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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Michael Shear
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Thursday, March 27, 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 Thursday, March 27 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Michael Shear: Good morning everyone. I'm coming to you from the San Francisco airport, where it's foggy and cool. I'm heading back from a couple of days with Sen. McCain, so let's talk a bit about him. But I guess there's a bit to discuss on the Democratic side, too.

So let's get's started!

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Richmond, Va.: I was struck by McCain's foreign policy speech yesterday when he talked about an Iraq that, just on the day before his speech, was breaking down violently in one part of the country, a harbinger, perhaps, of an unraveling of that very progress he was touting so confidently. If he's not on top of things, it calls into question his foreign policy expertise (doesn't it?), and I'm wondering why his own forign policy advisors are not looking out for him on this.

washingtonpost.com: McCain Outlines Foreign Policy ( Post, March 27)

Michael Shear: A question from Richmond, where I spent five years reporting on state politics. Good morning, Richmond.

This definitely could be an issue for Sen. McCain. He has been unequivocal about his statements that the surge is working and that things are better in Iraq. While in Europe last week, he even made the statement that Iraqis are living "normal lives." So if the security situation in the country gets a lot worse, that will call into question those statements.

Having said that, McCain's claim to the presidency is based in large part on the argument he makes about his experience and wisdom in foreign policy. So if the war fades completely from the public view, one wonders whether that might not be good for him either.

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Denver, Colo.: Michael, thanks for the chat! My question: has Obama done enough to make himself electable? It's obvious how the Republicans will smear him during the general election -- they'll call him a LIBERAL early and often, they'll attack his lack of experience, and they'll dirty him up with Wright and Rezko. It seems like Obama should start tacking back to the center now so he can fight the liberal tag. Can he afford to do it now that Hillary is on the ropes? Or does he have to wait until the convention? And has the media explored Wright and Rezko enough that we can call it old news?

Michael Shear: Good morning Denver.

As you say, Republicans are already beginning an effort to describe Sen. Obama as an extreme liberal. Whether that works or not has yet to be seen. It's pretty much out of the GOP playbook. Sometimes it works (think Kerry) and other times it doesn't. (think Bill Clinton). In some ways, Sen. Obama has already crafted positions that might be more palatable during a general election and less vulnerable to that charge. His health care proposals, for example, rely more upon individual responsibility than Sen. Clintons and might be tougher for Sen. McCain and Republicans to deride.

On Wright and Rezko, I suspect there will be more digging. But I do think it's probably a positive thing for Sen. Obama that the topics are explored now, rather than later, should he become the nominee.

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Annandale, VA: So you spent a couple of days with McCain, eh? Did you happen to run into 'The McCain Girls'?

Raining McCain ( YouTube)

Michael Shear: Nope. I guess I missed them this time.

I did, however, see Meghan McCain, the senator's daughter, who is blogging her experiences on the campaign trail. See a profile of her by our own Libby Copeland in yesterday's paper.

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San Franciscan in the diaspora: Don't forget to pick up a loaf or two of SF sourdough bread while you're there!

Michael Shear: I was thinking more of a box of See's Candy. But thanks for the tip.

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Floris, Va.: The pundits are saying that Senator Clinton needs to win Pennsylvania with about 65 percent of the vote. Isn't this pretty much impossible since the only state she's won with more than 60 percent is Arkansas which was not contested by the other candidates? (On the other hand, Obama has won several states with 60 percent or more, a few with over 70 percent.)

Michael Shear: As someone who has watched this election closely since about February of last year, I can honestly say I don't think anything is impossible.

But it's true that it would be quite a feat for Sen. Clinton to win Pennsylvania and the other states coming up by large enough margins to overtake Sen. Obama in the delegate race.

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washingtonpost.com: Fortunat Daughter ( Post, March 26)

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suburban Cincinnati: I'm a Republican and I'm pleased that McCain will be the nominee. I favored him back in 2000.

But the Democratic race is unbelievable.

This editorial cartoon from the Columbus Dispatch says it all:

Editorial Cartoon ( Columbus Dispatch, March 27)

I think even my Democratic friends would agree with this sentiment!

Michael Shear: Let me describe the cartoon: It pictures Hillary Clinton holding her arms out wide and saying: "The Bosnian sniper fire was at least THIS BIG." Funny.

The issue is serious for Sen. Clinton, however. Her offhand story about running through sniper fire during a visit as First Lady to Bosnia was intended to bolster her claim that she is the more experienced candidate.

Instead, when numerous news reports showed the claim to be false, the story has simply raised questions about her credibility and honest -- questions that are never good for a politician in the middle of a tough election. Just ask John Kerry, who never recovered from questions about whether he was honest about his military service.

Just as much of a problem for Sen. Clinton are questions about her current answers to the situation, which have seemed not to put an end to the controversy.

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Medford, Ore.: I haven't heard Ralph Nader's name mentioned in quite some time. Is he still going to run for president?

Michael Shear: Yes. He has said he will run for president this year. But history suggests he will have little impact. His first run, in 2000, he got several percentage points and might have made a difference in the obviously close race. In 2004, he registered a fraction of one percent.

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Anonymous: With all the attention on these campaigns, is it possible to ask a question that hasn't been asked? If so, what would it be?

Michael Shear: I haven't gotten a question about Mike Gravel's switch to the Libertarian Party.

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Re See's candies: Have you ever tried See's dark chocolate-covered marzipan? Mmmmmmmm...

Michael Shear: I favor the square, caramel-flavored lolly pops.

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Military base overseas: I, like many other Democrats I know, feel that if the wrong candidate is selected for the Democratic ticket we'd be better off voting for McCain and wouldn't hesitate to do so. Do you think McCain is banking on the split in the Democratic Party and are Clinton and Obama doing anything about it? Is this election going to be one in which the party faithfuls vote for the Democratic candidate, regardless of who it is, only to have the rest of the country vote for McCain?

Michael Shear: This is a very interesting question.

Gallup had a poll recently which suggested that a large number of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain if Obama is the nominee, and vice-versa. That would be bad news for the Democratic party, and indicate a level of animosity and bitterness about this primary that is surprising.

But I'm not sure that I believe those numbers will hold. I suspect that there's a lot of intense feeling on both sides of the Democratic primary that would fade over time, once a nominee is selected.

That's not to say that there aren't some Obama supporters who would never vote for Clinton, or who might not vote for McCain. But something tells me that there's a bunch of people who say that now, but who would come around in the end and vote Democratic.

It will be fascinating to see what happens in November.

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Taneytown, Md. : Thanks for taking questions.

I'm curious. When you travel with a candidate throughout the country, do you on a regular basis have the chance to speak directly with average voters? Because I wonder sometimes if your schedules allow you to do more than hear the same speech for the umpteenth time, and to interact only with your fellow media members.

Michael Shear: This is a very good question.

And much of what you suggest is true. Being in the "bubble," as reporters now call it, can be extremely limiting. Sometimes we literally run out of an event as soon as the candidate finishes talking to get on a bus, that takes us to a plane, where we start all over again in a new city.

In those instances, we get little opportunity to interact directly, although when Sen. McCain does a town hall meeting, we do hear the questions from the audience. Sometimes, there is more time to linger, and in those cases many of us wade into the audience to do interviews ourselves.

There is also some value in just being in different cities, seeing the crowd sizes, looking at the level of enthusiasm, the applause, etc. It can be deceiving, but it says something about how well the candidate is connecting with voters in different locations.

The best thing, in my opinion, is for reporters to get out of the bubble frequently to do stories on our own. That way, we get some perspective that isn't colored by the constant traveling with the candidate.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Did Mike Gravel switch to Libertarian? I thought he was still running as a Democrat, and Bob Barr was running as a Libertarian?

washingtonpost.com: Gravel Joins the Libertarians ( The Trail, March 26)

Michael Shear: Why, what an original question. How ever did you think of this?

Actually, I have very little to say about this, other than to confirm that, yes, he did switch after dropping out of the Democratic contest for president.

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RE: Suburban Cincinnati: I think the Hillary cartoon is great (funny), and I am a Democrat. However, I don't understand Cincinnati's logic that somehow one candidates gaffe sums up the entire Democratic race? It would be like saying John McCain's confusion about Shiites and Sunni's represents all Republican politicians. Do you agree?

Michael Shear: Yes. I agree. There's far more to this race than any one gaffe, as the history of this campaign has clearly shown.

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Huntington Beach, Calif.: I hear that there is talk that Al Gore might be the knight on the white horse (pardon the pun). Today Joe Klein raises that possibility. Do you think he could be a "compromise" candidate?

Is Al Gore the Answer? ( Time, March 26)

Michael Shear: Everything I have heard from Gore's advisers is that he has absolutely no interest in participating in the 2008 election like that. He has, for now anyway, transcended partisan politics with his film and his Nobel prize for the environmental concerns. It would seem he has little interest in stepping back into the fray.

Still, one wonders...

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Palo Alto, Calif.: My mother lives in Florida and everyone she knows there is outrage with their votes not being counted.It's the ultimate hypocrisy after what happened in 2000.

Michael Shear: The Democrats have gotten themselves into a real pickle with this issue.

Voters in Florida like your mother are clearly angry about their votes not counting at the convention. But that dilemma was created months ago, when the Democratic Party decided to punish Florida and Michigan for trying to vote earlier than the party rules allowed. It's a cruel irony that both states were trying to get more influence over the process and it now turns out that they would have had that influence had they left the voting where it was.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think of the criticism of those covering McCain that they like him so they let him off easy... sort of like Bush in 2000. Dan Abrams on MSNBC even runs a segment called: Teflon John on his show detailing how McCain is let off the hook. For example, the whole Sunni/Shiia mix up apparently isn't a single gaffe but a repeated gaffe...if this had been either Clinton or Obama, they'd be on a Fox and CNN loop. Thoughts?

Michael Shear: I think there's always some truth to these criticisms. Sen. McCain talks so much to reporters -- sometimes hours at a time -- that I'm sure we sometimes fail to catch him on things that we would clearly catch candidates who give us just a snippet or two a day.

Having said that, I take issue with your particular example. I wrote the first mention of the Sunni/Shiite mixup while following McCain across the Middle East and Europe last week, and made reference in my story to the fact that he had made the mistake several times. If you google McCain and sunni, you will find hundreds of subsequent articles, and I know that all of the major networks did stories -- I know because the McCain campaign was very upset about the whole thing.

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College Park, Md.: Hello there, good morning!

In your description of traveling with a nominee, I'm curious...does your job require you to write "x" number of articles per day/week about what is going on on the road with that candidate, and/or do you have to write any articles above that, as you see fit -- depending on what is happening? For all the reading I've done on the election, I can't say I've seen a pattern (but since it's not my job, maybe I am missing it...)

Safe journey's home!

Michael Shear: No, there's no set number of articles that I have to write on the trail. We try to make judgements about the most important news of the day and leave ourselves flexible enough to react to things that come up, or to things that a candidate says or does that are new.

What's different now is the Internet, which gives us the ability to report instantly what's going on. (This thing called an Aircard is an amazing tool. It basically gives us access to the Internet even while rolling down an icy highway in Iowa.)

In the old days (Apologies to David Broder), reporters used to file one story at the end of the day. Now, we are constantly sending items to our blogs (www.washingtonpost.com/thetrail)

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Fountain Valley, Calif.: I hear Mike Bloomberg is introducing Obama today. Do you think he could be a VP possibility, or at least a cabinet possibility?

Michael Shear: It's hard to imagine a man like Bloomberg wanting to be second-fiddle to anyone. But having said that...who knows?

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washingtonpost.com: The Trail

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Fair Oaks, Calif.: The Clinton camp now apparently is justifying Hillary by the greater number of electoral votes which accrue to the states she has won versus the states Obama has won. By a statistically insignificant margin I might add, as I recall, about 229 to 209. I assume they are including Texas. Is that so? And then if so, isn't it still possible that Obama will actually win more delegates there due to her thin vote majority -- 51 to 47 -- and his much more impressively better showing in the caucus part of the process? And if he wins more delegates how can she count this state in her electoral column? And if he gets Texas won't that revert to plus 35 or so for obama and minus this 35 for her leaving a pro-Obama total even in the electoral college count more like 244 for Obama and only about 175 for Clinton, which new figures pretty much would shoot that claim out of the water, no?

Michael Shear: Give this person the job of delegate-counter. The numbers make my head spin. (But then, I never claimed to be a math major in college.)

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New York, N.Y.: The press has been brutal about McCain's age and health issues, and Senator Obama gets away with his snide comments about McCain's "long" history. Has Barack Obama been pressured to release his medical records? As a long-time smoker and a mom who died very early from multiple cancers, why isn't he getting the scrutiny?

Michael Shear: I'm not sure I agree about the press being "brutal" about McCain's age. I think, largely, it's been a non-issue. He has not, for example, released all of his medical records, either.

I do believe that all of the candidates should be pressed to discuss their health, since Americans have a right to know whether the person they elect can perform the duties for the term they are being elected.

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Michael Shear: Hey, everyone. I'm gonna stop a few minutes early to catch my flight. Can't wait to cram into my middle seat in coach. (Newspapers aren't doing so well, if you haven't heard).

Thanks for all the interesting questions. Talk to you again soon.

Mike

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