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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Political Blogger
Wednesday, June 6, 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, June 6, 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.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Chris Cillizza: Good morning everyone. I've been in debate heaven for the past three days up here in Manchester, New Hampshire.

I'm flying back home today but wanted to spend an hour fielding your questions on the two debates and anything else in the political world that interests you. Let's get to it.

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Los Angeles: Morning, Chris -- thanks for taking questions. I thought John McCain's comment about all the immigrants that have fought for this country in various wars was extremely poignant and his best moment in awhile. Your thoughts? Also, does washingtonpost.com try to get any of the presidential nominees to guest-host these live chats? Those would be very lively discussions!

washingtonpost.com: McCain Sets Self Apart in Debate (Post, June 6)

Chris Cillizza: I just finished up my post on the winners and losers from last night's debate and here's a sneak preview: McCain was a winner. (The full post will be up on The Fix within the next hour.)

McCain's answer on immigration referenced above was quite effective, but not in my mind his best moment of the night. That came when McCain answered a question offered by a woman whose brother had been killed in Iraq.

McCain stood and reached out to the woman with an answer that was less about specific policies than it was about the need to persevere in this fight. Very powerful. If you haven't watched it yet, you can find the clip on The Fix.

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washingtonpost.com: Video: Candidates Respond to Audience Member's Iraq Question (washingtonpost.com, June 5)

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Raleigh, N.C.: I think there are lots of people with reasonable concerns about illegal immigration and the problems it presents. While I disagree with most of the Republicans on the issue, I recognize that the different prescriptions we have still all center around reasonably similar definitions of the problem rooted in America's tradition as a haven for immigrants. I was shocked by the nasty, creepy extremism of Tancredo last night. I'm truly disturbed that this man has a constituency. How in-step (or out-of-step) is he with the Republican base?

Chris Cillizza: It's true that Rep. Tom Tancredo does have some support for his views on immigration (legal and illegal) but I would be cautious about extrapolating his views onto the entire Republican field.

After Tancredo called on his party to curtail legal immigration, McCain, Giuliani and Huckabee all disavowed that position.

My sense of the Republican Party is that the most conservative element within it feels strongly that the 12 million people in this country illegally should be sent home. They're not sure how to make that happen but any plan short of that makes them very angry.

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Richmond, Va.: At last night's debate, a member of the audience asked Romney why, if he believes English should be the official language, he is running ads in Spanish. Instead of answering the question, Romney launched into an outburst about how the Republicans are the "future." Why didn't Blitzer didn't support the questioner (or any of the other the local moderators) by saying to Romney "but you didn't answer the question" -- and repeat the question? I was incredibly frustrated by this lack of follow-up. So, why do these moderators let these things go?

Chris Cillizza: That was an interesting moment in the debate. While most of the questioners picked by CNN seemed to have no obvious agenda in their questions, that one had a much sharper edge to it.

I actually thought Romney handled the question nicely, drawing a distinction between his support for legal immigrants and his opposition to those living in this country illegally.

In general, I thought Wolf Blitzer did a sound job navigating through the 10-candidate field. Every candidate wants to sound off on every issue, so it is a really tough job to try and ensure that the major candidates get the most air time while not entirely excluding those in the second tier.

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Astoria, N.Y.: Is there a science to knowing when people start paying attention to candidates in greater numbers? In other words, is there some sort of polling data that makes political advisers say "issue x will be huge three months from now, but until then we have some cloud cover." The Post and its columnists are my biggest source of news, but I'm not always sure what the rest of the country is looking at. Thanks.

Chris Cillizza: Science would be overstating it. It is more of an art.
The reality is that right now relatively few people -- outside of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- are paying close attention to the presidential race.

So for the moment, the candidates need to tailor their messages to the activist crowd, which tends to represent the extreme ideological right and left. That's why Democrats are focused heavily on their opposition to the war while Republicans are spending lots and lots of time on illegal immigration. Both issues are of the utmost importance to those base voters paying close attention right now.

The reality in politics is that most people don't start paying close attention to the race until the final weeks or even the final days. Many minds get made up right before a voters cast his or her vote, and it's nearly impossible to predict just what makes up that mind. Is it a television ad? A billboard? Or a piece of literature handed to them before they entered their polling place?
Strategists spend years trying to answer those questions.

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Boston: Can you think of a stranger Twilight Zone moment during a presidential debate when lightning struck while Rudy tried to explain his abortion stand? Was it a cosmic message, and how do you think Rudy handled it? Can't CNN afford a real lightning rod instead of relying on Rudy to take the bolt?

Chris Cillizza: Holy cow! What a strange moment.

In the minutes before the debate started, the skies in Manchester turned pitch black and it started pouring.

Dozens of laptops in the media filing center switched to the Weather Channel's Web site to see what the heck was happening. So, the lightning strikes during the debate weren't all that unexpected, but the fact that they happened as Giuliani was answering a question on his support for abortion was downright bizarre.

I thought he handled it as well as he could, cracking a joke about how frightening that was for someone who went to parochial school all of his life.

Obviously, Giuliani and his team would have preferred lightning not strike as he was answering the question, but you can't control the weather.

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washingtonpost.com: Video: Giuliani Gets 'Zapped' on Abortion (washingtonpost.com, June 5)

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Washington: After an hour of discussion on religion, can someone please ask the more important question to these candidates -- who is going to be the most fiscally conservative, and how are they going to prevent the out-of-control spending and earmarks from getting worse?

Chris Cillizza: I actually thought two of the Big Three scored some points on the out-of-control spending habits in Washington last night.

McCain wedged in a reference to the "Bridge to Nowhere" (a real fan favorite) and Giuliani touted his support for pro-growth policies to build the economy.

At a McCain town hall I attended earlier in the day, he spent a fair amount of time decrying the spending habits of Washington as well -- using his time-tested "drunken sailor" line to draw a laugh.

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washingtonpost.com: The Fix: GOP Debate -- Winners and Losers (washingtonpost.com, June 6)

Chris Cillizza: Here's the link to my Winners and Losers post that just went up on The Fix...

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Naylor, Mo.: In your opinion, how did the Republican second-tier candidates stand up against the Democratic second-tier candidates? My impression was CNN was trying to make the first-tier candidates more visible with more air time.

Chris Cillizza: Very good question.

I have long believed that the Democratic field is quite a bit deeper than the Republican field.

The fact that you have Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Joe Biden (Del.) as well as Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.) -- all highly accomplished men -- firmly ensconced in the second-tier tells you something about the quality of the Democratic field.

As I said in my winners and losers post, I though former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) again acquitted himself nicely in last night's debate. Many of the other second-tier candidates, however, failed to make any impression at all.

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Ames, Iowa: I know Ron Paul is not going to win, but don't you agree he has the potential to be a persistent gadfly candidate and remain so till the convention? He has some very motivated supporters.

Chris Cillizza: Speaking of second-tier candidates...

Yes, Ron Paul can stay in this race as long as he likes. There is little expectation that he will win or even influence the outcome, and therefore he will not be faced with a moment when he "underperforms" in an early state and must decide whether to continue.

Paul represents a contrarian view within the Republican party (he opposes the war in Iraq) and generally presents his view eloquently and thoughtfully.

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Chris Cillizza: Here's a quick news update...

Giuliani has decided to skip the Ames (Iowa) Straw poll in August but will participate in the state's caucuses next January, according to the Des Moines Register. You can read the story here.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Interesting to hear so many candidates say that they are really the most conservatives ones, as though they are unaware of the fact that many people to whom this not a selling point are watching and will be voting in the general election. When James Gilmore, among others, said how he had slashed taxes, he did not mention any effects on budgets, public works, etc. And certainly no one mentioned whether spending $6 billion a month in Iraq had a negative effect on our economy. But most importantly, can't Tommy Thompson afford a better hairpiece (that is fake hair, isn't it)?

Chris Cillizza: Well, remember that you don't get a chance to win (or lose) the general election until you become the party's nominee.

Being popular among the broad electorate doesn't do a candidate all that much good if they aren't all that popular among the base of their party. (See McCain, John circa 2000.)

Every candidate in both parties is appealing to the most liberal/conservative elements at the moment because history tells us those are the people who vote in party primaries and caucuses.

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Boise, Idaho: Chris, I respectfully disagree somewhat with your analysis with "The Fix." I think your "winner" designation of Rudy was because he has improved with each showing, not that last night was anything stellar. Personally I believe that Romney is clearly the most intelligent of the top three, and like it or not the fact that he is an "attractive" candidate probably deters from his perception of intelligence -- much the same way we males tend to look at attractive females. Is my assessment incorrect? Thank you for taking my letter!

Chris Cillizza: As I said in the Winners and Losers post, my opinions are just that -- my opinions.

If you read the commentary out there today on the debate you will find a wide divergence of opinion about who won and who lost. It's all subjective.

As for Romney, I thought he had his moments (especially his response to the Mormon question) but didn't get as many good chances as Giuliani and McCain did. That's not his fault but does factor into calculating winners and losers.

But, you're far from alone in calling Romney the winner. Roger Simon, columnist at the Politico, ruled him the winner as well. Here's Roger's column.

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Arlington, Va.: Chris, seeing that Giuliani is skipping the Iowa straw poll in August, do you think he is risking handing McCain momentum? McCain is favored in New Hampshire, so an Iowa win might carry McCain all the way to the nomination. Or is Giuliani putting everything into the Feb 5 primaries regardless of Iowa and New Hampshire?

Chris Cillizza: I think Giuliani's decision to skip the straw poll was necessary given how far behind McCain and Romney he is in terms of building an organization.

I'm betting that former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) also will take a pass on the straw poll, which, if it comes to pass, will turn the event into an organizational showdown between Romney and McCain.

I am already giddy with excitement. And, yes, I know, that marks me as a huge political nerd.

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Washington: You call Ron Paul a contrarian, I think he is an isolationist. His ideas have been tried several times in our history, and have failed. Just as the policy did not work prior to World War I, it will not work with the current Muslim extremists who are adamant about our demise.

Chris Cillizza: Another view on Ron Paul's politics...

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Maryland: Chris, one basic question: "Who is really watching these debates from either party?"

Chris Cillizza: Well, the CNN debate on Sunday night averaged nearly 3 million viewers -- the most of any of the debates so far this year.

It helped that there are several marquee candidates on the Democratic side (Sens. Clinton and Obama in particular) and the debate on Sunday featured some nice interplay between them.

But, polling does bear out the idea that more people are paying close attention to this presidential race than have at this time in past elections. It's still not a huge number of people, but there is clearly an interest in the candidates and the issues surrounding 2008.

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Seattle: Looking at video clips, I noticed that the Big Three in the GOP debate (Romney, Giuliani and McCain) all had podiums next to each other. Did CNN do that on purpose so they could give them more screen-time, or is that just a coincidence?

Chris Cillizza: Unlike the previous debates, CNN assigned the podiums as opposed to randomly selecting them.

And yes, it is designed to get the Big Three in more shots together, to see how they react and interact to and with one another.

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Chris Cillizza: Folks I have to duck out a bit early to get on a conference call with the Giuliani campaign. Thanks for chatting with me this morning. And remember to check out our winners and losers from last night's debate over at The Fix.

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