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Friday, September 26, 2003

Questioning Sabato and Weintraub

Will Vehrs
It was slow today, so for the first time in ages I was able to carpet-bomb the Washington Post Online guests with questions.

University of Virginia pundit/professor Larry Sabato took questions about the Democratic debate. I didn't ask the question about General Clark that elicited this assessment, but I wish I had:

Larry J. Sabato: Wesley Clark is an enigma to all of us. I am very suspicious of candidates who seek their first elected office in the presidency. That takes even more ego than usual at this level of politics. Moreover, it is clear that Clark has many, many enemies among those who have worked closely with him in the military. Yes, some of this may be pure jealousy, but when one hears General Hugh Shelton, a mild-mannered individual who served Democratic Presidnt Clinton well, question Clark's basic character and integrity, it makes any thoughtful person sit up and take notice.

Then there is Clark's voting record for Nixon, Reagan, and other Republicans. He now presents himself as a liberal Democrat. This is an extraordinary transformation of personal and party ideology that requires far more explanation that Clark has given. Finally, Clark's bungling of the Iraq issue as he announced--the one issue with which he had closely identified himself with--suggests that Wes is no Ike, that Clark is not ready for prime time and needs to serve in a lower-level elective office before he even thinks about running for president.

His performance in Thursday's Democratic debate underlined this conclusion for me. He was vague, amateurish, and filled to the gills with clever sound bites supplied by his Clinton alumni handlers.
Here were my questions and the Professor's answers:

Bristow, Va: How do we reconcile Gov. Gray Davis claiming that California's economy is coming back with the Democratic presidential candidates telling us the whole national economy is a disaster and getting worse?

Larry J. Sabato: Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics!

Nokesville, Va.: Maybe I'm just forgetting, but did GOP presidential candidates in 1999 get this much coverage this early in the process? Isn't part of Bush poll free fall due to relentless pounding from the Democratic campaign machine, while Bush forces don't have a competing political operation attacking the Deans and Kerrys full-time?

Larry J. Sabato: If memory serves, the GOP field did get wide coverage in 1999, although whether it was the exact equivalent of 2003, I cannot know without doing an extensive study. Your point about Bush's falling ratings is more accurate when applied to a state such as Iowa. Just last weekend I was told by a senior Republican elected official in the Hawkeye State that the 10 Democrats' battering of Bush is having a major effect on the president's popularity rating in that state. This individual, who has had considerable experience in presidential campaigns believes that Bush will be hard pressed to carry Iowa in November, because of the intense, persistent criticism he is receiving day after day in the press at this time.

Little Silver, N.J.: Sen. Edwards says his campaign is ahead in South Carolina. Do you believe him? Do you think it is possible that we will have different winners in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina?

Larry J. Sabato: Edwards may well have a slight edge in the Palmetto State Democratic primary at the moment. However, if Edwards does poorly in DC, IA, and NH, then it will be difficult for him to maintain that edge. Is it impossible? Of course not. Psychologically, every state's electorate may well want to make its own special, individual mark on the presidential selection process. (In my advancing age, I am beginning to believe more and more that one cannot understand politics without understanding group or mob psychology.) Let me add one other point: momentum matters even more than usual in a compressed, frontloaded system such as the one the Democrats have created for 2004.
Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee (and blog fame) discussed the California gubernatorial recall race. Here were my questions and the responses:

Brandermill, Va.: Can you comment on the controversy surrounding your Weblog, supposedly put under an editor because of complaints from the Bustamante camp?

Daniel Weintraub: I'm not really going to get into detail here about that issue. But I think it's less about political correctness than it is about the ongoing tensions between new and old media. Like a lot of newspapers, the Bee is trying to extend its reach into the electronic world, and when you do that, you are going to have growing pains. Since they started pre-clearing my blog posts, the editors have not changed a thing. I assume that will continue.

Just a comment from a Political Junkie: I thought the moderator of the debate was a disaster, but your format was worth trying and I thought worked reasonably well--it was much more interesting than the stale Democratic presidential debate last night!; What would you now recommend for a debate format, knowing what you know now?

Daniel Weintraub: One topic for each of a series of debates: fiscal, health care, immigration, education, transportation. Bring everything you've got. Loose format, strong moderator. Allow the candidates to challenge each other but do not allow them to speak over one another's answers or cut them off before they can make a point.

Skinquarter, Va.: What is up with Arianna Huffington? She was the most insufferable debate participant I have ever seen. How does she get a pass on negative campaigning? Will she possibly have some significant impact on the voting?

Daniel Weintraub: I agree that she was awful. I think her goal was simply to bait Schwarzenegger into clashes with her, and he fell for it. She may have won some support on the far left, her current niche, and she could pull votes away from the Green Party candidate and possibly Bustamante, the Democrat. It's possible she could take some independents who are angry at the status quo and were thinking of voting for Arnold, but I doubt that will amount to much.

Virginia: Thanks for getting up early to do this chat for us East Coasters! I may be wrong, but I didn't hear Lt. Gov. Bustamante mention "No" on recall during the debate. Did I miss it? If I didn't, isn't that pretty significant?

Daniel Weintraub: He did say no on recall in answer to the very first question, but not again. Bustamante has pretty much abandoned that aspect of his campaign and really is running for governor. This is his one, best chance to get the office and he's not going to undermine that by campaigning for Davis. They have never been close.

Midlothian, Va.: I thought the Green Party candidate was reasonably reasonable and gained some credibility for both the party and himself by his participation in the debate. Do you agree? Any sense that he made some converts?

Daniel Weintraub: Camejo was articulate and passionate about his beliefs. I thought his participation enlivened the debate and raised good points that otherwise would have been ignored. He got 5 percent last year. I think it will be difficult for him to match that this year, especially with Huffington on the ballot.

Nokesville, Va.: Do you think Clinton, et. al. will need to return to California to cement the apparent anti-recall gains made recently?

Daniel Weintraub: Not sure. I think they have nailed down about as much of the Democratic base as they are going to get. They need to reach out to more moderate Dems and independents now. And it's not clear Clinton and the presidential candidates help on that score.
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Thursday, September 25, 2003

California Debatin'

Will Vehrs
Tony, I watched the "Big Five" go at it last night in the California gubernatorial recall debate. It was alternately entertaining, illuminating, and infuriating.

I largely agree with Mickey Kaus' take on how the candidates performed, except that I was totally unimpressed with Arnold's performance.

Here's how I scored the debate on style:

1. Bustamante Smooth, unruffled, dignified
2. McClintock Serious, on point
3. Camejo Passionate without being overbearing
4. Schwarzenegger Overbearing
5. Huffington Absolutely insufferable

Here's how I scored it on substance:

1. McClintock
2. (Tie) Huffington, Bustamante, Camejo
3. Schwarzenegger

If I were a Californian, my choice would be between McClintock or Camejo. If you're going to recall a Governor because you think the "system" is "broken," you might as well swing to a serious candidate of the left or right, instead of turning to a total gadfly (Huffington), an egomaniacal blank slate (Schwarzenegger), or a mushy-middle political wind gauge (Bustamante). Of course, I'm not a Californian and most voters probably aren't thinking that way. I do believe the overall debate performance probably helped the recall effort.

In real political terms, I think Arnold probably solidified his support but didn't make a lot of converts. I think Bustamante's lack of passion and "high road" approach probably didn't arouse Democrats who thrive on anger, but maybe it helped him with moderates. Huffington appealed to the angry Democrats, but I can't see even the most enraged voter turning to a pampered whack job scold. McClintock probably made a few converts, as did Camejo, but probably not enough to propel them into real contention. It was good to see a Green Party candidate come off as reasonably within the mainstream and actually be competitive in a debate with "major party" candidates.

I predict Davis will be recalled and Bustamante will top Schwarzenegger by a few points.

One other thing--the moderator of the debate was dreadful and should never be allowed on a debate stage again.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Quasipundit Storm Center

Tony Adragna
'Twas a good blow, but that's 'bout it. Glad to hear you're OK, Will.

We lost power around 4:00 PM Thursday here at the Hyattsville Hanngout — guess who was home all by his lonesome... Power came back on 'round 6:00 [yesterday] morning, and I just got cable back 'bout half an hour ago, otherwise I woulda posted earlier.

I was trying to keep up with the news by listening to the radio, but the only channel I could get was WMAL, and all they've been doing is call-in letting folks vent 'bout PEPCO's response to the power outages. The consensus, with which I agree, seems to be that PEPCO couldn't fight its way out of a wet paper bag with a box cutter. That opinion isn't just informed by the response to Isabel — all you hafta do is think about rain and the power goes out around here.

Some good questions have been raised vis a vis the large number of lines downed by trees — we've either got to bury those lines, or clear hazards away from those lines i.e. cut down the flippin' trees... 'Course, nobody wansta lose their trees or deal with the inconvenience of lane closures while the road gets dug up...

So, I dealt with a 38 hour power outage and loss of my broadband cable access to the net — coulda been lots worse. I remember spending some 13 hours chasing December '86's Typhoon Marge at sea on our way back to Guam from Hong Kong in a round bottomed hull that was left over from WWII — now that was a close one...

And thank God we have around the house an old phone that doesn't need to be plugged into a power outlet — we housemates were able to keep in touch with each other that way.

Oh well, gota catch up with the news now...

What Did I Miss?

Will Vehrs
I lost power at 6:30PM Thursday and it didn't come back until just a few minutes ago. Now I can watch ABC's This Week with George Stephanopolous.

My immediate neighborhood was very fortunate--no downed trees caused damage to homes or cars. An adjacent neighborhood was not so lucky--I saw at least four homes and one car that took direct hits from giant oak trees pulled right out of the ground.

We're under a "boil water" alert and there's no school tomorrow, but feel very lucky that this storm spared us much worse.