Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, February 6, 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 national political reporter Michael Shear was online Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.
The transcript follows.
Crestwood, N.Y.: Mr. Shear, be honest -- you guys absolutely are having the times of your lives with this electoral process. For drama and sheer craziness, this political system that we have now is pure Disney World for the political junkies, and you can't believe your luck. It's March Madness, but it goes on for a whole year!
Michael Shear: Good morning, everyone. It seems like just yesterday that we had an election.
This comment is a good place to start, and I have to agree with it completely. Those of us who flip on C-SPAN before we brush our teeth in the morning are in heaven -- two wide-open presidential contests playing out at the same time. For a political reporter, there's nothing better.
But let's hear what you think? Did the results from Super Tuesday surprise anyone? Do folks have a prediction? What questions can I field? Let's have at it.
Alexandria, Va.: Well, John McCain is the Republican front-runner now, no question, but the question is, how much is the nomination going to be worth to him? The enthusiasm level for him among his own base seems to be very low. What does it say when a presidential candidate cannot win the majority of the vote in his party's primary in the state that he has represented in the U.S. Senate for almost twenty years? In fact, the only states where McCain has won primary majorities (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Delaware, etc.) went strongly for the Democrats in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. In states that are closely divided or lean Republican, he barely has managed to exceed 40 percent of the vote, even when he has been the "winner." This does not bode well for a McCain November victory unless he somehow can manage to unite his party and inspire some enthusiasm.
Michael Shear: This is one of the central questions that we are going to confront in the next days and weeks. McCain had an undeniably good night, especially winning California. But his challenge remains: How does he energize the conservative base of his party, which has been suspicious of him for years? His first test may be at the Conservative Political Action Committee, which meets in Washington tomorrow.
Fairfax, Va.: When will Romney drop out of the race? His continued presence continues to take votes from Huckabee.
Michael Shear: Another good question. (And perhaps from a Huckabee supporter? That's the very way the former Arkansas governor has been trying to frame the situation.)
The answer, of course, is that we don't know if or when, Romney might drop out. He said last night that he's in it to win and that the campaign will continue. His aides have said they see no compelling reason to drop out as long as the conservative angst about McCain is as strong as it seems to be.
Having said that, there is sure to be pressure on Romney, and Huckabee as well, to clear the decks for McCain now. In some ways the Democrats have given the Republicans a gift by engaging in a race that looks like it will go for weeks more, if not months. If the Republicans quickly can decide on a nominee, it will give that person -- McCain? -- extra time to raise money and begin drawing contrasts with the eventual Democratic nominee.
Washington: This has got to be a question you'll see a lot -- any idea how things are shaping up in Maryland, Virginia, and the District for next week's primaries? Who has got the lead for the Democrats and Republicans in these states? There don't seem to be many numbers available online that tell where these races are!
Michael Shear: Ah, a question I love. (I covered Virginia politics for 14 years, including five in Richmond.)
On the Democratic side, Maryland and the District appear to be shaping up in Obama's column. The Clinton campaign seems to think they have a better chance in Virginia, where she will campaign tomorrow. (Several of her senior staff -- including Deputy Campaign Manager Mike Henry and Deputy Communications Director Mo Elleithee -- are longtime Virginia strategists). But Gov. Tim Kaine, Richmond mayor Doug Wilder and several of the key Democratic members of Congress are Obama backers, who say they feel optimistic.
On the Republican side, Virginia would seem like a good target for John McCain, who I would think could do well in Northern Virginia among moderate Republicans there. (He likely would have the support of the immensely popular Sen. John Warner.) He also might do well in the Tidewater area, where there are plenty of military families.
Bristow, Va.: You and Tim Craig were both very busy on the "macaca" beat in 2006. Today, his story has this sentence: "There are also questions about whether Allen could have withstood the scrutiny of a presidential campaign, given the allegations that swirled around him in the closing months of his Senate campaign." Would you know what undescribed allegations he's referring to here? Is it something The Post reported on? Or something they didn't have enough evidence to report? If it's the second, why are the rumors being "swirled" here?
washingtonpost.com: The 'What If' of Allen Haunts the GOP Race (Post, Feb. 6)
Michael Shear: I believe all Tim is referring to is the very public allegations about racial insensitivities that The Post and other news organizations reported about.
Washington: As a die-hard conservative, it will pain me to vote for McCain ... but you can bet that on Election Day, I will push the button for him. Most conservatives I know, although not fond of him, will still vote for him because of the alternative -- a Democrat. I think if the Democrats nominate Clinton, it will motivate the conservatives to go out and vote for whoever the GOP nominates. If the Democrats nominate Obama, you will see more GOP crossover ... even though he is more liberal.
Michael Shear: Interesting. If many in the Republican Party reach this conclusion, I suspect McCain will have an easier time wrapping up the nomination than some suspect.
Northern Virginia: Since when is the Republican contest "wide open" now? I think Howard Kurtz's column today is right -- there is a wish to keep it that way, but how can it be?
washingtonpost.com: Searching for Winners (Post, Feb. 6)
Michael Shear: Good point. I don't think I'd call the GOP race wide open after last night. I was referring to the past year, in which reporters like myself have been covering what was easily a wide-open race.
Roseland, N.J.: Yeah, say it loud, I'm a poligeek and I'm proud. Last night was candy-store time. I pored through the numbers this morning, and I'm drawn to comparing aggregate vote totals between the parties -- and there are some striking numbers. In Missouri, a crucial swing state, very hotly contested in both parties: 800,000 Democratic votes, just 550,000 Republicans. In Georgia, about as red a state as you'll find these days: Obama and Clinton combined for more than 1 million votes, while the Republican field barely got more than 900,000. In Oklahoma, a state that hasn't voted Democratic since LBJ: Clinton doubled up McCain, garnering 228,000 votes to McCain's 112,000. Across the board, in almost every state, voters on the Democratic side outnumbered voters on the Republican side -- even in red states. The only exception? Romney's Utah. But does it mean anything for the general?
Michael Shear: There is no question that there is an "enthusiasm gap" right now on the campaign trail.
For the past several months, I've seen crowds of thousands, even tens of thousands, at Democratic rallies. I've been to scores of Republican rallies and I've only seen one that exceeded 1,000 (a Huckabee rally the night before the Iowa caucus). Most of them are several hundred, and often they barely get 100.
What does that mean for November? It could indicate that Republicans are not going to turn out with the intensity of the Democrats. But it's also possible that a GOP nominee could turn that around by inspiring his party during the course of the year.
But most GOP strategists I talk to believe that they will have to work hard to compete with the obvious enthusiasm on the Democratic side for either Clinton or Obama.
Chantilly, Va.: Mike -- miss your Virginia coverage. With that grovel out of the way -- the media is saying the delegates are roughly split from the Super Tuesday contests. But as I read CNN, most of the California delegates have not been allocated yet, because it's a complex process with statewide and congressional district allocations. So might Hillary come out ahead by a bit?
Michael Shear: Thanks. I miss Virginia, too.
I think we will not have clarity on the delegate count for a while. But I'm the wrong person to ask, having done -- ahem -- poorly in math and statistics in school. Keep watching our Web site, though. I'm sure we'll keep updating the numbers.
New York: When McCain embarrasses himself pandering to CPAC tomorrow, will McCain's shills in the mainstream media finally drop the "Straight Talk Express" nonsense?
Michael Shear: John McCain's success in presidential politics largely has been based on this idea that he tells people the truth, not what they want to hear. Many independents and even Democrats flocked to him in 2000 after he called televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell the "agents of intolerance."
But he managed to lose that "straight-talk" feel, at least for a while, after he reconciled with Falwell and campaigned for George Bush in 2004 -- acts that some saw as pandering.
It's true that he risks the same accusation if he simply tells the conservatives what they want to hear. I suspect, though, that he will try to retain some of the "straight talk" image by telling them that he doesn't agree with them on some things.
McLean, Va.: In states like Tennessee and Georgia, Mitt Romney ran much worse in rural areas than in the cities or suburbs. Signs of a "Mormon effect"?
Michael Shear: A bunch of questions like this one. I think it's hard to know for sure, just as it's hard to know how much anti-black vote there is against Obama.
Romney's campaign was worried enough about the Mormon issue that they had him give that very well-covered speech about religion down in Texas.
Arlington, Va.: Good morning, thanks for doing the discussion. You mentioned in an earlier post that Clinton is campaigning in Northern Virginia tomorrow. Any idea on the venue yet?
Michael Shear: Not clear yet. I believe that in addition to campaigning in the state tomorrow, she is scheduled to attend the Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner on Saturday night in Richmond.
Washington:"Rumors" about George Allen: There was much more to it than racial insensitivity -- Allen's sister wrote a memoir of what it was like growing up with him as an older brother. It was very ugly -- he was depicted as a physically abusive bully who once threw one of her boyfriends through a closed sliding glass door. The stuff went way beyond the usual sibling arguments, and Allen never refuted them.
Michael Shear: Allen's sister did write that book, but later -- during the campaign -- recanted most of it, describing it as a work of fiction.
Washington: Any evidence the storms suppressed turn out in any area? I thought I heard that West Tennessee was impacted, and I thought that was an area where African Americans made up a bigger percentage of the Democrats than elsewhere in the state.
Michael Shear: I don't know the answer to this question. Clearly, they were intense and tragic storms that took several lives; how it might have impacted the voting is not as clear.
Republican Rally Attendance: The GOP candidate's rallies are more sparsely attended because Republicans are at work, not being paid by their unions to go to a rally. And don't read too much into those vote totals. A lot of us are voting with our noses held, but we'll be there in November to stop Hillary.
Michael Shear: This may well be part of the answer. Thanks for the comment.
Boston: Can McCain tap Huckabee as his vice president after Huckabee stays in for a few more primaries to bleed conservative votes away from Romney, and then figuratively tell Rush Limbaugh to go pound sand? Sure, he will pretend to make nice with Rush, but since when does the president of the U.S. have to bow down to a radio personality, especially when you have an evangelical minister on your ticket who carried the South without Rush's blessing? That's not a good ticket in a supposed Democratic cycle from my perspective -- the equivalent of the Giants pass rush beating my favored Pats in the Super Bowl.
Michael Shear: Lots of questions about Huckabee as a vice presidential pick for McCain. It's an interesting idea, especially because both men have spoken so glowingly about each other for weeks now.
The conventional wisdom is that Huckabee might provide McCain the outreach he needs to soothe social conservatives, especially in the South (where he did very well).
But there are problems, too. Huckabee is loathed by some economic conservatives, so picking him as vice president would not earn McCain any points with them. And as my colleague Peter Baker points out, there are examples of past presidential candidates who have decided to pick VP nominees who complement, rather than contrast, their own strengths. Think, for example, of Bill Clinton, a Southern centrist, picking Al Gore, also a Southern centrist.
Newark, N.J.: I don't have a question, but I just wanted to compliment washingtonpost.com and Newsweek for the live broadcast/analysis with Jon Meacham last night. At first I thought I would just tune in for a few minutes and then go watch returns on TV, but I wound up sticking with the online broadcast for the rest of the night.
Michael Shear: I'll pass this on to my colleagues at the Web site.
Kettering, Ohio: Hi Mike! I think all of the hand-wringing of the anchors and pundits last night about McCain is misplaced at best. Actually, I think McCain is being quite smart about holding the conservatives at arm's length during the primaries; he won't have to run from primary statements and positions during the election to move back to the middle. Hillary is following the same strategy in fits and spurts, although her Iowa Christmas gift ad was clear evidence of her very liberal core. That ad will be used by the Republicans if she manages to win her party's nomination.
Michael Shear: Interesting analysis. It's certainly true that if McCain wins the nomination, he will want to find ways to appeal to the independent and moderate Democratic voters. Perhaps by keeping the conservatives "at arms length" as you suggest, it makes that task easier.
His advisers, however, would argue that McCain doesn't "triangulate" his positions like that, but rather "is who he is" and lets the chips fall where they may.
Shockoe Bottom: If last night was "California, California, California," will next week be "Virginia, Virginia, Virginia"?
Michael Shear: Shockoe Bottom -- a gem of an area in downtown Richmond where one can find a bunch of really good restaurants. I can hardly wait to get back to Millie's.
And yes, I think Tim Russert (who once famously held up a piece of paper with "Florida, Florida, Florida" scrawled on it) might well do the same with Virginia on Tuesday.
Annandale, Va.: When is this going to be over? Don't you have a family that you'd like to go home to?
Michael Shear: Hmmm. I live in Annandale. I think this might be my wife. I'll be home soon, hon (I hope). Say hi to the kids!
New York: Mike -- please help! I am totally baffled by the delegate count on the Democrat side - Can you tell me what the exact numbers are? The Post home page says: Hillary: 540, Obama: 539. The New York Times home page says: Hillary: 845, Obama: 765.
washingtonpost.com: The Post numbers are for Super Tuesday only. The Times numbers include earlier primaries (and are on The Post's homepage too, if you click the "Overall" tabs).
Michael Shear: As I said, I'm math challenged. But see the answer from our Web site folks above.
Potomac primaries: Does Obama have any local events scheduled yet?
Michael Shear: Keep checking back with our Web site, and particularly The Trail, our politics journal online. I'm sure we'll post that information when we get it.
Loudoun County, Va.: Russert called it the Chesapeake Primary. The Post calls it the Potomac Primary. CNN calls it the Beltway Primary. Your favorite?
Michael Shear: My favorite: The last primary.
New York: With John McCain the likely nominee and the fact that many on the far-right detest him, is there any chance of a significant third-party run to his right?
Michael Shear: There is some talk about that, though it's unclear who that might be. Huckabee seems unlikely to do it, given his nice comments about McCain throughout.
What does seem clear is that a McCain candidacy probably means that New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is not likely to run as a third-party candidate.
Michael Shear: That's about all the time we have for today; thanks for all the good questions. Keep your Web browsers tuned to this same bat-channel for continuous updates on this remarkable political story.
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