Post Politics Hour

Chris Cillizza political blogger Chris Cillizza
Chris Cillizza Political Blogger
Tuesday, April 24, 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, political blogger, was online Wednesday, April 25, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

Read Chris Cillizza's blog, The Fix

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The transcript follows.

____________________ Mr. Baker is chasing president bush to New York City today; political blogger Chris Cillizza will step in for him, and Baker will appear tomorrow at 11 a.m.


Chris Cillizza: Good morning. In a last minute substitution I (Chris Cillizza) am filling in for Peter Baker. If you're looking for Peter's wisdom on the White House, check this space tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to prove an adequate fill-in.

Big news this morning out of Sen. John McCain's campaign. He has decided to replace his finance director after a disappointing fundraising quarter that saw him raise $12.5 million and bank just $5 million.

Let's get to the questions.


Arlington, Va.: It was a sad day for your profession yesterday with the death of David Halberstam. Did you ever meet him. Have you read any of his books? If so, would you recommend any of them? Author Uncloaked Vietnam Blunders (Post, April 23)

Chris Cillizza: I wish I had known David Halberstam who along with David Broder, who I have the pleasure of working near on a daily basis, are titans of journalism.

I had the chance to listen to David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, talk about Halberstam with Tony Kornheiser on Washington Post radio this morning and it was absolutely arresting. (We are going to try to provide an audio file of it later in the chat for people to hear.)

In that chat, Remnick references "The Best and the Brightest" as one of the seminal books about the Vietnam War. We agree.


East Providence, R.I.: Most of the reporters say that the second-tier candidates still have time to get more play in the press. With all the primaries being moved up, doesn't this become a joke with all the noise going to the top three for each party, even if they are not the most qualified?

Chris Cillizza: It's difficult for alleged "second tier" candidates to break through for a number of reasons.

The accelerated primary schedule, which puts California, Texas, New York and other huge states on Feb. 5, makes early momentum all the more important. For a candidate outside of the Big Six (McCain, Romney, Giuliani, Clinton, Obama and Edwards) to be competitive in the Feb. 5 states they need to have a major breakthrough in either Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina.

But, that's not really any different than in past campaigns where a win (or a surprisingly strong showing) in an early state was essential for a lesser-known candidate to build money and momentum to make a run at the nomination.

The need for that momentum is heightened with so many big and expensive states set to vote in early February


Fresno and Madera, Calif.: Peter, Thanks for taking my question. My journalism students and I read your chats regularly. Your thoughts, please, on Mr. Halberstam. I've used his writing -- baseball and foreign policy -- as a supreme model to follow for non-fiction. I especially loved how he painted portraits of larger-than-life figures -- Kennedy, Johnson, Ted Williams and Bob Gibson -- making them more human than headlines ever could reveal.

Chris Cillizza: I would second these thoughts.

David Halberstam's work in both politics and sports was some of the best writing done in each field.

It is a sad loss for all of journalism.


Chicago: What is the point of the Correspondents' Dinner? If they are going to have a headlining comedian, shouldn't he/she be funny? I thought Colbert was hysterical last year (though obviously a bit too on target in his barbs directed at the White House) but Rich Little? Come on, he might have been funny when Reagan was president.

Chris Cillizza: I was at the Correspondents Dinner and have to say Rich Little's material was slightly dated.

I was waiting for him to impersonate Calvin Coolidge or Millard Fillmore.

That said, I think little was chosen because he was decidedly non-controversial -- especially after Colbert's remarks last year drew widespread media coverage.

Little went out of his way to preface his "comedy" with a caveat that he wasn't trying to make any kind of political point and wasn't a political comedian.

So, he was a safe choice. But not a funny choice.


Rochester, N.Y.: Doubt you'll take this one, but it's worth a try ... can you give me honest answer to this question: is this campaign going to be about real issues -- the war, health care, etc. -- or about how much candidates pay for hair cuts, who's more "authentic," and who'd you rather have a beer with? Do you feel any duty as a political reporter to steer coverage away from the silly personal things and towards serious debate?

Chris Cillizza: Thanks Rochester. A really insightful question.

In a book by John Harris, former political editor of the Washington Post, and Mark Halperin, former political director of ABC News, called "The Way to Win" they describe the current political/media culture as the "freak show."

That freak show tends to play up stories like Edwards' expensive haircut or the fact that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) asked for Swiss cheese on his cheesesteak to the detriment of pieces on the policy stances of candidates.

I think that freak show will just get worse in campaign 2008. As a reporter I need to make sure I am cognizant of making sure The Fix isn't only about freak show politics but also about the policy positions. It's a tough balance to strike but I pledge to do my best.


Debates: Chris, we have our first real debate of the primary season coming up on Thursday -- can you let us know what to expect from the candidates? Whose stock may rise and whose stock may fall? I know you don't like giving predictions, so you can frame these as the general expectations in the media if you prefer.

Chris Cillizza: Great question.

The first Democratic presidential debate is set for Thursday night in Orangeburg, S.C. I'll be on the ground constantly updating the happenings via The Fix.

Already each of the campaigns is trying to lower expectations about their candidate. John Edwards is a trial lawyer so of course he will be a great debater. Hillary Clinton won her 2000 race by soundly drubbing Rep. Rick Lazio in their debates. And so on...

The most interesting thing to watch from my perspective is how much people like Gov. Bill Richardson and Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden challenge Edwards, Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. Do they leave the frontrunners alone or do they go at them? And if they attack, how do the frontrunner react? Engage or ignore?

I'll be doing a full debate preview on The Fix Thursday morning so make sure to check it out.


Florissant, Mo.: Hey, Chris. Thanks for filling in at short notice. I wondered if you saw Newt Gingrich on AMC Sunday morning? It seemed to me he was being unusually polite, and especially about Rudy Giuliani. Any chance he night be angling for a VP spot on the New Yorker's ticket? Newt might make for a nice balance to off-set Rudy's perceived liberal social agenda.

Chris Cillizza: I don't think so.

My sense from watching Gingrich closely over the past six months or so is that he is inclined to run and make it official later this year.

Poll after poll suggests that large numbers of Republican primary voters are not happy with their current choices and would be open to other candidates getting into the race.

If and when former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) announces, it will be interesting to see whether the desire for an alternative candidate dies down or whether people are still clamoring for other options.


Seattle: The Democrats have announced their final Iraq bill will have a timetable. Bush will veto it. The Democrats may try to override, but will fail. What happens next? More chicken until Bush runs out of money to keep troops over there?

Chris Cillizza: Dan Balz and I sat down with Sen. Joe Biden recently and asked him this same question.

Biden said that while Bush may win in the short term with a veto but that long term his position was simply untenable given that 21 Senate Republicans are up for re-election in 2008 -- many of them in states that votes for the Democratic nominee in 2004.

It's an interesting perspective and one to keep in mind as the veto fight continues to play out.

_______________________ Video: PostTalk With Sen. Joe Biden (


Fundraising: My friend has a cynical thought on fundraising and I wanted to pass it along: The reason that the media focuses heavily on candidates' fundraising at this time is because they turn around and give that money back to the media for air time, so it's in the media's best financial interests to use money as a benchmark. I didn't really have a response. What are your thoughts?

Chris Cillizza: That is very cynical. The reason that the media focuses on fundraising is that it is a tangible sign of support -- take Mitt Romney.

For the majority of the first fundraising quarter, Romney was mired in single digits in both state and national polls. And yet, he was able to convince huge numbers of people -- he raised $21 million -- to invest in him.

That says something about the potency of his message and his ability to convince donors that he is a sound investment.

For candidates not able to raise any substantial cash, the opposite is true. If they are not able to show donors why they need to give to their campaign, it's not a stretch to imagine that they are struggling with their message.

A candidate who is able to convince a large number of donors to invest in him or her


Reading, Pa.: Have you noticed there are a lot of balding men running for the White House this year? What do you think that means?

Chris Cillizza: Wow. Deep questions like this make my day.

I would take the "glass is half full" perspective on hair and the 2008 campaign.

Mitt Romney has a thick mane of hair. John Edwards' hair has been the subject of any number of blog posts over the past few weeks. Barack Obama's hair line looks healthy to me.

So, you could just as easily ask "Why are so many men with full heads of hair running for president?"

_______________________ Need to step away for five minutes. Will be back shortly...


New York: The Fourth Estate check/balance function Halberstam and the best journalists of his generation fulfilled are exactly those that have been so fundamentally abandoned, repudiated and scorned by our nation's most prominent and influential media stars. Why do you think the Halberstams of yesteryear appear to have morphed into the "off-the-record" Russerts of today?

Chris Cillizza: I disagree with the premise. While there is no question that David Halberstam's work was groundbreaking and is credited by many with creating a sense that the White House wasn't shooting straight with the American people, I think modern journalists are doing their very best to emulate that sort of reporting.

And, frankly, Tim Russert is one of the best examples (I believe) of that kind of accountability journalism. I can't count the number of politicians I have watched squirm and sweat when Russet uttered the words "Let me put something up on the screen for you and our viewers."


New York: Regarding the Correspondents Dinner, who would journalists find funny? The reaction last year to Stephen Colbert's biting satire was less than overwhelming, with journalists appearing to echo the White House's take on Colbert: too uppity. Who would you select for the evening's entertainment?

Chris Cillizza: Hmmm. Good question. Obviously David Letterman would be great. I know the Correspondents Association has often tried to lure Letterman but to no avail. His Top 10 moments of the Bush presidency was the highlight of the night.

How about Will Farrell?


Penfield, N.Y.: Among poll questions never asked is: Who would be blamed for losing Iraq if the Democrats passed a cessation of funding for the war vote that was veto proof? Could the next Washington Post poll ask that question?

Chris Cillizza: I'll make sure to pass it along to our pollsters.


Chris Cillizza: Folks that's all I have time for today. Thanks for letting me stand in for Peter Baker on such short notice. Peter will be here at 11 a.m. tomorrow to answer your questions.

In the meantime, make sure to check out The Fix for the latest political news.  Thanks.


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