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Dan Balz
Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz. (Julia Ewan - Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)

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Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Wednesday, July 9, 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 Wednesday, July 9 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Dan Balz: Good morning. I'm filling in for Anne Kornblut, who is away today. Thanks for joining in today. We'll go right to your questions.

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Washington: Dan, what is your take on the McCain "Love" Ad? As a Gen X-er in her mid-30s (who knows her history) I find it a bit one-sided. The '60s are over -- what do they have to do with this year's election, really? Sure, I was not alive at the time, but I know the '60s were more than just Vietnam and hippies! Your take? Is it out of touch, or a smart ad?

washingtonpost.com: The Trail: McCain Campaigns Against '60s in New Spot (washingtonpost.com, July 8)

Dan Balz: It is a theme that McCain used pretty successfully during the Republican primaries, when he used his opposition to federal funding for the Woodstock museum to remind people where he was at the time of the Woodstock rock festival. He didn't attend, he said, because "I was tied up." The ad is an effort to introduce or reintroduce McCain to people and to remind them of his lifetime of public service and to emphasize what his advisers believe is his strongest attribute, which is a combination of courage and character and a willingness to take on fights that he believes in, regardless of whether they offend those in his party or not. Because Obama is not really identified with the '60s (in the way that, say, Hillary Clinton would have been if she were the Democratic nominee), there is no real direct comparison between McCain's link to that decade and Obama's.

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Columbia, Md.: Putting aside the question of who will be picked, do we have any real sense of how close the two campaigns are to the actual selection of a vice presidential candidate, and where they each are in the process?

Dan Balz: I think all we can reasonably say is that the process is moving forward as you would expect. The two campaigns appear to be moving from stage one -- which is to cast a wide net, consult with a lot of people, do preliminary vetting on a bunch of people and allow a long list of names to be floated into the public domain -- to stage two, which is to begin to narrow the list and to begin more serious vetting of those who may be serious candidates. This process is always opaque, though that does not stop everyone from speculating wildly about what's going on. When done properly it is a closely held operation, and that appears to be the case this time. My hunch is that neither candidate is that close to a decision at this point. Neither has to make a decision soon, so unless they've decided there is some strategic value in doing so now, I wouldn't expect to hear anything until August.

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Prescott, Ariz.: How do you think John McCain's assertion that Social Security is a "disgrace" will play out? If I remember correctly, George Bush's tour in support of Social Security privatization broke the dike on making it okay to despise the guy, and his approval rating has dropped ever since.

washingtonpost.com: McCain Campaign's Prepared Speech for Denver Town Hall Meeting with Question and Answer Session (AP, July 7)

Dan Balz: I would expect some clarification of that comment, although I was looking this morning for the full text of what Sen. McCain said. I've seen mostly the shortened version, and on that basis he'll likely want to "revise and extend," as they say on Capitol Hill. I would suspect that the point he was trying to make in calling the system a disgrace is the fact that with fewer workers paying the cost of Social Security for more and more retirees, the system is out of balance. That's a fact, which is why the system needs reform.

Your question on privatization is another issue. President Bush tried and failed to make that case in 2005. It is one reason, but hardly the whole reason, that his approval ratings began to go downhill. Remember that Iraq and Katrina contributed even more to his decline. The president showed that a candidate can favor privatization and still win an election, but he failed to show that he could win the battle in Congress to enact his plan.

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Boston: Dan, with Jim Webb out of the running and Wes Clark effectively off the table, who do you think has made it to the vetting phase of the Obama veepstakes? It seems like Sam Nunn's stock has risen a bit lately. Is he really a serious contender?

Dan Balz: I remain dubious about Sam Nunn as a potential vice presidential pick, although I've been so wrong about these things through the years that I'm prepared to be wrong again. Sen. Nunn is a distinguished elder statesman of the Democratic Party, but when Sen. Obama says the real choice in this election is not left or right but future and past, Sen. Nunn clearly tips the scales on the side of past, not future. Also, Sen. Nunn was a very fine senator, but not someone who took to the rough-and-tumble of campaigns and elections, particularly at the presidential level.

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Oak Park, Mich.: As a veteran political reporter, can you think of the last time that a governor was elected vice president? I was wondering because of all the governors being mentioned as vice presidential candidates. I realize that it is rare for a senator to lead the ticket, but I wonder if the fact that governors are used to leading is a factor that these candidates should consider. (As you know, Nelson Rockefeller was not elected.)

washingtonpost.com: Spiro Agnew (Wikipedia)

Dan Balz: You're right on the relative paucity of governors as vice presidential candidates, but I think you put your finger on the reason. Governors have been the presidential nominees so often that the vice presidential running mates have been drawn from other ranks. Given the unusual situation of two senators at the top of the tickets, we might see a change this year in vice presidential choices. It certainly appears that both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain are looking at governors or former governors, at least preliminarily.

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Philadelphia: Now that veepstakes chatter has died down a bit ... is it possible that the Democratic vice presidential nominee will be visually minimized more than any other in recent memory? I mean that in a very literal way. We're accustomed to seeing the campaigns "re-logo" to accommodate the vice president along with the presidential nominee, but I'm not sure that I see the "Obama" name yielding much ground to a Richardson, Nunn, Biden, Bayh, Hegel or whomever ... your speculative thoughts on the post-veep Obama brand?

Dan Balz: I think in the end the "brand" is almost entirely defined by the presidential nominee, not the ticket. In 1992, Bill Clinton's selection of Al Gore gave a generational brand to the Democratic ticket that was quite valuable, although in the end the election was much more about whether to deny George H.W. Bush another term, which the country was clearly ready to do. Vice presidential choices matter, but by the end of October, voters will focus mostly on the choice of Obama vs. McCain.

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Southwest Pennsylvania: It's still almost four months to the general election, and we're already being inundated in the Pittsburgh media market with commercials for both McCain and Obama. I'm sick of these ads already, but realize the campaigns haven't even really ginned up yet, and am so dreading the post-convention advertising. I'll be voting for my party's candidate in any event, but wonder if you think there's a real risk of a viewer backlash that could turn off less-dedicated voters? Is this just the result of too much campaign money being available, or a reallocation of resources, or going into debt to out-do the other candidate's ad buys? Make the madness stop!

Dan Balz: You're right about the amounts of money floating around. It makes it too easy for campaigns to spend freely on television ads and everything else. You have a long summer and fall ahead of you!

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Fairfax, Va.: Bush didn't exactly talk about privatization during the 2004 campaign. Also, does it make sense to try to tie Obama to the '60s when he was, you know, less than 10 years old?

Dan Balz: He certainly talked less about it than he claimed once he was re-elected. But in 2000 he put it on the agenda in a way other candidates had not done, and still won the election. And while he didn't talk about it as much as he talked about the war on terror in 2004, it was clearly part of his agenda.

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Chicago: Traditionally, presidential nominees have shifted to the center gradually. Do you think Obama may have moved too fast or too far? If so, what are the possible positives and negatives?

Dan Balz: It is common, as you suggest, for candidates to moderate their positions as they move from the primaries to the general election. Has Obama moved too fast or too far? Certainly for some on the left, his decision to vote for the FISA bill today is a move too far. On other issues, the shifts put him closer to majority opinion in the country. The test is how well he can explain his views, whether they seem consistent with the broader philosophy that he's articulated or whether it looks like pure pandering.

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San Francisco: Hi Dan, thanks for taking questions. So what are we to make of McCain's latest poor taste joke about Iran? While he clearly wasn't being serious, saying regarding cigarette exports to Iran that "maybe that's a way of killing them" is pretty shocking to me. It implies that he sees that country (and presumably others) as a monolithic, evil entity that we should be working to kill. That kind of simplistic worldview is extremely troubling to me.

Dan Balz: I think it was just a joke. It may have been inartful, which is why Cindy McCain reacted the way she did, but I'd be wary of reading too much into it.

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Memphis, Tenn.: Two questions: First can you explain why a lot of folks in the media claim Obama "flip-flopped" on Iraq when his stance is the same? Second, if the Iraqis stand by their position of a timetable for withdrawal, will John McCain and the Bush administration call them defeatists?

washingtonpost.com: Candidates Refine Their Stances on a Changing Iraq (Post, July 9)

Dan Balz: Sen. Obama kicked up the controversy with his remarks last week about refining his position on Iraq after consulting with military commanders on the ground when he visits later this summer. He was concerned enough about the interpretations that he came back a second time to clarify. The broader issue is how he assesses the effects of the troop surge policy, which he opposed strongly when President Bush proposed it. Does he think it was successful militarily? Does he think it has made it easier for the United States to withdraw troops, or does he worry that the kind of timetable he has talked about might bring about a reversal of some of the security gains? If the surge was successful, what does he now think of his opposition? There are obviously lots of questions about how the past 16 months might affect his view of his 16-month timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

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Warrenton, Va.: Do you think Obama's decision to give his convention speech in a 70,000-plus-seat arena, as opposed to a 20,000-seat arena, may send the wrong message, or reinforce the stereotype that he's too big for his own britches?

Dan Balz: I had not thought of that interpretation of the decision to move the acceptance speech to a larger stadium. It seemed a way to bring in a larger audience, and an audience of people who were not party insiders, so to speak.

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McCain's joke: I'm all for not raking someone over the coals for making a bad joke. It happens. But it seems to happen to McCain an awful lot. And he has joked about killing and bombing Iran more than once. It just seems really inappropriate for a president to make jokes -- even good ones -- about such a highly sensitive and important foreign issue. Additionally, I can't help but note we have had nearly eight years of inartful speaking, and it certainly has had an effect on, at the very least, the respect people have for the man who holds that office. To me, it's a bigger deal than one bad joke.

Dan Balz: I'll leave this as the last word today. Posting without comment.

Thanks again to everyone. The hour went pretty quickly. Have a great week.

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