I’ve talked to several of Senator McCain’s senior advisors on his campaign tonight and they're angrily denying that the senator had any inappropriate relationship with the lobbyist in that story and they are really criticizing The New York Times for suggesting that somehow senator McCain compromised his integrity in his dealings with the Washington lobbyist described in the story.
The following is a statement his campaign put out:
"It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.
"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."
McCain’s advisers say tonight, that The New York Times started working on this story several months ago, back in the fall. According to Charlie Black, one of the advisers that I spoke to tonight, they say they spent countless hours meeting with The New York Times, giving the paper documentation and statements that they insist disputes a good part of what's in this story. We're told that the McCain campaign plans to release some of that documentation tonight, including, for example, a letter that the Times say McCain wrote to the FCC urging them to make rulings to help this lobbyist in question. The McCain campaign insists that the full letter will show that they did no such thing.
As for that suggestion back 2000, when McCain first ran for president, that advisors had been worried about this relationship and confronted both McCain and this female lobbyist, we're still doing our own reporting on that including trying to find one of the aides quoted on the record there. Senator McCain himself was asked about this, leaving a fundraiser here in Ohio, and he simply said, "I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment."
McCain’s advisers tell me is they got a call from a reporter who works for the New Republic Magazine doing a story last week about internal turmoil inside The New York Times newsroom. According to the McCain campaign, they were told by this New Republic reporter that there was squabbling inside The New York Times about whether or not to go with this story. In fact Black even said he was told that The New York Times made an editorial decision twice not to run the story and that they "choked" and decided not to run the story.
A CNN producer spoke with the editor of the New Republic article in question and the editor did say they were working on the story that they were working on it for the past week and a half or so. According to the editor The New York Times was extremely nervous about their story.
Why they decided to run it and put it up at 7:00 eastern tonight is definitely curious.
That's a big part of the puzzle of all this that we're definitely going to keep working on here.
-Dana Bash, 360° Correspondent
Thursday's CNN/Univision Democratic Debate in Austin is arguably the most important of the primary season, certainly if you're a supporter of Hillary Clinton. The smart money says she needs to draw a very clear contrast from Barack Obama if she is to slow down his roll, but there's real danger for her, too.
We'll get an instant read on how Obama and Clinton do, thanks to a panel of undecided Democrats and Independents who have agreed to watch the debate with handheld dial testing units to register their likes and dislikes. They've been chosen to reflect the demographics of Texas Democrats.
We can't tell whether attacks hurt the intended target, since our testers can only react to the person doing the attacking. But we do know that the blowback against the attacker is often significant. Take a swipe at your opponent, and you can almost guarantee that the red line that charts how well you're doing will take a dive.
Because Senator Clinton might feel under pressure to be aggressive, but that would put her at risk of getting a negative response.
After the debate, AC360's Erica Hill will look at how our undecideds saw the debate, and whether Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, pulled it off.
-Steve Turnham, 360° Producer
Live blog starts at 10pm...never a dull moment...
Elections are well known for being great fodder for comedic material and the current presidential race is no exception.While "Saturday Night Live" has long been the reliable gold standard for political humor risqué enough to elicit a wince from a candidate who is the butt of the joke, but clever enough to elicit chuckles from a mainstream audience, the YouTube revolution has taken political satire to a new level.Countless videos now attempt to use humor to tell a story about the campaign. Who can forget the now infamous "I feel pretty" video in which John Edwards, caught on camera combing his hair before a television appearance, found himself on the receiving end of satire. A jokester turned the tape into a music video for the ultra-girly anthem "I feel pretty" with the ultra-feminine lyrics "I feel pretty.. Oh so pretty.. I feel pretty and witty and bright.." blaring in the background:
But one of YouTube’s other extremely popular political videos and one that now seems particularly prescient is titled "Hillary’s Inner Tracy Flick":
The video, which first surfaced last month, uses split screen and editing to portray candidate Clinton and imaginary candidate Tracy Flick from the film "Election," as alter egos.
"Election" is one of the funniest satires ever of high school life, and of politics —- a rare combination. It follows the adventures of Tracy Flick, the seemingly perfect high school student during her campaign for Senior Class President. The only problem for Tracy is that it turns out that there are a few people she’s rubbed the wrong way over the years, one of them an embittered high school teacher who encourages a popular, likeable, male student-athlete to run against her.
Aside from the blonde hair and brains, the YouTube video highlights candidates’ Clinton and Flick’s other striking similarities - namely blind ambition and a whatever-it-takes-to-win attitude.
In one particularly eerie moment Tracy rants, "They think they can just all of a sudden one day out of the blue waltz right in with no qualifications whatsoever and try to take away what other people have worked for very, very hard their entire lives…" She also dismisses her competition early on as not being any real competition for her.
Of course that turns out not to be the case.
I don’t want to be a spoiler and give the film’s ending away for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I will say this: Last month this video might have simply seemed mildly amusing - even to the Clinton campaign - but now, as the campaign that was supposed to be the ultimate front-runner teeters on the brink of disaster, we’re all left scratching our heads trying to figure out just how it all went so wrong and the "Flick Effect" doesn’t seem so far off the mark.
Sen. Clinton has some of the most gifted strategists and operatives working for her and she and her husband are two of the most brilliant political minds in modern politics. She also started this campaign with enough cash to subsidize a small country, and yet here we are.
Like Flick, the Clinton campaign underestimated the strength of an opponent who, while likable and popular, simply wasn’t perceived as formidable against her (at least by her campaign). And after all, like Tracy, she really deserved it. After all, she had more qualifications and experience. But if the movies teach us anything, it’s that Hollywood loves a good comeback story. So maybe like the determined and undeterred Tracy Flick, we haven’t heard the last of candidate Clinton.
–Keli Goff, Political Analyst
Keli Goff is the author of Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence. http://www.keligoff.com
Here's the afternoon buzz: Hillary Clinton is focusing on Ohio and Texas after more losses in the race to the White House. While, Barack Obama picks up a big endorsement from the Teamsters. On the GOP side, exit polling from yesterday shows John McCain is still having trouble courting conservatives. On the crime beat, the girlfriend of the Northern Illinois University shooter says he was taking a drug cocktail. Did that have anything to do with the shooting spree? And, look in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane! No, it's a lunar eclipse. Grab your afternoon snack and click on the links for all the details. Let us know what you think of the headlines.
Crime & Punishment
What YOU will be TALKING about TONIGHT
Last night was another exciting political night, and I’ve woken up with a political hangover, already jonesing for another primary. I keep thinking at some point this is going to get boring, but I gotta tell you, I find it more and more fascinating.
I was on Conan O'Brien last night, and I’ve gotten a couple of emails from viewers who were offended by some joking comments I made about live blogging. Conan was asking me about the difficulties of live blogging during the commercial breaks, and as a way to get to a story about a Conan stalker I encountered, I said the live blog was a chance for all my stalkers to be in one place at one time. Now, some folks took that to mean that I believed all the people on the live blog are stalkers. That is certainly not the case. 99.9% of the people I chat with every night on the blog are great. The comments are interesting, funny, smart – the whole spectrum. I think live blogging ads a nice element to the program, and I enjoy the interaction with our regular viewers.
As most of you know, there is a big difference between being a fan, or a regular viewer and being a stalker. What’s the difference? Well if you have to ask yourself that question, that’s probably not a good sign. But here’s a handy guide in case you are…well…confused.
1. If you’ve been contacted by authorities and asked not to attempt to contact me further… but you still do, there’s a good chance you’ve crossed the line.
2. If you’ve attempted to gain entry to my apartment under false pretenses, and can’t imagine why that might be inappropriate, that’s another red flag.
3. If you believe I am secretly communicating to you online, or with the clothes I wear, or by telepathy through your radiator, that’s a problem as well.
4. If you have read the last three items and laughed, or said, “wow, that’s weird” you are not a stalker.
5. If you have read items 1-3 and notice they apply to you, but then tell yourself they actually don’t apply to you. Well, that’s not good.
Just for the record, I really enjoy the live blogging, and I look forward to talking with all of you again tonite.
John McCain is firing up the Tough Talk Express, ridiculing Barack Obama on foreign policy, and vowing to follow Osama bin Laden to "the gates of hell."
But tough talk and straight talk don't always match up.
This summer Obama said the US should go after terrorists in Pakistan with or without President Musharraf's permission: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
McCain referenced it last night, asking "will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan?"
Problem is, Obama never suggested bombing Pakistan our ally, just Al Qaeda strongholds IN Pakistan - something the Bush CIA just did.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that in late January the CIA took out a senior al Qaeda operative in Pakistan without informing the government there: "Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval."
After a failed air strike in Pakistan directed at Al Qaeda number two Ayman al Zawahiri in 2006, McCain himself said, "We have to do what we think is necessary to take out al Qaeda, particularly the top operatives."
Except, apparently, when doing what it takes gets in the way of a good political attack line.
-Steve Turnham, 360° Producer
Last night’s Democratic primary in Wisconsin was like a bolt of lightening, illuminating the political landscape as few other events have done. One thing became clearer than ever: the deep troubles of the Hillary Clinton campaign are due in significant measure to its own misjudgments.
I said last night on AC 360 that some folks on her team are guilty of political malpractice, and I meant it.
Why in the world did they abandon the Democratic caucuses to Barack Obama, letting him run virtually unopposed so that he racked up big delegate counts in all 11? (In one of the most interesting observations of the campaign, Dan Balz of the Washington Post points out that on Super Tuesday, Barack actually won more delegates in the Idaho caucus than Hillary did in the big New Jersey primary.)
Why, too, did the Clinton folks not foresee that after Super Tuesday on February 5, they could and should have been able to win some victories before Ohio and Texas on March 4? Instead, they failed to mount a vigorous campaign anywhere and he has racked up 10 straight triumphs, building huge momentum.
And why in crucial moments last night – when the country was watching to see what she would say – did they send her onto a stage in Ohio with virtually nothing new to say (not even a gracious concession to her rival)?
It is all a great mystery, because the Clintons have on their team some of the finest minds and most seasoned veterans anywhere in politics. I don’t get it. It will be fascinating to learn more during the post mortems.
Meanwhile, the Obama team saw their openings and barreled through them with enormous skill. They haven’t won yet. He and Michelle have both made some rookie mistakes in recent days, and it is possible that he will make a big one between now and March 4. Clearly, the press is also starting to subject him to tougher (i.e. more negative) scrutiny.
There is always the possibility, too, that Hillary will truly find her voice – and a message that actually works. But as that bolt of lightening showed us last night, Obama is riding a powerful wave forward – and it increasingly looks like the nomination has become his to lose.
-David Gergen, 360° Contributor
Why is it a woman can run for president and fly space shuttle missions, but she can’t play golf on publicly financed courses when and where she wants to? Somebody’s got some ‘splainin to do.
A case out of Massachusetts caught my eye. Elaine Joyce has filed a federal lawsuit in Boston after she was denied entry into a tournament at a public golf course she belongs to on Cape Cod. The club called her father, not her, even though they are both members, to let him know she couldn’t participate since it was a “men’s only” tournament.
It doesn’t seem to matter that she had won more than 20 club championships over the years or that she had captured the title in 2001 at an event for the state’s top female club champions. The Dennis Pines Golf Course has said its actions are not discriminatory.
Joyce’s complaint alleges that denying her the same “full citizenship status” as men at a public golf course is as unlawful as operating a men-only bar or a whites-only drinking fountain and that Joyce is “entitled to the equal opportunity to aspire, to achieve and to participate based upon her individual talents and capacities regardless of her gender.”
Joyce says this isn’t the first time this has happened: when she tried to take part in another tournament one guy told her she could join if she played “naked!” Hello.
Maybe it’s just me… I can remember wanting to play golf with my dad on weekends years ago and him telling me I would have to wait until after 11am when the ladies could play on the course. Who came up with these rules? A guy, no doubt.
What do you think? At a time when a woman has a real shot at the White House, do you think women should have the right to tee up when and where they want to, and compete with the boys?
Please send me your thoughts………
-Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent
It wasn’t your typical pre-game speech for a Hillary Clinton rally.
In remarks before Hillary Clinton came on stage here in Youngstown, Ohio - and just as the news shows were projecting a Wisconsin win for Barack Obama – Thomas Buffenbarger, International President of the Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, addressed the crowd and ripped into Barack Obama. He described Clinton’s opponent as “Janus, the two-faced god of Roman times… just a trained thespian, a terrific shadow boxer.” At one point he called for the crowd to “boo” obama and they obliged – briefly.
Recall, Clinton tries not to refer to Obama by name. And the campaign insists they keep their criticism on the substance.
Not Buffenbarger. Some choice lines:
-"Watch the junior senator from Illinois carefully. As he delivers his best lines, he cocks his head back lifts his nose up and turns his ear so he hears the roar of his adoring crowd. It’s a trained thespian’s move. But unlike some, we in the machinists union have seen this act before.”
-"He can act like a friend of the working man even as he dances to the tune dictated by billionaires.”
-"There he is with his nose in the air pontificating when the coast is clear, and as soon as anyone throws a punch, he’s in a bum’s rush to get away from a conflict.”
Apparently, not a lot of love lost there.
His main gripe? Obama didn’t intervene in a labor dispute. He apparently blames him for lost jobs and damaged lives.
And then there was this – read into it what you will: “What is new and novel and unusual is Barack Obama’s boxing show… Outside the ring he pretends he can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Great moves, great combinations, great footwork. But brothers and sisters, I've seen Ali in action. He could rope-a-dope with Foremen inside the ring. He could go toe-to-toe with Liston inside the ring, he could get his jaw broken by Norton and keep fighting inside the ring. But Barack Obama is no Muhammad Ali. He took a walk everytime there was a tough vote in the Illinois State Senate, he took a walk more than 130 times. That's what a shadow boxer does. All the right moves, all the right combinations, all the right footwork, but he never steps into the ring.”
A few minutes later, the crowd drowned out Buffenbarger, chanting, “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!” The next speaker introduced the New York Senator who subsequently took the stage – with no mention of Janus or the shadow boxer.
-Jessica Yellin, 360° Correspondent