Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Thursday, April 24, 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 chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Thursday, April 24 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.
The transcript follows.
Dan Balz: Good morning. The Democratic race goes on and on and on. And John McCain is reintroducing himself to the country. Lots of questions. Let's go ahead.
Centreville, Va.: Hello Mr. Balz. Last Thursday you co-wrote an article with Anne Kornblut covering the debate conducted on April 16 between Sens. Clinton and Obama. The article consisted of 25 paragraphs, 22 of which reported on such topics as flag pins and "gaffes, missteps and past statements that could leave them vulnerable in the general election."
Then there was the 23rd paragraph: "The debate also touched on Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, taxes, the economy, guns and affirmative action," followed by two very brief paragraphs reporting on their responses to three of these seven important topics -- gun control, the economy, and taxes -- with no information provided on their responses to the questions about Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East. Could you explain your rationale, as a political reporter, as to why you disproportionately reported on the flag pins and gaffes, and gave the important topics such short shrift?
washingtonpost.com: Obama Pressed in Pennsylvania Debate (Post, April 17)
Dan Balz: I've gotten a version of this question from many people over the past week and it's a good one. I'd offer two different responses. That paragraph was intended as a transition, but in the context of the piece as it finally ended up, it was abrupt and sounded more dismissive than intended. So that was my mistake.
More broadly, I thought that what was different about that debate was the fact that Sen. Obama underwent his first real grilling in a prime-time event. Many voters find these issues trivial or worse; others, however, do not. I thought it was worth covering what he was asked and specifically what he said in response in some detail. Frankly, given the space limitations we always face, there was less room for the policy issues discussed once we dealt fully with the first part of the debate.
In a news sense, the first half of the debate was more significant. After 20 other debates, there has been a lot of discussion of policy. The story was about one 90-minute debate, not the totality of the campaign. I know lots of people were upset with Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos for asking the questions they did and did not like the focus we put on those questions.
Naylor, Mo.: Dan, thanks for taking questions. Do the superdelegates vote at the Democratic Convention, or declare their intentions before Denver? Could it be similar to the NFL draft, where there is a certain amount of disinformation from the participants? Thanks.
Dan Balz: Superdelegates are free to state that preferences at any time, although nothing is locked in concrete until they actual cast votes at the convention. Also, superdelegates are free to change their minds at any time. I don't think there's any real effort at disinformation. It's not in the interest of superdelegates -- who are, after all, elected officials and party leaders -- to play games on this. But sometimes they do change their mind -- Rep. John Lewis of Georgia already has done so.
Sunnyvale, Calif.: Good morning. As a moderate Democrat I rarely watch Fox, but one of their pundits (a Republican consultant) recently mentioned that the back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama was very tame compared to tactics he and Rove used to pull. I tend to agree, given that the big stories are about lapel pins and endorsements, rather than Swift Boat and Willie Horton tactics. If the most negative ads so far are the 3 a.m. and Osama spots, would you agree? Am I too naive to think that once a nominee is chosen -- even if it's in July -- there's enough common ground among supporters of both camps that they'll unite behind whoever is chosen? I'm sure there are passionate supporters on both sides, but they are a very small fraction of Democrats, in my opinion.
Dan Balz: I agree with you. This is been a hard-fought contest but, except for a few instances, not as nasty and negative as some have suggested. The South Carolina debate was the toughest moment and I think both candidates came away from that with the thought of "never again." The attacks wax and wane but have not been destructive. However, there's no question that there is real animosity between the two camps and their supporters increasingly are dug in. Most neutral Democrats still believe the party can unite behind the nominee when this is over. We'll see after another six weeks.
Montgomery Village, Md.: Dan, can you help enlighten us as to how much -- or how little -- money Sen. Clinton's campaign actually has raised since Tuesday? The numbers being tossed around and presented in "spinspeak" are unbelievable. Perhaps it was $3.5 million, but to suggest that they are raising "at the rate of $10 million a day" doesn't mean they are raising or have raised $10 million.
She still is deeply in debt, there are a lot of small vendors still waiting for months to be paid, and she is in serious legal difficulty if she doesn't pay the big vendors -- Penn, etc. Her cash-on-hand is mostly for the general election. Where were all of these "new donors" hiding for the past six weeks or months? The spin is worse than an Indiana tornado tearing out of Terre Haute! Help us, please!
washingtonpost.com: With New Cash, Clinton Moves to A New Venue (Post, April 23)
Dan Balz: We do not know exactly how much she's raised and won't for awhile, until the next round of Federal Election Commission reports. Campaigns make claims all the time about these things. Where did these folks come from? I think it's clear that there is a lot of passion for Sen. Clinton's candidacy, just as there is for Sen. Obama's. She still is at a financial disadvantage against Obama, but the victory in Pennsylvania certainly has helped her. I don't know that this is all just spin from the campaign, and I also don't think we have suggested that she is raising and will continue to raise at the rate of $10 million a day.
Chicago: Thanks for taking my question. What, if anything, do you think was the key turning point that caused Clinton to go from being the prohibitive favorite to be elected president back in 2007 to being on life support even after an impressive win in Pennsylvania? I think that there was something about that debate where she flip-flopped on the "drivers licenses for illegal immigrants" question that started her on the path to where she is today. Do you agree, or would you point to some other factor(s) or event(s) that caused such a seismic shift in her support?
Dan Balz: Good question. You have pointed to one important moment, which was the first Philadelphia debate. It was only about two minutes near the very end, but it began the unraveling. Clinton advisers look back on that and see it as a critical moment. Second, her loss in Iowa changed the whole race. Had she won Iowa, she might already be the nominee. Third, Obama's victory in South Carolina -- particularly the size of his victory margin -- gave him a burst that again changed the race. So those are three key moments. Finally, her campaign's failure to play more effectively in the caucus states has cost her dearly in the delegate race.
John Edwards: Any thoughts on whether John Edwards will issue an endorsement prior to the North Carolina primary? Or campaign with either candidate? Is he a superdelegate?
Dan Balz: I think there is little chance that John Edwards will endorse before North Carolina.
New York: Dan, in your opinion is it possible for a candidate to hit an opponent hard or aggressively fend off attacks, and still keep to the high road? I've been waiting for Obama (for whom I voted in our primary) to show us how, but he seems so flummoxed these days. Is there a politician in the recent past who has done this successfully? Thanks for the chat.
Dan Balz: It's very hard and I can't think of anyone in recent campaigns who has been able to do this. The key for any candidate is to find a way to fight through the toughest moments of a campaign -- and any competitive election has them -- without completely surrendering to negativity or self-pity or anger or however someone might characterize it. There are times when a candidate must respond to attacks. There are other times when a candidate feels the need to attack -- they call it drawing contrasts. But ultimately voters prefer candidates who are, on balance, optimistic, hopeful, upbeat.
Obama camp's predictions: I remember that around two months ago there was an Obama camp memo that was (accidentally?) leaked that laid out the path to the nomination. From what I remember, they accurately had predicted every state but Maine. Do we know how that memo viewed Pennsylvania and the rest of the upcoming races? Thanks!
Dan Balz: I don't have the memo with me at the moment so don't hold me to this but my recollection is that the Obama campaign anticipated losing Pennsylvania but not by as much as he did. They projected victories in North Carolina, Oregon, Guam, Montana and South Dakota. I think they foresaw Clinton victories in West Virginia and Kentucky. Indiana was pretty much a toss-up, particularly in terms of delegates.
Seattle: I am an Obama supporter who has been attracted to the candidate primarily because of the "transparency in government" plank of his platform, but I keep reading that Obama is not very accessible to the media. Is this a function of "running out the clock" and not wanting to make a mistake, or has his campaign been this way all along?
Dan Balz: The reporters who travel with Sen. Obama on a daily basis can answer this better than I. He has done more press conferences recently -- but not every day by any means. He does lots of very short interviews with local radio, television and newspapers, but these run only five minutes or so each. He has not done a lot of long, sit-down interviews.
Elizabeth Edwards: How is her health these days? We never seem to hear anything about her anymore.
Dan Balz: Elizabeth Edwards is leading a pretty active life. She just spent some time at the Kennedy School at Harvard as a fellow. She will be working at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank in Washington, where she'll focus on health care policy. She has told people she feels good. She is less visible in part because her husband is not running for president anymore.
San Diego: Hey, Dan -- Ben Smith of Politico has an interesting blog post right now pointing out that Clinton has, over the course of the campaign, made a few statements that could be considered foreign policy gaffes (a joke she made about the New Zealand Prime Minister, comments made about Putin not having a soul, speculating that Musharraf had Bhutto killed, praising Gordon Brown for his nonexistent Olympic boycott, talking about obliterating Iran with nukes, etc.). He speculates that because these stories don't fit into the existing narrative about Clinton, they aren't covered as a narrative but as single, small incidents. Do you think that's true? Why haven't there been more questions about her foreign policy "chops"?
washingtonpost.com: A flap in New Zealand (Politico, April 24)
Dan Balz: I haven't seen Ben's posting. Why any one of these has not gotten much attention is, I suspect, in part because there were other things competing for attention. There is so much information flowing at any moment in this campaign that on a daily or hourly basis, some things disappear pretty quickly. But there have been some broader stories about her foreign policy experience or expertise that have raised questions about whether it is all she and her campaign have claimed.
St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Dan -- thank you for taking my question and for your insights. I saw Sen. McCain deliver what I thought was a rather tepid plea to the North Carolina Republicans not to run their Rev. Wright ad, and apparently they're rebuffing him. Is there really anything he can do? And while it certainly doesn't help Sen. Obama, doesn't it also undercut McCain's effort to appear moderate and reach out, and to avoid the Rovian/Atwater tactics that the public is supposedly so tired of?
washingtonpost.com: Republicans Broadcast Strategy With New Ads (Post, April 24)
Dan Balz: There is only so much that Sen. McCain or any candidate can do about an ad like that. The state parties -- or independent entities -- can pretty much do what they want. If a candidate remains silent in such circumstances, they look like they're condoning the attack. If they ask for it to be taken down and are rebuffed, they look weak or even disingenuous. I take McCain at his word that he's prefer to see the ad removed, but can understand the skepticism people on all sides of these kinds of issues have about the way this all goes down.
Wilmington, Del.: I think what bothers you liberals most about the "extreme" ad is that it's impossible to call it "Swift-Boating." After all, this is not competing sets of 30-year-old memories -- it's the actual words of Obama's spiritual mentor. Not taken out of context, not twisted -- the actual meaning and intent. And you liberals want to call The Wright Stuff old news. You want to forget it. Well that ad is nothing -- imagine a barrage of ads featuring Wright, Rezko, Ayers and Farrakhan, all speaking in their own words. Don't the American people have the right to know who Obama associates with?
Dan Balz: Here is another view of the North Carolina ad. Posted without comment.
Dan Balz: Thanks to everyone. We're out of time. We appreciate everyone's interest in the campaign and keep the good questions coming. Have a great week.
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