Politics & Government

A weekly wrap-up from the campaign trail

WASHINGTON — This past week was the kind that the leading presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani — hope will repeat time and again through primary season.

Clinton, the Democratic senator from New York, and Giuliani, the Republican former mayor of New York City, led the pack in almost every measure that matters. Each led their fields in the amount of cash their campaigns have on hand. Each remains No. 1 in every national poll. (They also tend to dominate multi-candidate debates, though there were none this week.) Clearly, at this point, they're the two to beat.

Big difference, though: Clinton's far ahead among Democrats, while Giuliani's only narrowly in the lead among Republicans, far short of a majority. And Clinton leads polls of every early voting primary and caucus state, while Giuliani trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, which go first.

Stay tuned. Voting starts in less than three months. First up: Iowa on Jan. 3 — unless New Hampshire jumps ahead into mid-December, as it's threatening.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS

In an interview on Fox TV's "Hannity & Colmes," Giuliani challenged Clinton's claim of deep experience: "Honestly and most respectfully, I don't know Hillary's experience. She's never run a city; she's never run a state; she's never run a business; she's never met a payroll; she's never been responsible for the safety and security of millions of people, much less even hundreds of people. So I'm trying to figure out where the experience is here."

POST-GENDER?

Clinton's been hailed for running a "post-gender" campaign, emphasizing issues and competence rather than the breakthrough of being the first woman to be a presidential front-runner. Still, polls show women are decidedly her base. This week she reached out to them, appearing on ABC's "The View," which has a largely female audience, and delivering a speech on balancing work and family. Her chief strategist, Mark Penn, told reporters Thursday that she'd pull up to 24 percent of Republican women's votes in the general election (a dubious statistic and one that's impossible to predict with precision).

POST-RACIAL?

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama similarly has been hailed for running a "post-racial" campaign, in which his African-American heritage doesn't define his candidacy. Still, winning South Carolina's primary is his best shot to overtake Clinton, and black voters make up about half the Democratic electorate there. The church is central to African-American identity in the South, so his South Carolina campaign, unlike his national one, has mounted a "40 Days of Faith & Family" crusade. Next week it'll feature top gospel singers.

POST-REDNECK?

Former Democratic North Carolina Sen. John Edwards donned blue jeans and hit the barns, cattle auctions and country roads of Iowa last week with Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" on the "Dukes of Hazzard." Multi-millionaire Edwards is paying a lot more attention to the problems of rural America than he did in 2004. Why? An estimated 40 percent of Democratic voters in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina live in rural America. Hee haw.

NEW IDEAS

Former Republican Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson proposed this week to cut future Medicare benefits for the wealthy. It's one way to help rescue the program's trust fund, projected to go insolvent in 2019. Earlier, Thompson proposed to cut future Social Security benefits for everyone below what the current system promises. Experts agree that both programs face future fiscal woes, but proposing to fix them by cutting benefits is politically risky.

Meanwhile, Clinton proposed to spend $1.75 billion a year subsidizing state family leave and child-care programs. The Republican National Committee said if all her proposals were enacted, they'd cost taxpayers $763 billion over a four-year term — $440 billion for health care alone. She says she'll pay for them by rolling back President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.

GORE SAYS NO

In his first interview since winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Al Gore told Norway's NRK TV he won't run for president. "I'm involved in a different kind of campaign, it's a global campaign," Gore said. "It's a campaign to change the way people think about the climate crisis."

BROWNBACK SAYS NO GO

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas abandoned his long-shot quest for the Republican nomination on Friday. He was at 1 percent in the polls and raised less than $1 million in the third quarter. A strong social conservative, he was edged aside for their loyalty of late by Baptist preacher and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who's inching up.

VALUES VOTERS

All Republican candidates found time to appear Friday or Saturday at what's billed as the largest "values voters" gathering of social conservatives in the country. Sponsored by influential groups including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council — whose leaders have threatened to bolt to a third party if Republicans nominate Giuliani because he's for abortion rights and gay rights — Giuliani's speech Saturday was the most anticipated event. Where will he land in the zone between pandering to their views and challenging them to tolerate his? "You go to those voters and you reach out your hand," Giuliani said Wednesday. "You don't twist yourself into a little pretzel and change your mind. ... I'm honest with them and I tell them we don't agree about everything."

SHOW US THE MONEY

The latest fund-raising reports show who's got the most cash on hand as primary voting draws near. Can't run TV spots, send junk mail and pay staff without cash.

Democrats: Clinton's got $35 million; Obama $31.9 million; Edwards $9.8 million; Bill Richardson $5.2 million. The rest: chickenfeed.

Republicans: Giuliani's got $11.5 million; Romney $9.2 million; Thompson $7.1 million; Ron Paul $5.4 million; John McCain $1.6 million. The rest: fuhgeddaboudit.

MORMONS NEED NOT APPLY?

Some 45 percent of likely South Carolina Republican primary voters said they're less likely to vote for Romney in January because he's a Mormon, according to an InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion poll this week. Poll error margin: 5 percentage points. Ironically, awareness of Romney's faith rose when Bob Jones III, chancellor of the fundamentalist Christian university that bears his name, endorsed Romney even while emphasizing: "As a Christian, I'm completely opposed to the doctrine of Mormonism. But I'm not voting for a preacher, I'm voting for a president." Jones told the Greenville News that he thought Romney has the best chance to beat Clinton. Source: Southern Political Report.

LATEST POLL

CNN's national poll Tuesday ranked 'em this way:

Democrats: Clinton 46 percent, Obama 23 percent, Edwards 15 percent, Richardson 4 percent, and 1 percent each for Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich. Democrats' error margin: 4.5 percentage points.

Republicans: Giuliani 27 percent, Thompson 19 percent, McCain 17 percent, Romney 13 percent, Huckabee 5 percent, Duncan Hunter 3 percent, Paul 2 percent, and 1 percent each for Brownback and Tom Tancredo. GOP error margin: 5 percentage points.

Grain of salt note: National polls mean little at this stage. Once primary states vote, national standings often scramble fast. Remember President Howard Dean?

NOT THE KISSING KIND, THOUGH

Turns out Vice President Cheney and Sen. Barack Obama are cousins. Who knew? Lynne Cheney told MSNBC this week that she discovered the unlikely link while researching her latest book. Turns out an early Cheney settler's granddaughter married a fellow whose mom is distantly related to Obama, making the half-African-American senator from Illinois the eighth cousin of the Wyoming Republican. Said Obama spokesman Bill Burton of Cheney: "Every family has a black sheep."

Next week: Republican candidates debate Sunday, Oct. 21 in Orlando. Democrats scatter across the land.

(McClatchy Washington bureau reporters William Douglas and Margaret Talev contributed, as did Rob Christensen of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.)

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