- many of which are currently Obama strongholds.) But any joking aside, her campaign says it'll be ready for the Tuesday vote; it has since deployed Ace Smith, who ran her victorious California operation, to handle Texas. (Likewise, Robby Mook, who ran her Nevada caucus organization, is in charge in the other crucial state Tuesday, Ohio.)

But it's hard to escape the conclusion that the Clinton campaign stumbled badly by failing to organize and compete more forcefully in a number of states. Her campaign's spin now, after the fact, also suggests that caucuses inherently favor Obama's wealthier, better-educated base, because caucuses are harder for night-shift workers or single parents to attend. "I don't know that we could have overcome the challenges in the caucus states," one Clinton strategist said. But that assessment fails to acknowledge that Obama has shattered demographic barriers throughout the race, including building support among working-class voters in states such as Wisconsin.

An inferior ground game could make it hard for Clinton to emerge with the most delegates in Texas, even if she wins the statewide popular vote (which recent polls show she might not do, anyway). "We're not going to give up on the process, we're not going to bend to the process, we're not going to whine about the process," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Clinton-supporting Democrat from Houston. But then she proceeded to ask whether caucuses should be eliminated in future nomination fights. "From my perspective, it is not the fully democratic process."

It is, however, the Democratic process -- and the one by which the well-organized Obama campaign appears to be closing in on the nomination.

New video: "We Are The Ones Song by"

illwilly, video (03:05):
people say Obama's words are just words...
when was the last time "words" weren't important...???...
when was the last time a great leader didn't use words to lead...??...
when was the last time a person didn't use words to describe how they felt...?...
when was the last time "words" weren't empowering...?...

and we can all recall the last time "words" were used to divide us and install fear...

Bush used words to fear us into voting for him the second time around...
terror this...
terror that...
nuclear here...
weapons of mass destruction there...

and those words effected a lot of people's choices...

"enough is enough"...
let's rebuild...

let's change ourselves...
let's allow positivity to guide us...

let's take action....
let's activate our passion...
we are Americans....

and this is the first time in forever that someone running for president represents "US"...

some say this is all excitement...
I call it "proud to be an American"...

some say this whole Obama movement is "cult like"...
if it comes across cult like...
the cult is called America...

the Obama movement is connecting America.
and it has made "US" realize our importance...
the youth is excited and activated...
adults are passionate and motivated...
the elderly are proud to know the country they built is in safe hands...

we are one...

for too long politics has been corrupt...
separate from the American people...
with agendas that go against what the American people "need"...

politicians have spoken a different language...
making it so the youth and poor people feel as if voting was only for the wealthy and old people...
making "US" feel as if "we" had no voice...
making "US" feel powerless...
making it feel like if "we" did vote it wouldn't change anything...

but wait...
that did happen...
some of us voted, and it didn't change anything...

we were in the dark...
we had no voice...
we were powerless...

because America was not a united America...
and "they" spoke a different language...
and they had an agenda different from our well being...

correct me if I'm wrong... or speak up if I'm missing something...

we want education, health, safety, and good jobs...right???...
oh yeah...
and "a healthy planet to live on"...

but here we are...

in a war... poor education... poor health programs... the dollar is down... the planet, polluted...
the rich, richer... and the poor, struggling...
with sky high gas prices to top it all off...

and now even the rich aren't really rich internationally because our dollar is has fallen so far down...

in our slumber... a very small few got really rich...

because when you're sleeping...

"it's hard to change agendas"...

we know what happened in 2000 and 2004...
but in 2008...
it's different...

we are awake...
and there is a movement...

and "it's hard to change a movement"...

last time "we" didn't have a movement...
America wasn't united...

and now "United and "Standing"...for something...
we know the power of "US"...
and we have a person who represents the "U.S."...


"we are the ones we've been waiting for"...

I'm proud to be an American...

"Obama's national security spot" (video)

tpmtv, video (00:31):
Ben Smith says "Obama has his own national security spot up against Clinton's, featuring a gravel-voiced general attesting to his judgment."

Fear Factor (with video)

hillaryclintondotcom, video (00:31):
On March 4th, your vote will decide who will be in the White House to pick up the phone when it rings at 3 AM.

t4change, video (00:51):
US Democrats - Walter Mondale 1984,Presidential Election Commercial.
Howie P.S.: Ben Smith says the Clinton spot is "the scariest ad of the cycle," and points to the Mondale spot above as the "template for dozens of others over the years." I remember when a certain college graduate student was debating a U.S. State Department representative who was the son of a pro-war (Vietnam) United States Senator. The Senator's son asked the audience
Whose hand would you rather have on the rudder of the ship of state...the hand that burns the draft card--- or the steady, sure hand of Lyndon Johnson?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"The Dean Legacy"

Ari Berman (The Nation):
On November 7, 2006, all the top Democrats graced the stage of the Hyatt Regency ballroom in Washington for a big election-night victory party. All of them, that is, except Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The party leadership had accused Dean of spending too much money on rebuilding moribund parties in red states and not enough on key Congressional races where Democratic pickups could strengthen their narrow majority. The results that night, as Democrats recaptured Congress, seemed to settle the argument in Dean's favor. But key Democrats, including Representative Rahm Emanuel, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, weren't satisfied, and Dean opted to stay away from the celebration, doing TV interviews instead. A week later, Democratic strategist James Carville, another prominent Clintonite, labeled the DNC leadership "Rumsfeldian in its competence," and called on Dean to resign. He floated the name of Harold Ford Jr., now chair of the right-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, as a replacement. There was rampant speculation inside the Beltway that Carville wasn't offering an unsolicited opinion but rather carrying water for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

A few months earlier, The New Republic had reported that Clinton's camp was "laying the groundwork to circumvent the DNC in the event that Clinton wins the nomination." This shadow DNC had a number of integral parts: adviser Harold Ickes would develop state-of-the-art technology to help Clinton reach prospective voters; EMILY's List and Clinton's allies in organized labor would launch an unprecedented effort to turn out supporters, especially women voters; former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe would raise untold sums from wealthy donors and the business community; and communications honcho Howard Wolfson would direct an unrelenting war room. Ever since 1992 the Clintons had used the DNC as an outpost for raising money from big donors, and funding candidates had taken precedence over nurturing progressive organizers. That model would continue into '08. Dean could remain at the DNC as a figurehead but only if he stayed in line.

And then the effort to marginalize Dean collapsed. Partly it's because the party's Congressional takeover--and a subsequent study by Harvard's Elaine Kamarck documenting Dean's contributions toward that end--eventually silenced the Carville-ites. Partly it's because Barack Obama forced the Clintons to devote all their resources to fending off his insurgent candidacy. But another reason the DNC-in-exile never got off the ground was Dean himself. Dean is no longer a marginalized figure, the butt of "Dean scream" jokes, but a man with a powerful constituency in regions where his fifty-state strategy has energized aging, ailing or previously nonexistent state parties. His support to these parties has not only strengthened them but has created an independent power base for Dean himself.

Dean has remained fastidiously neutral and low-key in this presidential cycle. Yet a number of his top supporters believe the Clinton-Obama contest has become a referendum on the kind of grassroots party building and citizen empowerment Dean pioneered as a presidential candidate and continued as DNC chair. On that issue most Deaniacs, not surprisingly, side with Obama. "Ever since the TV era began in 1960, every single presidential campaign in America has been top-down," says Joe Trippi, Dean's '04 campaign guru and an adviser to John Edwards before he dropped out of the race. "Only two have been bottom-up. One was Dean. The other is Obama."

The race for the Democratic nomination is a window into how the candidates view the future of the party, which is being shaped in large part by Dean's efforts. Are Clinton and Obama similarly committed to Dean's fifty-state strategy? How much faith would each, as the Democratic nominee, put in the party's grassroots? In the Internet era, the party is less about elder statesmen sitting in Washington than millions of people across the country organizing locally around issues and candidates. Dean and Obama have understood how the party is changing--and have embraced it. Clinton, thus far, has not.

Howard Dean and Bill Clinton were both pragmatic, moderate governors of rural states who shared an affinity for balanced budgets and free trade. But ever since Dean became a presidential candidate, his relationship with the Clintons has been rocky. His campaign was a striking repudiation of Clintonian centrism, which had urged Democrats to support the Iraq War and throw piles of money at TV ads in a few key swing states every two to four years rather than systematically invest in long-term party building, from the local level up. The Clintons even urged their old friend Gen. Wesley Clark to run against Dean. When Dean entered the race for DNC chair in January 2005, Bill Clinton asked McAuliffe to consider staying on. When he declined, Governors Bill Richardson and Ed Rendell were floated as possible replacements. In the end, the Clintons remained officially neutral, and Ickes, a key Clinton ambassador to the party's liberal wing, endorsed Dean for chair, giving his candidacy a huge boost. But the brief honeymoon didn't hold.

In his final years as DNC chair, McAuliffe had developed a list of Democratic donors and fundraisers. When Dean came in, state party chairs, who found McAuliffe's list ill suited to their needs, asked Dean to build a national voter database. He hired new consultants and spent $10 million expanding the voter file. The move angered McAuliffe, and Ickes launched his own database, which was widely viewed as a buttress to Clinton's presidential campaign and a challenge to Dean. "It's unclear what the DNC is doing," Ickes told the Washington Post in March 2006. The fight was more technical than ideological, yet it represented a public signal of "no confidence" in the DNC by the party's Beltway establishment, the Post reported.

Tensions have cooled since then, and both Clintons have voiced their support for Dean's fifty-state strategy. Yet in a larger sense, Hillary's candidacy represents the polar opposite of what Dean built as a candidate and party chair: her campaign is dominated by an inner circle of top strategists, with little room for grassroots input; it hasn't adapted well to new Internet tools like Facebook and MySpace; it tends to raise big contributions from a small group of high rollers rather than from large numbers of small donors; and it is less inclined to expand the base of the party.

On a number of occasions during this cycle, the Clinton campaign has questioned the DNC's authority. The first split came during the Nevada caucuses, when Clinton allies challenged the DNC over the validity of caucus sites that they thought favored Obama. The courts ruled in the DNC's favor, but the showdown in Nevada looked like small potatoes compared with the growing debate over whether to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates. The Clinton campaign's PR blitz in favor of seating them was a clear affront to Dean's leadership. "The DNC rule is the rule, and it's not going to change just because Clinton says we're going to change it," says one Dean confidant.

The DNC has played for time, urging the states to hold new contests or appeal to the DNC's credentials committee in June. "I have to be the referee, and my job is to bring people together at the end, because we cannot have a divided convention," Dean told The Nation. In an earlier interview, he'd said that if there's no nominee by April, he's prepared to get the two candidates in a room together and "work out what's best for the country." Dean, like many Democrats, is hoping such an arrangement won't be necessary.

In contrast to Clinton's campaign, Obama's--with its hundreds of thousands of small donors, Internet buzz and red-state appeal--reflects to a great extent the realization of Dean's ideals. Dean's argument for how to rebuild and expand the party base for the long term found its perfect short-term exponent in Obama, whose appeal to independents and liberal Republicans and talk of "unity" is planting Democratic roots in unfamiliar places. "The Obama for President campaign is what all of us hoped Dean for President would become," says Steve McMahon, a former top Dean strategist who's stayed neutral in '08. "Obama is Dean 2.0, dramatically updated to reflect the emergence of the grassroots."

Stylistically and rhetorically, the brash and rumpled Dean and the smooth and graceful Obama couldn't be more different. Yet the link between the two dates back to '04, when the offshoot of Dean's presidential campaign, Democracy for America, supported Obama in the Illinois Senate race. Dean's advisers admit that Obama is a more inspirational and disciplined presidential candidate than was Dean, able to excite the Democratic base while bringing in new voters, energizing a new crop of organizers and expanding the electoral map. This is borne out by Obama's remarkable performance thus far in red states like Idaho, Alaska and Alabama--places where Dean has invested heavily. "From a progressive who wants to see Democrats compete in all fifty states, you'd have to give the nod to Obama," says Trippi.

In his sprint across the country before Super Tuesday, Obama wisely hit places where the party had barely existed years before. "They told me there weren't any Democrats in Idaho," Obama told a raucous crowd of 14,000 in Boise. "I didn't believe them." On Super Tuesday Obama won fifteen of Idaho's eighteen delegates and virtually swept the Midwest and Mountain West.

Besides a desire to push the party away from a strictly swing-state mentality, Dean and Obama share a commitment to the nuts-and-bolts of grassroots organizing. On the stump Obama is quick to stress his roots as a community organizer and always thanks his precinct captains, who routinely introduce him at campaign events. "Change doesn't happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up," he now says in his stump speech. Obama's organizing has been greatly enhanced by new technologies like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace (Friendster had just arrived when Dean was running). "We pioneered it and Obama perfected it," Trippi says. Obama embraced elements of the new politics, hiring the co-founder of Facebook, for example; but other efforts came from the grassroots--just as with the Dean campaign--as supporters organized themselves online and on the ground. The net effect is Obama's large base of small donors, who are enthusiastic supporters he can tap again and again. Ninety percent of the $28 million he raised online in January, for example, came in donations of $100 or less. Obama has fused a tightknit group of advisers with a mass of ordinary people, creating what Trippi calls "command and control at the top while empowering the bottom to make a difference."

Trippi's book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is required reading in a class that Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, teaches at Northwestern University. If the Obama campaign naturally understood what Dean was trying to do, even though Dean's candidacy ultimately fizzled, the Clintons did not. "They looked at '04 and said, If Howard Dean lost, those tools must not have worked," Trippi says. He cites Clinton's unwillingness to compete all-out in red-state caucuses as a main reason her campaign is in such a predicament. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos dubbed Clinton's approach--and subsequent discounting of her losses in red America--the "insult 40 states" strategy. While the Obama campaign prepared for the long haul, Clinton poured most of her resources into a few key early states, expecting to have the nomination wrapped up by Super Tuesday. "It's not a very long run," Clinton predicted in late December. "It'll be over by February 5."

Whoever wins the nomination would be well advised to keep Dean around through the general election. More important than the money he can raise is the consistency he represents, among the netroots and state party activists. "If the Clintons or anyone came in after winning the nomination and said, 'Thank you, Howard. You can go now,' it would be a very divisive and fractious fight," says one Dean adviser. "That's the last thing they'll need."

Because of the small number of Congressional battlegrounds in '06, strategists in DC like Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel could at least make a persuasive case against the fifty-state strategy. But this fall, because of the vastly expanded number of competitive races, they'll have a much tougher brief. With contested Senate races and statewide contests (redistricting happens in 2010 and '11) in addition to a presidential election, many more states will be in play, strengthening the logic of the fifty-state strategy. "The tone and temperature of this argument will be diminished compared to '06," says Joe Andrew, 1991-01 chair of the DNC and a Clinton supporter. "There will be enough money to go around."

The way the '08 race has played out has made believers out of past Dean critics, like Clinton war room veteran Paul Begala. "I'm not a big Howard Dean fan," Begala admits. "But a lot of good things that are happening in this campaign have happened because of Dean." Begala credits him with pushing Democrats to oppose the war in Iraq, cultivating young voters and small donors, and urging the party to compete across the map.

Tradition dictates that whoever wins the White House will install his or her own regime in the DNC. Dean says that if a Democrat wins in November, he does not want to hang around the building past 2009. Yet few in the party believe it's possible, or preferable, to go back to targeting a dozen swing states every two or four years. "You cannot lurch from one election to the next with no game plan," Dean says. "I do believe the Democratic President is going to want a permanent political operation, and I think we're going to leave a very strong one here." Dean says the state party chairs have already persuaded Obama and Clinton to commit to funding the fifty-state strategy, which at a cost of $4 million to $5 million a year is a tiny fraction of the $300 million budgeted by the DNC for '08. "The one thing they should not get rid of is the fifty-state strategy," says Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. "We need to do more, not less."

Dean had the vision, but others will get or share the credit. It took an Obama to realize the potential of the Internet and grassroots organizing to transform politics. And it will take the commitment of future DNC chairs to the fifty-state strategy to continue building the party from the ground up. "You know the expression, to be a prophet without honor in your own land," says Steve Grossman, Dean's former campaign chair. "That's Howard Dean."


Ari Melber (The Nation), with video (01:20):
Blackroots activists are taking on the Congressional Black Caucus again, urging the superdelegates to represent their constituents by backing Barack Obama.
ColorofChange, a netroots group that aims to "strengthen Black America's political voice," is rallying its 400,000 members today in an email campaign calling on Black superdelegates to "support the will of the voters." The group has drawn more attention in Washington since it helped oust CBC member Al Wynn, a periwinkle Democrat, by supporting Donna Edwards' victorious primary challenge this month. Obama is winning over 80 percent of rank and file black voters, and the CoC online petition gathered over 20,000 signatures so far.

Executive Director James Rucker name-checked a few CBC Clinton supporters in remarks to The Nation today:

Voters across the country are asking their representatives for an explanation. They are demanding that CBC members like Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee and Stephanie Tubbs-Jones answer to the people who put them in office, not their political allies. It's deeply problematic that some members of the body that has historically defended the right to vote for Black Americans could now serve to undermine it.

The CoC effort comes as the civil rights leader and senior CBC member John Lewis dramatically announced that he is withdrawing his Clinton endorsement to honor a "duty as a representative of the 5th Congressional District to express the will of the people." The unusual move from a party elder intensifies the pressure on other Clinton superdelegates who hail from districts that supported Obama, as The Nation's John Nichols reported.

Lewis also faced a primary challenger who used his Clinton support to channel the Donna Edwards/blackroots message, as The Politico explains:'s also true that [Lewis'] decision to flip comes not long after he drew his first general or primary election opponent in nearly a decade--a challenge rooted in Lewis's previous endorsement of Clinton. "One who is an elected representative of the people must not ever get ahead of his or her constituencies," said the Rev. Markel Hutchinson, his primary election challenger. "It is a complex quagmire that congressman Lewis is presently in, because instead of waiting and following the leadership and direction of his constituents and following the pulse of the community that he represents, he side-stepped his constituents."

There is little reason to think that political expediency drove Lewis, a civil rights icon who is safely ensconced in his Atlanta-based seat, to make the jump to Obama. But there's no question that, for many black politicians, the stakes have increased since Obama's Jan. 26 victory in South Carolina, when he first displayed his tremendous popularity among African Americans by winning 78 percent of their vote. In the four weeks since then, black elected officials ranging from Virginia state Sen. Louise Lucas to New Jersey state Sen. Dana Redd to Georgia Congressman David Scott have switched from Clinton's to Obama's camp...

Today Rucker hailed Lewis' announcement as "an example for his colleagues in the CBC who have yet to publicly declare that they will support the will of the voters." The CoC petition does not ask for members to specifically back Obama, but to "support the voters' will."

"Bill Clinton Stumps in Houston for Hillary Clinton" (video)

KPRC, video (01:14), via WaPo:
Reminding voters of the high-stakes Texas and Ohio primaries next week, former President Bill Clinton touted his wife's experience, and education, energy, health care and jobs plan during a campaign sweep of 4 rallies in Houston on Wednesday. KPRC's Phil Archer reports.
Howie P.S.: TIME has "In Texas, Bill v. Barack."

Media Treatment: Obama, Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean and McCain

Mark Weisbrot (Huffington Post):
The major media plays a much bigger role in the formation of our national politics than most people realize. The media helps define and choose the issues, and acts as gatekeeper in setting the limits for political discussion and sometimes even candidacies for public office.
The most media-savvy candidates know how to play within the media's rules, and use them to their advantage. Barack Obama is a good example of such a candidate - more on that later.

The media can also veto candidates, as in the case of John Edwards. He was not by definition a "marginal" candidate: a U.S. senator and vice-presidential candidate in the last election, at various junctures he polled better against potential Republican contenders than the other Democratic candidates. He led his rivals in introducing a serious health care plan, and arguably transformed the contest in his appeal to the Democratic base on that and other issues.

But the media rejected Edwards, by a combination of ignoring him and subjecting him to much more negative reporting than the other major contenders. The same was true in 2004 for Howard Dean, who rallied the Democratic base but found himself with five or six times as many negative articles in the media than his major democratic primary opponents.

The media does much more than directly influence the opinion of voters. Most donors, politicians, institutions and other important political participants will not waste resources on a candidate that they think is unlikely to win. They often look at how the media treats a candidate in order to make this decision. If the media does not take a candidate seriously or is obviously hostile to him or her, these potential supporters will look elsewhere.

That's not to say that Edwards would have won if the media had not rejected him; most likely he would have lost anyway. But he would have been a more serious contender.

On the other hand, Obama knew how to define his candidacy within the limits of the media's constraints and still have a mass appeal. From the beginning of his campaign he mostly avoided challenging powerful interests, and talked about "getting all sides to the table" and overcoming "decades of bitter partisanship." The media and punditocracy lap this stuff up like honey. At the same time he was able to tap into the voters' deep desire for change, with inspirational speeches, transcendental narratives, and celebrity-studded videos.

Obama showed his political genius in knowing when to jump the fence and break out of the media corral. In Iowa and New Hampshire, and even the Super-Tuesday primaries he was winning the independent and upper-income voters while losing the traditional Democratic base, including union members and the majority of Americans that do not have a college degree. He had to switch to a more populist tune or risk losing the whole game to Hillary Clinton. He did so, just in time to trounce her among almost all demographic groups (notwithstanding Saturday Night Live's joke about her majority among white women over 80) in the Wisconsin primary. One of his best applause lines in that contest was his response to Hillary Clinton's remark that "speeches don't put food on the table." Obama's reply: "You know what? NAFTA didn't put food on the table, either."

Of course, there's nothing the chattering class hates more than "populism," which they seem to define roughly as appealing to voters on the basis of their real interests, without regard to what rich people or corporate moguls think. For this, Obama has provoked some media backlash: for example, the Washington Post editorial board accused Obama of delivering an "angrier, and intellectually sloppier, message . . . of class warfare and populism," for complaining about the negative impact of trade deals such as NAFTA.

But it's a bit late for the media to reinvent Obama, after affirming his image as a post-partisan, non-ideological, charismatic uniter. If he can clinch the nomination, as seems increasingly likely, he will probably drop the populist rhetoric and once again hew closer to the media boundaries on their "sensitive" issues such as trade. In a different time and place this could risk alienating his base and suppressing turnout, but with the economy going down the tubes and -- no matter what the likely Republican nominee Senator John McCain thinks - an unpopular war, this election should be the Democrat's to lose. The gulf between Obama and McCain on these and other major issues is sufficiently large, and Obama has the intelligence, knowledge, political skills, and mass appeal to capitalize on these differences.

There will be many battles ahead, and Obama can expect a dirty, even racist campaign from various Republican groups that McCain will try to distance himself from. This campaign will make any previous comments from the Clinton campaign or photos of Obama in a turban look mild by comparison.

But Obama has played the media like a violin, and unless he stumbles, it should carry him all the way to the White House.
Howie P.S.: I know some of you are thinking, "DUH," but there are some interesting ideas here. I have noticed that all of a sudden Obama is not being "misunderestimated" in the media anymore, now that he is winning. A certain skepticism is justified about "new" candidates, but like the war in Iraq, the CW (conventional wisdom) was slow to catch on. As for Edwards, fair or not, I think media types had a hard time swallowing his policy and style "evolution" over the last few years, as well as the contrast between his lifestyle and political messages. As for McCain, the author fails to mention the "free ride" he's getting on his "Straight Talk Express."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Branding Obama

Andrew Romano (Stumper Newsweek political blog):

Logo at left; 'Change We Can Believe In' is written in Obama's signature 'Gotham' typeface.

Let's be honest. Barack Obama is not on the verge of clinching the Democratic nomination because of his policy positions--whatever his most evangelical supporters might tell you. If policy was all that mattered this year, Hillary Clinton would've won five or six of the last 11 contests instead of losing them all. When it comes to specifics, there's simply not that much space between the candidates. Obama's success owes a lot, of course, to his message--the promise to pass Democratic policies by rallying a "coalition for change."
But watching Obamamania over the past few weeks, I've become convinced that there's something more subtle at work. It's not just the message and the man and the speeches that are swaying Democratic voters--it's the way the campaign has folded the man and the message and the speeches into a systemic branding effort. Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, slogans and web design, Obama is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand.* And for folks who don't necessarily need Democratic social programs--upscale voters, young people--I suspect that the novel comfort of that brand affiliation contributes (however subconsciously) to his appeal.

Seeking expert opinion, I tested my hypothesis on leading graphic designer and critic Michael Bieruit, who was kind enough to dissect Obama's unprecedented branding campaign--and show me how it's helping his candidacy. Excerpts:

(*UPDATE: A reader points out that "Reagan had one hell of a marketing strategy." No doubt. Every presidential candidate at least since Richard Nixon in 1968 was actively "marketed" to the American public--I'm not denying that. The point I'm trying to make is that Obama's marketing is much more cohesive and comprehensive than anything we've seen before, involving fonts, logos and web design in a way that transcends the mere appropriation of commercial tactics to achieve the sort of seamless brand identity that the most up-to-date companies strive for. Apologies for the misunderstanding. I definitely could have been clearer.)
What are the elements of the Obama brand?
To start, he has this way of writing Obama in upper and lowercase in a serif font and juxtaposing it with that "O" symbol he has--the blue ring with red and white stripes disappearing into it, making the white form inside the blue look like what I suppose is meant to be a rising sun. [See photo above]
That's his "logo," right?
Right. A lot of times when he's at a podium what you'll see is, centered right beneath him, at the very top of the blue field that usually says something like "Change You Can Believe In," it'll be just that little symbol, functioning in the same way the Nike swoosh does. People look at that and know what it means, even though it's just an "O" with some stripes in it.

Has any other campaign ever "pulled a Nike"?
Well, Bush did that the last time around with the letter "W," to some degree. You would see somebody with the letter "W" on a bumper sticker, and it would kind of work that way. But Obama has gotten there much quicker and a little more gracefully, if you ask me.

How else is Obama's design different than what has come before--or what rival campaigns are doing?
He's the first candidate, actually, who's had a coherent, top-to-bottom, 360-degree system at work. Whereas, I think it's more more common for politicians to have a bumper-sticker symbol that they just stick on everything and hope that that will carry the day.
The thing that sort of flabbergasts me as a professional graphic designer is that, somewhere along the way, they decided that all their graphics would basically be done in the same typeface, which is this typeface called Gotham. [See "Change We Can Believe In" sign, above] If you look at one of his rallies, every single non-handmade sign is in that font. Every single one of them. And they're all perfectly spaced and perfectly arranged. Trust me. I've done graphics for events --and I know what it takes to have rally after rally without someone saying, "Oh, we ran out of signs, let's do a batch in Arial." It just doesn't seem to happen. There's an absolute level of control that I have trouble achieving with my corporate clients. Then if you go to the Web site, it's all reflected there too--all the same elements showing up in this clean, smooth, elegant way. It all ties together really, really beautifully as a system.

Is Obama's stuff on the level with the best commercial brand design?
I think it's just as good or better. I have sophisticated clients who pay me and other people well to try to keep them on the straight and narrow, and they have trouble getting everything set in the same typeface. And he seems to be able to do it in Cleveland and Cincinnati and Houston and San Antonio. Every time you look, all those signs are perfect. Graphic designers like me don't understand how it's happening. It's unprecedented and inconceivable to us. The people in the know are flabbergasted.
What does that say about his campaign?
My feeling, in my own narrow sphere as a professional graphic designer, echoes a little bit what Frank Rich wrote in his column on Sunday, where he was talking about Hillary Clinton's argument that Obama doesn't have the experience to run the country properly, and how you only needed to look at how her own campaign has been managed to see the flaw in that argument. I sort of see the same thing. I'm not sure that the commander-in-chief proves his mettle by getting everyone at his rallies to set their signs in the same typeface, but as someone who knows how hard that is, I'm very impressed.The specific choices are also made in really good taste and I'd say to certain degree they also philosophically align with what his position is.

What do you see as the "philosophical implications," to use a highfalutin phrase, of Obama's design choices?
There are a couple of levels. There's the close-in parlor game you can play about what all these typefaces actually mean. Gotham was a typeface designed originally for GQ magazine, so it's a sleek, purposefully not fancy, very straightforward, plainspoken font, but done with a great deal of elegance and taste--and drawn from very American sources, by the way. Unlike other sans serif typefaces, it's not German, it's not French, it's not Swiss. It's very American. The serif font that he often uses to write Obama is delicate and nuanced and almost, not feminine exactly, but it's very literary-looking. It looks very conversational and pleasant, as opposed to strident and yelling. It's a persuasive-looking font, I would say. But that's putting these things on couches and pretending they have personalities.

Right. It's sort of hard to imagine in a voter in Cleveland (or a Newsweek political blogger from New York, for that matter) interacting with Obama's design on that level. How does it affect those of us who aren't graphic designers?
Well, I'm teaching this class at the Yale School of Management, and we were just talking about brand management and politics--exactly this thing before we got on the phone. And one of the things that came up in the conversation is, if you think about it, the challenge for someone named Barack Hussein Obama is that he's such an unprecedented figure in American politics--so much so that everything he's trying to do is, in a way, trying to make him look smoother and more normal. Someone said, "Well, why shouldn't he have revolutionary looking graphics--graphics that make him look like grassroots, like an outsider? Things drawn by hand, things that look forceful and avant-garde." But I think he's using design in a way to make him look as normal, as comfortable, as inevitable as a brand can look in American life. Those are really deliberate, interesting choices. Whether or not a sans serif font like Gotham looks more "American" than a Swiss font like Helvetica, that's in our imaginations to a certain degree. I think it's much more incontrovertible that he's actually using the seamlessness of this branding to convey a candidacy that's not a dangerous, revolutionary, risk-everything proposition--but as something that is well-managed and has everything under control.

How much have brands like Target or Apple or Volkswagen--these high-design, but essentially accessible brands--paved the way Obama?
I think they're all very much of a kind. I would name those three brands as ones that share a lot with the way this candidate is presenting himself. They're meant to look transparent, open, accessible and democratic to a certain degree. Non-intimidating. You don't feel that this stuff is all being hatched in corporate boardrooms with ad agencies and marketing experts at the table. They all sort of look as if people like you are talking to people like you. Of course, there's a lot of forethought put into all this stuff. But in the end, being able to project an identity that people are willing to credit with being authentic is a hard thing to do. But those brands, and the Obama brand, are managing to do it.

With all three of those brands, though, design has in some sense become a form of content. I wonder if something like that is happening with Obama--that people find the seamlessness of his brand compelling and comforting, and they gravitate to him because of it, as opposed to any specific policy differences with Clinton. I'm wondering if you see that reflected in Obama the same way you do in, say, Target or Apple vs. Wal-Mart or Dell?
Oh yeah. There is a difference in the way the experience is delivered between Wal-Mart and Target. Target is gambling on the proposition that people want something that's got more style, that seems more accessible, that's less strident, that's less one-dimensional, that offers a higher comfort level--and they're willing to go with it. There are interesting policy distinctions that you can make between the Democrats and the Republicans and even between Hillary and Obama. But as has been said, the differences are not so pronounced that you're going to be driven inexorably to one over the other. So I think that the affiliation with a brand seems to be transcending these other things. For good or for ill, that seems to be the way the race is playing out this year.

What about Hillary?
She's been morphing her Web site specifically to look like his all the time, so that seems obvious. McCain, to his credit, looks all the more militaristic and blunt and harsh in a way, so I appreciate him sticking to the authenticity. Do you think there's a risk that such a strong reliance on branding and design encourages the perception that Obama is all style and no substance?

There's always that risk, particularly in America--the suspicion that if something looks good, it can't possibly work. If someone's really beautiful, they can't be smart. I don't know why. It's like, in Italy, they don't seem to have that problem, oddly enough. A lot of that had to do with the fact that good-looking, well-designed stuff used to cost a lot -- it used to be a class divider. But now, with the brands you were mentioning, with Target, with Apple, they've become much more democratic and egalitarian in terms of access. Certainly, he's been attacked for being good-looking with no substance. But that's what you would do if you were losing to this guy.


"The fact was, this was a big strategic blunder. It was not a matter of 'Well, here is the initial decision, but since then we've voted the same way.' Once we had driven the bus into the ditch, there were only so many ways we could get out. The question is: Who's making the decision initially to drive the bus into the ditch?"

"And the fact is that Senator Clinton often says that she is ready on Day One, but, in fact, she was ready to give in to George Bush on Day One on this critical issue -- in fact, she facilitated and enabled this individual to make a decision that has been strategically damaging to the United States of America."
--Barack Obama, February 26, 2008 from the Washington Post article, "In a Crucial State, a Contentious Debate."

"1 of 9 - MSNBC Democratic Debate from Ohio - 2/26/08" (video)

Howie P.S.:
Part 1 and the links to the whole damn thing here (video). First Read (MSNBC) has some "First Thoughts" as well as "The Buckeye Brawl" and "The reviews are in" this morning.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ohio Debate: The Full Monty (with video)

Huffington Post, with video:

Pundits Weigh In: ABC's Rick Klein: "That was an exhausting 90 minutes -- just to watch. Probably as close to a draw as you can imagine -- really, two very talented politicians and debaters fighting it out extremely closely. On one level -- no clear winner is good news for Obama, the frontrunner, who avoided any significant missteps. But there are plenty of scattered moments for the Clinton campaign to be proud of..."

NBC's Chuck Todd: "Whew, the entire debate had a very tense feel; a combination of two very competitive Democratic candidates and two very tough questioners. Both candidates were put on the spot and survived. ... Overall, it's hard to see this debate as changing the trajectory of this race; Obama was a bit more defensive tonight than last week and had more stumbles tonight than in more recent encounters. Clinton really flubbed that 'SNL' line and she did so early so it made it into a bunch of writeups."

DailyKos' MissLaura: "Watching Clinton's posture as she listens to Obama's last answer, she looks defeated to me. She's just not carrying as much energy and focus in the lines of her body and face when she's not talking. And I think that's the story of the debate. I do think the moderation was at issue, but I also think Obama took this one on the merits, in part because he carried in the energy and confidence of someone who's on an electoral roll."

Time's Joe Klein: "He won. He not only won by not losing, but he also won on points--and on demeanor, and on quickness, if not quite substance (although this was a fairly substantive debate on both sides)."

MyDD's Todd Beeton: "Senator Obama often looked uncomfortable to me up there when not answering. Didn't really project the confidence I'm used to him projecting at the debates lately. Of course while Clinton may have looked more confident and more presidential, several of her lines didn't really work, and Obama's taking the high road may have come off better ultimately. But she certainly appeared to be the very image of the fighter she says she is, not sure it helped her though."

The Campaign Spin: From Obama campaign manager David Plouffe:

"Tonight, Barack Obama showed why he's the one candidate who has the judgment to serve as Commander-in-Chief and can draw a clear contrast on foreign policy with John McCain. Barack Obama opposed this war in Iraq from the start, and said that it would distract us from the terrorists in Afghanistan. When he is President, he will end this war, take the fight to al Qaeda, restore respect for America in the world, and bring this country together to deliver the kind of change that will help struggling families afford health care, stay in their homes, and send their children to college."

From Clinton backer and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland:

"Hillary Clinton showed Ohioans again tonight why she is uniquely qualified to be president and begin turning our economy around on her first day in office. Hillary is the fighter, the doer and the champion Ohio's working families need. No one is better prepared to deliver quality, affordable health care for every American and lead our country as commander in chief."

Clinton Offers Regret For Iraq War: HuffPost's Sam Stein: Hillary Clinton expressed regret for her vote to authorize the Iraq war towards the end of Tuesday night's debate. The statement came after Clinton was asked what one mulligan she wished she had from her time in public office.

"Although my vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again. I would certainly as president not have taken us to war in Iraq and I regret deeply that President Bush waged a preemptive war, which I warned against and said I disagreed with."

Clinton has treaded down this path before, though never apologizing for her vote. But, as noted by several post-debate observers, Tuesday night's response came with a bit more succinctness and, it appeared, sincerity.

The Clinton campaign emails out previous statements from Clinton to make the point that this is not a new claim. A sampling:

2007: Asked if the Iraq vote was her worst mistake as a Senator, Senator Clinton responded, "Well, I think, giving the president authority has turned out to be a terrible decision for everyone, including the president." [ABC, Good Morning America, 1/23/07]

2007: Senator Clinton was asked: "What is the most significant political or professional mistake you have made in the past four years? And what, if anything, did you learn from this mistake which makes you a better candidate?" She responded: "Well, I don't have enough time to tell you all the mistakes I've made in the last many years. Certainly, the mistakes I made around health care were deeply troubling to me and interfered with our ability to get our message out. And, you know, believing the president when he said he would go to the United Nations and put inspectors into Iraq to determine whether they had WMD." [MSNBC, Orangeburg, SC debate, 4/26/07]

Obama Tries For A "Moment" Of His Own: NYT: "Obama says they have gone through 20 debates and 'there is still a lot of fight going on in this contest.' He takes a page from her playbook at the last debate and praises her. 'Senator Clinton has campaigned magnificently,' he says. 'She is an outstanding public servant and I'm very proud to have campaigned with her.' (No handshake, no standing ovation.)"

Obama Denounces -- Then Rejects -- Farrakhan: Obama to Louis Farrakhan: "Thanks, but no thanks."

OBAMA: I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought, and we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with the minister.

RUSSERT: Do you reject his support?

OBAMA: Well, Tim, I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy. You know, I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is it on those comments.

Obama went on to further decry Farrakhan's history of anti-Semitism, and stated that he has been a strong friend of Israel. "The reason I've had such strong support is because I want to rebuild" the connection between "the African-American community and the Jewish community."

What went unsaid is that this afternoon, in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders in Cleveland, Obama staked out a specific position on Israel:

Via the Jerusalem Post:

"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud ap-proach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel," leading Democratic presidential contender Illinois Senator Barack Obama said Sunday.

"If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress," he said.

He also criticized the notion that anyone who asks tough questions about advancing the peace process or tries to secure Israel by anyway other than "just crushing the opposition" is being "soft or anti-Israel."

Then, Clinton asked that Obama both "reject" and "renounce" Farrakhan, which, in the interest of semantics, he did.

First Read notes:

For the word-o-philes out there, Obama wins with the word denounce which is more applicable to use when you find someone's positions distasteful.

re·ject -a verb used as an object...
1. to refuse to have, take, recognize, etc.: to reject the offer of a better job.
2. to refuse to grant (a request, demand, etc.).

de·nounce -verb (used with object), -nounced, -nounc·ing. 1. to condemn or censure openly or publicly: to denounce a politician as morally corrupt.

TPM's Josh Marshall weighed in on the Farrakhan questioning during his live-blog:

10:10 PM ... I guess it's good in some way that this sludge gets thrown around now in advance of the general. But Russert is well beyond the normal bounds of disgusting on this front. As a separate matter, the covert campaign to smear Obama with the Jewish community is a topic of great importance that I've been meaning to hit on and haven't done enough on it yet. At least we know now that Russert's enlisted with the cause.

10:13 PM ... I thought for a moment there that Hillary was going to say something classy. Guess I was wrong.

10:22 PM ... Having thought over that whole Obama/Russert exchange on Farrakhan, that was really ... well, bringing up Farrakhan was one thing, borderline, but maybe fair. But trying to read into the record some of the guy's most toxic statement, it really takes Russert into a whole new level of awfulness. It was disgusting.

Russert Gets Animated Over Iraq: Tim Russert channeled his inner-Iraqi legislature during the Iraqi policy portion of Tuesday night's debate. Getting a bit animated, the Meet the Press moderator offered a down-the-road hypothetical involving a residual American force (which both candidate's support) being left in Iraq against the country's will.

"No. Get out. Get out now," Russert said, playing the imaginary Iraqi government figure. "If you don't want to stay and protect us, we're a sovereign nation. Go home now."

The role-playing, thankfully, ended there.

Name That Russian Leader: Russert asks Clinton, who's the new leader of Russia?

In a question reminiscent of one that tripped up then-candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign, Russert asks about the man who is about to become president of Russia.

"What can you tell me" about him, he asks Clinton.

She describes how the new president is the "hand-picked" successor of Vladimir Putin and how Putin has bypassed most democratic processes.

And what is the incoming president's name? "Med ven dev... whatever," Clinton says. (The man's name: Dmitry Medvedev.)

Obama Addresses Clinton Mocking Him: "Shown a clip of Clinton mocking him this weekend for his rhetorical skills and calls for unity -- 'celestial choirs' will sing -- she said, Obama gives her points for 'good humor (and) ... delivery.'"

"I am absolutely clear that hope is not enough," Obama adds, to fix problems with health care, energy and other issues. "But what I also believe is that the only way we are actually going to get this stuff done ... (is to) mobilize and inspire the American people (and) ... go after the special interests."

Clinton: Obama Wants To Bomb Pakistan: Hillary Clinton, echoing John McCain's statements on the same matter, suggested that Obama wanted to "bomb Pakistan." In fact, that's not even close to the truth.

From TNR:

OBAMA: I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. This requires a broader set of capabilities, as outlined in the Army and Marine Corps's new counter-insurgency manual. I will ensure that our military becomes more stealth, agile, and lethal in its ability to capture or kill terrorists. We need to recruit, train, and equip our armed forces to better target terrorists, and to help foreign militaries to do the same.

There is nothing in Obama's speech, or any other Obama speech, about "bombing" Pakistan. Both implicitly and explicitly, he called for small, Special Operations-type incursions.

One minute later, Clinton offered, "I have long advocated a much tougher approach to Musharraf and to Pakistan and have pushed the White House to do that." Tougher than bombing them?

Clinton Getting Raw Deal From Moderators? Politico's Ben Smith:

I sometimes find the Clinton campaign's complaints about the media hard to take, but that was a bit of an SNL re-enactment.

Russert just grilled Clinton, hard, on Nafta, and on her unfilled pledge to bring jobs to Upstate New York.

Williams' question to Obama on experience: "How were her comments about you unfair?"

Clinton Faces More Booing After Referencing SNL Skit: Sen. Hillary Clinton, lamenting the soft coverage with which she believes Sen. Obama has been treated, tried out a new line of attack during the debate on Tuesday night. It fell more than a bit flat and was met with some mild boos.

Speaking after a 16-minute exchange on health care between the two Democratic presidential candidate, Clinton rhetorically asked why she always is given the first question in these forums. Then, playing off of a Saturday Night Live sketch that parodied the press' infatuation with Obama, she offered this bit:

"Well, could I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time? And I don't mind. You know, I'll be happy to field them but I do find it curious. And if anybody saw Saturday Night Live, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow."

The crowd really didn't respond. There was, what sounded like some hisses and, if you listen carefully, several boos. A much harsher reaction occurred to a Clinton attack on Obama in last Thursday's debate, in which she claimed that Obama's borrowing of words was not "Change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox."

Candidates Clash Over Iraq: "The war in Iraq -- long a dormant issue in the Democratic primary fight campaign -- roared back to relevance in tonight's debate as the two candidates clashed about whose experience better equipped them to face off against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the general election," The Fix's Chris Cillizza writes.

"Senator Clinton equates experience with longevity in Washington," said Obama, adding that "on the critical issues that actually matter I believe my judgment has been sound and it has been superior to Senator Clinton and Senator McCain."

Clinton pushed back as hard as she has at any point in the campaign, arguing that Obama's original speech in opposition to the war was essentially a hollow act because he has done little to follow up since being elected to the Senate in 2004.

"He's to be commended for having given the speech," said Clinton. "When he came to the Senate he and I have voted exactly the same. When we both had responsibility, when it wasn't just a speech it was action where is the difference?" ...

Obama, showing he is up to the fight, launched a broadside of his own against Clinton -- arguing that her 2002 vote for the Iraq use-of-force resolution amounted to complicity with President Bush's misguided plans. "She was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue," Obama said.

Back And Forth Over NAFTA: NYT's The Caucus notes:

Moderator Tim Russert and Mrs. Clinton get into a dispute over her view of Nafta. He says that in 2004, she said that on balance, Nafta has been good for New York and good for America. Mrs. Clinton says she'll renegotiate Nafta. And she'll tell Mexico and Canada that we'll be out unless we renegotiate it. She also says that lots of parts of New York and Texas have benefited from the trade agreement but places like Youngstown, Ohio have not. Mr. Russert asks if she would opt out within six months of becoming president.

"We'll opt out unless we renegotiate," she says, and she is certain that given that option, Mexico and Canada would renegotiate.

As for Mr. Obama, he says he too would make sure we renegotiate the treaty and that Mrs. Clinton is right. (She's also right that it seems as if she often has to answer debate questions before he does, but that may not be a winning argument with voters.)

Clinton, Obama Address Photo Of Obama In Africa: HuffPost's Jason Linkins has details, and the video, here.

Clinton Asked About Different Tones Towards Obama: "Off the bat, MSNBC airs two, contradictory images of Mrs. Clinton: First, they show her saying humbly at the end of the last debate that she was 'honored' to be on the stage with Mr. Obama. Then, they show the 'Shame on you, Barack Obama,' clip from the weekend where Mrs. Clinton blasted Mr. Obama for sending fliers to Ohio voters that she called misleading and false."

Mrs. Clinton is asked to explain the disparate images. She said his fliers were "very disturbing to me" and said it was "important to stand up for yourself." And what about that picture of Mr. Obama Did it come from her campaign? "So far as I know, it did not," she said. Mr. Obama says he takes her at her word about the photo. But he also says that her campaign has constantly sent out negative or inaccurate information about him, he just hasn't "whined" about it.



Will This Be Their Final Face-Off?: The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza notes:

After 19 debates spanning the better part of the last year, tonight's one on one between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton could be the last time the two appear on stage together for some time.

The debate -- set on the campus of Cleveland State University and sponsored by MSNBC -- comes at a critical juncture in the Democratic presidential race. Not only is it occurring one week before the Ohio and Texas primaries, it also comes amid widespread questions regarding the shakiness of Clinton's position in the race and what she will do if she loses one (or both contests) next Tuesday.

The Ohio Debate Primer On Trade: Ohio is a state that has been hit hard by trade-related job losses and wage cuts. The economy will certainly be center-stage tonight at the debate:

In the lead-up to this debate, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been sparring over the North American Free Trade Agreement -- a proxy battle over the larger issue of trade. Undoubtedly, this NAFTA argument will bleed into the Tuesday night debate, and so here's an objective look at the issue of trade and the records of both candidates that you might want to keep next to you as the rhetoric starts to fly.

Read more of the Ohio debate primer on trade here.

NAFTA Looms Large: Both candidates are likely to claim that they oppose NAFTA, but this could be a dubious claim:

Obama touted the benefits of the trade deal with Canada and Mexico when he was running for his Senate seat, and if Clinton had reservations about NAFTA, she kept them to herself when her husband made it one of his presidency's top priorities.

Debate Should Focus On Both Candidates:While all eyes will certainly be on Clinton tonight, The Washington Post's Dan Balz says there are questions Obama needs to answer as well:

Can he truly be the candidate of and red-state politicians alike? Have those at different ends of the Democratic political spectrum attributed to him positions -- on issues ranging from Iraq to health care to the economy -- that are compatible with their own views, but not with the other's?

Is there any major issue upon which he parts company with the big labor unions or has he adopted their agenda in totality? More broadly, where has he shown a willingness to take on some of his own party's constituencies, and if he's not willing to do so, how can he suggest that he can bring Republicans and independents into a governing coalition?

Obama Tamps Down Expectations: The candidate rips of a few sports cliches:

"Let's play to win, but let's make sure that we are maintaining the kind of campaign that win or lose we will be proud of afterwards," Obama said dampening down pre-game hype during a press availability in Cleveland Ohio, "I think that's probably a good note for all of us to take."

Obama's Grilling: If Obama has some tough questions to answer, he will be in good practice after fielding questions from local Jewish community leaders:

Those in attendance got right to the point, asking Obama about just about every topic that has so far caused some qualms about him in some quarters of the country's Jewish community, qualms that could pose a real problem for him in the general election in crucial states like Florida: about the outspoken pastor of his church and his link to Louis Farrakhan, about Obama's views on Palestinians, about the e-mails passing the false allegation that he is a Muslim, and about his plans for opening greater dialogue with the Muslim world, including with Iran.

Obama's answers were, on several points, more expansive than just about anything he has offered on the subject in the past. He distanced himself somewhat from his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, saying he was "like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with," and he condemned Farrakhan, who received an award from a church publication and last weekend endorsed Obama. He also distanced himself from his informal foreign policy adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former Carter national security adviser, who has upset some Jewish leaders with his endorsement of the authors of a recent book about the "Israel lobby." At the same time, though, Obama lamented some of the limits imposed on the debate over the Israel-Palestine question within the U.S.

Advantage: Hillary?: So says New York Magazine:

"Meet me in Ohio" was Hillary Clinton's challenge to Barack Obama over the weekend. Never mind that the two were already scheduled to debate there tonight ("See you Tuesday!" would have been less dramatic). Their last debate before the mini-Super Tuesday primaries on March 4 -- and, perhaps, their last ever -- promises an airing of issues connected to health care and NAFTA, both of which Clinton and Obama have been recently feuding over. In mailers and speeches, Obama has claimed that Clinton supports NAFTA and sending working families into poverty with her health-care mandates. Clinton disagrees. And the popular opinion actually seems to favor her position -- take that, SNL!

The Stakes Couldn't Be Higher: The Columbus Dispatch sets the tone for what's on the line:

On the line is Sen. Hillary Clinton's continued presidential viability. Losses in Ohio and Texas a week from today could effectively kill her chances of winning the nomination against Sen. Barack Obama, who has reeled off 11 straight wins.

"Clearly for Clinton and Obama, the stakes are much higher here than any other debate," said former U.S. Rep. Dennis Eckart, a Cleveland Democrat. "Obama can close it out on March 4 (or) Clinton can live to fight another day on March 4. All of that comes to a head in this debate."

Tonight's Clinton Strategy: Politico sketches out tonight's strategy for a Clinton campaign that has been struggling to find a message that will stick against her opponent:

At Tuesday night's debate in Ohio, aides are mapping plans for drawing persistent attention to Obama's record without attempting any knock-out punch theatrics that could backfire.

Many recent decisions have done exactly that. This has left the campaign awash in anger over who is to blame.

Communications chief Howard Wolfson--echoing a strong belief of the Clintons themselves--blamed the news media Monday for allegedly tossing bouquets to Obama whenever he criticizes Clinton but writing that she is throwing low blows whenever she draws contrasts with him.

Debate Preview: MSNBC outlines what to expect from tonight's debate:

The $64,000 question is: Which Hillary shows up -- the one we saw at the end of the Austin debate, or Ms. "Xerox" and "Shame on you, Barack Obama"? Certainly, this unknown tone she'll take at tonight's debate has a way of forcing Obama to be prepared for anything. It's not a bad place for her to be, in control of the tenor of this debate. Of course, is there such thing, after 20 debates, as a knockout blow anymore? Maybe not for Clinton but possibly for Obama. If he handles all of her shots, then he could put this thing away. If he wobbles, it could be a long six days for the front-runner. And keep in mind: The debate will be broadcast on all of the NBC affiliates in Ohio, and with weather likely to keep folks inside, there's a captive audience. More importantly, if you want a clue as to which Clinton is showing up tonight, think about this fact: Not a single Clinton TV ad is negative on Obama right now, in either Ohio or Texas.

The Basics: Local paper The Plain Dealer has the info:

Where to watch: At 9 p.m. on NBC affiliates throughout Ohio, MSNBC and live-streamed at The debate will run 90 minutes.

Moderators: NBC's "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert, who graduated from CSU's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1976 and received a undergraduate from John Carroll University; NBC "Nightly News" host Brian Williams.

The audience: The large arena has been shrunk to an intimate theater holding 1,600 seats. The bulk of the tickets were distributed through each campaign. Most of the 542 journalists who applied for credentials will not be allowed watch the event from the floor.

Debate format: No rules. OK, a few. Candidates will be asked to limit their responses to a reasonable length. There are no opening or closing statements.

Texas, Ohio and Granny Obama (videos)

NY Times, videos:
"The Democrats Battle for Texas," video (05:42):--The Democratic presidential candidates face the challenges of campaigning in Texas.

"The Political Climate in Ohio," video (04:56):--Senators Clinton and Obama are facing a electorate that has been promised many things by many presidential candidates over the years.

"Visiting Granny Obama," video (02:22):--Nicholas D. Kristof travels to Kenya to visit with the Obama family.

"A New Generation of Obama Democrats"

Dylan Loewe:
Bill Clinton’s ascension to the presidency was, at its time, the triumph of a new kind of politics. After a dismal Carter presidency, a crushing loss for Mondale, and a wayward Dukakis campaign, Bill Clinton offered a different style – more than just a solution for Democratic issues, he represented a solution for consecutive Democratic losses.
As the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization whose aim was to recalibrate the party’s message, Clinton personified their notion of a New Democrat. Rather than fight Republicans on a spectrum of left and right, Clinton aimed for a “third-way,” a kind of politics that meant co-opting Republican policies and remaking them with a Democratic sheen.

Clinton was, no doubt, a master of New Democratic politics. Much of the vitriol with which Republicans berated him grew out of frustration, watching their own pet policies, from free trade to welfare reform, being advocated by a Democratic president.

With success came those who wanted to duplicate his political model. In time, so-called New Democrats held governorships and leadership positions in Congress. They pressed for a centrist agenda, avoiding, at all cost, being described as liberals. The precepts of DLC-centrism invaded the core of the party, pushing progressives to the margins. But it ultimately ended in failure. Bill Clinton had fathered a kind of politics that could be mimicked, but not replicated, the kind that requires the perfect touch and tempo and tone.

For most who tried, third-way politics meant the dumping of bread-and-butter Democratic policies, opting instead for a small profile of issues, directly in the center. Democrats began to define themselves as Republicans, but competent and with pro-choice credentials. As contrasts became muddled, a common complaint was a lack of clear differences between parties.

The exodus to the political center meant a wholesale abandonment of message, leading to crushing victories in 2000, 2002, and 2004. But for a series of blunders, an explosive corruption scandal, and a horribly unpopular war, the New Democrats might have continued their losing trend into 2006. In the aftermath of that victory, however, there are, at least, the signs of change.

In 2007, none of the Democratic presidential candidates spoke at the DLC Convention, an unheard of notion only a few years before. And with Barack Obama inching ever closer to the White House, it may be that a new revolution is afoot.

Obama has built his candidacy on reaching voters in the center without moving his policy positions there. In general election match-ups, Obama consistently beats John McCain among Independents, a group long considered to be the fuel driving McCain’s success. Instead, Obama has produced a political formula that advocates a strong progressive agenda, while laying the groundwork necessary to ensure its passage. The new majority Obama speaks of is not an empty platitude; it is the most compelling reason to vote for him. The product of Obama’s innovative campaign and transcendent message will be a powerful governing coalition, come January. Obama will consolidate and increase the size of the Democratic base while attracting droves of Independents, providing him with larger margins in Congress and a mandate, part hope and part juggernaut. With substantial political capital, Obama will help further the core of the progressive agenda, allowing it to make strides forward that have seemed all but impossible for more than 25 years. Without a doubt, his model will be copied.

Perhaps, much like the New Democrats, the Obama Democratic philosophy will require a master politician as its shepherd, its mimicry falling short of replication. But for a new generation of politicians, even those who fall short of the lofty peaks of Obama’s speeches, a new kind of politics may still be a guiding philosophy: the kind of politics that embraces a progressive agenda, honestly and persuasively; the kind that respects the ideologies it rejects; and the kind that stands with pride, knowing that the language of politics still carries the power to spark movements.

The Democratic Party was left worse off when those who attempted New Democratic politics failed. Obama Democrats may too fail at meeting his standard, but having embraced the core ideas of Democratic thought, they will leave the party stronger for having tried.
Howie P.S.: "Chris Dodd's Message to Supporters" and a new Obama endorsement out of Ohio, here.