Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Romney denounces phone calls attacking his faith

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- "You've got to be kidding" was GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's incredulous response.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney says he has no idea who is behind calls in New Hampshire and Iowa.

The question: Is he confident that no one associated with his campaign was involved in so-called push-polling?

The practice is a political attack disguised as legitimate polling. Callers portray themselves as nonpartisan members of a polling organization, then provide negative or misleading information about a candidate in an effort to discourage voting for that person.

Romney appeared taken aback because the phone calls -- reported in early presidential contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire -- cast aspersions on him and his Mormon faith.

The calls also raised questions about deferments he received during the Vietnam War because he was doing missionary work in France.

"Obviously, the beneficiaries of push-polling that attacks me is not me. Somebody else has obviously pushed that forward. I have no idea who it was, but I hope the attorney general of New Hampshire finds out who it is, and we can get that resolved and we can know who was behind it, " Romney told CNN. Video Watch what Romney says when asked about push-polling »

Some of his rival campaigns privately have suggested that a Romney ally did the calls deliberately to illicit mass condemnation and perhaps discourage an opponent from using the tactic closer to Election Day.

"I think it's the same kind of conspiracy theorists that you're raising that say, 'Oh, we brought down the World Trade Center ourselves,' " the former Massachusetts governor said. "It turns everything on its head. It's a little silly I think."

Matt Rhoades, Romney's communications director, said the calls were "repulsive."

Romney is "campaigning as an optimist who wants to lead the nation. These attacks are just the opposite. They are ugly and divisive," he said in a statement.

Rhoades also said Sen. Judd Gregg, a chairman of Romney's campaign in New Hampshire, has asked state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to open an investigation into the matter immediately.

Other GOP presidential campaigns have denounced the push-polling, which roiled voters in both states who got the calls.

"But as you know it was vicious attack on me, an un-American attack on me --and that's totally inappropriate, particularly at a time like this with Thanksgiving recognizing that this is a nation that celebrates diversity of religious thought and belief," Romney said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Is Obama's Iowa Surge for Real?

Barack Obama
U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama waits for the start of another town-hall meeting in a stairwell in Muscatine, IA at the Muscatine Center for Social Change.
Callie Shell / Aurora for TIME
Click here to find out more!

The new message driving Barack Obama's resurgent campaign these days is "electability plus." He debuted the new appeal at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner earlier this month, calling for a "party that doesn't just focus on how to win but why we should." Obama referred to what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the fierce urgency of now" and argued that the U.S. faces too many challenges at home and abroad for Democrats to be satisfied with merely taking the White House away from Republicans.


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Electability plus means not just getting elected but getting elected for the right reasons. It is a rebuttal of the argument that Hillary Clinton should win the Democratic nomination simply because of her perceived advantage against gop rivals. And it provides a rationale for why Obama is running now, why he didn't wait four or eight years to launch a presidential campaign.

It's significant then that Obama's message seems to be catching on among the notoriously pragmatic Iowans. By 55% to 33%, Iowans—who will take part in a Jan. 3 caucus that will be the first test for Democratic presidential candidates—said they favored "new direction and new ideas" over "strength and experience," a new Washington Post/ABC poll found. In July the ratio was 49% to 39%. After trailing Clinton in the state most of the year, Obama now leads by 4 points, and he has eliminated her advantage among women voters and older voters. He is also dead even with her when voters are asked whom they trust more to handle the economy, Social Security and the war in Iraq.

To run on electability plus, of course, you first have to pass the electability threshold. There, too, Obama has fresh data on his side. His aides tout the fact that their candidate boasts higher favorability ratings among independents and Republicans than either of his main rivals. (A recent Pew survey found that 21% of Republican respondents would like to see Obama as the Democratic nominee.) And the Post poll suggests that Obama could benefit from last-minute shifts in support: 34% of Iowa voters said he was their second choice, compared with only 15% for Clinton. Under the arcane rules of Iowa caucuses, that means Obama is more likely to pick up voters who can switch their support if their candidate falls short of the required 15% bar for votes.

Winning in Iowa, however, still comes down to the fine art of connecting with individual voters. And on that front, the state isn't always a good match for Obama's strengths. The graveyards of political campaigns are littered with candidates who excel at forging connections with individual voters but who can't give a big speech to save their lives. Obama may be that rare politician with the opposite problem. Before a crowd of 4,000, he can be magnetic and compelling. But before a crowd of several hundred, he can sometimes fall flat.

On a Sunday evening a week after delivering the best speech of his campaign before thousands of roaring supporters at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, the Illinois Senator is easily distracted, interrupting himself to get a bottle of water for a man with a cough. A few minutes later, he stops in the middle of a riff to pick up an earring dropped by a woman in the front row. And Obama's energy level fluctuates. "He hits the wall in late afternoon before really firing back up," explains Iowa press secretary Tommy Vietor, making a sine curve with his hand. For long stretches, audience members are sitting back with arms crossed, waiting to be impressed. When he finishes, the crowd stands, yet there are few cheers.

But then a 64-year-old woman named Jane Svoboda stands up to challenge him. She wants to know why Obama doesn't talk more about terrorism —"the people who keep attacking us," as she puts it—and illegal immigrants. Obama discusses the need to regain global respect for the U.S. and argues that President George W. Bush erred by focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan. Svoboda interrupts to disagree, and that gets Obama going. "Iraq did not launch 9/11," he says, growing more and more animated. "That is part of the misinformation that has been coming out of this Administration."

The two get into a back-and-forth, which finally wakes up the crowd. By the time Obama moves on to immigration ("These are people who are trying to make a living. I understand they broke the law. But let me tell you something: if the minimum wage in Canada was $100 an hour ..."), he is, to steal a phrase, fired up. And the crowd, which cheers so loudly that he doesn't need to finish the sentence, is won over. The passionate response has answered their electability questions. As for the plus? On her way out of the event, even Svoboda offers a positive verdict: "He did a good job."

Giuliani Highlights NYC Record

Wednesday November 21, 2007 6:01 PM

TITLE: ``Challenges.''

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: New Hampshire.

SCRIPT: Announcer: ``The world's 17th largest economy. Swimming in red ink. Record crime. Runaway taxes. A million on welfare. That was New York. Until Rudy. He cut taxes $9 billion. Welfare 60 percent. Crime in half. The most successful conservative turnaround in 50 years. In America's most liberal city, Rudy delivered. And he can do it again, in a place called Washington, D.C.'' Giuliani: ``I'm Rudy Giuliani, and I approved this message.''

KEY IMAGES: Scenes of bustling traffic give way to a neon peepshow sign, someone sniffing cocaine and one of the city's notorious ``squeegee men'' - people who intimidated motorists by washing windshields unsolicited and demanding payment - and a 1990 Time Magazine cover about ``the rotting of the Big Apple.'' Then, sparkling images of the nighttime city skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

ANALYSIS: In his third television spot, Giuliani continues to emphasize New York's resurgence while he was mayor, for which he was known before his profile was elevated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

On taxes, independent analysts say Giuliani's tax cuts were actually lower, about $5.8 billion, rather than the $9 billion he claims. The independent analysis was done by the city's Citizens Budget Commission. The discrepancy is because the commission credits state lawmakers, not Giuliani, with an income tax reduction. Giuliani aides say that's silly and that he lobbied hard for the cut.

During Giuliani's two terms as mayor, the city cut taxes by 7 percent or 8 percent, according to the commission and the city's Independent Budget Office. Giuliani reduced income taxes, sales taxes, hotel taxes, commercial rent taxes and co-op and condo taxes, among others.

For managing that in liberal New York, Giuliani gets high marks from the anti-tax group Club for Growth. Yet the group faults him on several fronts, including his resistance to eliminating commercial rent taxes in 1999 in favor of spending the revenues on new baseball stadiums and his opposition in 1996 to a flat tax, which he now says would make sense.

The city was, indeed, operating in the red when Giuliani became mayor. Yet critics note he left the city with a deficit bigger than the $2.3 billion budget gap he inherited.

Welfare rolls under Giuliani shrank by about 52 percent - from more than 1 million to 516,000, according to federal and city figures - as Giuliani helped tie public assistance to work, requiring people to work in community service jobs in exchange for welfare benefits.

Yet New York fell behind a national welfare decline of 62 percent.

And while crime under Giuliani dropped a dramatic 60 percent - aided by a ``zero tolerance'' policy that rid the city of squeegee men - it was no longer at record levels. In fact, crime in New York peaked in 1990 and had been dropping for three years when Giuliani arrived, according to FBI statistics.

``He's trying to make a very straightforward political point, which is, ``I took on the beast,' said Stanley Renshon, a political scientist at City University of New York.

``And the beast is a liberal city out of control. It's got to do with welfare. It's got to do with crime. It's got to do with taxes. It's got to do with quality of life,'' Renshon said. ``He deserves a lot of credit.''

Critics insist Giuliani takes too much credit and exaggerates his record; Renshon said Giuliani should share the credit with others but that most politicians engage in hyperbole.


Analysis by Associated Press Writer Libby Quaid.


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