Post Politics Hour
Monday, April 14, 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.
Chris Cillizza, washingtonpost.com political blogger, was online Monday, April 14 at 11 a.m. ET.
Read Chris Cillizza's blog, The Fix
The transcript follows.
Chris Cillizza: Good morning all. It's Chris Cillizza here, filling in for intrepid political reporter Shailagh Murray, who is busy on the trail.
What a weekend! Sen. Barack Obama's comments about small town voters and their tendency to "cling" to guns and religion caused a huge uproar in the political community.
Everything is now pointing to the debate between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) on Wednesday night in Philadelphia between the two Democratic candidates.
In the meantime, let's get to the questions.
(Side note: Fix soundtrack for this chat -- "Nebraska" by Springsteen. So good.)
Dryden, N.Y.: What do you think of the video of Clinton drinking shots in a bar? Was I the only person who saw it as a sort of a "wind surfing in reverse" moment -- posed, phony, etc.? Also, did the Clinton camp release information on how many shots were consumed and the number of beer chasers? If not, will you please ask at the next press conference?
washingtonpost.com: Clinton With Whiskey (YouTube)
Chris Cillizza: Good question. Obama actually is hitting Clinton on that moment, according to my colleague Perry Bacon Jr.
"Around election time, the candidates can't do enough for you," Obama told a manufacturing group this morning in Pittsburgh. "They'll promise you anything, give you a long list of proposals and even come around, with TV crews in tow, to throw back a shot and a beer."
Ouch. I wonder who he could be talking about?
It seems to me that drinking a beer and doing a shot in a bar in Pennsylvania is akin to eating a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair or tucking into a big plate of pancakes at some greasy spoon diner in New Hampshire.
They are all slightly awkward rites of passage candidates must go through to convince voters they are indeed "one of them."
So, Clinton's shot-taking didn't strike me as particularly newsworthy or damaging. Am I right or wrong? Let me know.
Buffalo, N.Y.: In all the brouhaha over Obama's "bitter" comments, it seems like there is a conflation of two things: First is his statement that many people are bitter about the way things have gone in the past several decades. Second is his observation linking that to support for issues such as immigration control, gun rights and all the rest. It seems to me that at least the first part -- that a lot of people are bitter and feel they have been poorly served by their politicians -- is undeniably correct. It is, after all, the basis for the "outsider" status every serious presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter has tried to assume. Do you think many of Obama's critics inadvertently are demonstrating their own "out-of-touchness" by denying the bitter part of Obama's statement rather than focusing on the at best odd argument that such bitterness leads to embrace of religion, etc.?
Chris Cillizza: I think that's a good way of looking at it.
That folks in small towns devastated by the current economic conditions and a series of trade deals are angry and even resentful about the current state of their lives seems undeniably true -- based on scads of polling data on the subject.
(Obama has acknowledged that "bitter" was probably a poor choice of words to describe how these people are feeling but defended the sentiment behind his words.)
Tying that unhappiness to a person's belief in a higher power or the right to own a gun is a far more controversial and politically perilous statement.
While the "bitter" part of Obama's comments have drawn most of the attention in the first 72 hours of the controversy, my guess is that the statement about folks clinging to religion or guns will ultimately be the more difficult thing for him to explain.
And so, yes, I think that to the extent Obama's critics focus solely on the "bitter" comments they miss the broader point; people are angry and unhappy about the current state of the lives.
But, they do not likely see their faith or their belief in Second Amendment do well to focus far more on that portion of his statement -- from a purely political perspective.
Washington: Chris, Help me out. I am trying to think of one time that Clinton and/or campaign have hit Obama with a negative attack where it worked out in her favor? Has there been one?
Chris Cillizza: I would argue that the "3 am" ad that ran in Texas before that state's March 4 primary proved effective in trying to raise doubts in voters' minds about Obama's readiness to serve as commander in chief.
The ad only ran in Texas but drew national attention and almost certainly also influenced voters in Ohio as well.
Clinton's wins in those two primaries (Obama won the Texas caucuses) kept her campaign afloat and ensured that she would be able to carry the fight into and through Pennsylvania next Tuesday.
It wasn't exactly a "negative" ad since it never mentioned Obama by name but the insinuation was clear. And exit polling showed late-deciding voters breaking heavily for Clinton, a sign, perhaps, of the power of the ad.
Baltimore: Watching Obama and Hillary argue over who's more pro-gun conjures up images of a Western. It's high noon ... Hillary steps into a dusty street, spurs jangling. Obama stares at her and tips his 10 gallon hat back. "Draw, you rustler!" she snarls. They both pull their six-gun and fire -- and each shoots their own foot. Can anyone take them seriously on this issue? It's like Dukakis in a tank with these two. Why not be honest and admit they're anti-gun? Is it that politically radioactive?
Chris Cillizza: I am actually working on a Fix post on that very issue for later today -- so stay tuned!
But, briefly, the Democratic Party realized in the late 1990s that there was absolutely nothing to be gained from continually trying to pass more restrictive gun control measures.
Americans all across the country -- and particularly in the plains, south and southwest -- valued their right to own a gun and saw Democrats' opposition to gun ownership as a stand-in for the lack of association with the average person.
So, Democrats went away from talking about gun control at the national level and even began supporting candidates (Heath Shuler, Jason Altmire, etc.) who were pro-Second Amendment.
Obama's comments -- and Clinton's response -- drags this gun control debate back into the light of day, exactly where Democrats don't want it heading into the November general election.
Arlington, Va.: Regarding the shot: she didn't actually shoot it. It took her a few sips, and quite frankly there was nothing awkward about it, so I doubt it was her first time!
Chris Cillizza: As someone incapable -- even in my college days -- of shooting a shot, I am willing to give Clinton a pass on that one. At least she didn't order a Courvoisier like Sargent Shriver back in '72!
Herndon, Va.: Isn't it interesting when politicians accidentally say what they think? Obama really does seem to have a pretty limited worldview. All rural voters are not gun-totin' rubes who burn crosses on the weekends. But I find his stereotype of rural Pennsylvanians pretty funny -- he's combined racism, gun ownership, and anti-immigrant attitudes with religion as byproducts of economic suffering. Uhhh ... hasn't the guy learned to keep his mouth shut about religion yet?
washingtonpost.com: Obama Reinforcing Stereotypes, Clinton Asserts (Post, April 14)
Chris Cillizza: One perspective on the Obama "Bitter-gate" controversy.....are their counter-perspectives out there?
Anonymous: Chris, I enjoy you on "Hardball." What must Obama do on Wednesday night to get past the "bitter" controversy?
Chris Cillizza: Mental note: Easiest way to get your chat question answered is to lavish praise on my television appearances.
I kid, sort of.
I think for Obama to effectively deal with the controversy over his comments he needs to decide what tact he is going to take in dealing with them.
Over the past 72 hours, he has fluctuated between defiant and remorseful, having apparently settled on defiant as the week begins.
Watch for Obama to try and condemn Clinton's comments on the issues as nothing more than political opportunism -- seeking to re-establish the change versus more of the same frame through which the Illinois senator hopes Democratic voters see this election.
Clinton, on the other hand, will continue to make the case that Obama's comments put him squarely in the mold of Al Gore and John Kerry -- two good men who were too easily caricatured by Republicans as out of touch.
Remember that Clinton is making her case at this point as much to superdelegates as to voters in Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina.
Superdelegates will decide this race one way or the other and both candidates are well aware of that fact. Clinton must sow doubt among these superdelegates about Obama's electability. Watch for her to try and to just that on Wednesday night.
Centreville Va: I can't wait for Hillary to go after Obama in the Pennsylvania debate. Now we'll see how tough she is! If she wants to fight for the presidency, this is her chance. She should attack Obama -- he opened the door, and she should slam it on him. It's her responsibility. The media wants to turn the page; she has to turn the spotlight on his views. She still can win!
Chris Cillizza: Well, you might just get you wish. Remember that this is the first time the two candidates have debated in 50 days, meaning that they may well be raring to go on Wednesday night.
The rhetoric between the two candidates on the stump has jumped perceptibly over the last 72 hours with Clinton insisting Obama's comments are "elitist" and Obama pushing back that Clinton "knows better."
That could well set the stage -- literally -- for a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Obama and Clinton on Wednesday.
In thinking back on the three one on one debate the duo has had (Los Angeles, Austin and Cleveland), none of those three encounters were particularly nasty or sharp-edged.
That could well change Wednesday night -- a recognition of how much is at stake in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Washington: Re: Clinton's leaping on the bitter issue ... I wonder what her overall point is? Does she think Obama is more out of touch with average Americans than she is at a cool $100 million? Does she think he is more out of touch with Americans than the Bush-supporting John McCain?
Chris Cillizza: The Clinton's significant personal wealth, according to some party strategists, make her a decidedly flawed messenger to make the case that Obama is out of touch with average voters.
In our experience, voters tend not to care all that much about a candidate's personal wealth in terms of a political campaign. Remember back to 2007 when many in the media assumed that John Edwards never would be able to sell himself as a voice of poor Americans because of his considerable personal wealth?
Edwards came up short for his bid for the Democratic nomination but it's hard to blame that on people not trusting his populist message. In fact, people seemed to respond quite well to the idea of a man from humble upbringing who had gain wealth but never forgotten about where he came from.
We shall see if Clinton's wealth hamstrings her attempts to draw a contrast with Obama on the issue. My guess is it won't.
Bethesda, Md.: Chris you were brilliant on "Countdown" -- now answer my question, please! If Obama wins North Carolina and Clinton wins Pennsylvania narrowly, won't the superdelegates look like spoilers taking away the gifts from the kiddies on Christmas if they suddenly shift support to Clinton because of the whole "bitter" thing?
Chris Cillizza: I haven't been on "Countdown" in weeks -- but I appreciate the thought :)
I think that for Clinton to eventually claim the nomination, she needs a convincing win in Pennsylvania (eight percentage points), a win in Indiana and maybe a surprise along the way -- North Carolina, maybe.
The only way for Clinton to be able to convince superdelegates to overturn the pledged delegates (and likely the popular vote) is to prove that the race is essentially too close to call -- meaning that superdelegates must make a reasoned decision about which candidate is better equipped to beat Sen. John McCain in the fall.
Arlington, Va.: I don't think Obama has much room to criticize Hillary for doing shots -- after all, he spent a good deal of time driving around Pennsylvania bowling, visiting diners, etc. They all do these ridiculous stunts to appear more like real people -- and apparently we require them to do so because the American people are voting for a friend they can have a beer with instead of the person who has to do the world's most difficult job. Why don't we want "elite" people running our government? Why has that become such a dirty word? We have to be the most immature country in the world.
Chris Cillizza: Another perspective on the rites of passage.
McLean, Va.: Yes, let's please have Senator Clinton, a graduate of Wellesley who's spent most of her life living off the public as a politician's wife and whose family made $100 million in the past five years, attack Sen. Obama for being "elitist." I'm looking forward to her explaining why she's now against NAFTA after she was for it. While she's at it, she can explain why she's against the trade pact with Colombia while her campaign strategist (whom she didn't really fire, she just made it look like she did) was out there trying to get it passed. We'll try to make sure there's no sniper fire anywhere near the debate site so she can get there safely.
Chris Cillizza: Sen. Obama,
Thanks for taking time out of your hectic schedule to join us on the chat.
Washington: Why did McCain decline the invitation to join last night's "Compassion Forum" or "Compassion Debate" or "Compassion Bowl" (per Candy Crowley) or whatever it was called? Just nothing to be gained for him at this point?
Chris Cillizza: I am honestly not sure since I think it would have been a good way for him to talk about his faith -- a relatively unexplored portion of his biography to date.
Also, this question contains the phrase "Compassion Bowl." That is genius.
Confused: Okay ... let's get to the Senate races. What is Rob Andrews smoking? Is there any reason to believe he can beat Lautenberg? I've been amazed to see a well respected congressman in one of the safest seats in the House seemingly self-destruct in the past week.
Chris Cillizza: Okay ... a couple of Senate questions stacked up ... let's get to them before we run out of time.
For the uninitiated, Rep. Rob Andrews decided last week to challenge Sen. Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey's Democratic primary -- a highly unusual development in a state where party bosses and organizations run everything.
Andrews is a long shot as he has struggled to expand his base of support outside of southern New Jersey. Lautenberg has the backing of the north Jersey political establishment, the national party and all of Andrews' House colleagues.
What is Andrews thinking? He has been pining to make a statewide run since losing a gubernatorial primary in 1997 and likely sees a change electorate in this cycle as giving him his best shot.
And, if he loses, Andrews has already run once for the Senate -- positioning him, in theory, to be at the front of the line when the seat eventually comes open.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Chris. May I ask a Virginia Senate race question? Have Jim Gilmore and Bob Marshall released their financials for the first quarter yet? How much money have they raised, and how much do they have in the bank? Seems the only candidate touting his fundraising prowess is Mark Warner.
Chris Cillizza: Neither Marshall nor Gilmore have released their fundraising figures just yet but you can bet they will be considerably less than the $2.5 million former governor Mark Warner (D) raised for his Senate campaign in the first three months of 2008.
Marshall and Gilmore are both pointing to the state party convention in May, a gathering that will choose the nominee against Warner. (A story in The Post over the weekend suggested Marshall may be more competitive at the convention than first thought. Here's the link.)
Regardless of whether Republicans nominate Marshall or Gilmore, Warner is a heavy favorite this fall. The real question in the race is whether he would accept the vice presidential nod if it was offered by either Obama or Clinton. Methinks the answer is yes.
Chris Cillizza: Folks, that's it for today.
Thanks for taking the time and make sure to check out The Fix early and often for the latest and greatest on campaign politics.
Thank you and good day.
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