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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Money and Politics Reporter
Wednesday, February 14, 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.

Chris Cillizza, washingtonpost.com political blogger, was online Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

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The transcript follows.

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Chris Cillizza: Good morning all! After a few weeks' hiatus I am thrilled to be back hosting today's politics chat.

There's tons of political news out there (Romney announces for president, Clinton and Obama battle over the war, Giuliani in California). And, I'll have an eye on the TV during this chat as President Bush is slated to hold a news conference at 11 am.

If anything jumps out at me, I'll make note of it in the chat. You guys do the same. Let's do it.

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Rolla, Mo.: I am already tired of the "where's the beef" criticisms of Sen. Obama. Ask a question involving a major issue of the day and you know where he stands. Did we honestly have a detailed explanations of Gov. George W. Bush's positions in Texas in 2000? Who is asking for Gov. Romney's detailed policy positions, or those of Giuliani? Is Obama getting these questions solely because he seems so strong in-person/on television that there is a need to find fault somewhere, knock him down a peg?

Chris Cillizza: I think Sen. Obama's relative inexperience in national office -- just two years in the Senate -- make questions of his policy credentials more relevant. There's little question that Obama has the political skills to be president, but with the notable exception of the war in Iraq, he has yet to really outline where he stands on issues. I would expect Obama to do just that in the next few months. Maybe a series of policy speeches to lay out his vision for the country...

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Ithaca College, N.Y.: Were you as struck by the 50-40 Clinton vs Giuliani New York poll as I was? Fifty percent just doesn't strike me as a high base for a supposedly popular senator who sailed to re-election. The 40 percent anti-Hillary vote are the hardcores who never would vote for her anyway. What happens when the Republicans go totally negative against the Senator in the election?

Chris Cillizza: I actually thought those numbers were relatively encouraging for Sen. Clinton, as were the Gallup numbers released today that showed her increasing lead in the Democratic primary over Sen. Obama, former Sen. John Edwards and others.

As you point out, there clearly is a strong base of voters who never will vote for Sen. Clinton, no matter what she says or does in the course of this campaign. But there is also a large contingent of voters who will vote for her no matter what she says or does. For Clinton, the challenge is to capture those voters who currently may be skeptical about her but haven't ruled out supporting her.

As I have said before, the idea that Clinton can't win a general election simply is not based in reality. Presidential elections are by their nature extremely partisan affairs, so whichever candidates wind up winning their party's nominations likely will find 48 percent of voters for them and 48 percent against them. The battle will be for the remaining 4 percent.

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Vienna, Va.: Chris, you're back ... haven't seen you host one of these in a while. Just floating this one by -- do you think Obama, if he loses the primaries, would vie for a VP role with Hillary? I think that he would be going back on his word as a "new" politician if he placates to Hillary -- wouldn't he become part of the establishment that he is trying to change?

Chris Cillizza: Good question. I am very skeptical about a Clinton/Obama ticket (not as skeptical as I am about an Obama/Clinton ticket, though). Here's why:

Sen. Obama already is hitting Sen. Clinton on what he describes as her lack of a specific plan on Iraq. Clinton is fighting back. It seems to me that they will spend the next months doing more of the same. Bad feelings will be the inevitable result. Could those feelings be overcome? Sure. But I am not sure Obama sees himself as a vice president.

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Chris Cillizza: President Bush is winding up his opening remarks. Here's a line that struck me. "Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in D.C. to provide them with the support to do their mission."

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Wheaton, Md.: Watching your Romney video I get the same feeling I have gotten before from him -- that I am in the presence of a well-airbrushed actor-candidate who isn't at all real. I feel like he is reading his speeches rather than talking to me (or anyone for that matter). Am I alone in this impression? Will the same crowd that liked Dubya for his beer-on-the-couch quality go for this man?

Chris Cillizza: There's no question that Romney is stylistically quite different from our current president. That's probably a good thing for the former Massachusetts governor. I have seen Romney speak in person to a relatively small group (100 or so people) and came away very impressed. He spoke without notes for roughly a half hour and was both knowledgeable and engaging. Is he too smooth? Maybe. But I don't think so.

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Eagle, Idaho: Given the likely troubles that McCain and Giuliani will have courting many conservatives within the GOP, I think Romney has an excellent chance to fill that void (since he also can raise money, is already creating a top-notch organization, etc.) if he successfully combats concerns about (1) his Mormonism, and (2) the changing of his beliefs on some social issues. Is my analysis correct, or am I off-base? Thank you.

Chris Cillizza: Well, that's the pro-Romney argument in a nutshell. I think the central question for his candidacy is whether GOP primary voters will believe his conversion to conservative social stances is sincere or simply political positioning. If he can convince voters that he has had a profound philosophical change, I think he can win the nomination. If he can't, then he winds up being viewed as just another politician and his chances are not good.

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Anonymous: "I think Sen. Obama's relative inexperience in national office -- just two years in the Senate -- make questions of his policy credentials more relevant." Does Giuliani merit the same questions?

Chris Cillizza: Well, you're right to point out that Giuliani has never held a national federal office. But, regardless of how you view him, the majority of the American public believe Giuliani proved his mettle in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Many would argue that that experience is much more important than anything any of his rivals has done over the past few years.

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Chris Cillizza: So far President Bush has taken three questions -- two of them have focused on Iran. "Our strategy is comprehensive in order to resolve problems that will affect our own peace and our peace in the world," he said.

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Kensington, Md.: This 1993 "vulnerability" report from Giuliani's staff seems to contain about as much "good stuff" as "bad stuff" in terms of how it would effect the GOP base's image of him. Is there a way his proxies could counter anyone raising it with, "but it shows the Mayor was more solidly against gay marriage than Mitt Romney, and if he "flip-flopped" to being Republican years ago to run in a liberal place, that shows character. Plus he was criticized for being a Ronald Reagan Republican when Mitt Romney wasn't sure who he was." In other words, can they turn a "negative" into a positive?

washingtonpost.com: In 1993 Memo, Giuliani Staff Gave Harsh Assessment of Flaws  (Post, Feb. 14)

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Chris Cillizza: It's possible. It's not probable. Giuliani -- smartly in my estimation -- is not backing away from the fact that he supports abortion and gay rights. That would be a very difficult sell and one that would leave Giuliani open to charges of political flip-floppery. Instead, he is trying to alleviate concerns among those on the Republican right by making clear his personal views won't affect his approach to governing. The most obvious example of this strategy is with respect to federal judges -- Giuliani has said repeatedly he favors appointing justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, a favorite of conservatives.

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Baltimore: Without a significant downturn in events (e.g. Iraq or the economy), how can the Democrats have a chance in 2008? Looking at the landscape ahead the Republicans will put up a fairly popular centrist (Giuliani or McCain barring major surprises) while the Democrats will nominate Hilary or someone even farther to the left. Moderate American voters will vote decisively Republican. Do you see it differently?

Chris Cillizza: Yes, I would argue just the opposite in fact.

Given the unpopularity of President Bush, the sour public mood about the war in Iraq and the fact Republicans have controlled the White House for the past eight years it seems to me that Democrats are likely to enjoy a very favorable national climate in 2008. As I have said before I think the idea that nominating Sen. Clinton somehow hands the White House to Republicans is preposterous.

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Chris Cillizza: Bush on victory in Iraq: "Victory in Iraq is not going to be like victory in World War II."

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Washington: You wrote "The majority of the American public believe Giuliani proved his mettle in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001." Has there actually been polling on this question, or is this just the conventional wisdom?

Chris Cillizza: Poll after poll shows Giuliani with sky-high favorability ratings across the board, including among many Independents and Democrats. While it's impossible to conclusively conclude that Giuliani's strong favorability numbers are the direct result of his performance in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, it seems relatively obvious that his actions in those days have much to do with it. The question for Giuliani is whether his "hero" image as a result of Sept. 11 will insulate him from attacks on his socially liberal stances. Are socially conservative voters willing to overlook their disagreements with him because of their belief that he is best equipped to keep the country safe? 

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Chris Cillizza: Asked whether Iraq was a civil war, Bush said: "Its hard for me living in this beautiful White House to give you a first-hand assessment. It is a dangerous situation thereby requiring action on my part."

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Kensington, Md.: In recent elections the GOP has sold itself as the "defender of marriage" and everything that is wholesome and good. But in 2008, while every conceivable Democratic presidential or VP candidate is on his or her first marriage, the Republican ticket could feature anywhere from three (McCain/Huckabee) to six (Giuliani/Gingrich) trips to the altar. Will the GOP adopt the tack, "we're the experts because we've been there -- again and again"? Or will an unmarried Secretary of State be included to "balance out the ticket?"

Chris Cillizza: Interesting question ... I think it remains to be seen how much a candidate's personal success (or lack thereof) in marriage will effect the values debate. I think Giuliani's personal life is sure to be an issue in the Republican primaries, so we should get a sense sooner rather than later about its impact. And if Gingrich gets in and runs as the true social conservative, I think his rivals will try to bring up his personal life as well.

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Chris Cillizza: President Bush on the Plame leak investigation (asked by The Post's Peter Baker): "I'm not going to talk about any of it."

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Hi Chris. What would be your favorite question to ask the president at this point? Mine, would be to ask how to reconcile the insistence that the current Congressional resolution would burden the troops while claiming at the same time that a nonbinding resolution amounts to nothing.

washingtonpost.com: For the GOP, Taking the War Out of the War Debate (Post, Feb. 14)

Chris Cillizza: Well, my favorite question would be one President Bush is far too savvy a politician to answer, but assuming I could ask it and be sure he would answer, it would be: "Mr. President, which is your preferred candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008?"

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Chris Cillizza: It seems as though President Bush is reading my mind. He just offered this nugget: "I will resist all temptation to become the pundit-in-chief and commenting on every twist and turn of the presidential race."

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Minneapolis: Could the frontloading of the primaries help a Giuliani candidacy? A win in New Hampshire followed immediately by wins in California and New Jersey -- could he lock up the nomination before conservatives have time to organize against him?

Chris Cillizza: It absolutely could. I just read this morning that a bill to move the California primary up to Feb. 5 is winding its way through the legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger is likely to sign it.

There's no question that such a move would help Giuliani -- assuming he can survive the gauntlet of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Giuliani has received support from Reps. Mary Bono (Calif.) and David Dreier (Calif.) and has considerable financial backing in California as well.

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Is President Bush holding his press conference because as Bill Clinton argued during his second term, "I'm still relevant?"

Chris Cillizza: I think President Bush was aware of the fact that many of his critics said he was staying behind the scenes during the ongoing Iraq debate in Congress because there was little he could do to affect the outcome. But I haven't heard him utter the "I'm still relevant" phrase just yet.

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Washington: Hey Chris -- you have the number one pick in the fantasy congress draft -- who do you take? Can you believe Ted Kennedy fell to me at 7? I have Charlie Rangel and Kennedy. Dream Team Juggernaut, right?

Chris Cillizza: Oooh. Good question. I am not entirely certain how you accrue points in these sort of leagues (and I have regularly placed last in my fantasy baseball AND football leagues) but here's two Members that have an unmatched political expertise -- Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

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Alexandria, Va.: Saw you on NewsHour. Good work! But are you growing a moustache?

Chris Cillizza: Um, no.

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Melbourne, Fla.: How about a really important question: How about those Hoyas?

Chris Cillizza: How about those Hoyas! What a streak. We are playing now how I think most people thought we would at the start of the year. I worry about this weekend's game at Villanova as a possible letdown game with a big home showdown with Pitt on the horizon, but John Thompson III is a great coach and he'll have our guys ready.

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Chris Cillizza: That's all I have time for folks. If you're in the mid-Atlantic or the Northeast, be careful out there today. Have a great Valentine's Day. And what better present than sending the one you love a link to The Fix?

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