Post Politics Hour
Tuesday, February 5, 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 White House reporter Michael Abramowitz was online Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.
The transcript follows.
Arlington, Va.: I saw over the weekend that Barack Obama told people in Idaho that he was pro-gun rights. It is hard to imagine that a Democrat from Chicago would be as gung-ho on the Second Amendment. I wonder where Mrs. Clinton lines up on this.
washingtonpost.com: Obama Mentions God and Guns in Idaho (AP, Feb. 3)
Michael Abramowitz: Good Super Tuesday, everybody. I am happy to be here answering your questions.
I am not sure where Clinton lines up, to be honest, but you really don't hear many Democrats criticizing guns these days. It appears the party has concluded, by and large, that this is is not an issue they want to engage Republicans and the NRA on, so I was not surprised to hear what Obama said in Idaho.
Los Angeles: Whoooooo-hoo! Super Tuesday! By the time I go to bed, any chance America gets the refreshing choice of Obama vs. McCain?
Michael Abramowitz: I think one of the interesting things about today is that people really don't know what's going to happen. I certainly think it's likely McCain will be the one left standing by the morning on the GOP side, but the Democratic race is a real jump ball. If everybody had to vote today, I suspect Obama might have an edge, but we have had early voting in California and other key states, so I suspect those votes might reflect Clinton's early edge.
Reston, Va.: How do I register to vote in the now relevant Virginia primary?
washingtonpost.com: Can't -- must be registered 29 days before the election. Click here for full information on registering to vote in Virginia.
Michael Abramowitz: Here is the answer to your question. And this is another reason why Obama might have some difficulty -- he benefited in Iowa, for instance, from same-day registration.
New York: Has your reporting picked up any rumors that Bill Clinton could be appointed to Hillary's senate seat if she won the presidency? That would give him a job, at least. Thanks so much for the chat.
Michael Abramowitz: Have not heard these rumors, but it seems like a stretch.
Vienna, Va.: How many other states besides Virginia have primaries next week? I would like to take my seventh grader to some kind of political event if any of the major candidates will be in the area, but I'm not sure how to find out about such things. Can you help?
washingtonpost.com: Campaign Tracker (washingtonpost.com)
Michael Abramowitz: Next week will be a good time for local citizens to see candidates because there are primaries in the District, Virginia and Maryland. Check out our campaign tracker for candidate events.
Flat screens, MSNBC, and a bartender: This is probably a better question for the Going out Gurus, but here goes: Where can a Democratic politico watch the returns this evening? I need big TVs, multiple channels, and not a lot of crowd noise. Where will you be watching?
washingtonpost.com: Post Politics TV (washingtonpost.com, starting 6 p.m. ET tonight)
Michael Abramowitz: I will be watching at home, because my job this week is to come in early tomorrow, like 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and try to make sense of what happened today for our Web site. We may not know until very early in the morning what the whole picture looks.
Claverack, N.Y.: Let's say, for argument's sake, that the conventional wisdom is right -- John McCain wraps up the GOP nomination tonight, while the Democrats have to keep campaigning well on into March and perhaps beyond. Is this such an advantage for the GOP? Clinton and Obama then get the spotlight to themselves, and I easily could see them using it to show off their anti-McCain attack lines. Meanwhile, we don't really talk about McCain again until summer and the convention.
Michael Abramowitz: I think that's a very plausible argument. It's not clear how McCain will get a lot of attention until the summer. On the other hand, if the Obama-Clinton race gets really nasty, it's also possible the Democrats will cut themselves up and weaken the ultimate nominee.
Asheville, N.C.: All this fury surrounding McCain -- does it keep Romney in the race even if the Super Tuesday results move McCain so far down the road he can't catch up? Seems to me he has to stay in until he is completely eliminated mathematically, or else risk the wrath of the anti-McCain movement he will need in future elections. On the other hand, he will be doing himself no favors with the "establishment" if they see him dragging out a costly, rancorous fight he can't win. So how great is the risk for Romney to end up in a no-win situation today?
Michael Abramowitz: If Romney gets wiped out tonight, I doubt he will stay in much longer, the conservatives notwithstanding. I think the greater risk for him would be alienating the GOP establishment, which will want to coalesce around McCain if he is the clear winner tonight.
Los Angeles: After seven years, President Bush presents a budget indicating the national debt rising by "$4 trillion during his administration" and his solution is to threat to cut congressional earmarks now that Republicans don't control Congress. While Bush and many Republicans claim they're fiscal conservatives, they hand out government money to woo voters and reward supporters (e.g. the proposed stimulus bill with rebates, multiple no-bid contracts and the $41 billion-plus a year for the Medicare Drug Program). Neither Bush nor advocates for making his tax cuts permanent offer specific spending cuts to balance the federal budget. Even John McCain won't shoot straight on this.
Bush was a masterful politician passing tax cuts, increasing spending and labeling opponents tax-and-spend liberals. Disingenuous politicians won't pay for tax cuts or spending increases, but just continue borrowing and raising the national debt on their watch. Without offering spending cuts to balancing the federal budget, aren't Bush and borrow-and-spend advocates for making his tax cuts permanent simply uncourageous pandering politicians who prefer passing the debt they create to future generations?
Michael Abramowitz: I certainly think that even conservatives (perhaps more than liberals) are disappointed with the spending and deficit record of the administration. In fairness to Bush, he did try to limit the growth of Social Security and Medicare but found no traction; whose fault this was will be much debated.
But you are right in your suggestion that making his tax cuts permanent is kind of the undiscussed issue for the next president. If a Democratic president were to allow the tax cuts to expire, that will be seen as a tax increase by many -- but that may be only way they can get money to fund health care and other initiatives without running up more debt.
Reading, Pa.: Michael: Overall, have the changes with earlier primaries been a good or bad thing? The candidates seem ready to burn out, but at least there are many new states that have achieved a relevancy in the process. What's your take on all this?
Michael Abramowitz: Very interesting question. I have been thinking about that this morning. I have thought this was kind of a crazy way to pick a president, but the way things have worked out has sort of a logic: The small states got a chance to scrutinize the candidates early, but the big states are now getting a chance to weigh in and decide things. That does not seem all that bad a situation.
Fairfax, Va.: Polls have been all over the place in California. Obama up 13, Clinton up 10; McCain with a small lead, Romney with a slightly bigger lead. What is the sense in the campaigns about what is going to happen out there tonight?
Michael Abramowitz: I think the campaigns are deeply uncertain, having been burned earlier in the process by what they thought was going to happen.
Washington: Assuming tonight does not go well for Mitt Romney, does he have a political future?
Michael Abramowitz: I would think so. I can imagine him being a possible vice presidential candidate or a Cabinet secretary in a future administration, especially if he has a strong showing in a losing effort. It will be interesting to see how he does in Massachusetts tonight: If he loses, that would seem to rule out a return to elective office at home.
Portland, Ore.: Happy Super Tuesday! Obama's decision to campaign in smaller states like Idaho usually is explained in the media as Obama seeking to show he has broader appeal than Clinton. However, isn't this also an effective strategy to eat into some of Mrs. Clinton's strength with the so-called "superdelegates"? These smaller states have super delegates, too, made up of elected officials, party officials and party elders.
If Obama wins their state, it seems they would feel obliged to cast their votes for Obama, too, whatever pledge they previously may have made. So, today Obama may only garner an extra two dozen or so delegates in these small states, but long-term, if nothing is decided by the convention, his wins in a half-dozen or more small states could place 50-100 super delegates in play that might otherwise be committed to Clinton. Am I right?
If I am, I think it shows the Obama campaign's tactical smarts are being consistently underestimated, while the "Clinton machine" is constantly overestimated. It's not just Obama's charisma that is going to win this thing -- he is also an excellent politician who has surrounded himself with a very smart team.
Michael Abramowitz: I think you offer a good analysis. I have been impressed with the Obama campaign, which I think has been well-run and largely without the kinds of mistakes that have hurt other first-time presidential candidates. He has done very well on the fundraising side as well. It is not only his charisma that allowed him to break from Dodd, Biden and the other veteran Democrats to make a real challenge of Clinton.
Lake Forest, Calif.: Good morning. ... On the Monday Post Politics Hour, a contributor said she was a Democrat who would vote for McCain if Clinton won the Democratic nomination for president. I am a Democrat who would vote for McCain if Obama won the nomination for president. Unless the Democratic Party has both Clinton and Obama on the ticket for the general election (one for president and the other for vice-president) won't there be a landslide for McCain? Thank you for your time.
Michael Abramowitz: There's a lot of speculation on who would be the stronger general-election candidate, but I don't think there will be a landslide for McCain in any case. I think you can make a plausible case for either Clinton or Obama being the stronger general election candidate, and I can't pick who has the better argument.
It's the Middle of the Second Quarter: Mitt has a long way to go before he's done. Take heart, conservatives.
Michael Abramowitz: A hopeful Romney fan!
If there is a mortgage crisis,: Why doesn't anyone mention McCain's role in the Keating Five from Savings and Loan crisis back in the '80s?
Michael Abramowitz: I am sure that will come back into play if he is the nominee.
Sen. Bill: He's making way too much money to be a senator, but my question is, how much will he be reined in on his money-making activities if Hillary is elected?
Michael Abramowitz: I think he will be reined in a bit -- you already see him taking steps to divest himself from certain companies.
East Lansing, Mich.: I am perplexed about the endorsement by Joe Lieberman of McCain. I know his history of indignation towards Bill Clinton's peccadilloes, but given that four years ago he was a more moderate balance to John Kerry, hard to believe today; what has evolved in his thinking? I know he is now an independent, but to stand behind McCain with his arms up in the air as McCain describes himself as a true conservative ... I am a little baffled. Is there a Zell Miller bitterness factor? Just what may be going on in the evolution of his political persuasions?
Michael Abramowitz: I suspect you have the Janis Joplin/Kris Kristofferson factor working here -- freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. The Democratic establishment dropped McCain in 2006 and he won anyway -- so he's going to go with his heart, and his heart is with McCain. What really drives Lieberman is his passions on national security matters, and McCain is closest to his heart. At least that's my read.
Richmond, Va.: Can you explain to us, in a nutshell, what it was that got John McCain from a campaign that was nearly dead to possibly wrapping up the nomination today?
Michael Abramowitz: Great question. You ask for a nutshell case, so here it is: McCain outworked everybody else in New Hampshire, and the conservatives were divided, so it gave him an opening and he seized it. Now the Republican establishment is coalescing around him because it sees him as the best opportunity to keep the GOP in power for another four years.
St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael -- Thanks for taking my question/comment. I'm by no means a fan of McCain and would be very unhappy if he ended up as our next president, but can you provide some insight as to why he is so objectionable to the Coulter/Limbaugh/Hannity cadre? I try not to pay attention to them (because that's clearly what they want), but I have to admit I don't get it.
washingtonpost.com: Limbaugh on McCain: It's Better to Be Right All the Time (Post, Feb. 5)
Michael Abramowitz: I think they view him as an unreliable conservative, someone who has been willing to break ranks from time to time on core issues like taxes. I also think they view him as less dependable than other Republicans if he were to make it to the Oval Office, meaning he would be willing to cut deals with the Democrats on things they don't like. There are appears to be a level of personal animus as well.
Arlington, Va.: I can sort of understand why the right wing noise machine hates McCain so much, but I don't really understand why they have all cast their lot in with Romney. He seems to be so totally unprincipled. Is it just that he is willing to pander to them and kiss their butts (or "suck up" as today's article puts it)?
Michael Abramowitz: Corollary of the same question. I think actually if Romney were seen as more principled, he might have made a stronger run. But I think many conservatives have also doubted him because of his past stands in Massachusetts, so his campaign never took off the way he had hoped.
That's all the time I have for questions. See you in two weeks.
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.