Shootout Saturday

THE NOTE: Shootout Saturday
South Carolina, Nevada Mark Big Day For Both Races

Jan. 19, 2008

Three contests in two states separated by 2,000 miles make for an extraordinary Saturday in the race for 2008, in a day that's likely to shrink the Republican field and give a Democratic frontrunner a distinct edge.

Call it Shootout Saturday, since it's time to break some ties. With Republicans voting in suddenly snowy South Carolina, and both parties holding contests in Nevada (on and very far off of the Vegas Strip) the day will determine:

1. Can Sen. John McCain rebuild his campaign on the site of his greatest defeat? (And what should have the McCain campaign more worried -- whispers or white flakes?)

2. Will Mike Huckabee relieve Fred Thompson of the burden of campaigning? (Or does Thompson's next act including trying out for the role of spoiler?)

3. Will Mitt Romney be rewarded for heading west while his rivals swarm the South? (And can he spin a bronze as a very expensive pseudo-victory?)

4. Can Sen. Barack Obama use a political machine to hold off Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Nevada caucuses that have never really mattered before? (And can a Mark Penn spin-o-gram make a Clinton loss feel any better?)

5. Can former senator John Edwards pick up enough support to stay relevant -- or even surprise some people? (And will holding Obama's words against him matter even a sliver in the Silver State?)

South Carolina polls close at 7 pm ET. In Nevada, Republican caucuses will end by 1 pm ET (expect results by 3:30 pm ET), with the Democrats ending around 3:30 pm ET (results around 5 pm).

If you're looking for clarity, don't look to the skies over South Carolina (and no, that's not a reference Ron Paul's "open blimp" in Columbia).

And if you're looking for clues about turnout, look at the capital letters: "An unexpected X-factor that could contribute to that lower turnout is the weather. Specifically, sleet or SNOW," Roddie A. Burris writes in The State. "Forecasters say there is a 100 percent chance of precipitation across the state today, with up to three inches of snow forecast in the Republican-leaning, vote-rich Upstate. The bad weather also could affect Columbia, where up to an inch of snow could fall."

"But the main reason turnout might be lower than expected could be of greatest concern to Republicans everywhere: what many are calling a lackluster slate of candidates," Burris writes.
Weather won't be a major factor out in the desert, but the truth is nobody should bet the house/double down/go all-in in unpredictable Nevada. "It will end today with a show of raw political power by the winner, who will have managed to build an organization, recruit volunteers, persuade voters, dominate the media narrative and get his or her people to the caucus sites," J. Patrick Coolican, David McGrath Schwartz, and Michael Mishak write in the Las Vegas Sun.

Think anyone's confident? "Because Nevada has never had a nominating contest so early in the schedule before, it is considered especially unpredictable," Molly Ball writes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Even as they worked furiously to mobilize their supporters, the campaigns sought to hedge against the possibility of a loss by pointing out their opponents' strengths."

The expectations game: "For Clinton, that meant highlighting what her campaign considers an unfair advantage for Obama -- the controversial special precincts for Strip workers, most of whom are members of the Culinary union that has endorsed Obama -- even as she sought to turn Culinary members her way. Obama's campaign, meanwhile, has been emphasizing Clinton's lead in most polls to suggest it would be a feat for him to come in a close second."

In South Carolina, the battle for first pits McCain, R-Ariz., and Huckabee, R-Ark., "who seemed to be campaigning across the state on parallel paths, rather than engaging each other," Michael Cooper and Michael Powell write in The New York Times.

"Mr. McCain, who has predicted victory here, needs to win to show that he can replicate his showing in New Hampshire," they write. "Mr. Huckabee needs to show that he can duplicate his success in the Iowa caucuses. And Fred D. Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator who has failed to win any contests, is staking his candidacy on a strong showing here, in the first Southern primary."

If McCain can expect any bounce from the troop surge in Iraq, it will come in South Carolina -- or the state that famously sank him in 2000 could again ice him out.

South Carolina will not settle the nomination fight, but it will carry Southern-fried weight, with just one more contest remaining (Florida) before the de facto nationwide primary on Feb. 5.

"Strategists said a victory by McCain could establish him as the closest thing to a front-runner the Republicans have had this year, but they noted that he would need to follow that with a win in Florida to secure the favorite position," Dan Balz and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post. "Huckabee, they said, would get a boost by winning but would still need to demonstrate an ability to draw support substantially beyond conservative Christians."

The ads bespeak the final pitches: "McCain stressed his long record of service to the nation as a Navy pilot and a senator, and said he is most ready to be commander in chief. Huckabee offered himself as a 'Christian leader' and an 'authentic conservative.' Thompson underscored his conservative credentials and his endorsement from South Carolina Citizens for Life, an antiabortion group. Romney emphasized his business credentials, which he said give him the expertise to 'turn around Washington.' "

Lee Bandy, the Broder/Balz/Nagourney of South Carolina politics, sees the weather benefiting Huckabee: "His voters are more passionate and will turn out come hell or high water," Bandy tells The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler.

If Huckabee pulls off a win, he can thank Chuck Norris and Ric Flair, his pair of Homeland Security secretaries-in-waiting, but mostly he can credit "Huck's army." "Short on funds, Huckabee is relying on these young, enthusiastic volunteers for a much-needed victory in South Carolina," ABC's Jake Tapper and Katie Hinman report. "Up to 40 percent of the Republican primary voters in South Carolina will be evangelicals, a group Huckabee can't expect to win without."

McCain enters Primary Day with far more optimism than he had eight years ago, Maeve Reston reports in the Los Angeles Times. "I can sense a crowd," McCain said. How's this for crowds: "This election eve, as many as 1,000 people met the former Navy fighter pilot and prisoner of war at sunset on the Yorktown aircraft carrier in Charleston Harbor," Reston writes.

Prep the campaign obits: Thompson, R-Tenn., appears the likeliest to exit the race if he has a disappointing day. "The verdict on what very well could be his final performance in this presidential race will come Saturday," Lisa Anderson writes in the Chicago Tribune. "The previews have not brought raves."

"He's won support for his conservative credentials while struggling with voters' doubts about whether he can win in November," McClatchy's Peter Smolowitz reports. "After finishing third in Iowa, he got 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and 4 percent in Michigan. He acknowledges that he must finish strong in South Carolina: 'South Carolina is where it's at for me.' "

The fight scared Romney, R-Mass., out of the state (and all the way to Jay Leno's couch on Friday) -- but he had a good reason.

"South Carolina, he frequently points out, awards just 24 [convention] delegates to Nevada's 31," Michael Levenson writes in The Boston Globe. He's had Nevada virtually to himself, but recall that it was not always this way: "His TV ads aired 5,257 times between February and Tuesday in the major South Carolina markets -- more than John McCain's and Mike Huckabee's combined, Nielsen reported yesterday." Among the Democrats, either Obama, D-Ill., or Clinton, D-N.Y., appears likely to finish the day as the race's first repeat winner, providing a tough of "mo" in a race that's resisting it. "Clinton and Obama practically pitched their tents in the high desert, arriving soon after New Hampshire voted and leaving Nevada for only brief excursions," Mark Z. Barabak and Seema Mehta write in the Los Angeles Times. "They made an unprecedented effort to court Latinos, endorsed gun-loving Nevadans' right to bear arms and competed with Edwards to be the most adamantly opposed to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, 90 miles from Las Vegas."

The final days have been marked by a burst of union spending on Obama's behalf -- Spanish-language radio and TV ads that seek to boost Obama and take down Clinton. Clinton and Edwards have noticed Obama's silence -- and want it to end, per ABC's Kate Snow, Raelyn Johnson, Eloise Harper, and Sunlen Miller. "I just want to say how personally offended I am by these ads and outraged," said Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. Said Edwards, D-N.C.: "Everyone pledged that this kind of divisive politics that divides the Democratic Party and could divide America would come to an end."

The final days before Nevada have featured an aggressive Clinton, on issues that fit on the local pages, the national section, and even sports. Magic Johnson offers some less-than-friendly locker-room advice: "We won our first game on a last-second shot," Johnson says in the Clinton campaign ad. "I was so hyped. But the captain of my team said, 'Take it easy rookie, it's a long season, it's a long road to the championship.' "

(But ABC's David Wright remembers his basketball history: Magic won the championship as a rookie. "Johnson went toe to toe with 'Dr. J,' Julius Erving, scoring 42 points, with 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals, leading the Lakers to a 123-107 victory in the final game, despite Philadelphia's home-court advantage," Wright reports. "Sportswriters still regard Johnson's clutch performance as one of the finest individual games in NBA history.")

The Las Vegas Sun synthesizes the broad yet precise Clinton attacks: "She used the run-up to the Nevada caucus to teach the less politically experienced Obama about rough politics, attacking him at every turn. He's suspect on Yucca Mountain, having accepted money from the nuclear industry. He's suspect on abortion rights, having voted "present" on an abortion-related issue in the Illinois Legislature. He's suspect on gaming, having raised the issue of its social and moral costs and opposed its spread when in Illinois."

"She accused him of wanting to raise taxes, and she questioned his ability to manage the federal bureaucracy after he said he didn't see that as the chief role of the president. Plus, he spoke positively of President Reagan," Cooligan, Schwartz, and Mishak write.

He's taken plenty of incoming -- but he's starting to give it back, too. On Friday, his message was the economy, accusing Clinton of swiping his idea for a tax rebate, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

"Obama painted Clinton's addition of the tax rebate, not only as following his lead, but as evidence that she is changing her positions for the politics of the moment," Miller reports. Said Obama: "Senator Clinton has said she is ready to lead from day one, but it's important on day one to get it right, whether you're talking about war or you're talking about economic proposals."

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Alec MacGillis see a different tone from the candidate, after New Hampshire roughed him up. "Much of the feel-good imagery was ditched in the New England snow, and it has been replaced by a more traditional campaign that rebuts and prebuts, brags about endorsements, and engages with -- rather than floats above -- the competition," they write. "In Nevada, which holds its caucuses Saturday, the campaign has reverted to 'town hall' meetings built around audience questions, rather than the rousing standalone speeches Obama gave in New Hampshire." Strategist David Axelrod concedes the point: "This is a long process, and this is how you learn."

Here's one rhetorical battle that will live past the Strip: Clinton is attacking Obama for his comment that "the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there." Said Clinton on Friday: "That's not the way I remember the last ten to fifteen years. I don't think it's a better idea to privatize social security. I don't think it's a better idea to try to eliminate the minimum wage."

Neither does Obama. Clinton "has taken one section of this and totally mischaracterized it to say that Obama was saying Republicans had 'better' ideas," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

Elko, Nev. -- population 17,000 -- saw four presidential hopefuls pass through in a 24-hour span. If you're looking for harbingers . . . "Hillary Clinton visited an Indian school gymnasium, filling the place with 600 to 1,000 people, depending on whom you believe," Alexandra Berson writes in the Las Vegas Sun. "Many of them left while she was still taking questions to attend the Barack Obama event 20 minutes later at the local high school. That event drew about twice as many people, it seemed."

And yet . . . "Obama fell victim to the same crowd exodus that Clinton had," ABC's Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller report. "In the short interlude between his stump speech and the 'question and answer' portion of the program, people began to exit in large groups. By the end of the actual town hall, the top section of the bleachers had been partially emptied out, most giving sheepish excuses for their early departure as they left."

At least, by nightfall Saturday, Michelle Obama won't have to pronounce "Nevada" again for a while.

ABC's Karen Travers, Teddy Davis, and Talal Al-Khatib have pointers on what to watch for Saturday in The Note's "Sneak Peek" -- along with the candidates' schedules.

Also in the news:

If you think these drips are coincidences, you don't know Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg, I-N.Y., "met Friday with the ballot access expert and campaign manager for H. Ross Perot's third-party presidential bid," the AP's Sara Kugler reports. "Despite his public denials, Bloomberg has been consulting with people such as [Clay] Mulford and is conducting a sophisticated analysis of voter data in all 50 states to better understand his chances as a third-party candidate. Aides have said he would delay a decision until after the major parties produce clear front-runners."

Romney is rolling out his economic stimulus package -- and it has a pretty little price tag attached. "Mr. Romney's package is valued at nearly $250 billion, far broader and more costly than the $150 billion stimulus plan that President Bush unveiled this morning," Elizabeth Holmes reports in The Wall Street Journal. "The Romney plan resembles that of rival John McCain but takes a key cut -- the corporate tax rate -- one step further. It also wraps in benefits for individuals as well as businesses."

His new theme -- the fixer/outsider/turnaround artist -- may or may not work, Michael Luo reports in The New York Times. "As has often been the case with Mr. Romney, parts of his change mantra have rung inauthentic to some, engendering fresh accusations of pandering and political misspeak from critics and rivals," he writes.

It's old oppo, but it still works: "In South Carolina this week, Mr. Romney trotted out his private-sector background -- he began his career in consulting and then earned millions of dollars as a founder of the leveraged buyout firm Bain Capital -- as evidence of his economic expertise and commitment to job creation. He did not mention that in some cases his company caused layoffs."

On Leno, Romney dropped his feud with the AP's Glen Johnson, calling the confrontation "kind of a normal thing" (though Eric Fehrnstrom begs to differ). "We put them in the back of the aircraft. We feed them lousy food," Romney said. "We wake them up early in the morning to go to events, and then as you'll see in this clip, I think, we don't give them chairs to sit on either. So they have a tough go of it, but they're doing their job."

As to the question that caused the controversy -- his ties to lobbyists -- the Boston Herald's Jessica Van Sack finds 13 of them raising money for the former governor.

Huckabee raised the Confederate flag issue himself this week -- but let it drop in his final day on the trail. He brushed aside a question from the Greenville News' Dan Hoover on Friday: "That's not a presidential issue," Huckabee said. And yet . . . the flag is still there, Hoover writes: "Signs with the battle flag and critical messages have been aimed at McCain, Romney and former New York City Mayor Giuliani."

The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick and Michael Powell write up Huckabee's balancing act: "Between his droll performance and heartfelt encore runs the delicate line that Mr. Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister before becoming governor of Arkansas, walks as he tries to fire up his fellow evangelical Christians to vote for one of their own without unnerving more secular-minded voters." They write, "as Mr. Huckabee has moved to the front of the Republican field and as the race will now quickly move beyond the Bible Belt, his ability to harmonize both elements is under new scrutiny from the liberal and conservative sides of the pew."

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is pressing for Saturday's caucuses to be delayed -- quick, someone tell the bunnies. "The inconsistencies, errors and multiple changes in the rules reek of playing politics with the what should be a neutral process," Paul campaign manager Lew Moore in a press release sent to reporters Friday, per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf.

Democrats have another week to fight it out in South Carolina, though Edwards gets a jump start by hitting the trail on Saturday. When all the candidates arrive, they'll find an electorate that's already mired in the politics of race, Krissah Williams writes in The Washington Post.

"A week before the Democratic primary here, racial rhetoric is on the minds of black voters -- even as the candidates have tried to move on, effectively declaring a truce at a debate in Nevada on Tuesday," Williams writes. "For Obama supporters, the comments have become talking points in their efforts to attract voters to what could be a historic candidacy. For Clinton backers, they are examples of words taken out of context. Undecided voters are tired of the racial talk and want the candidates to discuss ending the war in Iraq, making health care affordable, increasing funding to minority school districts and dealing with other concerns facing their community."

Peering ahead to Florida, the race is on for key endorsements. "John McCain is hoping to campaign Monday in Miami with U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez in the hopes that the popular Florida Republican can help him win crucial votes in South Florida's Hispanic community," Marc Caputo reports in the Miami Herald. "But Martinez isn't sure he'll endorse him now because he feels badly for McCain's opponent, Rudy Giuliani -- who also thought he had a shot at Martinez's support. . . . With his loyalties divided, Martinez, known as a pleaser to his political friends, froze Friday. He's considering just staying out."

Giuliani, R-N.Y., is returning to 9/11 imagery in his latest Florida TV ad, ABC's Jan Simmonds reports -- and he's still got New York City firefighters trailing him across the state.

Republicans are set to show lots of Sunshine State love. But the Democrats aren't -- and that's why Florida Democratic primary matters approximately as much as Wyoming's Republican caucuses. But the St. Petersburg Times' Adam C. Smith says it doesn't have to be that way: "Here's the bottom line: Ignore the pundits and reporters ignoring you, Florida Democrats. Follow the lead of New Hampshire voters who showed how wrong conventional wisdom can be in politics," Smith writes. "As the campaign heads into a national race Feb. 5, you couldn't find a better indicator of how voters in a terrific microcosm of America view their presidential choices."

Your Sunday menu: It's new Florida resident Rudy Giuliani and House Ways and Means Chairman (and Clinton supporter) Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

CBS's "Face the Nation" has on Edwards and our favorite dueling campaign strategists -- Obama's David Axelrod vs. Clinton's Howard Wolfson. On "Fox News Sunday," the guests are Romney and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. CNN's "Late Edition" bags Edwards, Clinton supporter Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and still-neutral Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who will also appear on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers."

I'll be blogging the results Saturday, from South Carolina. Be part of the conversation at

The kicker:

"I guess he's more focused on the caucus in L.A. rather than the caucus in Iowa." -- Mitt Romney, earlier this month, criticizing Mike Huckabee's decision to appear on Jay Leno's show the night before the Iowa caucuses.

"I figure it's the only way I can be in South Carolina and Nevada at the same time." -- Romney, on Friday, explaining his decision to appear on Jay Leno's show the night before both the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary.

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1 comment:

Sam said...

I thought Romney's appearance on Jay Leno was a good move last night. Very excited that I voted for him and in an hour that he won! Romney 2008!