Post Politics Hour

Dan Balz
Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz. (Julia Ewan - Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Monday, January 7, 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.

Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Monday, Jan. 7 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone from Manchester, where there are great political stories unfolding as we speak. One day of hard campaigning left, then the voting here on Tuesday and then -- the next rounds. Thanks to all for participating. We'll get right to your questions.


Bradenton, Fla.: Mr. Balz, if Sen. Obama only wins New Hampshire by a couple of points, would that allow Sen. Clinton to claim "comeback kid" status? Thanks!

Dan Balz: I certainly wouldn't be surprised to hear a version of that slogan if she makes this a very close race. With the polls moving strongly against her the past two days, even a very narrow defeat would give Sen. Clinton a psychological boost. We all remember how Bill Clinton handled primary night in New Hampshire 16 years ago. Though he lost, he came out earlier than the winner, Paul Tsongas, and proclaimed victory as the "Comeback Kid." The Clintons want to move this battle forward and keep it going. They need time and they'll grab onto any decent showing here.


Atlanta: Earlier you asked about the power and impact of likability, and whether it no longer was important -- but Iowa and even New Hampshire seem to indicate it definitely still matters.

Dan Balz: I did raise the question, based on the national polls that continued to show Sen. Clinton and Mayor Giuliani doing well, despite the fact that many voters had warmer personal feelings toward other candidates. What is happening is a reminder that warmth, authenticity and naturalness still count. Voters can see through candidate's canned speeches and policy papers and want more than that. Gov. Huckabee's success in Iowa owed in part to that quality of his candidacy. Sen. Clinton was hurt because some Iowans found her too cool and aloof -- despite her efforts to loosen up on the trail.


Pittsburgh: Thanks for taking questions Dan, it's been enjoyable reading your columns. Given Clinton's depth of funding and organization, do you really think the race is almost over if Obama wins in New Hampshire?

Dan Balz: I just posted a piece on our daily diary of the campaign, The Trail, on about the road ahead. The Clintons aren't quitters, so this race will go forward. But if she were to lose here on Tuesday, she will have a real struggle on her hands. She invoked the words of Walter Mondale to challenge Senator Obama today: "Where's the beef?" That will be her mantra and she will try to force voters and the media to take a very, very hard look at Senator Obama -- and buy as much time in the process as she can.


Silver Spring, Md.: I was a bit disappointed in the lack of coverage the Washington Post gave to Fox News's snubbing of Republican candidate Ron Paul. (Yes, the fact was mentioned, but no further details were provided.) He finished ahead of Giuliani in Iowa, is polling way ahead of Thompson in New Hampshire, and collected more in donations than any other Republican candidate last quarter. His exclusion seems to be an obvious attempt by Fox News to manipulate the political process, not just report on it. Is it rare for a media outlet (such as The Washington Post) to criticize another (i.e. Fox News) directly for such duplicity? If not, then why isn't your paper doing so now? The Trail: The Ron Paul Backlash Hits Fox (, Jan. 6)

Dan Balz: Those are decisions for our editorial writers, not the reporting staff. We did take note of it and we did not make it a major part of our coverage. You rightly cite the facts that suggest Ron Paul should have been included. At the same time, it is hard to say he is a major factor in the race. He has been a surprise, certainly, and the money he raised is truly stunning. But a candidate who gets 10 percent of the vote is not in the thick of the nomination battle. Also, he has been in every other debate, as I recall, including the big debate Saturday night at Saint Anselm College, so he has had considerable exposure. I don't believe his absence in one debate will significantly affect his support. His loyalists were on the streets in downtown Manchester last night making their presence known. I'd guess that his grassroots support, while angry that he was excluded, will be even more determined to make as good a showing as possible here on Tuesday.


Washington: What a great evening! For all the talk about the candidates' performances, I would like to nominate Charlie Gibson as the best moderator all season. His questions were tough but respectful, without the gotcha factor or pandering we've heard from others. I also enjoyed hearing the candidates talk without the fear of being cut-off after a minute or two. Finally, the variety of camera angles made all of them somehow look more like real people. Kudos to ABC, to Mr. Gibson (for asking many of the questions that we've been dying to ask), and to CNN for replaying the debates. Do the other pundits agree with this assessment, or do they not want to offend some of the other moderators?

Dan Balz: Charlie Gibson did a very good job on Saturday night. He's a real pro. Handling back-to-back debates is pretty tough work. I also thought the decision to have all the candidates mingle on stage between the debates was a very good move.


W.Va.: Why on earth didn't the debate questioners ask Democrats about immigration? If Beltway dwellers don't understand how furious everybody out here in the real world is about paying for health care, education housing, for illegal immigrants it is time to kick everybody in The District out. And the same applies to free trade policies that cost American jobs by the thousands!

Dan Balz: Fair question. Whenever I'm out with a candidate at a town hall meeting, it's the exception when they do not get a question about immigration -- whether it's a Democratic event or a Republican event. The folks at ABC would know better as to why they did not get into immigration. I suspect they thought long and hard about it and perhaps wanted to structure the debate differently. As a result, not every topic got covered.


La Jolla, Calif.: Good morning, Dan! I just heard Cokie Roberts talk about how Clinton and Edwards are vowing to stay in the race until the early February primaries ... assuming Obama does very well tomorrow, how effective would this "hang in there" strategy be?

Dan Balz: I think they have no choice but to say that and that they believe that. Step back and think about all they've been through. They have spent a full year campaigning at the most intensive pace I've ever seen. They have met in numerous debates, spent countless days and hours raising money and talking to voters and wearing themselves out flying back and forth across the country. It's inconceivable that, on the eve of only the second contest, they would be suggesting they aren't in it until Feb. 5. Elections are all about surprises -- as we've seen in the last week -- and events can change the landscape quickly. The key for the candidates who aren't doing well is to find a way to do better. So no talk of getting out. When the time comes they'll know, but don't expect them to even consider the idea the day before New Hampshire.


Columbia, Mo.: Hi! I thought Chris Wallace was a great moderator and that FOX does a better job on the whole. It's like night and day (mainstream media vs. cable). With that said was Ron Paul a snub? I don't take him seriously but just curious.

Dan Balz: Thanks for your comments. Fox debates have been well done too. I'll post others' reviews as we get them.


Hamilton, Bermuda: Is there any significance to the results in Wyoming? Didn't the people there see that Romney lost in Iowa? Why didn't they care? The Trail: Romney's Early Voting Victory -- in Wyoming (, Jan. 5)

Dan Balz: There's not a lot of significance to the Wyoming results, other than to give the Romney campaign a little boost. There was very little time or money spent there by the candidates and as a result the outcome doesn't have a major impact on voters in other states. But Gov. Romney had a good debate on Sunday night. Coupled with the Wyoming success, maybe he can get something going after his Iowa loss.


Faint praise?: Was I the only person who thought Obama was being petty when he replied to a question Saturday evening re: Clinton's likability by calling her "likable enough"? Talk about damning with faint praise.

Dan Balz: I watched something on morning television in which they had some voters wired up to see how their brains reacted to the debates -- a new frontier of how campaign consultants will be probing the body politic! -- and that line got a bad reaction.


Easton, Md.: Hello! I thought Fred Thompson did very well in both recent debates. Why no coverage for him? He doesn't make personal attacks but talks about the issues and his positions on them. And last night he was the only one to bring up social security. Thoughts?

Dan Balz: He's had a few pretty decent debates. One reason he doesn't get a lot of coverage is that he was not in the thick of the battle in Iowa nor is he in the thick of the battle in New Hampshire. News organizations have only so many reporters and air time or column inches. I know it seems like we're drowning everyone in coverage but even covering all the major candidates can be taxing on a given day. He was getting a lot more coverage in the run up to his announcement -- lots of positive coverage. But his campaign has been a letdown and he's been squeezed to the side. If he were drawing huge crowds or dominating debates or leading in the polls, he would get more attention.


Bristow, Va.: How soon until Obama gets a long look by the media? He will not do any hard news shows, just Oprah. I do not want to vote for someone who will not appear on a program because they ask the candidate questions that he doesn't like. He might win the Democratic nomination this way, but the Republican machine will chew this effort up.

Dan Balz: He will get more and more scrutiny, I'm sure. He has done some TV news shows. He was on "Meet The Press" the Sunday before Iowa, as I recall. But in general he has not done an extensive amount of that. We've complained to the campaign on numerous occasions about more press conferences. They occasionally do what they call a press avail, but those tend to be short, with only a few questions. He'll be under pressure to do more -- and Sen. Clinton will be leading the call.


Huckaboom!: I like Mike Huckabee and I'm not an evangelical. I think the media is overrating the evangelical reach. I mean, a lot of my friends like him too, but all the media can say is that the evangelicals came out in droves in Iowa. We're not right-wing Christians. Why can't they (the media) attribute the change factor to him as well as to Obama? I saw the Iowa Caucus results as making a demand for change on both sides.

Dan Balz: You are the key to Huckabee's success. I suspect his appeal has potential to go beyond a base of Christian conservatives, but so far that has been the bulk of his support. The next weeks will test his ability to enlarge his coalition. If you're right, he'll be a major, major factor in the nomination race.


Portsmouth, N.H.: Hi, Dan. Just a comment: I think Weisman's article misses the mark slightly. It's not the partisanship that revolts me; it's the generational selfishness. Honestly, when a boomer politician tells me that they're going to force me to pay for the fraudulent products of the health insurance industry, what I hear are echoes of the baby boomer bosses who cavalierly laid me off when they had no idea what that was like.

I hear the boomer union leaders who were happy to throw younger workers under the bus and keep a great benefits package for themselves. I remember that they've handed us the bill for their splendid little wars and that the tax cut fairy is going to give them one more round of goodies before the next election. I don't care if Obama is inexperienced. If the guy has been in Washington two years and is only worth $1.3 million, then he's as honest as politicians get. I would like to be able to live with good health and economic dignity, and as long as the baby boomers are in charge, I don't think I can count on that. It's not their partisanship -- it's their larceny. GOP Doubts, Fears 'Post-Partisan' Obama (Post, Jan. 7)

Dan Balz: As an aging boomer I take great umbrage at that! Just kidding!

I've always though Obama was onto something with his call to turn the page on the boomer generation's politics. I don't agree with all you say but I do think there is a hunger among a lot of younger voters not to have the boomer generation continue to dominate everything. Of course, I've been hearing that from younger friends for about 15 years. Anyway, thanks for your comments.


Bow, N.H.: I am an Obama supporter and was even before his campaign showed its incredible management and organizational strength. Who are these people, and why were they able to succeed (especially in getting out the youth vote) when no no else ever had before? I understand Sen. Clinton's point about talk vs. action, but if Sen. Obama can attract this kind of talent and provide the leadership and motivation to help them accomplish what they have, then surely he can bring these same skills to bear as president.

Dan Balz: The leadership of Obama's campaign includes a number of seasoned veterans of Democratic politics. They would be the first to admit they have often been overwhelmed by the response to his candidacy and have struggled to make the most of it. They started the campaign with few resources but they were quick to realize that they needed to capture the initial enthusiasm and build on it -- both in terms of fundraising and of political organization. When 10,000 people showed up somewhere to see him, they got as many of those people as possible to sign a card with email addresses and phone numbers so they could plug them into a database and stay in contact with them. They have been effective as using the Internet for organizing and fundraising and communications. Their Iowa organization was extremely effective.


Dan Balz: We're out of time. Thanks to everyone for the good questions. Keep in touch through our coverage on the web and in the print edition. We're going full bore here and we hope you're enjoying the election as much as we are.

Have a great week.


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