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Post Politics Hour

Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com political blogger Chris Cillizza

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Chris Cillizza
Washingtonpost.com Political Blogger
Friday, January 4, 2008; 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.

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Chris Cillizza, washingtonpost.com political blogger, was online Friday, Jan. 4 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

Read Chris Cillizza's blog, The Fix

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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Chris Cillizza: Good morning folks ... sorry I am a little late ... long night last night. Let's get started.

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washingtonpost.com: The Fix: First Take on the Iowa Caucus Results (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 3)

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Avon Park, Fla.: I have heard people say that Hillary Clinton is still the front-runner because she leads in national polls. It's true that she can still get the nomination, but isn't it possible that national polls could change in Obama's favor? Even if they didn't, aren't national polls even less relevant now that Iowa has voted?

Chris Cillizza: Yes, they are. The Obama campaign -- to their credit -- long insisted that national polling was meaningless. And, they were right.

Obama's victory in Iowa last night installs him as the new national frontrunner as he appears well positioned in New Hampshire and South Carolina to build on that win.

With being the new frontrunner, however, expect Obama to get considerably more scrutiny from the media as well as his fellow candidates -- especially Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Your first impression of the Iowa Caucus mentions the impressive job the Obama campaign did in bringing out new voters to the caucuses and credited that with his victory. Could that same appeal to new voters, or at least new Democrats, help Sen. Obama in the New Hampshire primary given that states open primaries? (Go Hoyas!)

Chris Cillizza: A good question and your blatant appeal to my Georgetown loyalties is much appreciated.

The ability of the Obama campaign to bring out new voters -- more than 235,000 Democrats participated in caucuses last night -- bodes extremely well for his chances in New Hampshire.

Independents make up roughly 40 percent of all registered voters in the state and Obama is sure to have considerable appeal among that group.

Remember, too, however, that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who must win New Hampshire has made independents a central focus pf his campaign.

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Brigantine, N.J.: Hi Chris (Are you in Iowa or New Hampshire now?). How do you see Edwards retooling now? How is his campaign thinking they might get ahead in this game?

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for asking. I am actually in Washington right now -- I flew back to Washington on Monday morning to help write the Web site's story of the caucuses. I jet out this afternoon on a direct flight (God bless Southwest) to Manchester.

As for Edwards, I write in today's Line -- soon to be published on The Fix -- that he is going to have a very hard time staying in the game as we go forwards.

Edwards put so much time and energy (and money) into Iowa that a win there seems like the only way he could have catapulted himself into contention in New Hampshire.

Polling right now shows Edwards running third behind Clinton and Obama in the Granite State. That's just not good enough. The anti-Clinton vote is clearly coalescing behind Obama and that may leave too little oxygen for Edwards.

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Washington: Chris, I thought the stark difference in staging between Clinton's and Obama's speeches last night really highlighted the different approaches of the campaigns. Hillary was surrounded by the old guard -- Albright, ex-President Clinton and a group of middle-aged former staffers. Obama stood alone against a more distant backdrop of screaming supporters which emphasized his message of change and "new blood." Of course, both were trumped by Chuck Norris smiling right behind Mike Huckabee -- and I'm sure thinking "I'll kick your butt if you don't vote for this guy."

Chris Cillizza: How awesome was the prime placement of Chuck Norris? I mean, is there a happier guy in the world right now than Chuck? Talk about a second act I never would have predicted.

Thanks for the question. It gives me a chance to talk about something I haven't gotten to just yet -- the amazing poignancy and power of Obama's victory speech last night.

Since emerging on the national scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama has shown flashes of true brilliance in his addresses. The Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech in Iowa earlier this fall was an example. And last night's address was another. A moving, call to action, Obama delivered it perfectly and set the stage for New Hampshire and beyond. He looked and sounded presidential to the core.

Clinton's speech, too, was quite good I thought. It was obviously more somber but unfailingly gracious. The problem for Clinton is that her best is simply not as good as Obama's best when it comes to oratory. So, if Obama is hitting on all cylinders, then he is going to beat her every time.

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Chicago, Ill.: Good morning. Kudos for doing this chat on what I assume is very limited sleep. Does the speed of the withdrawal of Dodd, Biden and Gravel set some sort of record for candidates quitting after a bad result in Iowa? When can we expect Richardson and Kucinich to drop out? Is anyone leaving on the GOP side?

Chris Cillizza: Thanks. I was surprised at the speed with which Biden and Dodd got out though after last night's caucuses it was pretty clear there was no hope for either of them.

I think both Dodd and Biden were waiting for a break in this race that never came. The frontrunners never really slipped, never gave the second-tier candidates a real opportunity to shoot the gap.

As for other dropouts, I have a hard time believing former senator Fred Thompson is in the race through New Hampshire. My guess -- and it is only a guess -- is that he gets out of the race today or tomorrow and throws his support to Sen. John McCain.

On the Democratic side, Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.) will likely stay in through New Hampshire after his fourth place finish in Iowa. But, there's just no real path for him to the nomination so he will likely re-examine his chances after Tuesday.

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East Lansing, Mich.: The common consensus is that Mrs. Clinton has a "well-oiled machine" nationwide. Do you have any idea how organized Obama is across the country ... I know he has the money, but does he have much of an organization? P.S. It was a bit weird to see the frozen smile on the speechless face of Bill Clinton behind his wife last night.

Chris Cillizza: Thanks to his amazing fundraising, Obama is well-organized not only in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina but also in a slew of states that vote on Feb. 5.

If he wins New Hampshire on Tuesday that organization won't likely be tested as Obama will almost certainly be the nominee. If Clinton wins, however, it almost certainly ensures a race to Feb. 5 where the two biggest names in national politics will duke it out.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm detecting hints that you think Obama is going to win New Hampshire. Yes?

Chris Cillizza: I honestly don't know. Here's what I do know.

  • A guy who was elected to the Senate three years ago just beat the royal family of the Democratic party.
  • Independents have a hefty say in New Hampshire and Obama is an appealing candidate to that voting bloc.
  • Clinton has the best organization in New Hampshire and the state has shown an affinity for her family. Who can forget the "Comeback Kid" of 1992?
  • It is going to be a dog fight. The ABC/Facebook debate on Saturday night will be crucial.

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    Charlotte, N.C.: Chris, do you see the media finally taking a step back and really examining Obama's record and positions on the issues?

    Chris Cillizza: As I mentioned in an answer above, I do think Obama will get more scrutiny over the next four days than Clinton.

    But, I don't agree with the idea that the media has given Obama some sort of free pass to date. I've read any number of detailed looks at Obama's life, record in the state Senate and record in the U.S. Senate.

    And, remember, it's only four days. That's not a lot of time to produce in-depth investigative stories on the new frontrunner.

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    Silver Spring, Md.: I can't deny the awesome power of a roundhouse kick from Chuck Norris, but isn't he a little over-involved in the Huckabee campaign for a celebrity endorser? It seems like he has been at every Huckabee event for the past three or four days.

    Chris Cillizza: Chuck Norris's tears cure cancer. Too bad he's never cried.

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    Washington: Thanks for doing this chat! How do you see the "Huckaboom" process playing out, through Feb. 5?

    Chris Cillizza: Very good question and one I am trying to figure out as we speak.

    Huckabee deserves huge credit for his win but we should also be careful not to anoint him as the nominee just yet.

    Even as Huckabee moved up quickly in Iowa and nationally, his numbers lagged in New Hampshire. It seems unlikely to me that Huckabee will finish in either first or second in the Granite State as McCain and Romney have spent millions there and have deep organizations already in place.

    Huckabee's next best chance for a win is in South Carolina on Jan. 19. Assuming Thompson is out of the race by then, Huckabee's southern roots and social conservative leanings would seem to make him the favorite there.

    Beyond that is a total mystery. Huckabee has no real national organization in big states like Florida, California and New York. But, momentum often trumps money and organization and it's uniquely possible that Huckabee will be the candidate with the big "mo" coming out of South Carolina.

    All that is to say: I just don't know.

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    Washington: What time is the Democratic debate tomorrow? Do you expect it to be markedly different from the previous debates? In that debate where Hillary faltered, Obama and Edwards went after her pretty hard. Would you expect that same kind of aggression from Hillary, who as you mentioned was exceedingly gracious last night?

    Chris Cillizza: Tomorrow night is a political junkie's dream -- back-to-back debates at St. Anselm's college. Republicans first and then Democrats. As I write this, I am getting excited about it -- and, yes, I am aware that makes me a huge dork.

    I would expect Clinton to be far more combative in tomorrow night's debate than she has been to this point. She is fighting for her political life and is going to pull out all the stops to make sure she draws real contrasts with Obama.

    The danger for Clinton is that voters will perceive any attack on Obama as politics as usual and, rather than listening to the substance of the attack, simply dismiss it out of hand. Tomorrow night's debate has a huge amount riding on it for Clinton.

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    Northampton, Mass.: Just a fun hypothetical: What would a general election between Obama and Huckabeee look like? Here we have two nice guys trying to run kinder, gentler campaigns. Could they actually keep it up? P.S. I think Giuliani and Clinton both can commiserate over the uselessness of national polls this morning.

    Chris Cillizza: That would be an absolutely fascinating general election between two candidates who are as far as they can each get from politics as usual.

    How about if we throw New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- and his billion dollar wallet -- into the mix?

    A lot of people have asked questions this morning about what it means that Huckabee and Obama won so convincingly. It is clear from entrance polls that voters wanted change and were looking for fresh faces to break up the status quo.

    If that sentiment prevails in New Hampshire and beyond, it may well be hard to beat the two Iowa victors.

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    Rockville, Md.: I understand that Romney has to go after McCain, but I am disgusted with his ads. Is there another way to go?

    Chris Cillizza: Not really. In order for Romney to win New Hampshire, he has to raise doubts about McCain in the minds of Republican voters. And, the way you do that is to run ads that call into question McCain's conservative credentials.

    The problem for Romney is that New Hampshire voters have an affinity for McCain, an affection they showed when they delivered a whopping 19-point victory to him in 2000.

    That means that voters will be suspicious of attacks by Romney on McCain, far more suspicious than they might be in South Carolina, say, where the Bush campaign demolished McCain eight years ago.

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    Oak Park, Mich.: With a perceived loss in New Hampshire likely to kill his campaign, and only five days to regroup, why doesn't Romney come straight to Michigan where he can win and start a comeback?

    Chris Cillizza: Interesting suggestion but I think, in practical terms, impossible for Romney.

    Remember that he built his entire campaign -- from a strategic and rhetorical perspective -- on the idea that he was competing everywhere, not picking and choosing states as he seemed to suggest his opponents were doing.

    So, for Romney to then start cherry-picking states is anathema to his campaign's broader message. Would it make more sense -- strategically -- for Romney to skip New Hampshire and head directly to Michigan? Maybe. But that would cede the New Hampshire primary to McCain and allow the Arizona Senator a running head start into Michigan, which he won in 2000.

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    Rolla, Mo.: Sorry to nitpick, but the media question of the weather and the BCS game impacting turnout was driving me crazy. Do people outside of Iowa really think a little cold or snow would keep Iowans away from caucus sites? Moreover, neither Iowa or Iowa State was playing last night, so why would that keep people home? Just askin'.

    Chris Cillizza: Rolla! Home of the first family in Missouri Democratic politics -- the Carnahans.

    Sorry, I couldn't resist. You are right that predictions of the cold weather and other distractions -- Kansas versus Virginia Tech -- would keep turnout down. Iowans turned out in record numbers.

    But, then again, it was just Kansas versus Virginia Tech. ... I mean come on.

    I am kidding. If you are a Jayhawk or a Hokie, do not send me angry e-mail.

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    Anonymous: Two things: Chuck Norris humor (if it can be called that) is good for third grade boys. Secondly, Edwards was polling third in Iowa too (with most polls showing Obama and Hillary putting some distance on him), but -- outspent 6 to 1 in a historically high turnout race (which should have hurt him seriously) -- he beat the establishment candidate and fared much better than the media would have liked. New Hampshire is not known for it's love of folks with Southern accents, but you can bet the Dodd, Biden, Richardson and Kucinich supporters will be breaking for Edwards and Obama ... not Hillary.

    Chris Cillizza: I agree that John Edwards remains somewhat viable but it's just a very hard path for him to the nomination now.

    The Obama-Clinton fight in New Hampshire will draw the vast majority of media attention and, unlike in Iowa, Edwards doesn't have the strong base of support in the Granite State to challenge for first place.

    Also, Chuck Norris can sneeze with his eyes open.

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    Tampa, Fla.: Even assuming that Obama can ride the tide and win in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the real test will be Super Tuesday, when so many states, and so many big states such as California, New York, etc. come into play. And although I am a Obama supporter, I don't count Clinton out at all. She is not known to go down without a fight and things could change in a big hurry in the next month if she can right her ship. By the way, it was nice to see Obama's children with him on the stage last night, but wasn't it way past their bedtime? I know it was past mine, and I'm 48!

    Chris Cillizza: I agree that Clinton will absolutely not give up. Anyone who thinks we have heard the last from her obviously is not all that familiar with her life story. But, if she again loses in New Hampshire to Obama, I have a very hard time seeing how she remains a viable candidate for the nomination. Florida and Michigan -- two states where Clinton is likely to win -- have been rendered meaningless by sanctions from the national party and Clinton will get no credit for winning them.

    That leaves South Carolina where black voters will comprise a significant segment of the electorate. And, if Obama has wins in Iowa and New Hampshire under his belt, can you really imagine Clinton beating him there?

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    Chris Cillizza: Folks, that's all I have time for today ... I am running to the airport in a few hours to catch a plane to New Hampshire. Look for reports all weekend from the frozen tundra of the Granite State.

    In the meantime, check out the latest Friday Line, which is now up on The Fix. Thanks.

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    washingtonpost.com: The Fix's Friday Line: Next Stop New Hampshire (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 4)

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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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