Saturday, February 2, 2008

Streamlined field rumbles toward Super Tuesday

(Originally published 2/2/08)

You may remember that last summer, a woman at Barack Obama’s campaign kickoff in Birmingham told me, “I haven’t been this excited about politics since the Kennedys.”

Apparently, she’s not alone.

Obama followed a surprisingly strong victory in South Carolina Saturday with news that he would pick up endorsements from America’s First Family of Politics on Monday.

U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, gave their blessing to Obama’s candidacy at American University in a raucous rally reminiscent of the 1960s. Ted Kennedy seemed to channel his late brothers as he delivered a thundering speech that lauded the intersection of youthful idealism and classic liberalism.

On Tuesday, John McCain won a hard-fought GOP primary in Florida, where one-time frontrunner Rudy Giuliani finished a distant third before dropping out Wednesday. Giuliani’s failed “ambush” strategy proved that you can’t allow the race to go on without you for a full month – no matter what your lead in national polls may be.

Also Wednesday, John Edwards withdrew from the Democratic field, leaving pundits to fantasize for the next 36 hours about the debate between Clinton and Obama (known at my house as “Barack-illy”) in California.

But as it turned out, the much-anticipated showdown was a congenial “conversation,” as CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer called it. On balance, it seemed that Clinton finally delivered the confident, command performance the pundits had awaited. At the end, after Clinton and Obama brushed aside a question about whether they would run together on a Democratic “dream ticket,” Republicans caught a glimpse of their worst nightmare: The two seemed to nearly embrace before glad-handing crowds thronging the stage. GOPers know that Clinton’s tactical experience plus Obama’s X-factor would equal an all but insurmountable challenge in November.

Other quick hits this week:

  • GOP candidate Mitt Romney loaned his campaign another $18 million from his checkbook in January, bringing his total personal investment in the campaign to a disturbing $35 million. No word on whether his banker backs McCain.

  • Romney also wins this week’s award, given for special achievement in pandering. While appearing at a Miami-area rally in a traditional Cuban shirt known as a guayabera, Romney told the crowd he “would never give money to Fidel Castro.” (Were we offering?) Romney sounded as ridiculous as he looked – almost.

  • Presidential politics even found its way into the Miss America pageant Saturday. Miss Wyoming, Jenn McCafferty, introduced herself as being “from the state that moved up its presidential primary, but nobody cared.”

  • Romney and Mike Huckabee are locked in a battle for the conservative vote among Republicans. Exit polls seem to indicate that a significant number of GOP voters shy away from Huckabee because they’re not sure he could win in November. What would this race look like if everyone stopped trying to outmaneuver each other and just voted their conscience? In other words, for you football fans out there, your defense may be strong, but you won’t win the Super Bowl if Tom Brady is in a walking cast; you have to play offense now and then.

OK, folks … Super-Duper Tuesday is upon us. Cable news coverage begins at 4 a.m., and I’ll be mainlining results and analysis well into the night. I’m glad the LAPD devised that huge police, fire and rescue caravan for Britney Spears; by dawn Wednesday, I might need it.

Finally, Alabamians are part of the Super Tuesday parade, so do your part: Get out there and VOTE!

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