Democrats Woo Bloggers; Republicans Face Off in Iowa
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GWEN IFILL: The major presidential candidates spent the weekend appealing to the right and the left wings of their respective parties. We have two reports, the first on the Democrats from NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT, NewsHour Correspondent: The YearlyKos bloggers convention was sold out; 1,500 people who usually meet in cyberspace at DailyKos.com showed up to meet face to face. Blogger Page Van Der Linden came all the way from Amsterdam.
PAGE VAN DER LINDEN, Blogger: This is an historic, groundbreaking event. Last year’s was only the beginning. This year — well, think about it. It’s the first all-volunteer, grassroots, blogger-organized presidential candidate forum. And that’s just one part of this whole thing.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: As a contributing editor, Van Der Linden makes regular posts on the front page of the DailyKos. Anyone can register with the blog and post a diary or make comments on other entries. The progressive blog’s growing influence did not go unnoticed by the Democratic presidential candidates, says Clinton campaign Internet director Peter Daou.
PETER DAOU, Hillary Clinton Campaign: Yes, DailyKos is probably the highest-trafficked blog, either progressive or conservative, in the country. You know, about a half-million visitors a day. It’s a very strong community of people. You know, this entire YearlyKos convention came out of that community. People who were part of the community decided to create a real convention out of a virtual community.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The man who started the Web site five years ago, 35-year-old Markos Moulitsas, says he is still astonished by the explosive growth and impact of the blog and the convention.
MARKOS MOULITSAS, Founder, DailyKos.com: This was never intended to be this big showcase for the candidates and anything like that. It was intended to be a place for us to get together and meet.
So I showed up to the first convention thinking, “We’ll have the back room of the Howard Johnson, right, and we’ll just all have couple of drinks and get to know each other. That’ll be fantastic.” And, instead, I walked in, and there was actually a real bona fide conference. And as we’ve seen this year, people are deciding, “You know what? This is where all the energy is coming from in the new progressive movement. These guys were incredible last year. They helped us win majorities in Congress. You know, let’s go talk to them.”
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was the only candidate who showed up at the first YearlyKos convention last year. This year, he says, nearly all the candidates have figured out its importance.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: The good thing about these individuals is they’re voters, they’re activists, they generate communication with each other. And in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, they have an influence. So this is why I’m here.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: All the Democratic candidates but Delaware Senator Joe Biden showed up for a format divided into three parts, with questions from the moderators and online, on foreign policy, domestic affairs and philosophy and experience. Former Senator John Edwards drew heavy applause with this unique campaign pledge.
FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), Presidential Candidate: I will hire an official White House blogger, and her name will be Elizabeth Edwards.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: In the biggest dust-up of the 90-minute forum, Edwards and Senator Barack Obama challenged Senator Hillary Clinton for taking money from Washington lobbyists, something neither the Edwards nor the Obama campaign does, although they do take money from state lobbyists.
JOHN EDWARDS: I think my party, the Democratic Party, the party of the people, ought to say, from this day forward, we will never take a dime from a Washington lobbyist; we do not do business with these insiders; we’re going to give the power in this government back to the people.
MODERATOR: Senator Edwards has really a very straight-forward question here, which is, will you continue to take money from lobbyists or will you take his position?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Yes, I will. Yes, I will, because, you know, a lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans. They actually do. They represent nurses. They represent, you know, social workers. They represent — yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don’t have disproportionate influence. Look, the insurance and the drug companies…
… the insurance and the drug companies spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last 10 years. Now, Hillary, you were talking earlier about the efforts you made back in ’93. Well, you can’t tell me that that money did not have a difference.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Clinton had gotten a warmer reception when she met by herself with a room full of delegates and knocked Markos Moulitsas’ nemesis, FOX network’s Bill O’Reilly. He had urged people not to go to the YearlyKos convention.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I was very proud of my campaign standing up and really calling O’Reilly out and saying, “Oh, come on, look, there are things on the DailyKos that I don’t agree with,” and sometimes, you know, look, people do go over the line. But, hello, for Bill O’Reilly to be making that criticism?
AUDIENCE: Happy birthday to you…
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. That’s sweet.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: After Senator Barack Obama was serenaded at his breakout session, his 46th birthday, he again attacked the influence of lobbyists.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: You know, when we’ve got a billion dollars worth of lobbyists’ money that is shaping our health care bill, it means we’re not going to be able to move any universal health care plan forward.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Nearly 300 comments were up in the DailyKos Web site just an hour after the presidential forum ended, the bloggers quickly making the switch from the real world back to their virtual one.
Gina Fezmeir and John Kriskorn were busily posting and reading comments about the forum but had liked actually seeing the candidates.
JOHN KRISKORN, YearlyKos Attendee: I don’t know if the debates, that people really found out anything they didn’t know, but it was a great sign to see the candidates coming out and meeting with just regular people. Gina and I don’t work in politics. We have separate careers.
We’re just very concerned citizens. We like following the news and staying informed, and we care about what these people are doing, because we know that their decisions affect our lives and everyone’s lives in this country.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: As the candidates continue to try and reach voters like these, the Internet offers them one more platform to stand on.
Republicans hold debate in Iowa
GWEN IFILL: Next, Margaret Warner reports on the Republican face-off in Iowa.
MARGARET WARNER: Leading up to next Saturday's Iowa Republican straw poll, the party's nine declared candidates for president faced off Sunday morning in a debate at Drake University in Des Moines.
The first exchange touched an issue dear to the party's base: abortion. Host George Stephanopoulos of ABC's "This Week" played an automated call that Kansas Senator Sam Brownback's campaign is making to Iowa voters, attacking former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
BROWNBACK ROBO-CALL NARRATOR: As late as 2005, Mitt Romney pledged to support and uphold pro-abortion policies and passed taxpayer funding of abortions in Massachusetts.
MARGARET WARNER: Brownback stood firmly behind it.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: There's one word that describes that ad, and it's "truthful." That's a truthful ad.
MARGARET WARNER: But Romney insisted it wasn't.
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: Virtually every part of that ad is inaccurate. I'm pro-life. My positions are pro-life.
MARGARET WARNER: Stephanopoulos and Brownback pressed Romney.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, Host, "This Week": But are any of the specific -- any of the specific charges there untrue?
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Every piece of that is truthful. You can go to YouTube and look for the governor and what he says himself.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney?
MITT ROMNEY: I never said I was pro-choice, but my position was effectively pro-choice. I've said that time and time again. I changed my position.
MARGARET WARNER: Romney was then asked to explain comments he made in March, calling former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani "pro-choice" and "pro-gay marriage."
MITT ROMNEY: I think I have a better perspective on his views now, not entirely, but a pretty good view on his positions. And I'd rather let him speak for him, his own positions, than me speak for them.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), Former Mayor of New York: I clearly believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, although I did support domestic partnerships, and still do, a contractual relationship. And I believe the best way we can have common ground in this debate that you're hearing is if we put our emphasis on reducing abortions and increasing the number of adoptions, which is something that I did as mayor of New York City.
But I think, ultimately, that decision that has to be made is one that government shouldn't make. Ultimately, a woman should make that with her conscience and ultimately with her doctor.
MARGARET WARNER: When the debate moved to the war in Iraq and on terrorism, the candidates quickly turned their fire from one another to the Democrats. Arizona Senator John McCain again insisted the troop surge in Iraq must be given time to work.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: We are winning. We must win. And we will not set a date for surrender, as the Democrats want us to do. All of us feel frustration, sometimes anger and sorrow, over what's happened in this war. It was very badly mismanaged for nearly the first four years. I was one of the greatest critics. We do now have a strategy that's succeeding.
RUDY GIULIANI: In four Democratic debates, not a single Democratic candidate said the word "Islamic terrorism." Now, that is taking political correctness to extremes.
MARGARET WARNER: Romney took aim at Democrat Barack Obama's recent statements that he'd talk to rogue state leaders and would use military force against terrorists in Pakistan if Pakistan didn't.
MITT ROMNEY: I had to laugh at what I saw Barack Obama do. I mean, in one week, he went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean, he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove.
MARGARET WARNER: Late in the debate, the candidates were pressed by a questioner on video on whether they'd let their vice presidents wield the kind of authority that Vice President Cheney does.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I would be very careful that everybody understood that there's only one president.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Dick Cheney came in with the lot of experience. He came in with a lot of experience on defense, foreign policy issues, and I think the president over-relied on that. I think Dick Cheney has done an admirable job. I think the president's over-relied upon that.
I think you need somebody coming into the presidency that's had foreign policy experience, that's worked on these national and global issues, so that they don't have to depend on the vice president as much.
MARGARET WARNER: Also taking part in the debate were Congressmen Duncan Hunter of California, Ron Paul of Texas, and Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin.
Democrats comfortable with 2008
MARGARET WARNER: So what do these weekend debates tell us about where each party's nomination contest stands? For that, we turn to Roger Simon, chief political columnist for Politico.com.
And, Roger, welcome back. So what do these two debates and the contrast between them tell us about how each party is feeling right now? For instance, what explains the fact that the Democrats really seem to enjoy mixing it up and the Republicans were reluctant to do so?
ROGER SIMON, Chief Political Columnist, The Politico: I think we're seeing a reflection of how the two parties view their chances in November of 2008. The Democrats, while not indifferent to party unity, basically have come to the conclusion that, whomever they nominate, he or she, will have a pretty good chance of victory in November, unpopular war, unpopular president, a historical reluctance by the American people to leave a party in the White House for 12 years.
The Republicans don't really disagree with that. I find very few Republicans -- really no Republicans -- saying, "We're going to have an easy time in November." So they are saying, "We have to be unified as a party. We have to find every Republican we can find, get them to the polls, bring some independents with us. And we have to emphasize what unites us as Republicans, not what divides us."
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you were at the Democratic confab. The expectation was Hillary Clinton was going to walk into this lion's den of liberal bloggers furious about her vote for the Iraq war. It didn't happen. What happened? How did she diffuse that?
ROGER SIMON: She's pretty good at these debates, number one. Number two, even though she's polling at 9 percent with this group -- in an informal, unscientific poll...
MARGARET WARNER: Among bloggers.
ROGER SIMON: ... among bloggers in this community, she still has this aura about her and is leading in the polls, acts and behaves like a frontrunner. And this also is not the kind of group that stands up and shouts at people and boos people. They're interested political activists, and they wanted to hear what the candidates said.
Obama and Edwards go after Clinton
MARGARET WARNER: Now, she did get into this dust-up over lobbyist contributions, with Obama and Edwards really going at her. Who gained from that?
ROGER SIMON: I think Senator Obama and Senator Edwards feel that they have found the chink in her armor on this issue. Senator Obama attacked her on this very issue in a speech today; Senator Edwards is the one who raised the issue. And their talking point is basically, "OK, she may be the candidate of experience, but that really means the old ways of Washington. We represent change, the new ways."
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the Republicans get together. If you look back a few months ago, John McCain was the Hillary Clinton figure, that is, the sort of presumed frontrunner. He's now been having a hard time, as we all know, and certainly in Iowa. Yet yesterday he didn't do an Obama or Edwards vis-a-vis Romney and Giuliani. What explains that? What would his advisers say?
ROGER SIMON: He has been having a tough time. As he likes to joke, it's always darkest before things go completely black. But I think John McCain is back to being John McCain. He paid millions of dollars for handlers who burned through $23 million with nothing to show for it. He's gotten rid of them. I think he's back to being himself. He's not a quitter. He's going to go through this thing. He's going to hit his talking points. He wins, he loses, whatever happens, happens.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Romney has a lot riding, does he not, on this upcoming straw poll, even though -- on Saturday -- even though Giuliani and McCain aren't in it, really. How do you explain that?
ROGER SIMON: There's a big gulf in the Republican Party, especially, but really in both parties, between who leads in the national polls and who leads in the two critical states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Giuliani -- I'm sorry, Mitt Romney comes in about fourth, really, in most national polls, but he is leading the polls in Iowa and leading the polls in New Hampshire, for a variety of reasons.
But it would be huge boost for his campaign should he actually win both states and that would...
Upcoming Republican straw poll
MARGARET WARNER: But in terms of Saturday...
ROGER SIMON: ... guarantee you have an effect on the national -- in Ames on Saturday, there will be a straw poll. A straw poll is really not a measure of popularity as much as it is organizational ability, how much you're willing to spend. He's got a lot of money, and he's willing to spend it.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, finally, bloggers. We'd heard these bloggers in Elizabeth Brackett's piece talk about their importance. We heard Bill Richardson talk about their importance. How important are they really to the Democrats, and in what way? And do the Republicans also have at least something of a relationship with their blogging community?
ROGER SIMON: They're an important constituent group to the Democrats. They have proven their ability to raise lots of money very quickly. They have not completely proven their ability to get voters to the polls yet, and that's what the Democratic Party is really waiting to see, whether they can take the next step.
In the Republican Party, things have developed differently. While Republicans tend to dominate talk radio, Democrats tend to dominate the blogosphere thus far. Republicans have less of a relationship with their online activists, but they have some relationship.
MARGARET WARNER: Roger Simon, Politico.com, thanks.
ROGER SIMON: Thank you.