Thursday, February 21, 2008

Senator McCain: Off his game in Sugar Grove, IL; New York Times, yet another bad day?

Revised at 2:55 pm to add links about Senator McCain's Press Conference, about the New York Times story on McCain and to a video assessment of Obama by a former state senate colleague.
Jeff Berkowitz: Senator McCain…Senator Obama seems to be packaging you for the fall election. ...Altogether, Obama says a vote for McCain is going to be a vote for a third term for George W. Bush. Given that the approval ratings of the President are now in the low 30s, how do you respond to that effort to package you that way?
McCain: Courting the Republican Wing of the Republican Party?

You knew something wasn’t quite right. Senator McCain seemed lethargic, halting and not particularly happy to be standing next to Jim Oberweis. And, there was little in the way of straight talk. In short, McCain might have done better to have “mailed it in.”

Senator McCain interrupted his campaigning in Ohio, last night, to do a good deed for conservatives—appear at a funder that raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for conservative Republican Jim Oberweis, running in a special election in Illinois’ 14th Cong. District and said to have a net worth of about fifty million dollars.

Prior to the funder (at a Country Club less than two miles away), McCain stopped at Hanger 7, west bay, at the Aurora Municipal Airport (actually located in Sugar Grove, IL—Jim Oberweis’ base), to meet with a half dozen or so local print media (and the Chicago Tribune) and some of the political reporters of the electronic media, including Mike Flannery of CBS-2 news, Mary Ann Ahern of NBC-5 news and Dane Placko of the local Fox affiliate, WFLD, for ten minutes of questioning.

The March 8, 2008 (Saturday) Special Election in the 14th CD: another test for the Republican Party

We are two weeks and two days from a special election to fill the seat of Ex-Speaker Denny Hastert in Illinois’ 14th Cong. Dist. The 14th has an eastern border about 30 miles west of Chicago and stretches through eight counties, including quite a bit of farmland, and also includes Aurora, Illinois’ third largest city and two of the fastest growing counties in the State: Kane and Kendall.

The District has long been thought to be a very Republican district. Bush won it with 54% of the vote in 2004. Although held to 60% of the vote by a "no name" (John Laesch), no resources, anti-war candidate in the Democratic Tsunami of 2006, Hastert’s prior victories were mostly in the 70% range in his twenty-one year tenure. Nevertheless, the race between well-to-do Republican businessman Jim Oberweis (watch here on Public Affairs) and Democrat-well-to-do inventor/physicist Bill Foster (who declined to appear on Public Affairs) is pegged by some knowledgeable sources as a four to eight point race. Further, although most assess Oberweis to be the favorite—a few go the other way.

A tight race for Republicans in Speaker Hastert’s old District? Obama’s coattails? McCain’s coattails?

It is understandable that, given the current mood of the country, a tight race would be forecast in the 14th CD, even one favoring Foster, for the fall election, if Obama is heading the ticket. But, it is surprising that even some Republican players think Foster could pull off a win in the special election on March 8, 2008--to replace Hastert, who has resigned his seat. Their point: this is a very unusual election cycle and Obama, even without being on the ballot, may drag Foster across the finish line [On the other hand, for a less than flattering critique of Obama by one of his state senate colleagues [albeit from the opposite Party], watch here].

Barack has endorsed Foster and is said to have done a nice TV ad for the physicist. But, where is the ad, you ask? Why would Foster save it? Why, indeed, inquiring minds want to know. The Obama trademark in such endorsements is positive ads. Foster will want to save his negative ads for the close. So, where is Foster’s Obama ad?

Pressing McCain at the Presser: Straight talking Express?

Back to the presser, this reporter had plenty of timely questions, at the ready, on which to probe Senator McCain: his efforts to hold Obama to his pledge to stick with public financing (and the spending limits thereto) in the general election; Obama’s efforts to give Bush a makeover as a Bush clone; a possible VP pick, e.g., Gov. Bobby Jindal, to placate the Republican wing of the Republican party, i.e., conservatives; the fairness of his characterization of Obama talk as “eloquent but an empty call for change”; Does the Huckabee continued attraction to conservative primary voters spell trouble for McCain in the General Election; Now that Fidel is gone, would McCain agree with the long held position of the Wall St. Journal that the U. S. embargo on Cuba should be lifted; Is the race between Foster and Oberweis a precursor to the national presidential election, and if so, will it be a referendum on the War and the Economy, i.e., on Bush.

As luck would have it, this reporter led off the presser with one of the above-- his best shot, so to speak, knowing he was unlikely to get another.

Jeff Berkowitz: Senator McCain…Senator Obama seems to be packaging you for the fall election. He is referring to your current support for the Bush Tax Cuts as tying you to what he calls the Bush failed economic policy; he refers to your support for the Surge in Iraq, notwithstanding your misgivings about the way the war was managed, as tying you again to what he would say [are the] failed efforts in Iraq of this country and of George W. Bush. Altogether, Obama says a vote for McCain is going to be a vote for a third term for George W. Bush. Given that the approval ratings of the President are now in the low 30s, how do you respond to that effort to package you that way?

Senator McCain: First of all, I am still focusing on winning the nomination of my Party. Governor Huckabee remains in this race and I respect that. There are stark differences between myself and both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. Whether we want lower taxes or higher taxes. Whether we want less regulation or more regulation. Whether we will let the Surge succeed as it is or whether we will set a date for withdrawal and thereby allow Al-Qaeda to announce to the world they’ve defeated the United States of America. There will be ample time to outline the stark difference between the most liberal Democrat in the United States Senate according to the National Journal and myself—who is a proud Republican conservative with a proud twenty year record of conservative voting and activity, so I look forward to that case.

Can Obama package McCain as a clone of W?

Not a lot of straight talk from McCain last night. The question, when stripped of the niceties, essentially was can Obama market McCain as a clone of W? McCain’s answer that he hasn’t won the Republican nomination yet was a bit disingenuous since McCain has, himself, been taking shots at Obama during the last two week, labeling the Presidential Phenom as, “an eloquent, but empty, call for change.”

Moreover, we know that McCain has stark differences with Senators Clinton and Obama. However, the question was essentially—Does McCain have historical stark differences with Bush on the War and the Economy, not to mention Campaign finance-- and will those differences prevent Obama from packaging McCain, as indicated above . For another take on McCain finessing the question about Obama's efforts to tie him to Bush, as well as an incomplete answer on gun control and NIU, [See here], and for more about the press conference, generally, See here.

This reporter, like most, understands why pols answer the question they want to answer, not the one that was asked. But, again, McCain’s trademark is supposed to be the straight-talking express, not the double talking “I’ll answer that one next time.” And that description worked for a number of the remaining questions in the short presser. Admittedly, McCain sets high and exceptional standards for a presidential candidate at a presser. But, he didn’t meet them last night.

Why McCain was distracted in Aurora

As it turns out, McCain had good reason to be distracted (the buzz used by some to describe how he seemed at the funder that followed the presser) last night. About an hour after McCain left the presser, word broke of a New York Times story that suggested:

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him[McCain] at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity. [See here].

More shoddy journalism from the New York Times?

The story, first posted on the NYT web site last night, followed by publication this morning, above the fold, seems to have drawn two potential reactions from sophisticated politcal journalists : (1) The New York Times has got to have more and is holding back (2) This story is another black mark for the New York Times: The story appears to insinuate, but not quite say, McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, or that he was simply too close to the lobbyist. The story essentially identifies no sources and seems to be about events going back, at first, eight years and then about two decades to the Keating Five. Basically, the Times used rumors of old sex to market old facts and innuendo[See generally, here]. And, it may have finally decided to publish the story to counter the allegations of "foot-dragging," about to made by the New Republic. Some Profile in Courage that would be.
[See here and here].

Is McCain Fired up? Ready to Go?

It seems fairly likely that Senator McCain knew, at the time of yesterday’s early evening presser, the New York Times was about to break this story. Notwithstanding the apparent deficiencies of the reporting, perhaps lack of credibility of the sources and lack of relevance of many of the issues raised, one could understand why Senator McCain may have been distracted last night. That actually would be a relatively benign explanation for the good Senator’s poor performance last night. At least, it might be a transitory factor in the campaign. The other potential explanations are more troublesome to Republicans concerned about the Presidential race.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search,
can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama and McCain-- and many other pols, as well as this week's suburban edition of Public Affairs with Sen. Rauschenberger and last week's suburban edition with Crain's political columnist Greg Hinz at
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs Youtube page include, among others, this week's show in the suburbs with Sen. Rauschenberger, assessing Barack Obama, a discussion with State's Attorney for Cook County Republican nominee Tony Peraica; and Anita Alvarez, Chief Deputy to current State's Attorney for Cook County Dick Devine and now the Democratic nominee for State's Attorney of Cook County.