Archive for the ‘Hillary Clinton’ Category

Sweet Caroline: Kennedy Floated for New York Senate Seat

December 8, 2008

I’ve been intrigued by the possibility that New York Governor David Patterson might name Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Having been a longtime Kennedy-watcher with a background covering New York politics, I am very curious about how somebody with a storied political name but little actual experience in elective office might win over voters and keep the seat.

I decided to check in with an old political hand, Dr. David Luchins, for his perspective. Dr. Luchins, who now teaches at New York’s Touro College, served Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for two decades as a staffer and senior adviser and later went on to advise Clinton in her senate campaign. Luchins was personally privy to the advice Moynihan gave to Clinton prior to her run for elective office, counsel that served her well during her career in New York politics. From Kennedy’s uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, to Moynihan to Clinton, elite outsiders who have held this seat have won over New York voters by diving into the details of policy and its ramifications for New York. Here are his recommendations, which reflect and grow out of what he heard  Senator Moynihan tell Clinton (with some analysis and commentary from me:)

  • Work your tail off upstate. Hillary Clinton, like Moynihan, devoted considerable political energy in upstate New York. This paid huge dividends for Clinton, making her impervious to political challenge (particularly from Republicans) and sharpening her appeal with blue collar voters who loyally stood behind her during the contentious rust belt presidential primaries against Barack Obama. One reason Tim Russert became famous as a political entity was that Moynihan wanted the best man possible upstate. He selected Russert, a Buffalo-native, to run his upstate office and, ultimately his Washington one.
  • Be humble. New Yorkers expect even celebrity candidates, Robert Kennedy, James Buckley, Moynihan and Clinton to be able to talk to them in simple and down-to-earth terms. Moynihan told Clinton in 1999 that her achievements in Arkansas, Washington D.C. and Illinois didn’t mean anything in New York. He reminded her to listen to New Yorkers, particularly upstate. This contributed to the “listening tour” strategy that worked well for her in New York and in the presidential race.
  • Bring home the bacon. Moynihan pressed Washington to pay for the New York State Thruway. Clinton took up the cause of funding for New Yorkers afflicted by 9/11 syndrome. I see Caroline Kennedy coming to this very naturally; after all, it’s exactly what her uncle, Senator Kennedy has been doing for Massachusetts since 1962.
  • Focus on the finances. Moynihan had an advanced degree in international relations and served as ambassador to the United Nations. Yet when he joined the senate he became an expert on finances. Moynihan, in particular, targeted the dynamic whereby wealthy Northeastern states, such as New York (and Massachusetts, by the way) raise far more money for the federal government than they get back. Moynihan put out an eagerly anticipated finance report known as the “fisc;”  the Library of Congress explains the abundance of such documents on its site, saying  “one of the largest groups of material relates to Fisc reports, Moynihan’s annual report on the impact of federal spending and tax collection of the states, particularly as it affected New York.” (This is the subtext to the famous exchange between Hillary Clinton and Russert about Social Security. Russert expected Clinton to carry on Moynihan’s interest in this area, and Clinton was well-prepared for it.) 

Gitell on Barack Obama’s National Security Team

December 3, 2008

Watch me on NewsNight analyzing President-Elect Obama’s new national security team by clicking here.

The Obama Announcement

December 1, 2008

I watched in awe as President-Elect Barack Obama announced his national security team. There, as has been leaked, stood Senator Clinton aside the incoming president. It is remarkable in our political lifetime for a president to make such an ambitious pick — and for that pick to accept.

The Obama team faced a considerable challenge during today’s media availability. They had to manage the announcement — and the egos of the personalities involved –in such a way to highlight each member of the team without having it look unruly. It came across, more or less, as smooth. The journalists’ questions were all easily anticipated and mostly focused on challenging Obama on what statements he made about Clinton during the campaign. Other thoughts:


  • Permanent Representative to the United Nations is a good spot for the underwhelming Susan Rice. At the U.N. she can be an outspoken advocate for American values and diplomacy without having much to do with substance — although the elevation of this post to cabinet-level could alter the equation.
  • I could not miss Obama’s reference to the Middle East peace process. I wonder exactly how ambitious his plans are for this area.
  • A interesting spot of the event was Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden. He seemed to be chafing at the confines of his talking points. 
  • Expect some conflict between the presumptive national security adviser, James Jones, who has been critical of Israel, and Clinton. Writes Eli Lake: “When Obama makes that move [on the issues], the Jones-Clinton tensions may reprise the great Powell-Cheney fights of yore.”

Personal Memories of Campaign 2008

November 6, 2008
I first met Barack Obama at a sparsely attended press conference for Deval Patrick in October 2006. I saw him electrify an audience at the JFK Library and witnessed his first big appearance in New Hampshire in early December. I was there in Concord when Obama stood by his vow to meet the president of Iran during his first year in office. “We don’t need Bush-Cheney Lite,” he said as the crowd erupted in cheers. Even when this became an issue in the debates with McCain, nobody told McCain Obama ever said that.
I heard him implore Massachusetts to vote for him with Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy at his side the night before the primary. He lost but he did not lose his cool.
I saw his last appearance with foreign policy aide Samantha Power. Obama seemed to love her energy but his staffers kept reeling her in.
I was one of the few writers to spend an extended period of time with Joe Biden, who gave me time after a book talk at Borders in downtown Boston. In an odd juxtaposition from four years earlier, I waited for Biden with the BPPA’s leadership team.
I attended scores of Hillary Clinton speeches and watched her campaign of inevitability devolve into desperation. I saw her fight back as the NH primary approached. I was in the room when two goons got up during one of her speeches shouting “Iron My Shirt! Iron My Shirt!”
I covered the Pennsylvania primary before Obama had figured out how to capture the votes of blue collar whites (or before the economy entirely went south.) I saw a Bill Clinton, reduced to giving 25 minute speeches in out-of-the-way venues, rev up the crowd in Millvale, PA. I interviewed Senator Casey of Pennsylvania who assured me Obama would win over enough Catholic voters to become president.
On the Republican side, I began by following Mitt Romney around New Hampshire. I saw Rudy Giuliani take brief interest and lose it in the Granite State. While he started to resonate in July, his big tour across Southern New Hampshire was a bust. The lasting image is of his gaggle of stilettoed press aides shoeing away the media, including David Broder who subsequently slammed Giuliani in the Washington Post.
McCain began his presidential campaign in Portsmouth at a highly orchestrated event right on the river with just one problem. The t.v. cameras could not shoot over the big speakers McCain’s people had set up. I called around NH when McCain hit his low point. McCain would win NH on his own, his supporters said. And they were right. I was with McCain the night he won NH and killed the campaign of Mitt Romney. The campaign blared Chuck Berry’s “Go Johnny Go!” How is this guy going to compete with Obama and his U2 “City of Blinding Light?” I thought.
I was there in Denver when Obama made everything in his campaign bigger and pulled it off.

Lipstick on a Pig: Bill Clinton’s Revenge

September 10, 2008

A turning point in the primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama came after Bill Clinton used the words “fairy tale” to describe Barack Obama’s rise to fame. Hillary Clinton’s campaign sputtered after that, and Bill Clinton’s reputation suffered.

Clinton always maintained that Obama’s supporters, who sensed in the comment a racial remark, had it wrong. His comment, he maintained, was directed at the story of Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq. “Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen,” Clinton said. Here per Politico is

Clinton’s explanation of what he said:

“I pointed out that he had never been asked about his statement in 2004 that he didn’t know how he would have voted on the war resolution,” Bill Clinton said.

“It disproves the argument that he was always against it and everybody else was wrong and he was right.”

Now — and here is the delicious part — Barack Obama finds himself in almost the exact same position over his use of the phrase “lipstick on a pig” while talking about Sarah Palin. And, also by way of Politico’s Ben Smith, Obama’s no happier about it than his erstwhile foe was.

“See, it would be funny, but the news media decided that would be the lead story yesterday. This happens every election cycle. Every four years, this is what we do. This is what they want to spend two of the last 55 days talking about…Enough!” he said.

Kindof like Bill and Hillary Clinton felt last January.

The Romney Speech

September 4, 2008

I’m very surprised by Mitt Romney’s speech tonight. He was way, way too hot for television, which, we all know, is a cool medium. I don’t think in my 8 years of covering Romney and watching him as a close political observer, I ever saw him shout. He’s best when he slowly builds a case and uses logic and facts to marshall a case.

It’s not that Romney delivered a conservative speech. It’s that he delivered a dumb conservative speech filled with unwieldy metaphors to “steroids” and “weed wacker[s]”. Some of his comments in New Hampshire critical of the House and Senate leadership were sharp as was this attack of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama: “In the case of the three Democratic front-runners, none of them has managed a corner store, let alone a state or a city or an enterprise of the nature of the United States.”

I’d go so far as to say that Romney dumbed his speech down for his audience. That doesn’t explain his hollering, however. He’ll have to do better if he hopes to be the 2012 nominee should McCain lose.

Obama’s Press Strategy Fumble

August 21, 2008

From a press strategy standpoint, I’m very surprised that Barack Obama failed to announce his running mate today. An announcement today would have allowed for a midday event tomorrow and then allowed two full days of build up until the Democratic National Convention. 

A Friday announcement of what should be positive news is, if not a worst case scenario, in terms of press strategy almost the worst. This timing means the public will learn of Obama’s running mate as they are leaving work early on Friday or driving to some summer vacation spot. It will not command the full attention of voters. Friday night television — especially during the summer — receives the lowest ratings with the exception, of course, of the Olympics. (But the people watching that care about the Olympics not running mates.)

The press has reported that Obama and his running mate will campaign together on Saturday. Again, it’s a terrible day to roll out what should be a positive announcement. You don’t even have the regular array of t.v. news programs on a Saturday and the evening news is little watched.

Given that David Axelrod and Obama are typically superb at the mechanics of campaigning — his events look fabulous, his set-piece speeches generate positive reviews and news coverage, the team almost never leaks — something else must be happening. It’s possible that the Obama team felt boxed with the Olympic coverage and opted to walk into the convention in Denver. Another scenario is that there are actually issues that still need to be worked through, i.e. he’s picking Hillary Clinton and waiting until the last possible minute to drop the bomb, he isn’t picking Clinton and he wants to minimize blowback, a vetting question has arisen regarding his favored v.p. candidate. It must be something because the Obama campaign is too smart to miss an opportunity for positive press.

Battle for Pa

August 19, 2008

By my account, Pennsylvania is in play. I don’t agree with Slate, which puts the state in its “safe Dem” category.

“The chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, James Burn Jr., a former supporter of Mrs. Clinton, is on the front lines of building up support for Mr. Obama in Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities.

‘Some of the folks who were with Hillary came right over. Others, it took a little while. Still a few, we need to work on,’ he said, adding that he tells the former backers of the New York senator ‘whatever you’re mad about, get rid of it.’

Mr. Burn said that his job would be made easier if Mr. Obama made himself a more visible presence in Western Pennsylvania. ‘Senator Obama has to come out to the West,’ Mr. Burn said. ‘He needs to be out here more. We hope to see more of him.’

Speeches to prominent Catholic groups, such as the Knights of Columbus, would help solidify the backing of undecided voters and rebut tough allegations sure to come in the fall. Mr. Burn explained that such visibility would help voters ‘believe what they hear from him and not what someone’s saying.’ Mr. Obama was in the state to host an economic forum at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University in June.”

Read more in my New York Sun column here.

Barack and Barak: Obama in the Middle East

July 24, 2008

It was interesting to see Barack Obama and Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, in the same photo op yesterday. Barak, Israel’s former prime minister, is one reason, despite all the talk about American Jews being uncomfortable with Obama’s full name, that they are more familiar with his name than other voters.

Barak is again a rising force in Israeli politics given the trouble that Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert is in right now. A compelling argument can be made that had Barak been in his current post in 2006, Israel would have fared better in the Lebanon War.

Ehud Barak is also a familiar figure for American Democrats. He was the favored candidate of the Clintons in 1999 when he defeated Benjamin Netanyahu. The Clintons felt they had such a vested interest in his election that they dispatched James Carvllle, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum to Israel to aid Barak in his election quest.

Some are trying to make much out of the American advisers who accompanied Obama to Israel. Most notably Dennis Ross. Ross was the main Middle East negotiator for Bill Clinton and had a similar post in the first Bush Administration.

There’s no question that Ross is a classic “peace processor.” But he’s also intellectually honest. It’s Ross who has most effectively rebutted the allegation that Israel (Ehud Barak!) failed to offer Arafat a comprehensive peace deal in 2000 at Camp David, which has become a staple of Jimmy Cartersque anti-Israel vitriol.

The reality is that in the wave of the current President Bush either party’s candidate will do more to try to push negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And, it’s also true, that given the Hamas control of Gaza, it’s likely these negotiations will go nowhere. But it doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Wesley Clark’s Vice Presidential Quest

June 30, 2008

Wes Clark fits many of the things Barack Obama needs as a vice president: he’s a former general, a defense policy expert, and an ally of Hillary Clinton. Could his attack on John McCain today on Face the Nation be a try-out?

” ‘He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall’ as a wartime commander, the general said on CBS. Clark is mentioned as a possible Obama running mate, although he originally supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

When the interviewer, Bob Schieffer, noted to Clark that McCain had been shot down over Hanoi, Clark replied, ‘I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.’ ”

Admiral Leighton “Snuffy” Smith fired back on behalf of the McCain campaign:

“If Barack Obama wants to question John McCain’s service to his country, he should have the guts to do it himself and not hide behind his campaign surrogates. If he expects the American people to believe his pledges about a new kind of politics, Barack Obama has a responsibility to condemn these attacks.”