Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Campaign Finance Reporter
Wednesday, January 16, 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 campaign finance reporter Matthew Mosk was online Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Matthew Mosk: Another wild day in American politics. Romney takes a gold. The leading Democrats seemed to patch up their differences last night on the debate stage. South Carolina is looming. And the bell is about to ring for the sprint to Feb. 5. I welcome your questions on all that and more today.


Bloomington, Ind.: Mr. Mosk, if you were a Vegas odds-maker, how would you rate the Republican and Democratic candidates at this point in the primaries? Why Vote When You Can Bet? (Slate)

Matthew Mosk: Seems like this year will be the toughest ever for political prognosticators. Seems a relief on the Democratic side that there are only three choices. On the GOP side it's anybody's guess. The next two weeks should help considerably to clarify the picture. Who gets the momentum of a South Carolina win? Will Rudy's strategy that banks on a moon-shot out of Florida succeed or fail? Right now, you'd be crazy to lay odds. But this piece offers some advice if you are, in fact, a Vegas odds maker.


Reading, Pa.: It was really puzzling in last nights debate how Obama was cheated out of his question to one of the other candidates -- it was clearly not fair. I watched the debates twice and even though Clinton was allowed to filibuster on a few answers, it was not easy to call a winner, even if the MSNBC pundits wanted so badly to for whatever reason. Clinton, Obama Distance Selves From Talk of Race (Post, Jan. 16)

Matthew Mosk: I actually thought all three of them were guilty of filibustering at one moment or another. I think the only clear winner last night was the Democratic Party as a whole. The decisions by both Sens. Clinton and Obama to calm things down before the primary derailed into a runaway discourse about race probably was helpful to the eventual nominee. As for Obama not getting his question, these debates force all the candidates to think fast on their feet.


Lisle, Ill.: How are delegates awarded in each state? I assume the rules vary (I recall California and Texas were winner-take-all on the GOP side, at least in the past). The Democrats seem to do something more proportional, but I know that in my home state we vote for the actual delegates by congressional district, so wouldn't it be possible that Obama could sweep all the delegates even if his opponents were getting a substantial minority of the vote.

Matthew Mosk: There is nothing simple about preparing a campaign strategy for Feb. 5, largely because the rules dictating how delegates are awarded are nearly impossible to follow. The best source on this, at least a first blush, is this Web site.

In some states, candidates will be focusing all their attention on a select few counties where they need to win enough support to get a portion of the delegates. In California, Republicans might use their limited resources in GOP-rich television markets like San Diego and Sacramento, while the Dems probably will have enough money to put up ads in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

These are going to be tough calculations, but they could determine who the eventual nominees are.


Fairfax, Va.: Honestly, how much sway did Mitt Romney's "Michigan ties" have in yesterday's primary? The press and his opponents calling Michigan his home state is like saying Connecticut is George W. Bush's home state. He hasn't lived there since he was a teenager and his dad was governor like 40 years ago.

Matthew Mosk: The best answer to this -- and this is not a very good answer -- is that the home-state advantage helped a little. There was one exit poll question on this subject (a little more on this from our polling guru in a moment) that said Romney performed better among those who considered his Michigan roots in picking a candidate. Needless to say, not a great way to test this idea. But there were voters in Michigan who told reporters they thought Romney might look favorably upon Michigan as president because he was born there.


Chicago: Wow, you got a great day to do the chat. Given that you are the finance guru, have the campaigns reported their fourth-quarter fundraising results? What's the status of cash-on-hand for the GOP candidates and for the top three Democrats? Isn't cash-on-hand going to be the crucial factor going into Tsunami Tuesday? With 22 states up -- including California, Illinois and New York, it's all going to be about the TV ads, which will cost big bucks.

Matthew Mosk: I agree!

The fundraising results from the past three months of 2007 won't arrive until Jan. 31. But the status of cash on hand for most candidates is pretty dismal. Certainly for the Republicans, nearly every penny is being spent on building momentum in the states leading up to Feb. 5. Most of them are hoping to have a big victory or two to give them momentum (and lots of free press attention) going into Super Tuesday. You're right, in theory, that money would be crucial going into what is essentially a national primary, but at least on the GOP side, I don't think any of them (save Romney, with his own personal money in play) will have much beyond fumes to work with.


To Reading, Pa.: He wasn't "cheated" out of his question, he simply wound up asking something other than what he planned, because he wanted to challenge John Edwards's position on troops in Iraq. Of course Barack wanted to ask his prepared question as well; who wouldn't? But then I suspect others would have griped that he got to ask two questions while their candidate only got one.

Matthew Mosk: I agree with our Reading reader on this. It's a little like a candidate complaining after the fact that they got less talking time than the others. Even if it's true, it won't turn the clock back.


Washington: How do you see the South Carolina GOP Primary shaping up?

Matthew Mosk: Right now, it appears to be shaping up to be a real rumble. There is noise coming from some of the same anti-McCain folks who targeted him in 2000. A group supporting Huckabee has been working the phones in much the same fashion they did in New Hampshire and Iowa. And Club For Growth, a group that has spent most of its energies attack Huckabee, is now also taking on McCain. So this should be a bruiser.


Portland, Ore.: Like a lot of Americans, I think torture is wrong, regardless of what our enemies do. Likewise, I think voter suppression is wrong, regardless of what the Republicans do. If someone has the right to vote then they should be allowed to vote. After the events of the past few years I would think all Democrats would be against voter suppression. But sadly I am mistaken, judging by the lawsuit in Nevada and the tacit approval of the suit by the Clintons. This story seems huge to me, some Democrats are going against their core beliefs for short term gain. Do you think this story has gotten the attention that it deserves? Hearing Is Set on Lawsuit Over Sites for Casino Workers (Post, Jan. 16)

Matthew Mosk: I'll leave aside the torture reference, Portland. But I do think this lawsuit is an interesting backstory to what is happening in Nevada in the run-up to the caucus there. My colleague Paul Kane has been doing an excellent job keeping tabs on the case. You can check out his latest story (Bill Clinton and the state's most powerful union weigh in on opposite sides) here.


Greenwood, Mo.: Note to viewers: All candidates filibuster, not just the one you are against. Rudy really hasn't done very well in any primary/caucus yet? For a so-called front-runner a few months ago, why hasn't he even made a blip in any of these states?

Matthew Mosk: This may be the best story of the campaign, but we won't be able to write it until after Florida. Namely, is Rudy's strategy of laying back until Florida working or not? Someone compared this to a baseball team deciding to skip the regular season and go straight to the playoffs. To the best of my knowledge, a strategy that ignores the early states never has worked in modern American politics. (Please correct me on this if I'm wrong.) Even though Rudy has not made a blip, to borrow your words, the field actually is laying out nicely for his late-arrival theory. His biggest problem would have been if one candidate had become the clear winner early on; instead you have had Huckabee, McCain and Romney all taking early contests. The big question will be, has Rudy been out of sight so long that folks have forgotten him? We'll see on Jan. 29.


Arlington, Va.: There seems to be a lot of buzz today about how the Republican race for the nomination is wide-open because there have been three different winners in three primaries. My question is, so what? In the Democratic primaries there have been two different winners in two primaries (I'm not counting Michigan's Democratic primary), and I don't hear breathless logorrhea about that. As far as I'm concerned, they're both wide-open. Huge surprise, right?

Matthew Mosk: You're right, although the Democratic side has become a more clearly defined battle between Sens. Clinton and Obama, with Edwards as a potential spoiler. The GOP side is almost total chaos.


Tacoma, Wash.: Were you as frustrated by the first 40 minutes of the debate last night focusing only on the horse race and the politics of politics, and not on policy differences? Do you think the NBC and other news outlets focusing so much on this impacts how people view politics? For example, the Pew poll that came out yesterday says that only 49 percent of the population know who won Iowa, but 40 percent of population thinks too much coverage is focused on primaries.

Matthew Mosk: This is a common complaint, but to be honest I don't share your view here. The Post and other outlets have been covering this race for more than a year now. Gallons of ink have been spent on articles that dig into the candidates' positions on issues, the often nuanced differences that separate them, and the personal experiences that color their world view. At this point, I find it refreshing finally to have a horse race to watch.


Matthew Mosk: As promised, a bit more on the question about Romney's home state advantage.

Post polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta tells me that Romney won 67 percent of the vote from those who said "Romney's ties to Michigan" were very important to their vote -- but, as noted before, no other topic was asked about this way, so there's nothing we can really compare it to. 58 percent did say their candidate's positions on the issues were more important than their leadership and personal qualities.

You can dive into the exit poll data yourself to see the full questions and plumb the results. Here's the link.


Washington: Didn't see a location on Paul Kane's story. Does the Post have anyone in Nevada to cover the caucuses?

Matthew Mosk: Members of The Post's political team have been trailing all the candidates. Several were in Nevada last night for the debate.


Woodbridge, Va.: Romney has more delegates than McCain and Huckabee combined. Why isn't Romney treated like the clear front-runner?

Matthew Mosk: At this stage, with so many delegates yet to be committed, it's really too early to declare any of the GOP candidates a front-runner. Democrats, too, for that matter.


Boston: How much money does John Edwards have left? When will he get his Federal matching dollars? And I know he trails the other two Democrats pretty badly in the money race, but how does he compare to the leading GOPers in the race?

Matthew Mosk: Edwards has been spending liberally in South Carolina, so I don't imagine he has too much left in his bank accounts. But I suspect most political strategists would tell you he'd be crazy to be storing up money at this stage. After all, he raised it all to spend it on this exact purpose.

Edwards has had a couple of things working for him. One is the support of SEIU locals, which have waged an independent campaign supporting him in early states. The other is the public funds. He already has borrowed off the $9 million in matching funds that he was certified to receive. He raised another $3 million to $5 million during the last three months of 2007, and should be able to double that with a second certification from the FEC. But if he can't win in South Carolina, the financial picture may start to look much worse for him.


Ron Paul is due: With every other Republican candidate winning a primary isn't it time for Ron Paul to win one? Could the Republicans form some kind of regionally based administration, with Huckabee getting the South, Romney the Midwest, McCain the West and New Hampshire and Giuliani the snowbirds going back and forth from New York to Florida? What's good for Iraq is good for America, right?

Matthew Mosk: I've gotten a couple of Ron Paul questions. I'll try and post them here as a group. I think the Paul folks thought their best chance for breaking out was in New Hampshire, where he seemed to have a fair amount of grassroots interest and a nice fat wallet. Not sure where he takes things next, but he certainly appears to be adequately financed. My colleague Jose Vargas has more info on the Paul campaign up on our Trail column. Here's a piece of it. You can read the whole thing at The Trail.

"Rep. Ron Paul continues to trail his opponents in national polls. He's yet to finish in the top three of any state contests. (He placed fourth in the Michigan primary last night, ahead of Rudy Giuliani, whom he beat in Iowa, and Fred Thompson, whom he bested in New Hampshire.)

"But his passionate, Web-savvy supporters have always forged a community online, where sites independent of his campaign such as Daily Paul, Primarily Paul and Ron Paul Nation have continually popped up.

"And the latest may be one of the most impressive of all. Ultimate Ron Paul was created by Richard Viguerie, often dubbed the 'funding father of the conservative movement.' Viguerie, who founded Conservative Digest magazine in the 1970s, pioneered the use of computerized direct mail, helping raise billions for conservative organizations. Most recently, he authored 'Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big-Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause.' "


Baltimore: To the poster from Arlington: There's more ink and airtime given to how "wide open" the Republican nomination race is because that is such a rarity in the party. In 2000, party bigwigs made it known they wanted Bush and so it came to pass -- despite McCain's win in New Hampshire. In '88, Bush the elder was Reagan's anointed successor just as Reagan was nominated nearly by acclamation in '80. You really have to go back to '76, when Reagan almost toppled Gerald Ford, to find a seriously contested Republican nomination -- which is in great contrast to the Democrats.

Matthew Mosk: This is a smart thought on our earlier question from Arlington.


Arlington, Va.: So Ron Paul has now beaten Fred Thompson and/or Rudy Giuliani in all three of the primaries/caucuses. He has certainly raised more money in the fourth quarter. So why is he not considered by the media to be on the same tier as these guys? I'm not even a Paul fan, but I'm beginning to see why his fans are calling foul.

Matthew Mosk: Another thought about Ron Paul.


Washington: Like many others, I was disappointed by the questioning in last night's debate. While I really appreciate a turn to substance, the debate seemed more like a forum to give pre-scripted answers than anything else. An example is Clinton's (and I don't mean to pick on Clinton here, it's just the one that sticks in my mind the most) response on the bankruptcy bill. She voted for it, but was happy it didn't pass? Huh? That's the kind of response that, in a real debate, would get follow up. But nothing in this one.

Matthew Mosk: I found it pretty dull myself -- and I am pretty into this stuff.


Arlington, Va.: Going into the Michigan vote, all of the polls had him tied with McCain at about 30 percent. How did all of the polls again miss the mark (by one third!) and where did Romney's extra 9 percent of support come from?

Matthew Mosk: My first-blush response to this is that people seem to think polls can do more than they actually can. Most of the polls I saw showed a considerable undecided contingent.


Naperville, Ill.: I understand that everyone says that the banned delegates from Michigan and Florida eventually will be seated at the convention, once someone has the nomination wrapped up. But what if no one has the nomination wrapped up without the missing delegates? For example, suppose Hillary is 100 votes short of the nomination on the first ballot and the delegates she "won" in Michigan would put her over the top -- what would the mechanism be for resolving that fight? Would it threaten to split the party if Obama lost because barred delegates ended up putting Hillary over the top?

Matthew Mosk: This is an interesting question Naperville. There is a story in today's Miami Herald (link here) that looks at just this question. The Democratic National Committee has been pretty clear about its decision to dock states for pushing their primaries up, but this could be a source of considerable friction if there is not a clear nominee.


Ferguson, Mo.: One slight correction to your point about a prime candidate waiting until late in the cycle to throw in his hat: Hubert Humphrey in 1968, for reasons beyond his control, couldn't get into the fray until LBJ "withdrew" in March. Seems to me he didn't get into the primaries before California, but I could be wrong myself!

Matthew Mosk: Washington Post readers are the smartest folks around on politics. Thanks for the help on this one.


Miami: Would you please describe the financial impact of these state-by-state battles during the primary? How much was spent on hotel rooms for the candidates and their staff, plus food and car rentals? Also, isn't this current primary schedule a more fair system than those smoke-filled backroom deals from the conventions back in the 1800s and early 1900s?

Matthew Mosk: Not sure about your second question, but I can tell you that both Sens. Clinton and Obama raised about $100 million in 2007, and that by this point the vast majority of those sums has been spent. A big chunk of that goes to television ads (Romney, for instance, spent $2 million for television in Michigan alone) but at this stage these campaigns are huge operations, with large staffing expenses and huge travel bills. When we get the next round of finance reports from the Federal Election Commission, due at the end of this month, we'll be able to break those numbers down.


Falls Church, Va.: Hi, Matthew. I'm someone who always has been completely decided about the candidate for whom I was going to vote, and made fun of the "undecideds." This year, I can't even make up my mind about which primary to vote in! Currently Obama, Clinton, Edwards and McCain are all on my radar, and all for different reasons. My mother also has said the same thing to me -- and she also always has been someone who has known exactly for whom she was going to vote. Thing is, I wonder how many like me there are out there, and if that's why these primaries are so nuts?

Matthew Mosk: I think our friend in Falls Church provides a window into the unexpected outcome in New Hampshire. I know I spoke with a number of New Hampshire voters who fit this exact description, and who walked into their polling station not knowing for sure which candidate they ultimately would support. This is part of what makes predicting the outcome this year's campaign so tough.


Chicago: Re: Late starts ... maybe too late to chime in, but in 1968, Humphrey won the nomination without, I believe, having won so much as a single primary... 1968 Democratic Primaries (Wikipedia)

Matthew Mosk: More help on history.


Matthew Mosk: Well, our collective inability to make predictions for the 2008 campaign seems a logical place to finish up. Thank you so much for your questions today. And stay tuned -- South Carolina and Nevada are right around the corner!


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