Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Gov. Richardson speaks directly to you" (video)

Democracy for America (DFA), video (1:59):
Last month, DFA members called upon the 2008 presidential candidates to take a stand on Iraq. Here is Governor Bill Richardson's response.

"Obama Campaign Aims To Turn Online Backers Into an Offline Force"

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois will rally thousands of voters in cities and towns across the country today, part of an effort to ensure that the surge of interest in his campaign will translate into an army of supporters when Democrats begin casting votes 10 months from now.
Obama's "community kickoff" events are billed as first-of-a-kind gatherings aimed at encouraging members of the more than 6,000 groups that were created on his presidential Web site to meet face to face. The candidate is to christen the effort to take his online support offline at a public library in tiny Onawa, Iowa, an appearance that will be streamed live on his Web site.

The meetings are the most high-profile example to date of the Obama campaign's efforts to avoid the fate suffered in 2004 by former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who could not turn online excitement into votes and saw his campaign fizzle dramatically in Iowa.

Like Dean, Obama has gained prominence with rhetoric that has struck a chord with many voters and with his call for a shake-up of the status quo in Washington. Obama's campaign also faces the perils of any insurgent effort: In the second act, can it convince Democrats that nominating him will not compromise the party's chances of winning the White House?

The solution to moving from an online insurgency to an established and serious presidential bid, according to Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, is events such as the one set for today, in which online activists meet in person and begin to build an offline connection.

"The movement for change begins with you," Obama wrote in an e-mail touting the community kickoff event. "It's one thing to understand that in theory. It's another to sit in a room full of motivated people, make a plan and then witness the effects of hard work."

Obama is hardly the only candidate seeking the presidential nomination in 2008 who faces the challenge of converting excitement and interest into activism and votes. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 65 percent of voters said they are following the presidential race closely; in a Post survey done in April 2003, 37 percent said they were closely monitoring the 2004 campaign.

That intensity has translated into huge crowds packing town halls across Iowa and New Hampshire, thousands signing up as "friends" of the candidates on social networking sites, and tens of millions of dollars already being donated in the first three months of the year. As of last night, Obama's Web site reported he had received more than 100,000 contributions in the first three months of 2007.

The challenge, as one former member of Dean's staff put it, is that "you can generate a lot of press without that translating into actual support."

Ned Lamont's Democratic primary campaign in Connecticut against Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman last year provided a stark reminder of the limits of enthusiasm -- particularly online -- in bringing a campaign across the finish line. After defeating Lieberman in the August primary, thanks in large part to the strong backing of the liberal "Net roots" movement, Lamont could not translate that support into a general election victory, and Lieberman won as an independent in the three-way race.

For Obama, the challenge of turning initial interest into a year-long commitment and, eventually, votes is particularly acute. Unlike his main opponents for the 2008 Democratic nomination -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) -- Obama is a newcomer to national politics.

Many of Obama's new supporters "are much like the people we initially started exciting," said Joe Trippi, who was Dean's campaign manager. But it is there that Obama's campaign hopes the comparisons to Dean will end.

Obama's team of experienced field operatives is trying to ensure that relationships with volunteers interested in the campaign are being built both online and offline. The goal is twofold: to gauge how active and committed a supporter is to Obama's candidacy, but also to build a relationship that transcends the person's simply receiving e-mails or joining an online group.

In the first weekend of his campaign for president, Obama signed up more volunteers in Iowa than Al Gore, then the vice president, did in the first six months of his campaign for the 2000 nomination. At a late February rally in Austin, Obama's campaign collected 22,000 e-mail addresses.

"What Obama is creating is this viral network of support," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network. "He has a national campaign already."

Some skeptics think Obama lacks the campaign infrastructure to take advantage of the excitement he is creating. "From a distance, it looks like they have an intake-valve problem," said one unaffiliated strategist who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about Obama. "There's more demand than they are able to handle."

Obama's aides are taking pains to show that is not the case. In advance of a rally last weekend in Oakland, Calif., the campaign e-mailed its list requesting volunteers to do advance work and staff the event. Five hundred people gathered at the preliminary meeting. "We now know that they are not only for us but they are active volunteers," Plouffe said.

That approach is based at least in part on Obama's experience as a young community organizer on Chicago's South Side. "Change won't come from the top, I would say," Obama wrote in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father." "Change will come from a mobilized grass roots."

He has put together a field staff built around that idea. Field director Temo Figueroa sits astride the national operation, and Steve Hildebrand, who ran Gore's campaign in Iowa in 1999 and 2000, is tasked with organizing in the early states. In New Hampshire, Obama has signed on Rob Hill, who ran the party's coordinated field operations in Montana in 2006 and Oregon in 2004. Obama's Iowa director is Paul Tewes, a longtime party operative who was Hildebrand's deputy in 2000.

It is in Iowa that the success or failure of Obama's online-to-offline strategy will be measured. To win that state's caucuses requires organizing know-how and execution, a trick Dean -- despite tens of thousands of volunteers across the country -- could not pull off.

"One laboratory you can study very carefully is Iowa, and the truth is [Dean's] online energy was elsewhere," Plouffe said.

Trippi said that of the 650,000 people on Dean's e-mail list, just 2,500 were Iowa residents. That meant that many volunteers working on Dean's get-out-the-vote effort at the caucuses were out-of-towners who were considerably younger than the average Iowa voter, he added.

To avoid that situation, Obama's campaign is seeking to emulate the neighbor-to-neighbor contact President Bush benefited from in the 2004 election. An Iowa resident signing up to receive e-mail updates on Obama's Web site will get a call within days from one of Tewes's team aimed at beginning a personal relationship that, the campaign hopes, will result in that supporter's presence at the caucuses in January. These supporters are invited to organize community meetings, attend caucus training sessions and come to events with the candidate as well as his surrogates.

But no matter how well organized Obama's campaign is in Iowa, his drawing power has a downside. David Yepsen, a columnist for the Des Moines Register, recently wrote: "Barack Obama is getting good crowds in Iowa. Perhaps too good for his own good." Yepsen argued that many attendees at a recent Dubuque event were from out of town, drawn by Obama's star power but ultimately unable to caucus for him.

Obama's campaign is aware of that risk. The lesson learned from Dean's failed effort, according to Plouffe, is to focus as much as possible on "Iowans talking to Iowans."
Cross-posted at

"Clinton Isn't the Issue"

Matt Stoller:
I tend to criticize Hillary Clinton a lot, but it's not because I'm particularly opposed to her as a person. Clinton's personnel choices and general way of doing business reflects a very successful political strategy and is a proxy for the establishment. Her positioning on Iraq is exactly that of elite Democratic orthodoxy, and it's frustrating that we can have one discussion on the supplemental as our various 2008 candidates claim to be against the war while putting forward plans that will require keeping tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. As Matthew Yglesias notes, we need to hear more about this from the other candidates; at least Clinton has been somewhat explicit about the plan for perpetual occupation.
In other arenas, Clinton is moving towards a more economically populist positioning, which is a positive. Here's her letter to Circuit City asking the company to reconsider its layoffsof thousands of workers who were to be replaced with lower paid workers. And here's an article on her shift from a stance as a supporter of Bill Clinton's 1990s corporate trade policies to something of an opponent of CAFTA and now NAFTA.

Now obviously it's not going to surprise you to hear that I don't particularly trust her, as her newfound economic populism is somewhat belied by a key strategist's union-busting chops. But Clinton is a function of the Democratic machine, and the others need to make that case by distinguishing themselves and figuring out ways to make this criticism.
The prime sin of the Democratic Party has been the silence of its members and leaders in the face of betrayal by bad decision-makers at the top. It's what led us into Iraq and fed many of our other sins over the last thirty years. Other candidates need to make this case, and they need to make it directly. That's not happening, which is a shame, and perhaps suggests that the ties to the insiders are still immensely strong within all 2008 Presidential campaigns.

"Concerns Grow In Clinton Camp About Obama Fundraising Strength"

NY Times:
Concerned about Senator Barack Obama’s presidential fund-raising, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign has dispatched former President Bill Clinton to attend 16 fund-raisers in the last six weeks and to lead conference calls and Internet appeals to donors, in some cases assessing Mr. Obama’s positions on Iraq.

Democrats close to the couple say that Mr. Clinton’s efforts on his wife’s behalf were just beginning and that they were likely to accelerate after he finishes writing a book this spring. Several donors said that Mr. Clinton’s role was even greater than they originally expected after Mrs. Clinton announced her candidacy on Jan. 20.

The early deployment of Mr. Clinton highlights the continuing concerns in the Clinton camp about the strength of Mr. Obama’s candidacy and his fund-raising prowess. The Clinton camp has tried to stop any drift of Democratic donors to the Obama camp, since the campaign finance reporting period ending tonight is seen as a huge test of the campaigns’ money-raising abilities as they gird for a crush of early primaries.

When Mrs. Clinton announced for the presidency in January, the former president was mentioned in meetings as one of several fund-raising surrogates for her.

In short time, he helped raise about $2 million at small dinner parties in Manhattan, sometimes staying far later into the night than planned, and is now ending March with a flourish. After a gala last night headlined by Mrs. Clinton that raised $1 million, Mr. Clinton was scheduled to join her for a cocktail party this evening with the music producer Timbaland in Miami, and a second party where event chairmen were hoping to raise $100,000 each.

Even as Mr. Clinton pursues his tasks with gusto, Clinton donors and Democratic allies say that the campaign has also been sensitive about using him too much, for fear that he might overshadow his wife or come to be seen as an overused or exploited asset.

This sensitivity has been evident recently. While Mr. Clinton’s schedule has been hectic at times, with some days layered with two fund-raisers, Clinton advisers have tried to minimize his role and his desire to trounce Mr. Obama in fund-raising for the first three months of 2007.

Still, John Catsimatidis, a New York fund-raiser who held an event at his apartment with Mr. Clinton on March 3, recalled that at a meeting of fund-raisers in Manhattan soon after Senator Clinton’s announcement, the former president came up briefly in conversation and was not a focus of the fund-raising strategy. But his recent burst of money-raising tells a different story.

“It’s a lot more than anyone expected two months ago,” Mr. Catsimatidis said. “President Clinton is a competitive guy, and he has said himself that the March 31 fund-raising deadline was the first primary.”

The Clintons’ fund-raising zeal, however, has left some donors bristling. Jim Neal, a North Carolina investment banker who supported Gen. Wesley K. Clark and then, in 2004, Senator John Kerry, said he was alienated by the effort “to put absolutely unprecedented expectations and pressure on donors,” like proposing that some fund-raisers would yield more than $1 million for Mrs. Clinton.

“It’s almost like a shakedown — you’re either with us or you’re not,” said Mr. Neal, who participated in an early conference call involving the Clinton campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, but is not seen as a major player in the Clintons’ world.

“I just find the squeeze, this early, to be quite vulgar,” Mr. Neal added. “This idea that you should try to K.O. other candidates by simply overwhelming them with the amount of money you have in the bank. It’s a bullying tactic.”

Mr. Neal said he supported Mr. Clinton in 1992 and 1996, but did not plan to support Mrs. Clinton.

A spokeswoman for Mr. McAuliffe and campaign officials declined to respond to Mr. Neal’s comments.

With tonight’s fund-raising deadline comes major questions for Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama about the size of their war chests, their ability to raise money online and nationwide, and what advantage, if any, Mr. Obama enjoys among antiwar Democrats, with whom he is popular.

Mrs. Clinton, as a veteran of her husband’s two campaigns and her own two Senate races in New York, started off with a far larger donor database and greater name recognition than Mr. Obama, of Illinois, and she had been widely expected to do significantly better than him in fund-raising for this period.

One donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said the Clintons would not like his speaking openly, said the Clinton campaign had been trying to lower fund-raising expectations because of a concern about a surge by Mr. Obama, who has shown broad appeal among black, female and young Democrats and has captured some big-money donors like Orin Kramer, a former Clinton supporter.

“The Clintons thought the nomination would most likely be theirs, barring some major disaster, and they are having to work harder and earlier for the nomination than either Clinton expected,” said the donor, who said he had talked about Mr. Obama with Mr. Clinton. “This was not how things were supposed to go, and they are obsessed with beating Barack in fund-raising.”

At some fund-raisers, Mr. Clinton viewed part of his job as “explaining Hillary and Barack” to donors, in the words of one fund-raiser who talked to him — laying out the rivals’ positions on Iraq, for instance, in a manner that minimized their differences and made Mr. Obama appear less-than-consistently antiwar.

On a recent conference call with donors, too, Mr. Clinton gave a point-by-point analysis of the candidates’ positions on the war in Iraq.

Jay Carson, Mr. Clinton’s communications director, who is also a member of Senator Clinton’s campaign, was asked in an interview if Mr. Clinton was motivated at all by Mr. Obama’s candidacy or by voters’ comparisons of the rivals on Iraq.

“He quite obviously believes that his wife is the best candidate, would make the best president, and he is focused on making sure that people understand that,” Mr. Carson said.

Obama campaign officials said that Mr. Obama’s opposition to the war has been consistent from the start, and that his success at fund-raising has less to do with famous surrogates than with the appeal of his message.

“The Obama campaign isn’t about dollars raised,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman. “It’s about the thousands of people who have shown they want to get involved and be part of this effort to transform our nation.”

Officials in the Obama and Clinton campaigns expect each of them to raise far more than past candidates for the Democratic nomination in comparable time periods — the $9 million that Vice President Al Gore raised in the first quarter of 1999, and the $7.4 million that former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina raised in that period in 2003.

While any predictions are extremely unreliable and subject to the campaigns’ expectations-setting, the Obama and Clinton camps expect to double those amounts at the least, Democrats close to them say.

Mrs. Clinton, as a former first lady and a two-term senator, has a far larger database of donors than does Mr. Obama, who was first elected in 2004. Clinton advisers say she has more than 250,000 people in her database, while Mr. Obama’s campaign Web site says he has about 78,000.

In interviews, several donors, fund-raisers and advisers in and around the campaign expressed genuine concern that the size of Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raising margin over Mr. Obama may not be as great as donors initially expected in the early, exuberant days of her candidacy in late January and early February.

At the same time, donors and Democratic allies say they have not seen Mr. Clinton so engaged politically in years — suggesting countless ideas to his wife and two top campaign officials, Mr. McAuliffe and Mark Penn, her chief strategist and Mr. Clinton’s former pollster, and enthusiastically taking questions and staying late at her fund-raisers even after attending hundreds of these sorts of events for years.

“What’s interesting is how on time he is, how into it he is, and how late he stays,” said Robert Zimmerman, a New York fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton. “He is into this heart and soul.”

Mr. Zimmerman added, only half-jokingly, “I don’t remember him being so on time when he ran.”

"Corzine, Who Claimed Obama as Protégé in ’04, Will Endorse Clinton, Democrats Say"

NY Times:
TRENTON, March 30 — Gov. Jon S. Corzine plans to endorse Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for president on Monday, according to Democrats close to both.
Mr. Corzine’s endorsement represents a significant coup for Mrs. Clinton. He would become the first sitting Democratic governor to endorse her over her two main rivals, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. And in the case of Mr. Obama, Mr. Corzine, a former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, would be spurning someone he has often taken credit for helping to discover and nurture during the 2004 campaign.

More important, though, Mr. Corzine’s endorsement may give Democrats angered by Mrs. Clinton’s original vote for a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq some political cover in supporting her.

Mr. Corzine voted against the resolution while in the United States Senate, and he has often cited Iraq as a crucial determinant in why he chose as his successor in the Senate Representative Robert Menendez, who also voted against the resolution, not Representative Robert E. Andrews, who voted for the resolution.

When asked about the endorsement, spokesmen for both Mr. Corzine and Mrs. Clinton declined to comment. “There is no announcement to make at this time,” said Anthony Coley, Mr. Corzine’s press secretary.

But several Democrats confirmed that the endorsement was in hand, and that the two would appear together at an event on Monday in Elizabeth. They will be joined by several New Jersey officials who are also supporting Mrs. Clinton, including Mr. Andrews and Representative Frank J. Pallone Jr.

Indeed, some Democrats said that they had been waiting for Mr. Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, to make his choice, in order to offer a more united front in a strong Democratic state rich with delegates and deep-pocketed donors. And Mr. Corzine is expected to sign into law on Sunday legislation that would push New Jersey’s presidential primary up to Feb. 5, potentially enhancing the state’s visibility.

“Ideologically, he may be on the same page as Edwards and Obama” as a liberal Democrat, said Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist who once worked as a spokeswoman for Mr. Corzine, and is not supporting any candidate. “But I think at the end of the day, he is an old bond trader, and he’s looking at who has the best odds of who’s going to win.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Obama declined to comment. But former Gov. Richard J. Codey, who has endorsed Mr. Edwards, said: “The governor explained to me that she was helpful to him, and he feels a kinship and friendship with her, and I understand that fully well. I just want a candidate who can win in November. I think she can, but I think Edwards has a greater possibility.”

That Mr. Corzine has sided with Mrs. Clinton is hardly a surprise. He has long been a major donor to the Democratic Party, and counts as one of his mentors Robert E. Rubin, another former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, who was Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration.

Mr. Corzine also worked closely with Mrs. Clinton when they were in the Senate together on numerous New York-New Jersey issues, including the aftermath of 9/11.

But Mr. Corzine has also praised Mr. Obama as one of the most promising politicians in years. This was especially true last year, when Mr. Obama traveled to New Jersey three times to campaign for Mr. Menendez, and he drew large and ecstatic crowds.

But Mr. Corzine’s circle is not without other presidential candidates, including one of his closest friends when he was in the Senate, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who attended Mr. Corzine’s inauguration in January 2006. Also showing up in Trenton that day was another candidate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware.

In December, Mr. Corzine expressed reservations about both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama on WFAN’s “Imus in the Morning” program. He said that he was worried that she “would have a hard time getting elected” and that Senator Obama might not have the appropriate “breadth of perspective and managerial experience.”

About a month ago, speculation that Mr. Corzine would endorse Mrs. Clinton intensified after he appeared at a fund-raiser in New Brunswick with major Democratic donors, according to three Democrats who attended. That event featured Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who is now the chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign committee.

The political significance of a New Jersey governor’s decision cannot be ignored, since the governor is the only elected state official. So when former Gov. James E. McGreevey endorsed Howard Dean in the 2004 Democratic primary, just about every other New Jersey politician followed suit.

The most prominent New Jersey official who did not was Mr. Corzine, and he backed Senator John Kerry.

"Howard Dean Bringing In Big Money From Major Donors Once Skeptical Of Him"

Greg Sargent:
This is interesting: Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, who was greeted with intense skepticism by the party's big-money donors at the outset of his tenure, appears on track to bring in far more cash this quarter from those top fundraisers than many expected.
The DNC is on track to haul in roughly $14 million this quarter, approximately $3.8 million of which comes from major donors, who are defined as donors who gave more than $5,000 as an individual or from a PAC, the DNC says. That's a significant jump from the first quarter of 2003 -- the last comparable year -- when the DNC raised only $2.23 million from major donors, according to the DNC's numbers.

Yes, Dean is being helped by the White House's awful political travails. Nonetheless, it's still significant, because it suggests that Dean has had far more success than many expected in winning over the party's major contributors, who were initially so skeptical of Dean's gloves-off, grass-roots approach that they privately were threatening to clamp shut their wallets.

Top Democratic donor Robert Zimmerman describes the jump in money from the big contributors as "very significant."

"The major donors initially were skeptical of Dean and his 50-state strategy," Zimmerman says. "Dean had to prove the merits and logic of his strategies. But the success of his 50-state strategy certainly has impressed the establishment donor community. Unlike in 2004, when there was an overreliance on 527s that undermined the idea of a strong party structure, the support Dean is receiving from major donors shows a growing recognition among them that a strong DNC is an essential tool for victory in 2008."

Times do change.

Friday, March 30, 2007

"Experience" and "Electability"

"Experience"---Joel Connelly (Seattle P-I):
A Democrat who withstood Ronald Reagan's first landslide to win his Senate seat, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut, is wagering his 2008 hopes on a premise: Americans will NOT want an untried president given the nation's current predicament.
"I've been involved in every major defense and foreign policy debate for the past quarter century," Dodd said in an interview. "Under normal circumstances, 26 years in the Senate would immediately disqualify me from the presidency.

"But we've experienced six years of on-the-job training with George Bush.The man resists learning. People are going to want a president who can do things, not spend years getting to know Washington, D.C.

Dodd is in Seattle Frida for a fundraiser hosted by local businessman Jim Hodge, a buddy since the two men met as Peace Corps volunteers in the Dominican Republic 40 years ago.

He brings one advantage to early skirmishing in the '08 race. Dodd is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, a "juice committee" in the language of fundraisers. He raised more than colleagues Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama in the last quarter of 2006.

Dodd has been central in one of Capitol Hill's high dramas over the war in Iraq.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, his Connecticut colleague, is the one Senate Democrat who has stood with the Bush administration on the war. In 2006, an anti-war businessman named Ned Lamont upset Lieberman in the Democratic primary.

Lieberman ran, and won, in November as an independent. He did so, however, without the support of his 18-year seatmate Chris Dodd.

"It was a very awkward time for two guys who are friends," Dodd said. "It was painful, but I am the leader of the party in my state and I can't go around claiming the judgment of its voters is irrelevant."

Dodd believes this month's passage by Congress of an Iraq spending bill with a 2008 pullout date marks the beginning of the end for the administration's war policy.

"What happened in the House and Senate, while the president may veto it, marks the death knell for this policy," said Dodd.

Dodd is worried about other areas of the world, especially Latin America. He watched earlier this month as Bush made his first extensive trip to South America, only to be hounded by Venezuela's Yankee-baiting President Hugo Chavez.

"It saddens me to see an American president, in a part of the world where we've been seen favorably, basically having to hide out," Dodd argued. "But this president has totally ignored a region vital to our interests . . . We are losing the public relations war to Hugo Chavez."

He compared the situation to 1958, when Richard Nixon's motorcade was stoned as the then-vice president drove into Caracas, Venezuela's capital. Nixon and his wife Pat were spat upon.

"Yet, more than 40 years after his death, huts and hovels from Panama to Tierra del Fuego have pictures of John F. Kennedy," Dodd said.

The senator mocked the administration's position on Hemisphere-wide free trade. "It simply means allowing U.S. companies to mark in these countries and take advantage of low wages and lousy working conditions, without contributing in any way to the local people," he said.

Dodd, 62, has become a father late in life, with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old at home.

"At the current rates of increase in education costs, I'm going to need to be Willy Sutton to put 'em through college," Dodd said, in a reference to the famous bank robber.

The senator said major reform is needed in three areas -- education, health care and energy policy -- if America's middle class is to survive, and if the American dream is to be made available to the poor.

"We're spending $2.3 trillion -- trillion -- each year on health care, which is 50 cents out of every dollar spent in the world on health," said Dodd, "yet we rank 27th in infant mortality and 28th in life expectancy."

Dodd cited one factor as responsible for the huge, growing income gap between the richest Americans and the country's wage-earners -- the decline in the country's labor unions.

"When you had more union households, it made a huge impact on pay and equality," Dodd argued, "and we recently saw Bush's chairman of the Federal Reserve Board give a speech making that very point."

The Connecticut senator's father, onetime (1958-70) Sen. Thomas Dodd, was executive council for the prosecution at the post-World War II Nuremburg trial that convicted Nazi leaders of war crimes.

The legacy has helped make Chris Dodd an internationalist, and provided one more reason in making him run.

"International structures are important to this country," he argued. "The Bush administration has been dismantling things that are important to us."

"Electability"---Chris Bowers:
Apart from primary trial heats, another interesting development is how Obama continues to gain on Giuliani in head-to-head general election trial heats.
He has been within the margin of error for some time, but the only two polls taken in late March (Time and Fox) show him down by an average of only one point. If Obama starts to pull ahead of Giuliani in trial heats, then look out. He already performs better, though only slightly, against the entire Republican field than any other Democrat. It really is too bad that, as The Politico, Nedra Pickler, James Carville and other center-right establishment types tell us, Obama's "inexperience" and "fluff" make him unelectable. Off-hand, and I write this as someone who donated $50 to John Edwards today (and $50 to Michael Nutter, and $10 a month for 18 months to the Progressive Patriots Fund--I did my Q1 donations today), I would have thought that the candidate who does best against Republicans, who has the highest favorable / unfavorable ratio of all Democrats, and who has the most people-powered activism behind him, is the most "electable." Oh yeah, and he has spent more time in elected office than either Edwards or Clinton, too.
Unfortunately, the establishment has spoken, and "electability" will once again have nothing to do with actual facts until, over the next few months, the fact-less "electability" narrative ends up bending public opinion to its will.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Senator John Edwards' Response"

Democracy for America (DFA):
Last month, DFA members called upon the 2008 presidential candidates to take a stand on Iraq. Here is Sen. John Edward's response (video 3:19).

"Jesse Jackson Backs Obama for President"


CHICAGO -- Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said Thursday he's backing Democrat Barack Obama in his presidential bid, giving his support to a new generation of black politicians. "He has my vote," the Rev. Jackson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Jackson sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, winning 13 primaries and caucuses in 1988. His son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, has already endorsed Obama.

Jackson represents a different era of black politician, battle-tested by the civil rights struggles of the 1960s with Martin Luther King Jr.

Obama, 45, is biracial _ his white mother was from Kansas, his father Kenyan _ and educated at Ivy League universities.

In his best-selling memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Obama said he couldn't even get in the door at national civil rights groups when he was younger. He wrote letters to them after graduating from Columbia University but said none responded.

In a statement responding to Jackson's support, Obama said, "This campaign has been about giving hope since Day One and I am proud to have the support of my friend Jesse Jackson. It is because people like Jesse ran that I have this opportunity to run for president today."

Jackson could help Obama to secure the support of black voters, a critical bloc in the Democratic primaries.

Jackson has a long history with one of Obama's chief rivals, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband former President Clinton. He counseled the two when the president's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky became public.

But Jackson said his history with the Clintons doesn't complicate his decision to back his home state senator, calling Obama Illinois' "favorite son."

"It's not awkward at all," he said, adding, "I don't owe a debt to any of them."

Jackson said he will support the winner of the Democratic nomination, whether it's Obama or not, and he is talking to other candidates because of his agenda that includes the war on poverty and voter protection.

Although Jackson failed in his bids for the White House in 1984 and 1988, he said that helped make it easier for not only blacks, but women and other minorities to run for president and function at the highest levels of government.

"We broke down barriers," Jackson said.

Jackson said Obama has not asked him to campaign for him and he is not in Obama's inner circle of advisers and fundraisers.

"I just have an appreciation of him," Jackson said.
Cross-posted at

"Senator Barack Obama's Response" (video)

Democracy for America (DFA):
Last month, DFA members called upon the 2008 presidential candidates to take a stand on Iraq. Here is Sen. Barack Obama's response (video 5:45).
Cross-posted at

"Edwards Experiences Surge in Support"

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Elizabeth Edwards' sobering diagnosis of incurable cancer has triggered an outpouring of support, with a surge of donations to her husband's presidential campaign and affirmation of his candidacy in opinion polls.
The amount of money given to Edwards' campaign via the Internet increased by about 50 percent since the couple announced last week that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer had returned. A CBS News poll released Wednesday found that by a 2-to-1 margin, voters support Edwards' decision to continue his campaign.

Since last Thursday, Edwards has collected about $540,000 online, according to a tally by, which counts all the donations made through the Edwards Web site. It initially took Edwards two months to reach his early online fundraising goal of $1 million, and the campaign had languished just above that mark in the weeks before the cancer announcement.

By comparison, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton easily raised $1 million over the Internet in one week after her husband, former President Clinton, challenged donors at the end of February to help her campaign reach that goal.

Overall, Edwards has raised about $1.7 million online since launching his bid for the Democratic nomination at the end of December.

''The more that people become familiar with John and Elizabeth Edwards and who they are as human beings, the more supportive they are of their campaign,'' said Fred Baron, chief campaign fundraiser.

The first-quarter fundraising deadline is Saturday, with financial reports due April 15.

Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before the end of 2004 presidential campaign. After months of therapy, doctors declared her free of cancer. But last week, the couple said that the cancer has returned to her bone in an incurable form, and vowed to continue Edwards' campaign for the White House.

In an interview with People magazine posted online Wednesday, Elizabeth Edwards said the cancer does not appear to have spread beyond her bone to any organs. Her doctor estimates she has at least 10 years left to live, she said.

''I just need the medicine to catch up to me,'' Edwards told the magazine. ''The medicine is going to catch up to this condition -- it's just a question of when.''

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said Edwards' fundraising, in some ways, can be compared to a telethon.

''It's a very touching story, and the same kind of motivation that causes people to reach for their checkbooks,'' Baker said.

The Edwards campaign is pushing hard to raise as much as possible before the end of the fundraising period. Campaign manager David Bonior sent a message to supporters Wednesday urging voters to donate, saying, ''this first test couldn't be more important.''

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"The Union Makes Them Strong, They Hope" (video)

Washington Post (video 4:59):
Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton extol middle-class values before a conference of the Communication Workers of America.

"Impeachment, Like Spring, is in the Air"

Dave Lindorff:
It’s time for impeachment to come out of the deep freeze.

For a year now, Democratic leaders like Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Rep. Nancy Pelosi D-CA), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and DNC head Howard Dean have been working to tamp down the pressures to hold the president accountable for his crimes and abuses of power by way of impeachment.
House Speaker Pelosi for her part made it clear after the Democrats won the House that she would tolerate no talk of impeachment, even reportedly threatening one-time impeachment advocate Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) with the denial of his cherished position as chair of the House Judiciary Committee if he pushed ahead with or accepted bills of impeachment from other House members.

House leaders and Democratic Party leaders also worked behind the scenes to kill off grassroots attempts to follow Thomas Jefferson’s alternative route to impeachment by getting state legislatures to pass bicameral impeachment resolutions. They strong-armed legislative leaders in the senates of both Washington State and New Mexico to block efforts to put such resolutions to a floor debate and vote in those two states, and have been working mightily to block a similar grassroots campaign in Vermont.

But the Democratic Party’s efforts to tamp down impeachment efforts are coming unraveled, courtesy of the ongoing criminality of the Bush administration, which seems hell-bent on aggrandizing as much executive power as it possibly can before the clock runs out on Bush’s second term of office.

Democratic state committees, the top party organizations at the state level, in both Oregon and Vermont, have overwhelmingly passed resolutions calling on the House of Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings. In Vermont, 38 towns--roughly a third of those holding annual town meetings this past month--voted impeachment resolutions (only six were rejected), and an effort continues to move forward in both houses of that state’s legislature to introduce and pass a Jeffersonian impeachment resolution to send to the House in Washington. Other efforts are underway in New Jersey and Maine.

Republican Senator and presidential dark horse Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has publicly stated that impeachment is a possibility, given the president’s arrogant rejection of public or congressional accountability with regard to the war in Iraq and other issues.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has openly talked of submitting a bill of impeachment.

What’s missing in all this has been media attention. In fact, until lately, the media have pretty much only reported about impeachment in the negative, running stories when an impeachment resolution gets blocked by a state legislature, but not when it gets backed by a legislative committee, or by a Democratic state party organization.

There has not been a scientific poll asking about impeachment sentiment since last October, when Newsweek Magazine published a poll showing that an astonishing 51 percent of Americans favored impeachment--half of those people even saying it should be a priority for Congress. Now things may be starting to change. Sen. Hagel’s comments on the possibility of impeachment, first made in a Vanity Fair magazine profile, were reported on ABC, and impeachment advocate John Nichols was interviewed about impeachment and Hagel’s comment on MSNBC. CNN also ran a story.

That’s not much, but it’s an indication that the ground is shifting.

With the White House pushing forward with a new war-marketing campaign--this time against Iran--and given mounting evidence of new White House crimes, from the political firing of federal prosecutors and the abusive use of national security letters by the FBI to spy on tens of thousands of Americans, to the disaster of the show trials in Guantanamo, to the lying by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, to evidence of both President Bush’s and Vice President Cheney’s involvement in the outing of and obstruction of justice into the investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, to the escalation of the war in Iraq and to the lying about and enforced manipulation of government evidence on global warming, the American people are getting completely fed up with the Bush administration.

A recent poll found that as lame as it has been in challenging the Bush agenda over the last six years, the Democratic Party has now become the favored choice of 50 percent of Americans, while support for the Republican Party has fallen to only 35 percent—barely higher than the paltry 30 percent who still cling to their support of the president himself.

It would seem to be only a matter of time before Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership will be forced to open the floodgates and permit the filing of impeachment bills.

The arguments made against impeachment--that it would be “divisive,” that it would interfere with more “pressing matters” in Congress, that it would mean making the almost universally loathed Cheney president, and that it would “hurt Democrats” in 2008--are all looking increasingly shop-warn and contrived.

In fact, as the Bush crimes against the public, the Republic, the law and Constitution mount, the Democratic defenders of the president against impeachment are increasingly looking simply cynical and ridiculous.

There is a kind of seesaw effect at work here, where the weight of presidential power and prestige, combined with Democratic cowardice, has kept one side firmly planted on the ground, while critics of Bush crimes and constitutional abuses have remained stranded up in the air. But as the weight of the evidence of Bush administration criminality, arrogance and unconstitutional actions have mounted, and as more and more citizens have lost faith in the government, the beam has been tilting. It won’t be long before it is the administration and the Democratic Party leadership who find themselves dangling and without support.

At that point, Pelosi and the DNC will have to surrender to the will of the grassroots, and step aside for the ensuing stampede of impeachment bills.

Impeachment, like spring, is in the air.
Howie P.S.: A little birdie told me that Jim McDermott is now telling people that "we" are going to pursue the impeachment option. I'm not sure what "we" that is and can't attest to the accuracy of this report. The birdie flew away without taking any questions.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Experience is the New Electability"

Matt Stoller:
I'm not going to wade into the electability argument so much, since I think that whether a Democrat wins is a less important question than whether the country realigns around a progressive majority. I also think that 'electability' as it was used in 2004 was a term exploited by insiders to scare primary voters into trusting their pick for President, and their pick was John Kerry and most definitely not an antiwar Howard Dean.
This year, the new term the establishment is using to steamroll over the progressive movement is 'experienced.' I noticed it awhile back, but I didn't think much of it until I saw this Media Matters piece on the Politico and Drudge.

In an article appearing in The Politico's March 27 print edition, Politico chief political correspondent Mike Allen wrote that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has "shown a tendency toward seemingly minor contradictions and rhetorical slips," characterized Obama's alleged inconsistencies as "trivial," and wrote that "the senator's rhetorical miscues have been more curiosities than obvious political blunders." Nonetheless, Allen stretched these alleged "trivial" inconsistencies into a 1,200-word article headlined, "Rookie Mistakes Plague Obama," which appeared on the front page of the print edition.

One of the hallmarks of a right-wing frame is that it plays into a set of well-known universal fears. I've heard a number of Democrats express concern about Obama's experience in running campaigns. I know have. And the larger narrative about Democrats, which always centers on weakness, shines through when you consider our giant fear, which is that a candidate will not be strong enough, or experienced enough, to know when to fight back against the right or against our external enemies.

A lot of Senator Clinton's expressions, and her supporters, use her experience as a selling point. Essentially, the argument is that she's been there before, and she knows what the right-wing will throw at her. She's prepared for it, and no one else is. The argument the right uses, which complements the Clinton camp's, is that no Democrat is prepared for what the world will throw at America. We face threats, and it's important to have someone who has been there before and upon whom you can rely to parry them. It's a simple turn of phrase to take this line, and argue that criticism by progressives of her overt militaristic instincts and her plan to keep troops in Iraq is just the kind of unserious and inexperienced strategy that people unworried by Iraq becoming a 'petri dish' for Al Qaeda would put forward. Experience teaches you than the world is a dangerous place, dear. This is also an inherently conservative frame, since the argument is that we should rely on that which has worked before.

The whole point of the 'experience' frame is to whitewash Clintonian complicity in Iraq and in the corporate takeover of our government from the early 1990s onward. Lest we forget, it was Hillary Clinton who screwed up the universal health care debate, despite a massive public mandate for universal health care in the 1992 election and high public support for it. It started off well, with her giving rock star like testimony in Congress, rattling off answers. But then, Clinton just wanted desperately to cooperate with business interests and do health care without any organizing behind it, and these right-wing interests turned around and kicked her in the shin. She was secretive and an abrasive manager, as well as reliant on policymakers with poor judgment. And now she's running on the idea that she's experienced in health care, even as she has more corporate health care money in her campaign coffers than any other Senator and approximately zero major Senate accomplishments to her name in any arena foreign or domestic. Sure that's experience, but it's experience at combing over bad judgment and poor political instincts.

Establishment insiders, especially in the foreign policy community, tend to have horrible, horrible judgment. The bad ones are promoted and the good ones marginalized, by design. A change in this design requires a change in leadership of the party, but that necessarily means new faces and new blood and a relatively lack of experience. It's really a choice - do we want good judgment and a fresh perspective, or do we want deep experience screwing things up?

Don't be fooled by the experience frame, because it's coming from the right-wing hawks in both parties. After all, Bush is now the most experienced wartime President alive today.
Cross-posted at

Monday, March 26, 2007

"Impeach Bush?" (video)

Tucker Carlson (MSNBC video, 5:01):
A majority of Americans disapprove of President Bush's performance, according polls, but has he done anything that merits impeachment? John Bonifez is a constitutional lawyer.

"Silicon Valley Not So Sure of This Clinton"

Wall Street Journal:
SUNNYVALE, Calif. -- For a woman striving to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is getting a surprising rap among some here in Silicon Valley: "old-guard."
This is Clinton-Gore country -- or it was once. Now, several of former President Bill Clinton's earliest and biggest fund-raisers -- such as Sandy Robertson, founder of investment bank Robertson Stephens and a partner at technology buyout firm Francisco Partners; and Steve Westly, an ex-eBay Inc. executive and former controller for California -- have defected to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Others, including venture-capitalist John Doerr and Apple Inc. boss Steve Jobs, are staying conspicuously neutral, possibly waiting to see if their friend Al Gore enters the race.

"Barack Obama may just be the man of our times," says Mr. Robertson, one of President Clinton's largest fund-raisers throughout the 1990s.

Sen. Clinton's early trouble nailing down this high-tech pillar of her husband's base shows how the Obama campaign is confounding some of the New York Democrat's best-laid plans -- here and elsewhere. Up the highway in San Francisco, Sen. Clinton enjoys backing from traditional Democratic donors like real-estate magnate Walter Shorenstein and Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of clothing retailer Esprit de Corp.

But here and in places like Hollywood and Wall Street, Sen. Clinton appears to be having problems matching Sen. Obama's success at connecting with newly wealthy younger people -- a potential pitfall for her as the candidates enter the final week of fund-raising for the first quarter.

Some of Silicon Valley's business-minded Democrats, citing health-care proposals Sen. Clinton made while first lady, worry she is too ideological and would govern from the left. Other local Democrats who have met the 59-year-old senator say she can be warm and brilliant in person, but often appears cold and calculating on TV, causing them to question her electability.

Many doubters are gravitating to Sen. Obama -- but not necessarily for his policy positions. In fact, Sen. Obama was recently ranked more liberal than Sen. Clinton by the magazine National Journal in its annual survey of political ideology. Sen. Obama's life story as a bridge between cultures and races is resonating in this global hub of high technology.

"Silicon Valley invests in high-powered intellects who are effective at bringing big new ideas to market," says Frederick Baron, a lawyer and Obama fund-raiser who spent two years in the Clinton Justice Department. "In the lexicon of high tech, Barack Obama is the next-generation solution."

Sen. Obama is particularly popular among techies under age 35, a largely untapped market for political cash. Organizers say about a quarter of the 700 guests at a recent $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser for the 45-year-old senator were under 35. "It's exciting to see a candidate younger than our parents," says 23-year-old Joe Green, an Internet entrepreneur who brought 10 friends to the event and who plans to hold an Obama fund-raiser featuring young Internet executives soon. "People around here are apathetic; they think technology changes the world, not politics. Obama is the first candidate people are saying, 'Wow, we should check him out!'"

Even pro-Clinton families in the area are finding their younger generations turning to Sen. Obama. Justin Buell, the 26-year-old stepson of Mrs. Tompkins Buell, says he decided to support Sen. Obama the moment the senator declared his presidential exploratory committee in January -- even though it meant a family schism.

"I wanted to do everything that I could" for the senator, says Mr. Buell, a law student who recently co-hosted a fund-raiser for Sen. Obama. While "there's a break in the family and dinners are spirited ... we (my parents and I) just have a different idea of what makes the best candidate."

Sen. Clinton isn't giving up. She raised $1 million at two small Silicon Valley events over the weekend. At a gathering in Woodside, the hosts included Ms. Tompkins Buell and Mark Chandler, a senior vice president at Cisco Systems Inc. Charles Phillips, president of Oracle Corp., was among the hosts of an event in Redwood City.

Although several of her husband's longtime backers in the area remain uncommitted or aren't supporting her, the candidate is building her own Silicon Valley network, led by the growing ranks of women executives at technology companies, supporters say. "Hillary's been in or near public service for 20 or 30 years; that kind of experience is important for running a country," says Sheryl Sandberg, a senior Google Inc. executive and Clinton campaign fund-raiser, who was chief of staff for former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.

Sen. Clinton has some big guns at her disposal. Earlier this month, Larry Stone, one of President Clinton's earliest and most prolific fund-raisers in Silicon Valley, was summoned to a private meeting with the former president. Mr. Stone says he told Mr. Clinton he wasn't ready to sign on to Sen. Clinton's campaign. Still, as they browsed in a Monterey, Calif., bookstore, Mr. Clinton pressed his wife's case.

"He said [John] Edwards and Obama are young and good looking, but Hillary has the experience," says Mr. Stone, a local politician and real-estate developer. He says Mr. Clinton was "persuasive," but Mr. Stone declined to commit, because he worries Sen. Clinton isn't electable.

Other Democrats with White House ambitions are looking to tap into Silicon Valley support. Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut addressed a small group of tech executives over lunch recently at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards did a fund-raiser at the home of financier Andrew Rappaport.

Among Republicans, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is seeking out support from fellow alumni of the management-consulting firm he once ran, Bain & Co., including top eBay executives Meg Whitman and John Donahoe. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, has the backing of venture capitalists Floyd Kvamme and Tim Draper. Sen. John McCain of Arizona counts John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, in his corner.

At stake is more than money. In the 2004 election, software, computer and Internet companies ranked 13th among industry sectors as sources of campaign funds, lagging far behind, for example, the legal (first) and financial (fifth) industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. But campaign experts say Silicon Valley offers candidates something unique: a place -- or at least an image -- on the cutting edge.

Many Silicon Valley Democrats say they had hoped former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner would enter the race. A Southern moderate, he earned his fortune investing in cellular phone companies. But when he and another favored centrist, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, decided not to run -- and Sen. Obama went for it -- "the real movers in political fund raising suddenly rallied to Obama," says Mr. Baron, the Silicon Valley lawyer and a veteran political bundler.

Part of Sen. Clinton's trouble is the perception here that she is an ideological liberal. Obama fund-raiser Wade Randlett, co-founder of Technology Network, a Silicon Valley trade group, says he and other early Bill Clinton supporters viewed the former first lady as an impediment to their pro-business agenda during Mr. Clinton's first term. On health care, tort reform and fiscal policy, Mr. Randlett says, Mrs. Clinton tried to pull the president to the left. "It was the East Wing vs. the West Wing," he says.

Sen. Obama's supporters acknowledge their candidate is largely untested on policy matters, and there is no certainty that he would be more conservative than Sen. Clinton on health care, tort reform or fiscal policy. It is his persona, they say, that is generating excitement.

"No one's calling me about Barack's stands on business or tech issues," says John Roos, the Obama point man in Silicon Valley and chief executive of the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. "This is a phenomenon of a ... leader of a new generation who has the potential to bring this country together."

Sen. Clinton's supporters say the attraction is sure to wear thin. They also say the former first lady has gotten a bum rap as an old-guard liberal. "She was far less of a policy person than people think," says David Barram, a former chief financial officer of Apple and senior Clinton administration official.

Beyond the contenders, it is Mr. Gore, a noncandidate, who may carry the most political sway in Silicon Valley these days. A part-time resident of San Francisco, where he owns a home and co-founded a cable news network, Mr. Gore is a paid adviser to Google. He sits on the board of Apple, and is an apostle of clean energy -- the latest fever sweeping venture-capital investors.

Many people assume Mr. Gore's presence explains why Messrs. Jobs and Doerr and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, all close friends of the former vice president, haven't endorsed a candidate. Associates of those men say Mr. Gore has requested no course of action of them.

"I'd like to see some people talking about how we in the tech industry spur innovation in this country," says Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd, who hasn't endorsed a presidential candidate. "I would sign up for that."
Cross-posted at

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Exclusive: John And Elizabeth Edwards" (with video)

CBS 60 Minutes (with video):

Former Sen. John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, talk to Katie Couric in Las Vegas on March 24, 2007.

Two From Vegas

"Edwards presses rivals for details at health care forum" (AP-CNN):

John Edwards said Saturday he will definitely stay in the presidential race, trying to reassure voters and donors that he can handle the dual pressure of the campaign and his wife's cancer diagnosis.

At a Democratic presidential forum focused on health care, Edwards pressed his rivals to provide a detailed plan to cover the nation's uninsured -- estimated at about 47 million -- and describe how they will pay for it.

His chief competitors, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, did not rule out the possibility that they would follow his lead with a plan requiring a tax increase, but they provided no specifics. (Watch the Edwardses in the public eye for the first time since announcing her diagnosis Video)

"I have not foreclosed the possibility that we might need additional revenue in order to achieve my goal, but we shouldn't underestimate the amount of money that can be saved in the existing system," Obama said when asked whether he would raise taxes to reach his goal of universal coverage by the end of his first term.

"I can tell you I will do whatever it takes," the Illinois senator added.

Clinton did not say whether or not she is considering a tax increase, but said she cannot see putting more money into what she described as the current broken system. She said she is committed to succeeding where she failed with the health care plan she crafted in her husband's first term in the White House.

"We're going to change the way we finance the system by taking away money from people who are doing well now," said Clinton, who represents New York in the Senate. Asked who she was referring to, she mentioned insurance companies.

The forum was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a Washington-based policy group.

It came two days after Edwards announced that the breast cancer that his wife thought she had beaten had returned, this time in her bone. He pointed out his wife, Elizabeth, sitting in the front row and said they both understand that dealing with their personal struggle will require "a focus and a maturity."

"I'm definitely in the race for the duration," he said. "This is not the first challenge that Elizabeth and I have been through."

Edwards pointed out that they lost their teenage son, Wade, 11 years ago in a car accident -- something that he didn't talk about much when he ran for president four years ago.

"I know because of the nature of the woman I'm married to that she will be there every single step of the way," he said. "We take our responsibility to serving this country very seriously."

Edwards said he and his wife are getting too much credit for forging ahead when millions of women are enduring the same struggle and the additional worry of getting the necessary care.

"One of the reasons that I want to be president of the United States is to make sure that every woman and every person in America gets the same things that we have," Edwards said. His plan would require employers to provide insurance and individuals to have it at a cost of $90 billion to $120 billion.

Edwards said any politicians who say they can provide universal health care and other promises while ending the federal deficit are not being honest.

"They've probably got a bridge in Brooklyn they want to sell you, too," Edwards said to laughter and applause. "I just don't think it can be done."
Richardson: Universal care in first year

No other candidate has given a cost estimate. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, however, said he could provide universal care in his first year as president without raising taxes.

Richardson said his plan would include a tax credit for low-income people who need coverage, and prevention strategies such as a nationwide smoking restriction like the one he signed in New Mexico.

He said he would pay for his plan in large part by ending the war in Iraq and shifting the military spending to human needs -- an idea that won loud applause.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd said his plan would require a tax increase by repealing President Bush's cuts to the top 2 percent of income-earners.

Video of the candidate forum was fed live over the Internet. The moderator, Time magazine's Karen Tumulty, took questions from Internet viewers as well as prescreened questions from union members in the audience. (Read Tumulty's takeexternal link)

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel promoted a single-payer universal health care system.

Obama was challenged by an audience member who said she had gone to the senator's Web site looking for health care reform information and found only plans about HIV and lead poisoning. He said he would have a detailed plan in a couple months, after he has a chance to discuss it further with experts and front-line workers.

He said he wants to require that employers either provide coverage or help their workers pay to get their own and favors cutting costs through prevention, management and technology improvements.

Clinton, who received the warmest reception from the audience with several interruptions for applause, said her deadline for universal health care would be two terms in office.

She said part of the reason her plan failed in the early 1990s was that people with coverage did not understand that it would not change. "We're going to do a better job explaining this time," she said.

"Barack Obama shines his magnetism on Vegas" (Las Vegas SUN):
Sen. Barack Obama hugged half the people on stage after his speech Friday and went down into the crowd, and the flashes started.

Cell phone cameras, digital cameras, professional shooters. It was dark, but the flashes kept revealing his wide grin as the workers of Culinary 226 reached to touch him.
Obama drew 10,000 in Oakland, 15,000 in a light rain in Austin, Texas, 3,500 his last time in Las Vegas.

Sen. Thomas Eagleton said in the days before his death this month that he had not seen people so eager to physically touch a candidate since Robert F. Kennedy.

Awhile back, a photographer for People magazine captured Obama on a beach in nothing but swim trunks, and the national cooing was audible. Can we imagine a comparable episode with another politician? (Do we want to?)

That may be because Obama is beyond the realm of mere candidate. He's now in another cultural sphere, the upper reaches of celebrity shared with the likes of Oprah or Bono.

Political observers can't quite explain it, beyond noting that he seems to have tapped into the American psyche despite playing in an arena - politics - that many people consider boring, even ugly.

Pop culture and communications experts, however, do have theories about the mania.

"His appeal is that he sounds a lot more like a president you would hear on "The West Wing" than on CNN: the soaring rhetoric, the commanding presence - he's like the visionary political leader out of central casting," said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Center for Popular Television at Syracuse University.

"There's this appetite for Josiah Bartlet," he said, referring to the fictional president played by Martin Sheen.

For Ruth Sherman, a communications consultant and a blogger for Fast Company magazine, Obama's appeal results from well-practiced communication techniques. "It's not an accident. I think people who are good at connecting, which is what he's good at, I think they learn the value of it at a young age.

"These skills are concrete and they're learned," Sherman continued. "They're not born that way. It just looks like it, because he seems so comfortable in his own skin."

Pepper Schwartz of the University of Washington is an expert on appeal of another sort. She likened the attraction to Obama to infatuation.

"He's a very attractive candidate in a number of ways, and it's hard to separate him being good looking from his delivery, which seems to be so honest and straightforward," Schwartz said.

"The entire package is very attractive . The package is so good, that you get persuaded before you know what's really said."

For Obama, this kind of talk is dangerous, conservative talk radio fodder.

In a Sun interview Friday, he said the energy around his candidacy is a function of his message, and this particular historical moment.

"As I travel around the country, what I'm convinced of is that the country is deeply ready for change, and they're paying a lot of attention, and I think the approach I've taken to the issues, which offers a common sense, pragmatic, hopeful agenda for change is one that people are interested in, and particularly young people."

Nevertheless, Obama offers a compelling personal history laid out in his book "Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." In an age of incessant confession, via blogs and Myspace, his accomplished memoir places him squarely in the present.

His father was a Kenyan goat herder, his mother a white Kansan, and he was born in Hawaii in 1961. He was raised by his mother in Hawaii and Indonesia and graduated from Columbia in New York in 1983.

Obama moved to Chicago to become a community organizer. He admits to some adolescent drifting before becoming the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. He could have had a job at any rich firm in America, or gone straight to politics. Blair Underwood based his "L.A. Law" character, at least in part, on Obama.

Instead, he returned to Chicago, where he took on civil rights cases and taught law.

He was elected to the Illinois state senate, and after eight years, his national career was launched in a speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Hints about his appeal today can be found in the language and cadences of that speech.

"The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an 'awesome God' in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.

"We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."

Obama writes much of his own material, which is fluid and occasionally soaring.

Evan Thomas, a Robert Kennedy biographer and editor at Newsweek, said Obama sounds more genuine by writing his own words because, by definition, the words are his alone.

Thomas, however, drew a distinction between Obama and Kennedy. The latter was more of a rabble-rouser, while Obama is more cautious, he said.

Thomas also noted the difference in eras. "This is not 1968. Those were pre-revolutionary times," he said, citing urban riots and the war draft.

Still, few would dispute that the nation is at a political impasse and many voters are waiting for someone to break through it.

Leo Braudy, an expert in politics and popular culture at the University of Southern California, said "when things get polarized, you get into this either/or situation, and the kind of candidates who galvanize people in those situations are people who can bridge those gaps ."

Obama echoed this in the interview. "We engage in a lot of either/or debates. For failing schools, the answer is either more money, or vouchers," he said.

There's no denying the raw energy of his campaign. But he acknowledged that it is unlikely to carry through the next 20 months to the White House.

His chief rivals, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards, have better organizations, in Nevada and elsewhere.

"I'm mindful that big crowds don't translate into caucus-goers, so it's going to be important for us to channel this energy into organization," Obama said.

To do that, he needs his charisma to raise money and recruit top political talent, as Clinton, Edwards and other Democrats have done, and build organizations from the ground up.

As Thompson, the pop culture expert, said: "It's great for act one, but we need to see how this will translate into act two and act three."

Or, as Schwartz noted, "Infatuation leads to deep engagement or deep disappointment. It could be, he's even better than we thought; or it could be, nope."

"For Clinton and Obama, a Common Ideological Touchstone"

CHICAGO -- The job offer to "Miss Hillary Rodham, Wellesley College" was dated Oct. 25, 1968, and signed by Saul D. Alinsky, the charismatic community organizer who believed that the urban poor could become their own best advocates in a world that largely ignored them.

Alinsky thought highly of 21-year-old Rodham, a student government president who grew up in the Chicago suburbs. She was in the midst of a year-long analysis of Alinsky's aggressive mobilizing tactics, and he was searching for "competent political literates" to move to Chicago to build grass-roots organizations.

Seventeen years later, another young honor student was offered a job as an organizer in Chicago. By then, Alinsky had died, but a group of his disciples hired Barack Obama, a 23-year-old Columbia University graduate, to organize black residents on the South Side, while learning and applying Alinsky's philosophy of street-level democracy. The recruiter called the $13,000-a-year job "very romantic, until you do it."

Today, as Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton face off for the Democratic presidential nomination, their common connection to Alinsky is one of the striking aspects of their biographies. Obama embraced many of Alinsky's tactics and recently said his years as an organizer gave him the best education of his life. Clinton's interest was more intellectual -- she turned down the job offer -- and she has said little about Alinsky since their association became a favorite subject of conservative critics during her husband's presidency.
Alinsky was a bluff iconoclast who concluded that electoral politics offered few solutions to the have-nots marooned in working-class slums. His approach to social justice relied on generating conflict to mobilize the dispossessed. Power flowed up, he said, and neighborhood leaders who could generate outside pressure on the system were more likely to produce effective change than the lofty lever-pullers operating on the inside.

Both Obama and Clinton admired Alinsky's appeal for small-d democracy but came to believe that social progress is best achieved by working within the political system, and on a national scale.

Both went to law school, turned to a mix of courthouse and community remedies, and eventually moved into electoral politics.

Associates describe the candidates as combining streaks of idealism with a realistic appreciation of the politically possible, a mix the goal-oriented Alinsky would have recognized in himself. Like Alinsky, they fashioned political strategies defined more by coalitions and compromise than by the flashy but often hollow rhetorical pyrotechnics that Clinton, in her Wellesley honors thesis, called "the luxury of symbolic suicide."

Neither candidate would agree to be interviewed about Alinsky. But Marian Wright Edelman, the Children's Defense Fund leader, who knows Obama, worked closely with Clinton and spoke at Alinsky's funeral, said the organizer's allure was formidable, particularly in the energized 1960s.

"He was brilliant. He was working for underdogs. He was trying to empower communities, which we still need to do. He spoke plainly. He had his outrageous side, but he also had his pragmatic side," Edelman said. "Both Hillary and Barack reflect that understanding of community-organizing strategy. Both just know how to leverage power."
A Colorful Thesis Subject

Born in 1909 and bred in the politicized precincts of Chicago, Alinsky was a lifelong student of the dynamics of power who concluded that the city's famed Democratic machine remained unmoved unless pushed.

Alinsky took action with an organizing campaign in 1939 in Back of the Yards, the desperate Chicago meatpacking district depicted in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." Fashioning an unlikely alliance of unions, the Catholic church and others to win concessions from industry and government, he said organizers must listen to people's desires, then find leaders to carry the fight.

An organizer must "fan the latent hostilities," he wrote in his 1946 handbook "Reveille for Radicals," and "he must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them."

A master of the attention-getting rhetorical flourish, Alinsky once pressed Eastman Kodak to hire more black workers, saying the only thing the company had done about race was introduce color film. Yet he practiced "a method that sounds more radical than it actually was," said Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, who called Alinsky "a tactician more than he was an ideologist."

Alinsky, unimpressed by dogma, believed in coalitions linked by clear-eyed calculations of self-interest. He focused on concrete local issues: bus routes, public housing, jobs. To him, the fashionable cry of the 1960s that power comes from the barrel of a gun was "absurd." To mark his differences with the bomb-throwers, he subtitled his second book "A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals."

The calamitous events of that decade turned Clinton away from the GOP of her Park Ridge, Ill., youth. Arriving at Wellesley, she became president of the Young Republicans, but she soon drifted left. She said that 1968, the year she met Alinsky in Chicago, was a watershed in her "personal and political evolution," marked by the escalation of the Vietnam War and the killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

When she returned for her senior year that September, Clinton decided to write a thesis on the war on poverty. Her adviser suggested Alinsky. She called her 92-page work, after a line in a T.S. Eliot poem, " 'There Is Only the Fight . . . ': An Analysis of the Alinsky Model."

Much of Alinsky's agenda, she wrote after interviewing him three times, "does not sound 'radical.' " Even his tactics, she concluded, were often "non-radical, even 'anti-radical.' His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them and recognizes the necessity of changing the present structures of our lives in order to realize them."

Among examples of Alinsky's methods, Clinton cited the 1961 decision to send 2,000 black Woodlawn community residents downtown en masse to register to vote. She mentioned activists picketing the suburban homes of slumlords and a mission to dump garbage outside the sanitation commission.

"In many cases," Clinton wrote, "the abrasive tactics paid off with the cancellation of double shifts in the schools, the increased hiring of Negroes by city businesses, growing responsiveness from the machine politicians, even some property repair."

Clinton believed that new federal poverty programs in the 1960s were a step backward because their architects neglected to listen to individual citizens -- the crux of the Alinsky model. The policies, she said, invited the poor "into the mainstream not through their participatory planning, but through their acquiescent participation."

The lesson was still on her mind years later. She told an interviewer shortly after Bill Clinton became president that government programs were too often administered from on high, with too little effect.

"I basically argued that [Alinsky] was right," Clinton told The Washington Post in 1993. "Even at that early stage, I was against all these people who came up with these big government programs that were more supportive of bureaucracies than actually helpful to people. You know, I've been on this kick for 25 years."

In the end, Clinton gave Alinsky mixed reviews, admiring his charisma and his goal of democratic equality while questioning the usefulness and staying power of a small-bore approach based on stirring up conflict in the inner city. She noted that Alinsky was crafting a fresh appeal to the potentially powerful middle class.

All four thesis reviewers thought the paper was "wonderful," said Wellesley emeritus professor Alan Schechter, who described it as a pragmatic assessment of approaches to public policy problems. Schechter, a friend and political supporter of Clinton's, said her work revealed "an underlying idealism, but it's not a naive idealism."

For reasons Clinton and her staff will not discuss, the White House asked Wellesley to seal its copy of her thesis during her husband's presidency. By the mid-1990s, Republican foes regularly derided Clinton's thesis choice as evidence that she is a closet leftist. This month, Republican pollster Frank Luntz said on Fox News that Clinton treated Alinsky "almost like an icon," adding, "That's like holding up some of the people from Germany in the 1930s and '40s."

As first lady, Clinton occasionally lent her name to projects endorsed by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the Alinsky group that had offered her a job in 1968. She raised money and attended two events organized by the Washington Interfaith Network, an IAF affiliate.

IAF organizer Michael Gecan, who has met with Clinton several times, said her Wellesley work was often an icebreaker: "She would always say, 'I did my senior thesis on Alinsky.' "

As Alinsky biographer Sanford D. Horwitt put it: "Hillary is clearly aware of Alinsky's successors and the work they do. I think it's all to the good."

Clinton's 2003 memoir, "Living History," devotes a single paragraph to Alinsky, whom she describes as "a colorful and controversial figure who managed to offend almost everyone." She wrote that she agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas, "particularly the value of empowering people to help themselves," but that she rejected his job offer because of a "fundamental disagreement."

"Alinsky said I would be wasting my time," Clinton recalled, "but my decision was an expression of my belief that the system could be changed from within."
Organizing in Chicago

Community organizing, for Clinton principally an academic exercise, was more complex for Obama when he arrived in Chicago in 1985 to work with the Developing Communities Project, an offshoot of the Alinsky network. His experience became an emotional and visceral exploration of the roots of urban African American decay and his own identity.

Times had changed. The '60s were over. Chicago had a black mayor, and Alinsky was gone, dead of a heart attack in 1972. But his work and the fundamentals of his philosophy survived on the far South Side.

Obama stepped into the Alinsky tradition after deciding "mainly on impulse," he has said, at age 21 to become a community organizer. His passion ran to romantic visions of the civil rights struggle.

"He wanted to make that kind of contribution and didn't know how to do it," said Gerald Kellman, who hired Obama. "There's that side of him that's strongly idealistic, very much a dreamer, and this kind of work attracts that kind of person. It isn't just that we're going to change things, but we're going to change things from the grass roots."

Obama spent three roller-coaster years trying to build a new source of power in the Altgeld Gardens housing project and the Roseland community, maneuvering among neighbors, church leaders and politicians who did not always welcome the encounters.

"It was poverty on top of poverty. There were so many people who had given up. They just didn't care," said Loretta Augustine-Herron, who signed up to work with Obama. "I don't think he knew how bad it was until he came to our area. He had to have the tenacity and the patience to train us, and sometimes he had to be frustrated."

The Alinsky method, which Obama taught long afterward, is centered on one-on-one conversations. The organizer's task is to draw out people's stories, listening for their goals and ambitions -- "the stuff that makes them tick," one of his teachers told him. There he would find the self-interest that would spark activism.

Fellow community organizer Madeline Talbott said Obama mastered the approach. She remembers a successful 1992 voter-registration drive that he ran for Project Vote.

"He says things like, 'Do you think we should do this? What role would you like to play?' " said Talbott, chief organizer for Illinois ACORN. "Everybody else just puts out an e-mail and says, 'Y'all come.' Barack doesn't do that."

In time, Obama helped build and guide a small network of grass-roots groups that agitated for better playgrounds, improvements in trash pickup and the removal of asbestos from public housing. The city opened a jobs office in the tumbledown community as the lights were going out in nearby factories.

It was in those neighborhoods, Obama said in announcing for president, "that I received the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith." But by the time Obama moved on, Kellman said, he had seen "the limits of what could be achieved."

Obama spent three years at Harvard Law School, then returned to Chicago, where he taught constitutional law, handled civil rights cases and worked with community groups. He continued to teach the Alinsky philosophy, although he told the New Republic recently that "Alinsky understated the degree to which people's hopes and dreams and their ideals and their values were just as important in organizing as people's self-interest."

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a friend of Obama's, sees another difference. "If you read Alinsky's teachings, there are times he's confrontational. I have not seen that in Barack. He's always looking for ways to connect."

But when Obama first ran for office in 1995, he echoed Alinsky's credo -- and Clinton's thesis -- in arguing that politicians should not see voters "as mere recipients or beneficiaries."

"It's time for politicians and other leaders to take the next step and to see voters, residents or citizens as producers of this change," Obama told Hank De Zutter of the Chicago Reporter. "What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?"

What Obama and Clinton both learned, said Edelman, of the Children's Defense Fund, is that "community organizing is crucial but not enough."

Chicago organizer Gregory Galluzzo, Obama's former supervisor, who likes to describe himself as Alinsky's St. Paul, believes that Obama's exposure to the organizer's liturgy taught him that wisdom can emerge from the grass roots. "Hillary," he said, "leans toward the elites."

But Galluzzo believes that both candidates were influenced by their encounters with Alinsky and his methods. "By either one of them being in office," he said, "we're going to have a government that's more responsive to the ordinary people."