Monday, October 22, 2007

Savior or Machiavelli, McCain’s Top Aide Carries On

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Published: October 23, 2007

When Rick Davis won a brutal struggle within the McCain campaign this summer, his reward was what would be one of the toughest jobs in politics: the organization’s campaign manager.

The operation was nearly broke, having spent freely despite lackluster fund-raising. Senator John McCain of Arizona had infuriated conservatives with his support of an immigration proposal and had alienated independents with his backing for the Iraq war. A host of staff members left, and for days there was a very public airing of dirty laundry. It was the political equivalent of a near-death experience.

So Mr. Davis, a veteran of Republican presidential campaigns and administrations and a former lobbyist who managed Mr. McCain’s 2000 run for the White House, had his work cut out for him. Taking over amid accusations that he had used the campaign to enrich one of his companies, he began by simply trying to keep things going — reassuring shaken supporters and cutting the budget to the point where a onetime Hollywood blockbuster of a presidential campaign took on the feel of an indie.

“The problem wasn’t with the McCain candidacy,” he said in a recent interview. “It was with the McCain campaign.”

Now that the tempestuous summer has faded, Mr. McCain is, by most accounts, doing better as a candidate: drawing good responses from big crowds, showing more of his puckish humor and maverick streak, giving well-received debate performances and rising a bit in the polls. But the campaign’s challenge is still acute: it is now living on borrowed money.

Mr. McCain reported this month that his money on hand was only a small fraction of that held by his leading rivals. Of his total, $1.67 million can be spent on the primaries, a sum exceeded by the $1.73 million that the campaign owes.

Laboring once more against long odds, Mr. Davis has refocused the campaign on the early states and on letting Mr. McCain act as his own best resource in town-hall-style meetings and on Sunday morning talk shows. The campaign has put television advertisements on the air in its strategic linchpin, New Hampshire, a state it carried in 2000. And it just spent $100,000 on a mailing in Iowa (an investment some supporters think would have been better made in New Hampshire).

Still, as the candidates head into the hotly contested final stretch before the onset of the primaries, it appears increasingly likely that the McCain organization will have to accept federal matching funds. To do so would provide much-needed cash but would place limits on the amounts spent in the crucial early states.

But Mr. Davis, 50, a jacket-and-tie kind of guy with a runner’s build who stands out in the typically rumpled world of political operatives, has won upsets before. As deputy manager of Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign, for instance, he gained a come-from-behind victory at a Florida straw poll in part by staging an elaborate reception with Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth.

“I bought, literally, thousands of dollars of Godiva chocolate,” he recalled.

Mr. Davis’s current challenge was undertaken in a charged atmosphere. While some supporters of the campaign have come to view him as its savior, others complain that given his former role as its chief executive, he shares blame for the implosion it is now trying to recover from.

When Mr. McCain’s first campaign manager, Terry Nelson, left this summer, he was followed out by John Weaver, the longtime chief strategist who had originally helped persuade the senator to run for president. Out of loyalty to those two men, other top aides resigned.

Taking over, Mr. Davis was painted by his rivals as an opportunist who had managed to wrest control of the organization in part by winning influence with Mr. McCain’s wife, Cindy.

Some of those rivals also accused him of self-dealing, since 3eDC, a company he partly owns, had been retained by the campaign to provide Web services. Aides questioned whether Mr. Davis’s role in the company had been fully disclosed and said Mr. Weaver, having learned of the arrangement, had tried to end it.

All told, 3eDC billed the campaign more than $1 million for Web services during the first half of the year. (The amount still owed the company accounts for about a third of the campaign’s debt.) News reports also noted that Davis Manafort, the business development and consulting practice from which Mr. Davis is on leave, had been giving campaign advice to the Ukrainian prime minister, Viktor F. Yanukovich, a favorite of the Kremlin, whose power Mr. McCain often warns against.

Mr. Davis said in the interview that the 3eDC contract had been thoroughly vetted, with his role fully disclosed, and called any accusation that he had been trying to enrich himself “typical smear stuff.” He said he did not fight back against the accusation when it surfaced over the summer because he did not want the back-and-forth to distract from the campaign.

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Thompson Finds Reason to Discuss Schiavo Case

Thompson Finds Reason to Discuss Schiavo Case

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Published: October 23, 2007

TAMPA, Fla., Oct. 22 — In his public life, former Senator Fred D. Thompson has long refrained from speaking about the death of his daughter from an accidental drug overdose in 2002, an episode that friends and colleagues say played into his decision not to seek re-election to the Senate in 2002.

But on Monday, when questioned at a news conference about his reaction to the Terri Schiavo case, Mr. Thompson opened up about the death, suggesting the Schiavo matter had particular resonance for him because of how his daughter, Elizabeth Panici, known as Betsy, had died.

“Obviously, I knew about the Schiavo case,” he said. “I had to face a situation like that in my own personal life with my own daughter.”

Mr. Thompson was visibly flustered by the question.

“I am a little bit uncomfortable about that because it is an intensely personal thing with me,” he said. “These things need to be decided by the family. And I was at that bedside. And I had to make those decisions with the rest of my family.”

Mr. Thompson was asked about the Schiavo case on a visit to Florida shortly after he announced his candidacy in September, and his apparent lack of familiarity with the matter led some to question how familiar he was with important issues as he embarked on his presidential run.

“I can’t pass judgment on it. I know that good people were doing what they thought was best,” he said at the time. “That’s going back in history. I don’t remember the details of it.”

The case revolved around whether Ms. Schiavo’s husband had the right to remove her feeding tube after 15 years. A Republican-led Congress passed a bill to compel doctors to reinsert the tube. The case wound its way up to the Supreme Court, which found in Mr. Schiavo’s favor in 2005.

Mr. Thompson’s daughter suffered from bipolar disorder and died from an accidental drug overdose, according to hospital records obtained by The Tennessean in Nashville at the time.

Mr. Thompson released an angry statement then, saying that the newspaper’s report was “unfortunate.”

“Every public official has to understand there’s a price you pay, and for the most part it’s appropriate,” he said at the time. “But there are lines to be drawn.”

Toxicology tests ordered by the medical examiner showed that Ms. Panici had six times the lethal level of hydrocodone, a painkiller, in her blood when she arrived at the hospital, according the Tennessean report.

Hospital personnel revived her, but she never regained consciousness. Six days after she was brought to the hospital, she was pronounced dead.

Mr. Thompson did not say who ultimately made the decision to remove her from life support or even that she was on life support, although he clearly left the impression that she had been.

“I will assure you one thing,” he said. “No matter which decision you make, you will never know whether or not you made exactly the right decision.”

He said he would not talk about the Schiavo case any more, saying his position was clear.

“Making this into a political football is something that I don’t welcome, and this will probably be the last time I ever address it,” he said. “It should be decided by the families — the federal government and the state government too, except for the court system, ought to stay out of those matters as far as I am concerned.”

Thompson, Giuliani spar over conservative records

Thompson, Giuliani spar over conservative records

Squaring off
Phillippe Diederich / Getty Images
From left, candidates Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the GOP debate.
Their clash at a Florida debate on right-wing credentials soon has the other presidential candidates joining in.
By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 22, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Eight presidential hopefuls clashed sharply over conservative purity Sunday night in the most contentious Republican debate of the 2008 race for the White House.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee set the tone by saying rival Rudolph W. Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion and "sanctuary cities" for illegal immigrants.

"He's for gun control," Thompson said of the former New York mayor. "He supported Mario Cuomo, a liberal Democrat, against a Republican who was running for governor, then opposed the [Republican] governor's tax cuts."

Giuliani "sides with Hillary Clinton on each of those issues," Thompson said in one of the many times the Democratic front-runner's name was invoked in the debate.

Giuliani slammed Thompson for siding with trial lawyers instead of GOP senators who sought to cap lawsuit damages.

"He voted against almost anything that would make our legal system fairer -- 'loser pays' rules, things that would prevent lawsuits like that $54-million lawsuit by that guy who lost his pants," Giuliani said.

As for sanctuary cities, Giuliani defended his policy, saying it enabled "illegal immigrants to report crime and to put their children in school."

In another swipe at Thompson, Giuliani said, "The senator has never had executive responsibility. He's never had the weight of people's safety and security on his shoulders. I have."

The sparring quickly spread as the candidates answered questions on their conservative credentials from Fox News journalists in Orlando, Fla. Irked by the questions, Rep. Duncan Hunter of Alpine accused the Fox panel of dividing the party. With groans and cheers, more than 3,000 spectators in the convention hall punctuated the scrappy back-and-forth among the candidates.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona mocked Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, for saying in an earlier debate that he would rely on lawyers to tell him whether to seek congressional approval before attacking Iran.

"I don't think that's a time to call in the lawyers when we're in a national security crisis," McCain said. "Those are the last people on Earth I'd call in."

McCain went on to criticize Romney's switch to conservative positions on abortion and other issues.

"Gov. Romney, you've been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record," McCain said. "I don't want you to start fooling them about mine."

Romney, who has criticized McCain on immigration, taxes and campaign finance reform, responded that "every person on this stage" would consult the attorney general and White House counsel on the role of Congress in a military strike. "But the decision to take our men and women to war is the most grave decision, and I would do that on a very deliberate and careful basis, not a half-cocked basis," he said.

The quarreling led former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas to crack jokes about staying above the fray. "I am more than content to let you let them fight all they want tonight, shed each other's blood, and then I'll be ready to run for president, because I'm not interested in fighting these guys," he said.

With the crowd roaring in approval, Huckabee said Americans were "looking for a presidential candidate who's not so interested in a demolition derby against the other people in his own party."

"There are some real issues out there in this country we need to be fighting for on behalf of the people," he said.

The combative tone reflected the unsettled state of the GOP race with less than 11 weeks until the Iowa precinct caucuses. So far, none of the candidates has succeeded in consolidating support from the party's core of conservative voters.

The debate also offered reminders of the difficulties that several have faced in gaining the support of the religious right.

McCain was asked to explain his attempt at reconciliation with evangelical leaders including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom he once denounced as an agent of intolerance.

"I'm proud that in my life I have engaged in reconciliation with former enemies," said McCain, a naval combat veteran who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "I did that with the Vietnamese, who killed many of my friends. I did that with other adversaries from time to time, and when Rev. Falwell came to my office and said he wanted to put our differences behind us, I was more than glad to."

Thompson faced a question on his paid lobbying for a group trying to lift restrictions on abortion counseling. Noting his antiabortion record in the Senate, he said the work was for "my private law practice, as opposed to my public service."

"I made a few calls, and that was that," he said.

Giuliani, whose support for abortion and gay rights has troubled many Republicans, said he would only back a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage if judges in "three, four, five, six states" sanction gay nuptials. "I did 210 weddings when I was mayor of New York City, so I have experience doing this," he joked. "They were all men and women. I hope."

Laughter erupted as he looked upward. "You've got to give me a little slack here," he said. "It was New York City."

The boldest in breaking with party orthodoxy was Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, an opponent of the Iraq war. The crowd booed him as he denounced plans for U.S. missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado spoke out against illegal immigration, his main campaign theme, saying the cost of providing healthcare for immigrants had forced hospitals to close.

Most of the candidates took turns bashing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Romney called her unfit to serve as commander in chief, saying that "she hasn't run a corner store."

McCain faulted Clinton for trying to spend $1 million on a Woodstock museum. "Now, my friends, I wasn't there," he said of the 1969 concert. "I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was tied up at the time."

McCain Shines at Latest GOP Debate

Chris Cillizza's Politics Blog -- The Fix's Politics Blog

McCain Shines at Latest GOP Debate

The Fix didn't liveblog last night's Republican debate in Florida, but I certainly watched it, interrupted only by the occasional channel switch to check on Game 7 of the Red Sox-Indians series.

The Republican presidential candidates stand on stage during the Republican Party of Florida debate Sunday night at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando. The debate was moderated by the Fox News Network. (Getty Images)

The first 30 minutes of the debate provided some of the best moments of the campaign so far, with John McCain accusing Mitt Romney of seeking to fool the American people about his record, and Fred Thompson challenging Rudy Giuliani over his public declaration that he voted for Democrat Mario Cuomo in New York's 1994 gubernatorial race.

After those first 30 minutes, the debate lapsed into standard-issue talking points. But as always, The Fix was able to divine the winners and losers. Feel free to offer your own in the comments section below.


John McCain: McCain won the debate with a single line. Talking about the fact he wasn't able to attend the Woodstock rock festival back in 1969, McCain said: "I was tied up at the time." Wow. A subtle reference to his time as a POW in the "Hanoi Hilton" that the crowd slowly but surely caught on to and eventually rewarded McCain with an extended standing ovation. McCain also nicely balanced seriousness (his unwillingness to gratuitously attack Hillary Rodham Clinton) with his trademark wit (poking fun at his advanced age in a question on Social Security). It felt like McCain was at the center of the debate last night.

Mitt Romney: At the start of the debate, the former Massachusetts governor seemed off his game. He flubbed a line about Hillary Rodham Clinton and seemed more car salesman than presidential candidate at times. But as the debate wore on, Romney scored points with his passionate defense of his record as governor -- most notably on health care. Romney is most natural when speaking about his record of accomplishments; from Bain Capital to the Olympics to Massachusetts, he has put together an impressive resume of results. Romney spent much of the latter half of the debate reminding viewers of that.

Charlie Crist: The Florida governor got more face time than everyone on stage except the four frontrunners, thanks to being seated directly behind the debate's moderators. (Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, who recently stepped aside as general chairman of the Republican National Committee, wasn't as lucky; one moderator's head blocked the camera's view of him.) Behind the scenes, Crist surely got plenty of attention, as all of the top-tier candidates covet his endorsement before the Sunshine State's January primary.


Fred Thompson: Unlike the last Republican debate (Thompson's first) where the former Tennessee senator stood at the center of the proceedings, he seemed to fade into the background tonight. Thompson's speaking style -- slow and, at times, halting -- coupled with his tendency to look down at the podium (notes?), made him look something short of presidential. Thompson's best lines of the night came at the very end of the debate; his rebuttal to persistent charges of laziness were very effective, but by the time he uttered them even the most dedicated political junkies had probably clicked over to watch either baseball or football.

Barack Obama/John Edwards: We listed Clinton as a winner in the last Republican debate and could have done the same for last night's proceedings. But we figured we'd change things up and put her two main rivals for the Democratic nomination in the loser category this time around. Why? Because the more that Clinton is cast as the inevitable nominee in national forums like the Fox debate, the more likely it is that she will become that nominee. Clinton's name was invoked last night more than former President Ronald Reagan's; not a single Republican candidate mentioned either Obama or Edwards.

The Second-Tier GOP Candidates: For the first half hour of the debate, it was easy to forget that Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo and Mike Huckabee were on the stage. As usual, Huckabee made the most of the time he had, but the brutal reality of not being in the lead pack hurt him more tonight than it had in other debates. As for the other three, is it possible they don't make the cut at future debates? It sure felt like we were moving in that direction last night.

By Chris Cillizza | October 22, 2007; 10:32 AM ET | Category: Eye on 2008
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For Giuliani, chasm may be too wide

For Giuliani, chasm may be too wide

Common ground
Stephanie Kuykendal / Getty Images
‘SHARED GOALS’: At the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington, Rudolph W. Giuliani offered a list of issues that he says shows objectives similar to those of religious conservatives.
As evangelicals talk of boycotting the GOP, the former New York City mayor seeks to assure conservatives that he's one of them.
By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 21, 2007
WASHINGTON — With some leading social conservatives threatening to boycott the Republican Party if Rudolph W. Giuliani wins the presidential nomination, the former New York City mayor sought Saturday to assure activists in this crucial GOP voting bloc that they have "absolutely nothing to fear from me."

Giuliani told more than 2,000 evangelical activists that despite his support for abortion rights and other liberal views, Christians would have a voice in his administration, and that, though he has not always been comfortable discussing it in public, faith "is at the core of who I am."

"I come to you today as I would if I were your president, with an open mind and an open heart," Giuliani said. "And all I ask is that you do the same."

Although Giuliani was interrupted several times by applause and some stood to clap as he concluded his 40-minute address, it was clear that he remained a distrusted figure among those gathered here from across the country.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an evangelical organization and primary sponsor of the annual Values Voter Summit, called Giuliani's speech sincere but said he could not ignore the difference of opinion on abortion.

"It's not something that can be paved over easily," Perkins said, adding that he had not changed his mind about looking elsewhere for a candidate should Giuliani win the GOP nomination. "My position remains the same, as I think it does for a number of pro-life conservatives -- that we draw a line that we will not cross in supporting a pro-abortion-rights candidate."

Giuliani finished eighth out of nine GOP candidates in a straw poll of more than 5,000 people who attended the conference or voted online. The winner was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, followed closely by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, though it's not clear how meaningful the poll was.

Huckabee, whose speech Saturday drew some of the most enthusiastic response of any candidate, won a majority of the 952 votes cast by those who attended, while thousands of votes cast via the Internet gave Romney a slightly higher overall total and saw little-known libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas finish third. Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, once viewed as the conservatives' best hope in a GOP field dominated by moderates, finished fourth after a lackluster Friday speech.

Saturday's appearance by Giuliani -- the most anticipated event of the weekend conference -- marked a crucial moment for his presidential campaign and for the conservative evangelical movement.

National polls consistently put the former mayor at the front of the Republican pack and show he would make a formidable general election candidate, the result of his performance after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and his focus on national security. But Giuliani has faced skepticism about his ability to win caucuses and primaries decided by conservative voters who do not share his views on gay rights, gun control, immigration and abortion, and who may not want to vote for a thrice-married Roman Catholic who is an occasional churchgoer.

Just three years ago, evangelical leaders such as Perkins and James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family claimed credit for securing President Bush's reelection and seemed at the height of their power in national politics.

And, according to a recent study by the watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, evangelical groups continue to raise tens of millions of dollars and organize churches in anticipation of playing a major role in the 2008 election.

But this year they have failed to find a favorite candidate or halt Giuliani as he appears to be pursuing a strategy of peeling off some religious conservatives.

Giuliani strategists contend that most Republican primary voters would be willing to support a candidate who does not oppose abortion. And, in the early voting state of South Carolina, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey last month found Giuliani winning 1 in 5 voters who attend church at least weekly, far ahead of Romney, a Mormon who despite his past support for gay and abortion rights has changed his views and is campaigning as a hard-core conservative.

Still, Giuliani strategists say the candidate cannot win the nomination or the general election without support from many evangelicals.

On Saturday, Giuliani premiered a speech almost devoid of the 9/11 references that have dominated his campaign rhetoric to date, but replete with self-criticism and acknowledgments of imperfection.

His goal Saturday, at least in part, was to curb talk of a third-party rebellion if he wins the nomination. And he sought to sow seeds of doubt about his chief rival, Romney, who ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 as a moderate.

"Isn't it better that I tell you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the prevailing winds?" Giuliani asked.

Giuliani offered a laundry list of issues that he said showed "shared goals" with religious conservatives, such as his support for school choice and his opposition to the procedure that critics call "partial-birth" abortion. He pledged to veto any effort to roll back limits on public funding for abortions, and to appoint judges like conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

He reminded the audience that he fought pornography and prostitution in New York and that he took on the Brooklyn Museum of Art when, in 1999, it scheduled an exhibition featuring a painting of the Virgin Mary that included splotches of elephant dung. "It was just another example of the double standard that exists for people of faith," he said.