Post Politics Hour

Dan Balz
Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz. (Julia Ewan - Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Monday, June 30, 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 Monday, June 30 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone and happy Fourth of July week. We're hearing lots about patriotism on the campaign trail already, with Sen. Obama about to speak on the subject in Independence, Mo. John McCain heads to Colombia and Mexico this week. Obama will go abroad soon, details TBD. We'll get to your questions. Thanks for joining in the discussion.


Silver Spring, Md.: Is John McCain really using "a Google" to vet his vice presidential hopefuls? When I did "a Google" (actually several), I learned that Tim Pawlenty is the current frontrunner. Is that what you get from your Google these days, Dan?

Dan Balz: I suspect Sen. McCain was joking, at least in part. But everyone uses search engines for basic research, and I wouldn't be surprised if the vice presidential vetters for both campaigns are using them for basic kinds of information about potential candidates. When the candidates narrow their lists to a few serious contenders, the requests for information will be directly to those people. The real contenders will be required to fill out detailed financial and other disclosure forms. That information probably isn't readily available through "a Google."


San Diego: Morning, Dan - I have to say, I'm a little surprised that McCain's failure to pay property taxes in America's Finest City (I'm not biased, I swear) hasn't garnered more attention. There's nothing in The Post so far, and there was no mention of it on the morning show I watch. I mean, failure to pay taxes -- even when fairly insignificant -- have felled campaigns in the past. While I wouldn't expect that to happen in this case, I'm just surprised that so few appear to be reporting on it.

Dan Balz: Newsweek reported this, and after bringing it to the attention of the McCains, the bills apparently were paid off. This is certainly an embarrassment, but it may be a relatively minor embarrassment. I assume it will get more coverage, but not a huge amount.


Boonsboro, Md.: Over the weekend Wesley Clark (and some left-wing bloggers) attacked McCain's time as a POW calling him "untested and untried." Do they really think this is a winner?

Dan Balz: I don't think the Obama campaign believes it is a winning strategy. Gen. Clark sometimes says intemperate things, and that seems to be the case here. Obama advisers don't show any interest in embracing his criticism. Now, you could argue that they're happy to try to have it both ways, but I suspect they wish Gen. Clark had held his tongue. John McCain often has joked that it doesn't take any military talent to get shot down, but it's one thing for a candidate to joke about himself and another for someone like Gen. Clark to try to make a serious point about it.


Fairfax, Va.: We get it, people believe false things about Obama. However the left is starting to spread false rumors about McCain committing war crimes during Vietnam. I would hope The Post would spend equal time to quash the rumors about a Republican as well.

Dan Balz: What have you seen on this? Have you gotten e-mails on this or anything like that?


Washington: After watching Nader on ABC on Sunday, have Obama's people thought of trying to meet with Nader and -- for lack of a better term -- "cut a deal"? I remember hearing in 2004 that Nader offered Kerry some deal, where if Kerry would promote one of 10 issues from a list Nader offered him, he would not run. Kerry said no, and wasted millions of dollars trying to keep Nader off the ballot. Maybe this time the smart, cheaper move is to say yes?

Dan Balz: I don't recall serious talk of a deal between Ralph Nader and John Kerry in 2004, and can't imagine such a thing happening this year. Nader runs to advance ideas and issues he feels are not getting adequate attention from the other candidates. It's pretty unlikely that Sen. Obama would embrace enough of the Nader agenda to make a deal possible. This seems a nonstarter to me.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Eli Saslow's article in today's Post about widespread distrust of Barack Obama in Findlay, Ohio, is a dog-bites-man kind of story. Findlay is one of the most Republican cities in the country, and it should have been described as such in the article. Without this description, the article is an editorial column posing as news. Aren't articles in the news section supposed to be unbiased? In Flag City USA, False Obama Rumors Are Flying (Post, June 30)

Dan Balz: I thought this was a very good story. Even if Findlay is heavily Republican, the phenomenon Eli wrote about is something we've seen in other places this year. I don't see the piece in any way as an editorial column posing as news, as you suggest.


Rockville, Md.: For all the lack of impact on the national political environment, we might as well not even have conventions this year. Is there a local effect that I am missing, or have they faded into the past? I think they have a physical effect on those who are the most active, and indeed lead to compromise and cooperation.

Dan Balz: Conventions have one major purpose, and that is to show off the nominee of the party. That has been true now for many years. Conventions once were used both to nominate a candidate and to conduct some other business. In the past, delegates debated platform planks and sometimes had heated arguments about these things, but today the nominees and the parties want nothing but positive images -- no arguments, no disagreements and everything according to script. That's one reason the major networks have cut back on their prime time coverage.

But the conventions still serve a purpose, for the way a candidate chooses to present him or herself is still vitally important. There are many people who believe, for example, that John Kerry missed an opportunity four years ago because he spent so much time on his biography and not enough on what he would do as president.

You ask about the local effect. Parties choose convention cities with an eye toward affecting the politics of those particular states. George W. Bush picked Philadelphia in 2000 in part as a way to try to win Pennsylvania. He failed. The Democrats picked Denver for this year's convention because they want to compete in Colorado and several other states in the Mountain West.


Washington: Hi Dan. I love these chats. So has anyone asked Sen. McCain why he tells Hispanic audiences that he still favors a path to citizenship for illegal aliens while he tells Anglo audiences that he opposes such a policy? (And even claims that he will vote against his own bill!) Thanks. Candidates Court Latino Leaders (Post, June 29)

Dan Balz: Glad you enjoy the chats. McCain still favors a path to legalization; what has changed is his position on the timing. Once, he wanted to make that a part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill -- but he changed positions last year after getting hammered during the immigration debate. He now wants to attend to border security first. Once that is under control, he says he would move to deal with the millions of undocumented workers in the country. Unlike some Republicans, he does not favor sending them all back, but there's no question that his emphasis has changed, and he readily admits that.


Washington: In response to Gen. Clark's comments, how does McCain's time as a POW help him in making decisions on national defense? I agree with Clark in some respects. McCain's POW status equaling foreign policy relevance is so off-limits to question these days, and I don't understand why. It's in the same boat as the catch word of "patriotism," and "wanting to withdraw from Iraq means you don't support our troops." McCain's history should be challenged, and he should justify how his experience has made him better-equipped to be the foreign policy expert the GOP is suggesting he is.

Dan Balz: It's clear from the questions this morning that we have a number of people who are not admirers of John McCain, so I'll wrap several submissions into one answer here. McCain's five-plus years as a POW in Vietnam speaks to character and there are not many people who have read about that experience who don't come away with respect for how he handled himself (along with his fellow prisoners). It is why he is described as a hero.

That isn't the basis on which he is saying he is ready to be president. He has a long record of service in the Congress, which is the more relevant experience he cites as showing his readiness to be president. Sen. Obama never has disparaged McCain's military service, nor has he questioned whether McCain has the experience to be president -- his disagreement is with McCain's policies, and it is on that basis that they will be fighting for the White House.


Salinas, Calif.: Hi Dan. So, which third-party candidate will do the most damage in drawing votes from the major party candidates, Ralph Nader from Barack Obama, or Bob Barr from John McCain? Or do you think their impacts be negligible this cycle?

Dan Balz: Neither seems a huge threat right now. Some people think -- and the Obama people hope -- that Bob Barr will draw more votes in his home state of Georgia, which might make that state marginally competitive. Ralph Nader's share dropped significantly between 2000 and 2004 and it doesn't look like he has picked up much since his last run.


Oak Park, Mich.: This may be a naive question, but what happened to the Unity08 movement? Letter from the board of directors of Unity08.

Dan Balz: The movement for a third-party candidate under the Unity08 umbrella took a hit when the Republicans settled on John McCain and the Democrats settled on Barack Obama. Neither fit the profile of the fire-breathing partisan who would leave a gaping hole in the center of the electorate. Now, the start of their general election campaign may leave some people wondering whether they have lapsed into habits of partisanship they previously had promised to get beyond, but because both have made winning support among independents such a central part of their candidacies, they've taken up a lot of the ground that the Unity08 team saw originally.


New Orleans: Dan, is it me, or does there appear to be a lull in this race? The coverage is still 24-hours, but it appears the Obama-Clinton race had more energy and sort of sapped it out of this one. If you agree, who does such a lull favor, Obama or McCain?

Dan Balz: There is a lull and perhaps understandably so. The contest between Sens. Obama and Clinton was so compelling to so many voters that it's natural for everyone -- candidates included -- to catch their breath right now. Both Obama and Sen. McCain have been following more relaxed schedules in recent weeks, and while they have had some vigorous exchanges, the campaign hasn't reached the pitch or pace of the Democratic nomination battle. But things will pick up this summer.


Dan Balz: Thanks to everyone for participating. We're out of time for today. Have a great week.


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