Post Politics Hour

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Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Monday, November 5, 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 chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Monday, Nov. 5 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

Get the latest campaign news live on washingtonpost.com's The Trail, or subscribe to a podcast of the show.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone. Lots to chew on in terms of presidential politics this week with the Democratic candidates focused on Iowa and Republicans spread far and wide, as is often the case. Pakistan is the big international story, but I'll generally leave big thoughts on that topic to our foreign policy folks, as they're on top of it. Thanks for participating. We'll go right to your questions.

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Washington: Please help make sense of this morning's article on GOP voters not making up their minds for the presidential race yet. Rudy has double digit leads over the entire field. Someone like Huckabee is just breaking into 10 percent. Rudy has millions of dollars of cash on hand; the rest of the field is way behind. I am undecided today as well; does the logic of the article imply that someone like a Mike Huckabee can still be in this race and have a shot at getting the GOP nomination?

washingtonpost.com: Republican Nomination Most Open in Decades (Post, Nov. 5)

Dan Balz: We'll start with this question, as it relates to a story that was on our front page this morning. The point of the article, as revealed by the poll, is that despite Mayor Giuliani's lead, he is anything but a secure frontrunner. Our polling director, Jon Cohen, went back and looked at polls of previous Republican nomination battles and found that this is the first time since 1979 that the GOP frontrunner did not have more than 40 percent of his party's support. That was Reagan's election and, as many of us had forgotten, there was considerable sentiment within the Republican Party at that time for former President Ford to get into the race. Reagan led in the polls and ultimately won the nomination, but even as late as March 1980 lots of Republicans were hoping Ford would challenge him.

We've talked frequently about Giuliani's candidacy as one that has both defied early predictions that he couldn't sustain a serious bid for the nomination because of his support for abortion and gay rights and also because even as a frontrunner, his support is soft. The logic of the article doesn't say explicitly that Governor Huckabee is likely to be the GOP nominee -- I think he's still a long-shot. But it is clear that Republican voters are still shopping.

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Fairfax, Va.: Given the non-stop nature of presidential campaigning and all the planning that goes into a presidential run, do you see more candidates leaving public office first so they don't have to worry about other duties interfering in their campaign? Among the major candidates, we have Edwards, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson and Huckabee who no longer hold any kind of elected office.

Dan Balz: If you ask any of the candidates, they would say it's very difficult to run for president these days and have another real job, like being a sitting governor or a sitting senator. The campaign is now a full-time, two-year (or more) undertaking. Those who can concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else can be in more places than those who have to run a state or vote on legislation. They also can pace themselves more efficiently. Also, they are not having to vote on legislation that might be unpopular with at least a portion of their party's primary voters.

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Prescott, Ariz.: Lots of freaking out about the Clintons not releasing their personal correspondence (between a President and his wife) from seven or eight years ago. Mr. Balz, you've been around a while, so let me ask you: Do you recall the same sorts of demands levied towards somebody who might have even more important records, say a vice president who then ran for president? My political memory only goes back to the '80s, but I don't remember Walter Mondale being pestered to release his (eight-year old) White House records from his time under Carter when he was a candidate in 1984. Ditto H.W. Bush and Al Gore. What is it about the Clintons that makes you in the beltway media feel they should be subjected to different and more harsh standards than others?

Dan Balz: I don't recall this ever becoming an issue with Walter Mondale in 1984. When George H.W. Bush ran in 1988 he came under scrutiny for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, but the Reagan administration was still in office and therefore there was no presidential library, and no documents under the control of the National Archives. Similarly, when Al Gore ran in 2000, he was a sitting vice president in an ongoing administration. So the situation that Sen. Clinton faces seems to be unique. I would also note that -- because of the Internet and the very rapid flow of information -- we are in an era of greater transparency, which may be one reason why Sen. Clinton has come under pressure recently. At the same time, I'd also say that the release of presidential documents is a more complicated question than just asking that they be made public. I was told last week by my colleague Walter Pincus that if correspondence involves a third party, that person also must give approval before any document can be released.

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Merrifield, Va.: Will Rudolph Giuliani's misrepresentation of the prostate cancer rate in the U.S. vs. Britain and using it in a radio commercial come back to haunt him in the general election if he gets that far? For the record. people in Britain and 22 other western nations have both a higher life expectancy and a lower birth mortality rate than we do. They also have some kind of universal health care (source: CIA World Factbook).

washingtonpost.com: The Fact-Checker: Rudy Wrong On Cancer Survival Chances (Post, Oct. 30)

Dan Balz: If there is a pattern to his statements or misstatements, it will be a problem for him. If he deliberately misrepresents something and continues to do so even when presented with information to the contrary, I would expect his opponent to raise questions about his truthfulness and his character. Every candidate occasionally makes a misstatement of facts, but most clean them up and move on.

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Red State: Is Clinton blessed with political donations from Bush's Pioneers and other wealthy and corporate supporters? She supports this administration's policies more than most Republican candidates do.

Dan Balz: I just asked Matt Mosk, who tracks the money flow for us. He tells me that Sen. Clinton has received one contribution from one of Bush's big givers, as has Sen. Obama. So it doesn't look like she's being showered with money from the other side.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Dan. As I've watched the news coming out of Pakistan over the past few days, I find myself wondering ... why is it again that we're hyping up Iran as the biggest threat?

washingtonpost.com: Discussion: Post Islamabad/Kabul Bureau Chief Griff Witte (washingtonpost.com, Live NOW)

Dan Balz: Sen. Biden made this same observation at last week's Democratic debate in Philadelphia. Iran is certainly a danger, he said, but the real risk is Pakistan, which already has the bomb and is highly unstable.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Dan. Thanks for the excellent poll story the other day -- very sobering. If your reporting is accurate, it would appear that the public -- despite the president's exhortations -- isn't buying the idea that the surge is working and that we should stay in Iraq. With public opinion about the war and this president remaining so remarkably stable for many months on end, might we finally see some stronger action from the Democrats (i.e. cutting off funding) or is that still deemed too risky this close to the election?

Dan Balz: There is a modest increase in the percentage of people who believe the United States is making progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq, according to our new poll. They are still in the minority (39 percent said yes, 59 percent said no). Last December, before the surge was announced, those numbers were 31 percent saying the U.S. was making significant progress and 66 percent who said no.

On the question of withdrawing troops, 60 percent said they believe the number of troops should be decreased, compared with 9 percent who said they favored sending more troops. When we asked a follow-up question, we found that 17 percent said they want all troops removed immediately and 42 percent said they want a more gradual withdrawal. Last January, 15 percent said withdraw them immediately and 46 percent said do so gradually.

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Waterville, Maine: Hi Dan. Is there any sense that Congress and President Bush are closer to a compromise on expanding SCHIP? It seems to me that if a compromise is not reached soon, more kids will be denied inclusion into the program and that it will be a pox on both houses (president and Congress). Or maybe the Democrats don't want a deal and will use the vetoes as part of the 2008 campaign strategy? Am I being too cynical here?

Dan Balz: Jonathan Weisman, who is tracking this for The Post, predicts that there will be a deal before Congress leaves for Christmas in December, but he suspects there will be one more failed attempt before the ultimate deal is struck. He also doubts any deal between congressional Republicans and Democrats will win the president's support and that any compromise that passes will be done by overriding a presidential veto.

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Seattle: What's with the media's love-affair with Huckabee? As a former Little Rock resident, I can't understand it. Sure, he can be affable, but he's famous in Arkansas for snubbing the media and his critics at all chances, for corruption, and for a hard-line evangelical agenda that he hides behind disarming rhetoric. He even said at a debate that he doesn't believe in evolution. Has anyone in the media looked at this side of him?

Dan Balz: I wouldn't call it a love affair by any means. What has been striking is that, in a field of candidates that lacks someone who pretty much agrees with the social conservatives in the party, Huckabee is one who does. And he has been gaining ground in Iowa, where religious and social conservatives are strong. He is still a long-shot for the nomination, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, but he may embarrass some of the better-known candidates. Candidates in single digits rarely get the kind of scrutiny that those at the top of the field are subjected to; if he ends up in that situation, I'm sure his views and record will get much more scrubbing.

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Minneapolis: Does last week's debate represent a turning point in the Democratic party presidential primary race? It seems like the media coverage is less about Sen. Clinton's alleged inevitability as a candidate and describing more of a real race. Is that a misperception or a real change in the race?

Dan Balz: Two thoughts on this: We really won't know for awhile whether this was a genuine turning point or simply the moment when the other candidates started ratcheting up their criticism of the frontrunner. Second, there is a real race, and it's going on in Iowa. The polls consistently have shown that Clinton, Obama and Edwards all are competitive there, and Clinton's campaign has been treating Iowa like a full-scale battle.

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Washington: "I was told last week by my colleague Walter Pincus that if correspondence involves a third party, that person also must give approval before any document can be released."

I used to screen presidential records for disclosure. To mark records for opening, we did not have to seek the individual permission of all third parties involved. The rules for access actually are posted on the National Archives' Web site (different presidential libraries fall under different statutes, depending on whether the president was in office before or after Watergate). They say nothing about having to go to all the third parties involved. There have been some select notification processes used in the past, however.

Think of all the people, in the private or public sector, who potentially are discussed substantively or just in passing in memoranda generated within the executive office of the president, or who write in to the government. They have no proprietary interest in (personal ownership of) these government records, although they do have certain rights to privacy. It is the archivists who screen materials to see if statutes and regulations covering national security, personal privacy, etc. prevent release of items. They take out what is not releasable under law.

The former president's representative then has a chance to look at what archivists say is okay to release under law, to see if the former president wants to claim communications privilege over the items marked by archivists for opening. Sorry this comment is so long, but I've seen an awful lot of confusion out there about all this and I hope this clarifies the issue of third parties.

Dan Balz: To everyone: This posting relates to the earlier question about Sen. Clinton and her White House documents and comes from someone who used to be involved in screening them for release. Thanks for sending in this information. Very helpful.

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Dan Balz: We're out of time, so that's it for this week. Thanks to everyone who participated today. See you in a couple of weeks.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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