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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Campaign Finance Reporter
Wednesday, January 30, 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. 30 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Matthew Mosk: Good morning, and what a morning it is: We're right on the heels of news that that Democrat John Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani both will be exiting the main stage today. What does it all mean? Let's hear your thoughts, and talk about what to expect as we approach Feb. 5, the biggest contest of the primary season.

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Arlington, Va.: Many big questions today, but here's the biggest one: Will Edwards dropping out of the race help Clinton or Obama more?

Matthew Mosk: I agree -- this is a big question. I've just returned from the winter convention of the American Association of Justice, the industry group for trial lawyers. Both Clinton and Obama had representatives there trying to pluck off Edwards donors, and among the trial lawyers, there was a great deal of confusion, it seemed to me, as to which candidate to get behind. There was a lot of speculation about whether Sen. Edwards had brokered a deal with either camp. If he has, and he jumps behind one or the other, that could have some sway with voters. If he stays neutral -- as he has hinted this morning -- it's much harder to tell which one of them it helps.

Certainly, in Southern states, it opens the door further for Obama, who would have competed with Edwards for support.

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Arlington, Va.: Does Giuliani owe a refund to all the people who sent him money to run for president, given that he didn't seem to actually have much interest in really running for president? Was his campaign the biggest fraud ever?

Matthew Mosk: I don't know about biggest fraud ever, but certainly it will go down as one of the biggest political gambles ever. Giuliani knew his strategy of waiting until Florida to compete never had worked before, but he went for it. I've spoken to a number of his donors, and they were -- grudgingly in some cases -- convinced that this was the right path for him.

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Fairfax, Va.: Is there any conceivable path to the nomination for either Obama or Romney if they don't win California?

Matthew Mosk: Fairfax, you've struck on one of the central questions of Feb. 5. California is clearly a crucial battleground -- but its impact is minimized somewhat by the fact that it is not a winner-take-all affair in either contest. That means the likely outcome is that both Sens. Clinton and Obama will find pockets of support, and emerge from California with a divided count of delegates. The same for Romney and McCain, at least in theory.

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Anonymous: The big unanswered question -- with Giuliani out, what will Pat Robertson do? I'm sure he's waiting for a personal message from on high, but has The Post heard anything? Could tip the race one way or another, don't ya think?

Matthew Mosk: I'm not sure I agree with the premise here, and I have no insight on Pat Robertson's plans. That said, there remains a real divide in the Republican primary between fiscal and religious conservatives. One crucial factor in Romney's ability to compete, it seems to me, will be Huckabee. Right now, he continues to draw away a segment of religious conservatives who otherwise might be predisposed to Romney.

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Washington: Some recent polls have Obama within 12 points of Clinton in California and closing fast. Is there a realistic chance that Obama wins California?

Matthew Mosk: The gap there is pretty big. The latest CNN/Los Angeles Times poll has Sen. Clinton running ahead of Sen. Obama by 17 points. We learned in New Hampshire that these gaps can close quickly -- literally overnight -- but at the same time, Sen. Clinton's consistent, sizeable lead in California does seem to pose a pretty serious obstacle for Sen. Obama. And five days is not much time to close a gap like that.

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Washington: It says you're the campaign finance reporter, so I was wondering if you could explain why there seems to be so much animus toward John McCain because of his support for campaign finance reform. A lot of conservatives -- and I think evangelicals -- are very unhappy with him for this reason, but why? I don't buy the "because they're regulating free speech" argument, no matter how many columns George Will wants to devote to it! We regulate lots of speech -- obscenity, slander, etc.

Matthew Mosk: Broadly, my sense it that Republicans generally resist the idea of having government intervene in peoples' personal choices, especially when the matter at hand is politics. And the "regulate free speech" argument is one that has been taken seriously by more that just George Will (the Supreme Court comes to mind). And so for these reasons, I think his work on campaign finance reform has made him some enemies in his own party. At the same time, Sen. McCain has started to garner significant support in some powerful Republican circles. It's worth noting that he has more Washington lobbyists raising money for him than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, according to a Public Citizen report published yesterday. (Sen. Clinton finished second.)

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Portland, Ore.: What happens to the delegates that John Edwards has won? Does Edwards have any control over whom they vote for at the convention?Thanks.

Matthew Mosk: He does have control over his delegates, and that should give him some pretty significant clout if this race remains undecided as we approach the Democratic convention. So what does Edwards want with this clout? Some of his supporters have told me they want to see him be strongly considered as a future attorney general. That kind of deal can't be brokered in any formal way, but you can bet it will be the subject of whatever private discussions he has with Sens. Clinton and Obama in coming weeks.

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Bloomington, Ind.: Was Sen. Edwards priced out of the race?

Matthew Mosk: This is an excellent question. My strong suspicion is that the answer is no. For starters, Edwards top fundraiser, Fred Baron, told me just two days ago that he was raising more money this month than in any previous month. That money was due to be matched with federal funds because Sen. Edwards had decided to play within the public financing system. And other candidates -- Huckabee comes to mind -- have done pretty well relying on media coverage to keep them in the public eye.

The more likely reason he made this decision was that he had yet to win a single primary, and he lost the one primary -- South Carolina -- that he had won four years earlier. That's just a tough hand of cards to be holding.

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Birmingham, Ala.: Any chance Richardson endorses Obama when Ted Kennedy visits New Mexico later this week?

Matthew Mosk: I think Richardson has deep and strong ties to the Clintons -- and it should be noted that one of his top fundraisers, a Denver political consultant named Mike Stratton, signed up with Sen. Clinton last week, with Richardson's blessing.

That said, there is no doubt Richardson is feeling pulled in two direction. Here's what my colleague Jose Vargas wrote when he went to see Richardson yesterday.

"Richardson's torn. He served in the Clinton White House, first as ambassador to the United Nations, then as Clinton's Secretary of Energy. 'I have a history with the Clintons,' Richardson said. 'And I've always liked her. She always seems very genuine.' But Richardson considers Kennedy, who's long been respected by Hispanics, as 'a mentor.' In 1982, when Richardson ran for Congress for the second time -- he lost two years before -- Kennedy flew to Santa Fe and campaigned for him. 'That might have been the reason I was elected,' Richardson said. And he said he likes Obama, telling a story about how Obama saved him during one of last year's Democratic debates:

" 'I had just been asked a question -- I don't remember which one -- and Obama was sitting right next to me. Then the moderator went across the room, I think to Chris Dodd, so I thought I was home free for a while. I wasn't going to listen to the next question. I was about to say something to Obama when the moderator turned to me and said, "So, Gov. Richardson, what do you think of that?'"But I wasn't paying any attention! I was about to say, "Could you repeat the question? I wasn't listening." But I wasn't about to say I wasn't listening. I looked at Obama. I was just horrified. And Obama whispered, "Katrina. Katrina." The question was on Katrina! So I said, "On Katrina, my policy..." Obama could have just thrown me under the bus. So I said, "Obama, that was good of you to do that." ' "

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Chicago: Worst campaign of the season: Rudy or Fred?

Matthew Mosk: I like this question, Chicago. I think these two guys had two very different problems besetting their campaigns -- Fred Thompson's greatest difficulty seemed to be organizational, while Mayor Giuliani's was strategic.

Thompson spent months in what seemed like a rudderless drift. Folks inside his campaign told me that Sen. Thompson and his wife were micromanaging the campaign to the point that they needed to sign off on the color scheme for bumper stickers. Dozens of campaign consultants and strategists came to the campaign and discovered they could not stomach the work environment. It's hard -- no, impossible -- to keep a presidential campaign afloat in that kind of situation.

Rudy, as we discussed, took a strategic gamble; if it had paid off, we would be calling him a genius today. But it didn't, and we aren't.

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Avon Park, Fla.: Are we too quick to write off Mitt Romney? Sure, he'd rather win Florida than lose it, but he has deep pockets and can at least spend money on TV ads. Combine that with the conservative distrust of John McCain, and I'm not convinced that the GOP race is over.

Matthew Mosk: Thanks for this question, Avon Park.

I think you are right that Gov. Romney remains a serious challenger for the nomination, and you are right to focus on the reason -- his money. The question is, will Romney come up with a message that draws folks away from McCain? The money is useless if the message isn't right.

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California: I've seen news reports describing recent 527 efforts on behalf of Obama (Project Hope is one I believe?). These efforts contrast with Obama's criticism in Iowa of Clinton and John Edwards for benefiting from similar 527 efforts (Emily's List, for one). Has Obama or his campaign said much about these efforts, distancing itself to the extent possible?

Matthew Mosk: I don't think you have the details here quite right (Emily's List is supporting Sen. Clinton, and is a PAC, not a 527). But the gist of the question is worth addressing.

The misperception here is that all independent groups are equal. Obama's beef with the groups that were supporting Sen. Edwards focused on one major no-no in outside-group activity -- coordination with the campaign. There was no evidence that the group supporting Edwards was coordinating with him, but Sen. Obama was suspicious of this because the group was headed by Nick Baldick, a former top Edwards aide. Obama's question was, can Nick Baldick leave the campaign in early 2007, then turn around a few months later and lead the efforts of an outside group to support Edwards's campaign?

No such allegation has surfaced in connection with the groups backing Sen. Obama.

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Fairfax, Va.: Doesn't Edwards leaving now help Clinton enormously? And, doesn't it suggest that he will ultimately endorse her? Had he stayed through Super Tuesday, he would have split some of the key demographics. White men are really a key demographic in play -- Edwards seemed to split them with Clinton; if they go toward her, Obama is done, right?

Matthew Mosk: That's one way to look at it. Though I would note that Sen. Obama actually beat Sen. Clinton among white men in South Carolina. And Obama's strategy for Feb. 5 seems to be centered on the Southern states that are competing that day -- states like Georgia and Tennessee -- where you might think Edwards would have peeled votes away from Obama.

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Washington: Can I just dispel a rising myth about McCain? On today's front page your fellow Post reporters Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane have an analysis piece (and it's a good one) about Romney and McCain. In the article John Weaver, McCain's longtime political adviser dismisses Romney with having been born on third base. Okay, that's true -- but given the fact that McCain was born into a family where his father and grandfather both were admirals in the Navy and went to Annapolis, McCain at the very least was born stealing third. Last time I checked it's quite difficult (now as then) to get into the Naval Academy. McCain also has married into wealth with his wife Cindy. Sorry about the long rant, but please let's not feel bad for poor John. He's loaded, and also was given more opportunity than many of us, just like Romney.

washingtonpost.com: After Romney's Barrage, McCain Stands Tall (Post, Jan. 30)

Matthew Mosk: I think this is a point worth making. The truth is, both of these men have backgrounds that set them on the path to success. They also both have strong points that owe to their own efforts, and not just their bloodlines -- Sen. McCain's war record, for one, and Gov. Romney's turnaround of the Winter Olympics for another. How each makes use of those advantages ultimately will spell the difference.

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Los Angeles: Can you determine which candidates have been the most efficient in the expenditure of money, and which have been the most profligate? And if so, please identify them.

Matthew Mosk: Thanks for this question, L.A.

We will have a much better sense of this tomorrow, when candidates file their 2007 reports with the FEC. My sense is that both Sens. Clinton and Obama spent most of the $100 million they each brought in last year, and both have had strong fundraising efforts in January. It's hard to knock them, or anyone else, for spending it all -- that's why they raised it.

Probably the most efficient candidate has been Gov. Huckabee, who never has seemed to be successful with raising money. He has had some outside help, but has been very effective at drawing attention to himself on television, whether on late night talk shows, news programs, or during debates.

Sen. McCain is another who has made good use of very limited funds. He nearly hit rock bottom at the end of this past summer, but he managed to make the most of his strength in New Hampshire.

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Giuliani Ran: One of the biggest media frauds ever is that Giuliani did not run until Florida. The facts show otherwise. Rudy ran in Iowa until he learned Iowans didn't really like him. He ran and spent hard in New Hampshire, until he found out that the Granite State did not like him either. He skipped South Carolina and ran hard in Florida, until he learned that Floridians didn't have much use for him. Giuliani spent $60 million ... he was running ... only voters were running too -- as far away from the Sept. 11 maniac as possible!

Matthew Mosk: I wouldn't call this a media fraud, as I've read a lot about this in ... the media. But I do think if you look comparatively at the time and money he spent in the early states, you will find that it was not comparable to what other candidates were doing there. At the same time, he was spending money and time in Florida when others were spending all their time in the early states. My colleague Mike Leahy had an excellent piece earlier this week that offered some insight into why Giuliani never caught on in states like Iowa and New Hampshire -- he simply did not embrace the idea of retail campaigning.

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Not so fast: Re: "Certainly, in southern states, it opens the door further for Obama, who would have competed with Edwards for support." Where exactly do you get that assumption? In numerous Florida counties in which Edwards won, Clinton was a close second. I've spoken with elderly white males, even veterans, who said they would be willing to vote for Hillary because of their favorable assessment of the economic record of Bill. I'd like you to back up your statement with facts, not statements that don't even contain a logical argument, much less facts.

Matthew Mosk: Ouch!

I think I gave you a fact when I referenced the results in South Carolina. I don't know if it will be determinative, just as I don't think the Florida votes tells us all that much (considering none of the candidates campaigned there).

All that said, there is not much behind any of these theories and predictions. As we learned in New Hampshire, only the voters actually can answer these questions.

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Fairfax, Va.: Your response to why Republicans criticize McCain on campaign finance reform sure makes them sound awfully high-minded and noble. Isn't their concern really that their money offsets the Democrats' superior numbers, and McCain's efforts might help the Democrats and hurt them?

Matthew Mosk: Well, I was trying to explain why they take the position they do. I'm not weighing in on which side is right.

As for the idea that money offsets numbers, I don't think I would reach that same conclusion. Democrats have been very effective fundraisers. In most of the recent presidential campaigns, there has been enough money on both sides to suggest that it was not the key factor in determining who would win.

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College Park, Md.: How much money did Clinton and Obama raise in the fourth quarter?

Matthew Mosk: We'll know the exact amounts tomorrow night, but I've been told that both raised roughly $20 million (Sen. Clinton's number may be a little higher than that). Both campaigns confirmed reaching $100 million by the end of the year.

What the numbers won't tell us is how they are positioned going into Feb. 5. My (educated) guess is that they both have raised well over $10 million just this month, and will be on relatively even footing going into Feb. 5.

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Savannah, Ga.: Can you clarify? Does John Edwards get to determine whom his delegates vote for? Even if he does not officially endorse anyone?

Matthew Mosk: Sorry for the pause in the action. I was trying to get an answer to Savannah's question.

What I'm told here in the newsroom is that he does not have formal control over the delegates (beyond that they would be obligated to support him on the first round of voting if he were still a candidate). At some point, it's expected that he would release his delegates and they could go wherever they want.

Either way, he has 26 delegates and there are 4,049 overall, so he is not likely to be a kingmaker.

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San Francisco: Hope I got this in in time. So, when an Edwards or a Giuliani drops out of the race, what happens to all the money they raised? I'm assuming they don't issue refunds. And is there a limit to them transferring that cash to the candidate they then endorse?

Matthew Mosk: They'll be lucky to emerge without big debts -- which is to say, most if not all of it has been spent already. (Buyer beware.) The more likely scenario is one we just saw in an Los Angeles Times report today -- Sen. Sam Brownback, who dropped out with some sizeable debts, threw his support behind Sen. McCain. At the same time, Sen. McCain's top donors made contributions to Sen. Brownback to help him retire his debt.

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Matthew Mosk: Lots of great questions still waiting for answers, but alas, I'm out of time. Lots of news to cover today.

Thanks so much for joining me.

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