Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hillary Clinton back out in front again after two weeks of setbacks

Hillary Clinton has reasserted her authority over her Democratic rivals with an aggressive performance in the latest presidential debate.

After a troubled fortnight in which a defensive Mrs Clinton has fended off questions about her honesty and electability, she moved forcefully on to the front foot. She accused Democratic rivals of throwing mud at her simply because she was ahead in the polls.

The rivals, Barack Obama and John Edwards, were booed by some in the crowd when they went on the attack. The result was that Mrs Clinton appeared to steady the ship. The first words out of a senior aide’s mouth yesterday were: “She’s back.”

Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama and Mr Edwards all return to the critical first nominating state of Iowa in the coming days, where they are locked in a statistical tie. But Mrs Clinton heads there with the state’s influential Des Moines Register declaring that she easily won the Las Vegas debate – a welcome boost in a state where her campaign was forced to admit recently that it had planted questions at her events.

For the first time in months the Democratic race appears truly competitive. Mrs Clinton’s troubles began at a debate on October 30, when she was accused of giving dishonest answers. At the same time Mr Obama, whose campaign had appeared listless and fading, is generating fresh excitement, especially after the best speech of his campaign to an audience of 9,000 Iowans last weekend.

Mrs Clinton’s performance on Thursday night, before a friendly audience in Nevada, where she is popular among Democrats, was thus a test of how she would react to the first true pressure of the campaign.

She attacked her rivals for the first time, accusing them of adopting tactics out of the Republican playbook, after Mr Obama and Mr Edwards continued to try to paint her as cynical and inauthentic. “What the American people are looking for now is straight answers to tough questions, and that is not what we’ve seen out of Senator Clinton,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Edwards said: “She says she will bring change to Washington, while she continues to defend a system that does not work.” Mr Edwards also accused Mrs Clinton of trying to have it both ways on a host of issues.

“I’ve just been personally attacked again,” Mrs Clinton broke in. “I don’t mind taking hits on my record on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud at least we can hope it’s accurate.”

She added: “They’re not attacking me because I’m a woman. They’re attacking me because I’m ahead.” Later, when Mr Edwards and then Mr Obama went on the attack again, they were booed by some in the audience.

The three rivals are acutely aware of how large Iowa looms in the campaign. A victory by Mr Obama or Mr Edwards on January 3 could alter the dynamic of the race significantly. A victory there by Mrs Clinton could end it almost before it begins.

GOP rivals get probe into dirty trick 'poll'

By Jill Zuckman

Tribune national correspondent

November 17, 2007


Presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain -- rocked in different ways by a highly negative "push poll" targeting Romney's Mormon faith -- demanded Friday that the New Hampshire attorney general investigate who is behind the tactic.

The attorney general's office said it was investigating the phone calls.

As part of the poll, which began Sunday, callers have been asking voters in Iowa and New Hampshire whether they know that Romney is a Mormon, that his five sons did not serve in the military and that Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is superior to the Bible.

The callers also inquire whether voters are aware that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, accepted deferments to avoid military service in Vietnam while he was on a mission with other young Mormons in France.

At the beginning of the 20-minute survey, voters are asked whether they are aware of McCain's decorated military service during Vietnam. That has led many voters to assume the poll was sponsored by the Arizona senator's campaign. But McCain's campaign immediately denounced the effort and insisted it had nothing to do with it.

"Whoever did this wanted to hurt us by implication," said Mark Salter, a senior aide to McCain. "That's why we were very forceful."

Romney's supporters have long feared that a shadowy whispering campaign would arise at some point targeting his Mormon faith. The new push poll may be the most explicit anti-Mormon message to emerge in the campaign so far.

But Dean Spiliotes, a New Hampshire political analyst and founder of, said the attack may inadvertently help Romney.

"It certainly gives Romney a platform to speak about his religion, something that people have advised him to do," Spiliotes said. "It may also get him some sympathy from voters who don't like seeing religion mixed so intimately with politics."

Push polling, in which negative information is disseminated under the guise of a poll, is a well-known tactic, if a widely condemned one.

Former Rep. Charles Douglas (R-N.H.), vice chairman of McCain's New Hampshire campaign, handed his complaint to Deputy New Hampshire Atty. Gen. Orville Brewster Fitch II on Friday, calling the phone calls "repugnant.

"We find the whole thing a very bad trend eight weeks before the primary," Douglas told Fitch.

Aides to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) also filed a complaint with the state's attorney general on behalf of the Romney campaign. Campaign officials said they are providing names of people who received the calls.

"Whichever campaign is engaging in this type of awful religious bigotry as a line of political attack, it is repulsive and to put it bluntly un-American," said Romney communications director Matt Rhoades. "There is no excuse for these attacks. Gov. Romney is campaigning as an optimist who wants to lead the nation. These attacks are just the opposite. They are ugly and divisive."

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say the church embraces the truths accepted by other Christians but also accepts "additional information" from later revelations.

Romney blames McCain

Campaigning in Las Vegas, Romney called the poll "un-American." And he essentially blamed McCain, saying it was a direct result of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, which he said has been "ineffective" in removing special-interest money from campaigns.

Aides to McCain pointed out that before the legislation was passed, McCain was a victim of push polling in South Carolina during the 2000 presidential primary.

"It is appalling, but not surprising, that Mitt Romney would seek to take advantage of this disturbing incident to launch yet another hypocritical attack," said Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's spokeswoman. "It's the hallmark of his campaign."

New Hampshire law requires all political ads -- including phone calls -- to identify the candidate behind the effort, or at least the candidate who is being supported. The push polling calls were made by Utah-based Western Wats and did not identify a candidate that the calls were intended to help or hurt.

Previous news reports have linked calls by Western Wats to the Tarrance Group, which works for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Ed Goeas, the head of the Tarrance Group, told The Associated Press that there is no connection between Giuliani and Western Wats.

Katie Levinson, Giuliani's communications director, said there is no room for push polls in the campaign.

"Our campaign does not support or engage in these types of tactics, and it is our hope other campaigns will adhere to the same policy," she said.

McCain says calls 'cowardly'

McCain, who arrived in New Hampshire Friday for a three-day swing through the northern and western parts of the state, called the phone calls "cowardly."

During the 2000 presidential race, South Carolina voters received calls and pamphlets alleging that McCain's wife, Cindy, was a drug addict, and that McCain had an illegitimate black daughter. The whispering campaign also suggested that McCain was mentally unbalanced after spending 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

After the South Carolina primary, which McCain lost, McCain's campaign made thousands of "Catholic voter alert" calls in Michigan informing voters that then-Gov. George W. Bush had appeared at Bob Jones University and describing Jones, the institution's leader, as someone with a history of anti-Catholic statements.

The phone calls infuriated Bush, who said he did not like being called a bigot. McCain won Michigan by 6 percentage points but lost the Republican nomination.


McCain Calls for Drug Reimportation

CANAAN, Vt. (AP) — Republican presidential contender John McCain on Saturday said he wants to again allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada as a way to bring health care costs under control.

The Arizona senator, speaking to reporters about a mile from the Canadian border and just across the river from New Hampshire, said too much of health care costs are based on high drug prices.

"Drug companies and the lobbyists they pay in Washington want to keep your drug prices high. Obviously, I want them to be affordable," McCain said, returning to his criticism of how Washington works.

Until drugs are cheaper, the cost of health care is going to skyrocket, helping to bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid, McCain said.

"If we are going to control health care cost, we need to control the rising costs of pharmaceuticals," McCain said, adding that drug prices are 16 percent to 60 percent cheaper in Canada and are to blame for rising insurance premiums.

"A person taking a standard blood-thinner, the savings could be over $200 a year. If your problem is heartburn, it could be $750. For treating depression, as much as $1,400 a year," he said.

McCain noted his rivals do not support drug reimportation programs.

"These are drugs being reimported. They go to Canada and then they can come back in. It's a strawman to say that a country like Canada could not be responsible for safe drugs to be brought into our country. Many of them are manufactured in Canada, as you know," he said.

McCain said he would be open to bringing in drugs from any country with the proper safeguards.

"I would reimport them from any country in the world as long as you have the proper process. In Canada, we already do. In Mexico, we do not," he said.

Romney Talks Immigration, Health Care

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney anticipated questions about health care when he called on a friendly Nevada business group Friday. It was the question on immigration that surprised him.

"I didn't expect that to be ... a major concern of the chamber," the former private equity businessman and Massachusetts governor said after giving his stump speech and taking four questions from a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce round-table.

"But it's a concern across the country," Romney said. "People are tired of all the talk and lack of action to stop illegal immigration."

Immigration is a major concern for businesses nationwide as they deal with the fallout if they hire employees who are in the country illegally.

Romney said he favors issuing employment verification cards to legal immigrants "with their name, their number, their picture" and "biometric information."

"You take that card, punch in the number in the computer or swipe it," he said. "If it's valid, you can hire them. If it's not, you can't."

Romney was on comfortable turf courting conservatives among 22 chamber members who attended. He drew laughter when he cast the Democratic candidates who debated Thursday night as too liberal to run the country.

"It's not that liberals are ignorant,'" Romney said, quoting former President Reagan. "'It's just that what they know is wrong.'"

The Democratic National Committee responded in a statement that Romney "refuses to offer clear plans on the war in Iraq, health care or immigration reform."

The chamber won't make any endorsements in the presidential campaign, though every candidate was offered a chance for a round-table chat, said Kara Kelley, chief executive of the 7,000-member organization.

Romney, who gained national prominence guiding the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, was the first to take the offer. He used it to espouse his core beliefs and seek backing from individual members.

He summarized his Massachusetts health law as a way to force those who can afford private health insurance to sign up, while helping low-income people pay their premiums.

"My plan said this," Romney said: "Now that we got the rates down so they're more affordable ... either buy a health care policy or pay your own way at the hospital. But no more showing up expecting free care from the government or from the hospital."

Romney's rivals gleefully pointed out this week that Massachusetts residents had to sign up by Thursday or they likely would face tax penalties starting Jan. 1.

Anyone lacking coverage will lose the personal exemption on their state income tax filing next spring, equal to $219. If they remain uninsured into 2008, they will be taxed up to 50 percent of the cost of the least-expensive private insurance plan — an estimated hit of at least $150 a month.

Push-polling starts aimed at Mitt Romney; N.H. launches probe

The Associated Press reported late Thursday that residents of both Iowa and New Hampshire had begun receiving the calls from unidentified callers. Push-polls start out sounding like a normal polling survey but in reality are designed to plant and spread distorted, damaging and often untrue information about a particular candidate, in this case Mitt Romney. He happens to be leading Republican polls in both states.

Because push-pollers also rely on the news media to help spread the same false information, we're not going to do that here except to say the calls involved Romney's Mormon religion. An example of a push-poll question could be: "If you knew that Candidate X had been previously arrested on sexual assault charges, would you be more or less inclined to vote for him?"

It's not the voter's answer that matters; it's that he or she might pass on that rumor to others and affect their vote.

For full story:

Romney Talks Tough on Immigration

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday promised to cut federal funding for cities and states that he considers tolerant of illegal immigration, though he said he was unsure how deep the cuts would be.

The former Massachusetts governor repeated his plans to deny funding to sanctuary cities, states that issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and states that allow the children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition discounts at universities.

"They are practices that, if you will, extend this sanctuary state of mind we have," Romney told more than 200 people gathered at a public library. "I like immigration — legal immigration."

Romney also outlined a plan for an employment verification card that, he said, would make it easy for companies to determine a prospective employee's citizenship status before hiring.

Romney told reporters he was unsure how much federal funding he would cut. "I can't give you the specifics," he said. The campaign later described the in-state tuition plan as a proposal to "trim back" education funds.

Romney said Saturday he did not think students who are in the U.S. legally should be denied discounted tuition, even if their parents are illegal, but that "people that are here illegally should not be able to get a tuition break that allows illegals to have tuition that's lower than the children of our citizens."

Romney has used the issue to criticize opponent Mike Huckabee, who as governor of Arkansas supported a failed attempt to extend in-state tuition and scholarships to the children of illegal immigrants. Huckabee has said he does not believe students should be punished for crimes committed by their parents.

Giuliani bashes Clinton at conservative legal confab

by Gabrielle Russon

In front of conservative lawyers, Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani promised to appoint like-minded judges and petitioned for a limited central government on Friday afternoon during a speech held in a Washington hotel.

“You’re making a choice. Who do you trust more: the government or the people?” Giuliani said, alleging that some of the Democratic contenders wrongly believed the central government should play too big a role in people’s lives.

Those Democrats’ names came up early in Giuliani’s 30-minute speech at the 25th annual convention of the Federalist Society, the legal group whose members include some of the most influential figures of the conservative legal establishment and a group Giuliani has avidly courted.

He singled out fellow presidential candidate and New Yorker, Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, for special ridicule in the same room where, an hour earlier, lawyers debated illegal immigration policies.

“First she was for the idea and supported Gov. (Eliot) Spitzer who wanted to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” the former New York City mayor said, referring to the current New York governor.

“Then she was against the idea. Then she was for and against the idea. Then she decided it should be decided on a state-by-state basis,” Giuliani said mockingly.

Giuliani also mused about the significance of next year’s election. “I know we say that all the time, that every presidential election is the most important one we have in our history but actually it’s a truthful statement,” he said.

He offered 200 reasons why 2008’s election is “really important” - the 200 federal judges that each president typically appoints during a four-year term. Giuliani warned that the top three Democratic presidential candidates Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards would appoint judges who would “legislate their social policy through judicial interpretation.”

“Judges exist to interpret the law, not to invent the law,” he said, a sure applause line in this crowd.

His speech at the Mayflower Hotel was standing room only, like a hit Broadway play.

Mormon smears turn Republican race sour

The latest poll results

THE only Mormon in the 2008 presidential race, Mitt Romney, is coming under attack for his religious beliefs as the battle for the Republican nomination becomes increasingly acrimonious.

Telephone calls to voters accusing the former governor of Massachusetts of subscribing to outlandish beliefs and “flip-flop-ping” on big issues have been made under the guise of polling in Iowa and New Hampshire, crucial early voting states that Romney must win.

These “push-polling” calls drew attention to Romney’s deferment of military service during the Vietnam war while serving as a missionary for the Mormons in France and pointed out that none of his five sons had enlisted in the military.

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Callers also claimed the Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints did not consecrate blacks as bishops until the 1970s and believes the Book of Mormon supersedes the Bible. Romney called the attacks “unAmerican”.

Robert Redford, the film star, joined in the Mormon-bashing this month, claiming that church followers were “very adept at not being fazed and speaking fluently and gracefully” because they “learn how to deflect blows and stay on message” when they go on missions “when they are 19 or 20”.

He added: “So when you see Mitt Romney, he’s already been practising how to deflect blows and stay on message. But it’s plastic.”

The race is growing dirtier as the fight for the nomination intensifies between Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and Romney.

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