Archive for the ‘Joseph Biden’ Category

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.
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Palin v. Biden: Betcha Darn Right Maverick Wink Hockey Six Packs!

October 3, 2008

The big points here are as I expected: nothing game changing took place. Joseph Biden wisely restrained himself from falling into the Rick Lazio trap. He stated and repeated the theme that I believe will win the election for Obama: George Bush’s economic policies have lead to near ruin for America.

As for Sarah Palin, she survived. She had no major blunders — a word she repeated a number of times. I found her language almost hypnotic — gerunds modifying gerunds, archaic phrases interlaced with colloquialisms, such as “like”, an E.E. Cummings-like string of talking points.

Her lack of substance really hurt in points she did not even know how to make against Biden. A good example came when Biden launched a furious attack on the Iraq War attempting to link John McCain to Dick Cheney. When her rebuttal time came, she missed a tremendous opportunity. A candidate with some semblance of knowledge of Washington would have sensed the opening and taken the time to repeat for the public the story of McCain’s war with a major figure of the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld was the primary administration figure responsible for the low number of troops at the start of the Iraq War. McCain took Rumsfeld on at a time when he still wielded considerable power in Washington and had the full support of Dick Cheney. (“I blame Rumsfeld. It’s his failure that we didn’t have enough troops in Iraq, because he ignored the advice of the military. We never had enough troops over there from the beginning, and that’s where most of our problems come from,” McCain told Esquire.)

That saga is an extremely helpful detail to McCain in distinguishing himself from both Cheney and Bush. Yet the Maverick from Alaska never said anything about it. I doubt she even knows the story.

The Palin-Biden Debate

October 2, 2008

Undoubtedly tonight’s debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will be among the most watched political events on television this year. Interest in Palin is huge, and voters will be watching to see if they will encounter the sassy, charismatic Palin of the Republican National Convention, or the stammering, unsure Palin of the Katie Couric interview.

I don’t think it matters. With the unraveling of the American economy during the last two weeks, the presidential race has fundamentally changed. While previously the campaign existed on the level of personality and atmospherics, now it is down to one very simple issue — the economy. The Republican, John McCain, comes from the same party as President Bush and owns the poor economy. Obama, the Democrat, represents something different — to use a phrase that has been worked to death, change.

Before Obama’s personal style — not race, mind you — served as an impediment to attracting votes in the Rust Belt; now, the economic upheaval has crowded out both the positive and negative aspects of his political persona. Obama’s grandiose speeches, his sweeping rhetoric, the slight mood of revolution surrounding his campaign — none of that matters any more. Obama may have needed those qualities to challenge Hillary Clinton, but now they just get in the way. For Obama to win, he needs merely to be a steady Democratic hand, a Hubert Humphrey.

That might be a tough sell for Obama, but, to his good fortune, he’s got Hubert Humphrey on the ticket. Well, Joe Biden, a reliable Democrat who can deliver a solid Democratic message at a time when American voters are fed up with Wall Street and a Repubilcan president. A restrained — but not robotic — Biden will do the job tonight. No dazzling displays of foreign policy are necessary. He shouldn’t overreach, which will risk turning some voters off. Merely show up.

The best Palin can do is make an emotional play to the Joe Six Pack audience. It won’t likely advance the cause of the McCain-Palin ticket, but it’s the best hand she has to play tonight.

Iowa Caucus Day

January 3, 2008

While my expertise is New Hampshire, I’ve been doing this long enough to make a couple of observations about Iowa. Given the vagaries of the caucus process, my sense is still that John Edwards will perform better than expectations. Remember he came in second last time and his organization has worked hard to make itself the second choice of the supporters of the lesser candidates.

The Biden Campaign is denying that it has made any deals with other candidates. Says Biden’s Iowa State Director, Danny O’Brien: “There are no discussions underway and there will be no deal with any campaign. We believe Sen. Biden is strong enough on his own. Everyone knows that Sen. Biden is a popular second choice for the supporters of all the other campaigns. We remain confident that Sen. Biden will surprise folks this evening.”

As for Hillary Clinton, her success hinges on the size of the electorate. If there are many new participants in the caucus process, she loses. But if the excitement around Barack Obama is great enough and if the energy coming from the far left is as strong as it seems, tonight could be a very long night for her. My guess is that her team has identified most of the die-hard participants, the people you need to win a caucus in a normal year. The big question is, is this a normal year?

I’m less interested in the Republican side in Iowa. The uptick in support for Mike Huckabee baffles me as did the margin of victory for George W. Bush in 2004. Both cases seem to reflect the strength of religious and values voters within the GOP — at the expense of other concerns. With John McCain and Rudy Giuliani both having opted out of Iowa and Huckabee — to me — not having legs, I just can’t see this contest being as determinative on the Republican side. That said, if Mitt Romney can win big there, I do expect him to benefit from a slingshot effect into New Hampshire.

A final thought: a string of Massachusetts politicians have profited thanks to their proximity to New Hampshire — Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, John Kerry. In Romney’s case, the phenomena appears to be working in reverse. The more New Hampshire voters get exposed to Romney, the less they like him. I believe this is directly linked to the fact that the persona Romney has forged as a presidential candidate is so different to the one he demonstrated as a governor. In most cases, this wouldn’t matter. But New Hampshire voters got a close look at Romney in 1994 when he ran against Ted Kennedy and again from 2002 until 2006. So for him, the usual proximity advantage is actually a disadvantage.

I’ll post again later tonight.

Iowa’s Fifteen Percent Scenario

December 18, 2007

In the season of peace on Earth and goodwill to men, politics in Iowa is getting ugly.

The sniping between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is becoming more heated, although his advantage over her appears to be solidifying. John Edwards’s comportment as a partisan firebrand is a far cry from his upbeat and positive campaign style in 2004. Polling suggests the winner will be one of these three candidates, all of whom are consistently garnering the support of more than 20% of those queried.

Yet the unique dynamics of Iowa’s caucus creates space for one of the three second-tier candidates—Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, or Governor Richardson — to shake up the race.

In 2004, negative television advertising dominated the lead-up to the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. House Minority Leader Gephardt of neighboring Missouri, was the early favorite in the race, until Governor Dean of Vermont caught fire in Iowa.

As the weeks leading to the caucuses approached Messrs. Dean and Gephardt directed their fire on each other in what became known to political operatives as the “murder-suicide pact.”

Each candidate was able to successfully destroy the other but they also destroyed themselves. By caucus day, weary Iowa voters were eager to look elsewhere and selected Senator Kerry as their choice.

Unlike a traditional vote, where every ballot counts, candidates who fail to receive the support of 15% of those present at a caucus hall are deemed unviable; if only 14 people show up at a caucus with 100 participants present for a given candidate, those voters are up for grabs. A second headcount then takes place.

A secondary candidate can decide to boost another politician or bury a rival by suggesting their supporters go elsewhere. Again, four years ago, Messrs. Kerry and Edwards ended up splitting up the support from Mr. Gephardt’s backers. Mr. Edwards, in particular, was a popular second choice thanks to his sunny demeanor, a quality he has ventured from this election cycle.

Read more here.

Thoughts on Tonight’s Democratic Debate

October 31, 2007

A little more than an hour into tonight’s Democratic debate on MSNBC, I have to say that this is Barack Obama’s best debate performance. He’s come at Hillary Clinton hard. He hit her both on disclosing financial information related to the Clinton Presidential Library as well as her refusal to accept the idea that social security could be in jeopardy down the line, which she called a “Republican talking point.”

John Edwards attempted to join the fray, whacking her for her acceptance of money from major donor groups, but he overreached. Both Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich alluded to his own acceptance of money from various groups — hedge funds and lawyers.

The debate has also made clear who is putting themselves in the running for big jobs in the Clinton Administration — Bill Richardson who was the first to tell Obama and Edwards to refrain from personal attacks, Chris Dodd, who seconded Richardson’s comments, and Joe Biden, who trumpeted his own long career in the senate without piling on. You could actually see Clinton nodding when Richardson was making his points.

You gotta love politics.

Finally, I would note I’ve seen Obama’s act before. This is what Jerry Brown tried to do in the 1992 presidential primary. He came at the Clinton’s hard. How’d that work out?

Dartmouth Democratic Debate: Hillary Clinton and Iran

September 27, 2007

I thought Hillary Clinton did a terrific job standing up to Tim Russert and the other presidential candidates on the issue of Iran. She gave a clear, declarative answer as to why she supported Joseph Lieberman’s resolution calling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in Iran a terrorist group. This showed great courage coming as it did after as Mike Gravel tried to set it up with the Lieberman conspiracy talk. Given the climate on the Left these days, I’m frankly amazed that she would so calmly tick off the factors that make the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.

At the same time, once again, I am entirely unimpressed with Obama’s style and “substance.” His answers are halting and haughty at the same time. It’s almost infuriating.

I don’t agree with Chris Dodd on much of this, but his performance is solid as usual. I felt, as did Joe Biden, that Russert is giving the Delaware senator short shrift.

Biden Opens Up About Pakistan, His Presidential Rivals, and Money

August 16, 2007

Joseph Biden

Remember the angry exchange between Senators Obama, Dodd and Clinton about Pakistan at the AFL-CIO debate last week. Joe Biden tells me his three colleagues missed the point: America’s policy has been to target al Qaeda figures in Pakistan!

“The reason I was surprised by what not only Senator Obama said, but what Senator Clinton said and Senator Dodd said, is that all three of them seemed to be arguing about something that they didn’t know already existed. It is the policy of the United States of America, it has been the policy for the last five years; if there’s actionable intelligence relating to bin Laden or Al Qaeda, that we would move, assuming we’re able to move, against him,” Mr. Biden said. “The part that surprised me was the lack of knowledge about this and the idea that you wouldn’t take action if you knew where bin Laden was.”

Mr. Biden added that Mr. Obama’s proposal to make American aid to Pakistan conditional on progress in fighting Al Qaeda is already in legislation. Mr. Biden drafted an amendment to a bill passed by Congress in July and awaiting the signature of President Bush. “That’s the Biden-Lantos amendment,” Mr. Biden said. “It exists now, so the thing that startled me was the fact that here these three people are arguing about whether we should go in or not go in or how to go in, the first thing that surprised me is it took so long for them to focus on Pakistan. I’ve been talking about Pakistan and this since I went into Afghanistan as the first American in there since the Taliban came down in 2001.”

Read more here.

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Why Biden, in his view, is a better presidential candidate than Clinton? “I think I am much better positioned to win Kentucky, MO, Arkansas, West Virginia than any of the other candidates running.

Because of my positions on the issues, because I come from a state that is a border state, that the politics of having to reach across party lines matter, because my 34 years in the senate have been the opposite of polarizing, they have been uniting. So I think for all those reasons, I think I have the best chance of crossing over and picking up independent votes and keeping a democratic base. But again, time will tell that. That’s an assertion. It’s a judgment that democrats are going to make, but they will make that judgment of who they think we’ll be best able to win a general election.”

On Obama. “You know he’s a very smart guy. I can’t speak for me. But I know for me that it was a learning experience. I worked very hard. I’m sure he’s working very hard too. I’ve watched seven presidents, and I’ve watched presidents who have come to office who haven’t thought through some of the areas that theyt’ve never worked in, for example foreign policy. I watched several presidents come in and they’re smart as the devil and they get here and unless you already know when you get here exactly what your foreign policy is, it’s awful hard to hit the ground running and not to make serious mistakes the first couple of years. I’m not saying that senator obama is where I was [when elected to the senate at age 29]. I was younger than he was when he got to the Senate. But I do think, I acknowledge that experience is not the issue, it’s whether your experience has been good or bad. Somebody with 34 years of bad experience isn’t perfectly qualified to be president, someone with 34 years of good experience that makes a big difference. So, again, I know it’s kindof difficult to master, it’s kindof difficult to feel sure-footed in a lot of areas that you haven’t spent a long of time dealing with.”

On Dennis Kucinich: “It’s a little bit like my friend Dennis Kucinich. Dennis, God love him, gets up in all these debates and says the Democratic Congress could end the war today. Dennis should read the Constitution. You gotta have 67 votes to override a presidential veto. Unless he’s figured out how to get 17 Republicans in the Senate to vote with us, I’m not quite sure how to do that. But it’s very appealing.”

On money in politics: “The third thing that’s different [since his 1988 presidential run] are the obscene amounts of money that are being
It is radically different. The last time I changed this at the stage I left which was eight months before Iowa, I had raised $6 million and that was more than any other candidate had raised in the democratic process. Now you’re talking about these giant amounts of money, that it’s arguable that you need $100 million to run in a primary. It’s obscene. I think there’s going to be a backlash to it.”

Biden’s got a highly readable new memoir out, “Promises to Keep.”

Trade Unionism in Chicago

August 8, 2007

Labor City

Leave it to the City of Big Shoulders to finally host a superb Democratic debate. On the historic grounds of Soldiers Field in the city where police fired upon trade unionists at Haymarket Square and 4000 Pullman Car workers struck, the AFL-CIO provided a good forum to hear the Democratic candidates out on worker protection, free trade and pensions. The authenticity of the questioners really stood out.

Let me put it in the vernacular; in short, the AFL-CIO kicks YouTube’s ass. I know we’re all supposed to kowtow to the primacy of the Netroots and the internet saavy. But I just can’t. I’m sick of the snideness and the snarkiness. I appreciate hearing the plain but powerful words of people who work for a living.

As far as the politics of the night go, I thought Hillary Clinton shined when it was her time to respond to a questioner from the audience and she went back and answered questions from several of the questioners whom had been ignored by the other candidates, including the wife of fallen miner. It was also an opportunity for the long-serving members of the Senate — Chris Dodd and Joe Biden — to highlight their years of experience and advocacy for the trade union movement. Even Dennis Kucinich had a nice movement when he voiced a mulit-clause paean to labor.

Despite Obama’s homefield advantage, I felt his performance was his worst yet. While he didn’t have a gaffe on a par with those of his prior debates, he seemed entirely uncomfortable. Most answers were incredibly awkward. For a generally verbally fluid speaker, his comments were filled with pauses, halts and uhs. I honestly don’t understand it, other than he might genuinely not know how to connect with blue collar folks.