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Shailagh Murray
Washington Congressional Reporter
Monday, February 12, 2007; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post congressional reporter Shailagh Murray was online Monday, Feb 12, at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

Political analysis from Post reporters and interviews with top newsmakers. Listen live on Washington Post Radio or subscribe to a podcast of the show.

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Shailagh Murray: Hi everyone, quite a news blizzard this past week. Bring on your comments and questions.

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Re: Obama announcement: The contrast between Obama's beautifully inspiring speech on Saturday announcing his candidacy, and HRC's clever dancing on the head of a pin answer about her vote to support the invasion of Iraq is so obvious. Is that going to be HRC's constant problem -- these on-the-fence, carefully crafted positions vs. Obama's definite stances and candidness?

washingtonpost.com: Obama Joins Race With Goals Set High (Post, Feb. 11)

Shailagh Murray: Interesting you should point out the contrast, and I want to hear from others on this. Is is just me and the voters of New Hampshire, or is Sen. Clinton's war position just not working for her?

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St. Louis: Hey Shailagh. Here's a thought I had yesterday watching Charlie Cook on C-SPAN: The primary system evolved a century or more ago to counteract the influence of the kingmakers in smoke-filled rooms, but now candidates have to sell themselves to their (usually quite extreme) party base just to have a crack at the nomination. And then once they get it they have to spend half the time apologizing for stands they took to win it. Maybe it's time for a new approach to selecting nominees?

Shailagh Murray: Is there a state not seeking to move up its primary to Feb. 5? While the kingmakers aren't going anywhere -- that's part of natural selection -- both parties definitely are gonna have to address this calendar train-wreck.

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Rochester, N.Y.: How much of a freak show will the House hearings on the anti-escalation resolution turn into? The Post reported today that the Republicans will have a resource center where members can pick up visual aids and supporting documents. Can I look forward to seeing my Congressman up there with a big map of Iraq, waving some crazy Heritage Foundation pamphlet at the cameras as he butchers names like "Moqtada Al-Sadr" and "Kirkuk?"

washingtonpost.com: GOP Expects Defections as House Debates Iraq Resolution (Post, Feb. 12)

Shailagh Murray: I presume you mean the debate on the House floor this week? I am going to make the bold prediction that it'll be predictable and even somewhat tedious, or at least that would be my definition of 435 people saying basically the same thing.

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Oxford, Miss.: It's not just you. Hillary Clinton's fine-line-walking war position is too reminiscent of John Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it" nuance bear-trap. Regardless of whether it's true or not, it just makes me feel like either she doesn't really have a position on it or she doesn't trust voters enough to tell them her position. Either way I don't like it.

Shailagh Murray: My Oxford focus group reports back.

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Obama v. Clinton: I hardly think the comparison is apt. Making a speech is a lot easier than answering a question in a town meeting. Obama will bog down if he's ever forced to answer with specifics on anything.

Shailagh Murray: Another perspective.

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"is Sen. Clinton's war position just not working for her?": What about other Senators running for President who voted for the Iraq War but now oppose it? Are their explanations getting more traction than HRC's?

Shailagh Murray: The other candidates -- namely Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and John Edwards -- who were in the Senate at the time have been plainspoken on this subject, saying they were wrong, etc., and Sen. Clinton has sort of triangulated. Hey, remember that word? Anyway, I think the problem she's running into is that Democratic voters are pretty clear-headed about the war, and they expect their candidates to be also.

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Toswon, Md.: Why not just go to a nationwide primary? Winners of each party's primary face off in the general election. The current system stinks (to put it nicely).

Shailagh Murray: Lots of complaints today about the primary situation.

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St. Louis: It doesn't seem to be working for her probably because she is trying to be intellectually honest about the multiple pressures she was under at the time. Obama has a free ride on this one, sitting quietly in the Illinois state house.

Shailagh Murray: Well, he wasn't sitting quietly. He spoke at antiwar events and expressed his views very clearly at the time. Calculated or not, he took a political gamble, and it's paying off. You make a good point about the gray zone -- lots of Democrats and Republicans faced those multiple pressures and cast their votes with a heavy heart. But when it comes to electing presidents, black-and-white almost always beats gray.

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Pittsburgh: Your colleague David Broder asserted in a column last week that Democrats haven't traditionally been familiar with or sympathetic to the military. In covering Democrats in Congress, have you found that to be true? Judging from my husband's 19-year association with the Army, an awful lot of Democratic households have sent sons and daughters to the military services.

washingtonpost.com: The Other Democrats Weigh In (Post, Feb. 6)

Shailagh Murray: Allow me to state for the record that David Broder is an inspiration to us all, and I mean that.

Here's my take: the Cold War and debates over missiles and nuclear disarmament and whatnot turned the military into a political issue, and that's definitely worked against Democrats over the years. However, I think most politicians would make a major distinction between the Pentagon and the troops. The troops were never part of that Cold War debate, but they are very much a part of the Iraq debate and I think some of that lingering anti-Democratic bias continues.

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Nationwide primary?: How can we ever hope to have a nationwide primary when we don't even have a nationwide general Presidential election? How long do you think it will take before the Electoral College is abolished and the U.S. votes for President by popular ballot, like in most free nations?

Shailagh Murray: Not going to happen. If we can't amend to Constitution to ban flag burning, we sure can't amend it to change our election system.

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Antwerp, Belgium: As the 2008 presidential campaign takes shape, friends say it has annoyed John Kerry to keep hearing about how formidable his onetime running mate, John Edwards, might be. They say that Mr. Kerry feels betrayed by Edwards, whom he defeated easily in the 2004 Democratic primaries, and faults him for being too quick to second-guess their campaign, distance himself from it and embark on his own 2008 effort. How much truth is in all this? Has Kerry reason to be upset?

Shailagh Murray: John Kerry ... I'm trying to place him ... any relation to that senator from Nebraska?

I must say I strive mightily not to get anywhere near the feelings of politicians. But I think it's safe to say that the two former nominees aren't taking a lot of fishing trips together. Or shooting hoots in Edwards' new entertainment complex in North Carolina.

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Rolla, Mo.: So now we have Australian PM Howard jumping into American electoral politics with his criticism of Barack Obama's position on Iraq. The strange dustup did reveal some fire by Obama in his response, not the nuanced approach that he could easily have done.

Shailagh Murray: I agree, it was revealing. It was a touch of Jim Webb.

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Philadelphia: Good Morning Shailagh. To what extent does the media run the show with regards to the candidates for President? And do you think someone like Bill Richardson will be able to gain traction once the Hillary and Obama Show gets tired?

Shailagh Murray: Clearly both sides have their frontrunners. But what's interesting about this year is that both sides also have strong contenders in the second tier -- and if you ask them, that's exactly their strategy: to pounce when the frontrunners stumble. Candidates like Richardson and Dodd are sophisticated, very experienced politicians. We can't and won't write them off. That said, the challenge for these guys is raising money to stay in the game. Bank balances are the new poll numbers.

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Fossil, Ore.: We have had enough of the Senate's political posturing re: the Iraq "troop surge." Why doesn't the Senate go back to basics and begin with a yea or nay vote on the surge? Our elected officials should be on record by taking a stand -- not like Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, who seems to be on both sides of the issue.

Shailagh Murray: Try having to explain all this procedural nonsense in news stories -- it's a nightmare. And yes, it's also a big smokescreen.

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Dryden, N.Y.: Sen. Clinton is campaigning on her "invincibility." What happens in a match-up with Mayor Giuliani? He trumps her "tough on terrorism" image and is a Washington outsider to boot. He's not my guy but from listening to my fellow upstaters I think he might even beat the Senator here in a general election, thus eliminating a huge chunk of the electoral college votes the Dems need. Gore, where are you?

Shailagh Murray: Yes, let's get that Gore rumor going again.

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Washington: Actually, Obama did answer questions in an open town-hall style meeting in Iowa on Saturday. He didn't get bogged down.

Shailagh Murray: This campaign is going to be an endurance test, and also a pacing challenge. Clearly Obama is off to a strong start, but he'll get hit with difficult questions and unflattering revelations, just like everyone else does. So far I see little evidence that he'll wind up like Howard Dean, suffocating on his own hype. But you never know.

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Portland, Ore.: Ms. Clinton has had a rough couple of weeks over her position on the war, and I think her advisors are kidding themselves when they say this will blow itself out. In Novak's column today he speculated as to why some big Hollywood names are being slow to commit to her. I have my own hunch that Ms. Clinton's stick-by-your-guns, never-admit-you're-wrong tack on this reminds Democratic primary voters of George W. Bush and his talk-to-the-hand style. If that's the case, her problems could only be beginning. Do you agree?

washingtonpost.com: Not Sold On Clinton (Post, Feb. 12)

Shailagh Murray: The challenge for Hillary Clinton is simple but monumental: she has an enormous public record and history that she has to sell to voters as a net positive. It's a cliche, but elections really are about the future -- and I don't remember voters ever deciding to revisit an era that ended ambiguously at best, as the Clinton era did. Sure, Democrats want to dwell on the Clinton economic policies, and welfare reform and whatnot, but if she's gonna run on that, she's gonna have to own the Marc Rich pardon, too.

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Washington: Shailagh, Who do you think is more cynical, you or the people you cover?

Shailagh Murray: You can't be a cynic and spend all day on the campaign trail answering the same questions and delivering the same speeches, and ultimately putting your name on a ballot.

Reporters, on the other hand, are standing on the other side of the rope line, shuddering in the cold and trying to get their wireless cards to work. We know the candidate is going to lose. That's the basic difference.

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Richmond, Va.: Since charisma, especially how one appears in front of a camera, is so important for candidates these days, can anyone hope to derail the candidacy of the former GOP governor of Virginia, good old what's-his-name?

Shailagh Murray: And which former governor would that be? I count at least three in the mix this cycle, at least at one point or another.

Thanks for participating, one and all, and hope to hear from you again in two weeks. Cheers, Shailagh

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