After the Debate, Another Chance to Put Their Spin on Things

(Brett Flashnick - AP)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, April 29, 2007

ORANGEBURG, S.C. -- Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.) was sweating. Profusely.

More than an hour after the first Democratic debate of the 2008 presidential race concluded in this small town 45 minutes south of Columbia, Richardson was mobbed by reporters scribbling in notebooks and camera crews jostling for position.

He stood at the center of "Spin Alley" -- a room given over to candidates and their chosen mouthpieces for hours of post-debate "analysis." And Richardson was analyzing away.

"I came out as the most moderate candidate with the clearest position on Iraq," Richardson insisted as he took a slug from a bottle of water. "I'm a different kind of Democrat."

Richardson was working overtime -- hence the sweat -- to sell that message, a pitch he had struggled to make during the 90-minute debate, where he often looked uncomfortable on stage and failed to distinguish himself from the other "second-tier" candidates.

For Richardson, Spin Alley offered a second bite at the apple, a unique opportunity to change conventional wisdom before it hardened.

Other candidates saw different opportunities in the media orgy. Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), who was perhaps the least visible candidate during the debate -- the result of a paucity of questions directed to him -- not only appeared but also brought along Reps. John Larson (Conn.) and Xavier Becerra (Calif.) to plead his case.

In keeping with the spirit of Spin Alley, Larson recounted how his two seatmates during the debate, both South Carolinians, remarked afterward that Dodd had appeared the most "presidential" of all the candidates.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) clasped the hand of his statuesque, redheaded wife as he waded through the assembled press. Sen. Joe Biden (Del.), who drew kudos for his debate performance, flooded the room with aides, including his sister/senior campaign adviser, Valerie Biden Owens.

The big three candidates -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) -- skipped the gathering altogether, calculating that no good could be gained by subjecting themselves to the more than 600 credentialed media people at the debate.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) didn't show up Thursday for the big Senate vote on the Iraq spending bill. The day before, he missed the final passage of education investment legislation, and the day before that, he skipped roll call votes on four amendments and a judicial confirmation. McCain hasn't voted in the Senate since April 12.

Since the beginning of the year, McCain has missed at least seven Iraq-related votes, including the confirmation of the individual whom McCain and other Republicans are counting on to turn the war around, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

The Senate has held 147 roll call votes so far this year. McCain has been absent a total of 60 times, by far the worst showing of the 2008 candidates who are also sitting senators. The second-worst offender is Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who has skipped 41 votes, including the first vote of the year, a Jan. 8 resolution honoring former president Gerald R. Ford. McCain missed that one, too, as did another high-volume absentee, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who has missed 37 votes. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is serving his fifth term, hasn't shown 26 times.

Looked at another way, all six 2008 candidates were present together on the Senate floor just 46 times, for fewer than a third of all votes. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has the best attendance record of the year, missing just three votes, followed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who was absent seven times.

4 days: Republican candidates meet at the Reagan library in Simi Valley, Calif., for their first 2008 presidential debate. Who will emerge as the GOP's Mike Gravel?

19 days: Former president Bill Clinton speaks to the South Carolina NAACP. How hard will he hit Obama?

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