It's puzzling to me why it's so difficult for some to let go of the old 1990s formulation that the economy still matters most in elections.
"[I]t's really about the economy," declared a BusinessWeek headline yesterday morning. To be sure, the economy has played an important role in the campaign over the last couple weeks. But if Hillary Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas last night prove anything, isn't it the opposite? Voters are still very much in a Sept. 11th mindset. Clinton won last night in large part by beating Barack Obama two to one among voters who made their decision within the last three days of the race. And she did that by attacking his preparedness to handle national security, not the subprime crisis. Most notably via the now-infamous, and apparently effective, "It's 3:00 A.M...." ad.
Why did that strategy work? Because, as Michael Gerson points out in today's Washington Post, this is really the only issue on which Obama is beatable. Clinton insiders have, it appears, finally grasped this fact. "His vulnerability is experience and judgment on national security," Harold Ickes and Mark Penn wrote in a memo last night.
I suspect foreign policy is now the issue on which Obama's political future will live or die. This morning, he told reporters aboard his campaign plane, "Over the coming weeks we will join [Clinton] in that argument. Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crisis? The answer is 'no.'"
John McCain is already signaling that he intends to make November a referendum on national security. Like it or not, it's a foreign-policy election.
Russian chessmaster turned opposition leader (and FP contributor) Garry Kasparov doesn't seem too broken up about Dmitry Medvedev's landslide election victory in his latest Wall Street Journal column, but then again, his attention may have been elsewhere:
It is election season again and the interest of the Russian people in the candidates has been high. There has been regular TV coverage, including debates. There is a tangible atmosphere of impending change. The election to which I'm referring is the U.S. presidential race. There is far more curiosity here in the Hillary/Obama debates than in the shuffling that is taking place in the Kremlin.
Kasparov laments that Russia has fallen off the radar screen in American politics and that none of the candidates are calling to eject Russia's government from the G7. He also makes his candidate preferences pretty clear:
The Russian ruling elite is rooting for Hillary Clinton, who represents a known and predictable entity compared to Barack Obama. John McCain has been outspoken on behalf of democratic rights abroad, including Russia. Regardless of the doubts about Mr. McCain's conservative credentials at home, the thought of him in the White House strikes fear into authoritarian leaders everywhere.
Given Kasparov's overall political leanings, it's not shocking that he's a McCain man. The senator from Arizona has indeed been strident in criticizing Medvedev's coronation as a "tragedy of history." But Kasparov's assertion that Clinton is somehow the Kremlin's pick is a little bizarre. If anything, Clinton has gone somewhat overboard in attacking Russia on the campaign trail, saying that Vladimir Putin "doesn't have a soul" and immediately dismissing his successor as a puppet before completely mangling his name. Kasparov seems unsure about Barack Obama -- who also talks a big game on Russia -- describing him as an "unknown quantity."
Personally, I'm inclined to put this one in the "things that won't change" category. The Russian menace plays well on the campaign trail, but the two countries have enough issues of mutual concern that the next U.S. president will have to deal with Medvedev and Putin, even while lamenting Russia's democratic backsliding. I can't see any of the current candidates disturbing the status quo to create the kind of change Kasparov is hoping for.
Dmitry Medvedev's Sunday win in Russia came as no surprise, but it appears the Kremlin was concerned about one possibility: low voter turnout. Fifty percent turnout was needed to validate the election, according to Russian electoral law, and officials were determined to avoid an embarrassment for Vladimir Putin's heir.
Prior to the election, Putin called on Russians to get out the vote, and the Kremlin predicted a turnout of at least 70 percent. But despite their public confidence, officials nonetheless resorted to non-traditional means in order to ensure desired numbers.
In Moscow, voters were lured to polling places with promises of grocery store discounts, and in Nizhnevartovsk and Nizhni Novgorod (Russia's third largest city) they were given lottery tickets offering a chance to win Volgas and brand new apartments. Elsewhere, election officials were simply instructed to guarantee high turnouts, even if that meant tapping into the local psychiatric ward.
And in Sochi, future host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, voters were offered double the fun: Vote for the next president and for the Olympic mascot. Amongst the choices –- a torch-bearing Father Christmas, a polar bear, a snow flake, and a skiing dolphin -– the dolphin came out on top. In striking resemblance to the presidential contest, however, the mascot race may be largely for show. Dima the baby mammoth is already the predicted winner of the 2011 decision.
Protests against what looks like a stolen election in Armenia turned ugly over the weekend, with riot police cracking down harshly on demonstrators. Eight people died and more than 130 were wounded in the clashes, and the government has declared a state of emergency. But among the chaos, Sabrina Tavernese of the New York Times found some absurd moments:
The officers withdrew from the crowded areas toward midnight, leaving strange scenes in the moonlight. An elaborately decorated cake was atop an upside-down car; loaves of bread spilled out of an open trunk of a car on its side. Drunken men gobbled up expensive chocolates.
"The owner of this store is a very bad person," said Arsen Sarkisyan, 20, who was walking out with a bag of sour cream containers.
With the race for the Democratic presidential nomination entering the homestretch, more and more people are talking about superdelegates, who may be crucial in determining whether the party's choice will be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But what are these superdelegates? Who gets to be one? Are you as confused about them as I am?
Rick Klau, an employee at Google, took on a personal project to help clarify things. He set up SuperDelegates.org, a wiki-style Web site that not only tells you how the Democratic Party's superdelegate system was developed, but also lists who all 795 of them are and whether or not they've pledged their vote to Clinton or Obama. Even cooler, Klau has done an overlay on Google Maps, so you can see where they're from and whether they're still undecided or are leaning toward one of the candidates. Check it out here.
Likewise, Barack Obama who voted along with Clinton for recent trade agreements with Peru and Oman is also outraged by NAFTA. Please.
Cooper is comparing apples and watermelons. The Peru deal, as noted here, is a miniscule agreement that is primarily about lowering Peruvian trade barriers to U.S. goods. Similarly, the Oman deal includes a lot of language about opening the financial sector there to U.S. firms. Annual bilateral trade between the United States and Oman is not much more than $1 billion, and the two countries are not major trading partners. In both cases, the stated rationale for the deal was primarily geopolitical, not economic. So, it might be perfectly consistent to see the far larger NAFTA as a bad deal and yet support Peru and Oman.
Of course, neither Obama nor Clinton want to actually repeal NAFTA, mind you. They just want to "renegotiate" it -- a promise you can safely file in the same category as "closing tax loopholes" and "cracking down on wasteful government spending."
A number of Jewish and pro-Israel voters have raised questions about Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. In case you haven't followed this ongoing issue, here's a brief summary of the complaints:
It's not clear how widespread these sentiments are. Obama does have other advisors, such as Daniel Shapiro, that are quelling voters' angst. And Howard Friedman, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the leading presidential candidates are all interested in continuing close ties with
In an odd parallel, rumors are circulating in Russia that Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's designated successor, may be Jewish -- a damaging charge in a country with a long history of anti-Semitism. Nikolai Bondarik, head of the nationalist Russian Party, is happy to take advantage:
It's common knowledge. Medvedev never hid his sympathy towards Judaism… A president ought to be related by blood with his people. Imagine if
Noting the gripes and second-guessing coming from Hillary Clinton's campaign, Berkeley economist and blogger Brad DeLong evinces a dim view of political advisors:
There are two kinds of people who get involved in politics--those who care about the substance of policy, and those who want to get White House Mess privileges, or as a consolation prize become media celebrities. The first kind--the policy people--will be loyal to a politician as long as he or she is trying his or her best to achieve the shared policy goals. The second kind--the spinmasters--will be loyal to a politician as long as he or she is a winner who favors them. If a politician stops looking like a winner, or if a politician starts favoring others for what they hoped would be their west wing job, they will jump ship as fast as they can--and you will start seeing the "infighting" stories.
The moral? A politician with an ideological policy compass is best off not hiring spinmasters as his or her senior aides. Hire people who care about the substance of policy instead.
(Hat tip: Daniel Drezner)
The Politico's Ben Smith blogs about the above anti-Obama mailer that's making the rounds and makes a good point:
The odd thing here is that both Clinton and Obama come from the pro-trade wing of the party. Both have, in less heated moments, defended free trade in theory, and neither wants to repeal Nafta.
But when in Ohio, you argue about who hates trade more.
Politicians pandering to voters? Shocking.
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak asks why the U.S. government is still going to bat for Pervez Musharraf after the Pakistani president was so clearly rejected at the polls:
Overwhelming repudiation of President Pervez Musharraf by Pakistan's voters did not immediately dilute the Bush administration's support for him. On the contrary, the first election returns were barely in Monday night when the U.S. government began pressing victorious opposition leaders not to impeach the former military strongman. [...]
Since Bhutto's murder, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has antagonized Pakistan's opposition leaders by insisting that Musharraf was committed to a ''good'' election while in fact voting rolls were being rigged. Minimal election-day vote fraud is attributed to Musharraf's weakness rather than strength. The army refused its cooperation, needed to really steal votes. According to Pakistani sources, the army high command was alarmed that Musharraf's unpopularity had undermined public esteem for the military.
These changes apparently escaped the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, which on election eve reported to Washington that Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q would do well enough to force a coalition government. Vote rigging probably cost the opposition 25 seats, mainly in Baluchistan -- not enough to prevent a two-thirds majority by opposition parties that could vote impeachment in the lower house.
More on State's pro-Musharraf maneuvering here. It's not the first time in recent years the State Department has made a bad pre-election call. Condoleezza Rice admitted being surprised when she heard Hamas had won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006, despite plenty of signs that a groundswell of anger was brewing against Fatah. In fairness, these things are hard to predict. I, for one, expected Musharraf to do a better job with the cheating and thought there would be much more violence. But after the results are in, isn't it time to accept reality?
... I should note that Novak is wrong about the two-thirds majority, which the anti-Musharraf forces don't quite have.
Burma's military leaders will do just about anything to prevent opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- whose party won the 1990 elections, which the generals then ignored -- from participating in their sham 2010 elections. The country's new constitution prohibits candidates who marry foreigners. As a result, Suu Kyi's British husband, who died in 1999, apparently disqualifies her.
Monday's elections in Pakistan were -- to use a timeworn cliché -- a political earthquake. Although the poll numbers were clear, very few Pakistan watchers expected that President Pervez Musharraf would allow the opposition to win in such a decisive fashion. In the end, South Asia expert Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told me, "There was a depth of resentment that not even the government's manifold efforts at shaping the outcome could prevent."
So what happens now? "With the quite utterly conclusive demise of the PML-Q," Tellis said, "the coalition that is likely to be formed will be between the PPP and the PML-N." (Referring to Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League, the Pakistan People's Party of the late Benazir Bhutto and now her husband Asif Zardari, and the PML-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, respectively.)
But what about Musharraf? "This result simply just cannot be good news for him," Tellis said. "I mean, this is absolutely devastating." Nawaz Sharif, you may recall, despises Musharraf for ousting him back in 1999, so there's little chance his party would want to keep the general around. The PPP is another story, Tellis said, and Zardari might be willing to let Musharraf stay on as president -- but with vastly curtailed powers. "I would not treat his departure from office as inevitable," Tellis cautioned. But for Pakistan, he said, the return of the moderate civilian parties represents "a very hopeful moment." Now we'll see if they can deliver.
Well, well, well. It looks like Pervez Musharraf didn't do such a good job rigging the elections after all:
Almost all the leading figures in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that has governed for the last five years under Mr. Musharraf, lost their seats, including the leader of the party, the former speaker of Parliament and six ministers.
Official results are expected Tuesday, but early returns indicated that the vote would usher in a prime minister from one of the opposition parties, and opened the prospect of a Parliament that would move to undo many of Mr. Musharraf’s policies and that may even try to remove him.
It looks like Benazir Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party, will win a plurality of seats, followed by the Pakistan Muslim League of former PM Nawaz Sharif. But we'll have to see what the official results bring when they are announced tomorrow, and we'll have to see if any secret deal was in fact struck to keep Musharraf in power. He is sounding mighty conciliatory right now.
The best news of the night? The fundamentalists were apparently trounced in the Northwest Frontier Provinces.
They say that only amateurs steal an election on election day. The groundwork is usually laid well ahead of time. This rule certainly seems to hold true for Monday's parliamentary elections in Pakistan, and if you had any doubts, just take it from the country's attorney general.
Human Rights Watch has obtained an audio recording of Attorney General Malik Qayyum talking on the phone to an unidentified politician in November. The politician seems to be asking Qayyum for his advice on what party he or she should run with for the election:
Leave Nawaz Sharif (PAUSE).... I think Nawaz Sharif will not take part in the election (PAUSE).... If he does take part, he will be in trouble. If Benazir takes part she too will be in trouble (PAUSE).... They will massively rig to get their own people to win. If you can get a ticket from these guys, take it (PAUSE).... If Nawaz Sharif does not return himself, then Nawaz Sharif has some advantage. If he comes himself, even if after the elections rather than before (PAUSE)…. Yes….”
Given the context, it seems like "these guys" would refer to Pervez Musharraf's party, the PML-Q, but it's hard to tell for sure without the other side of the conversation. In retrospect, Qayyum's prediction about Benazir Bhutto is downright chilling as well.
(If you speak Urdu, the original audio is available on HRW's site as well.)
UPDATE: Qayyum says HRW's allegations are part of a "conspiracy against Pakistan."
There was much insight but not much in the way of definitive answers in a talk held here at Carnegie today on the military's role in next Monday's Pakistani parliamentary elections. Journalist and author Shuja Nawaz felt that in contrast to previous elections, "the mood is not for direct rule" within the military leadership, but this mood could quickly change with circumstances:
There are no parties extreme enough to warrant intervention by the Army in the election... But demonstrations against rigging may force military leaders to bring out the Army. If things get out of hand, the Army may be forced to push for a change."
According to Ayesha Siddiqa of the University of Pennsylvania, rigging appears quite likely. The government recently banned the media from reporting election results from polling stations, increasing the likelihood of "ghost polls" with falsified results. (Check out FP's list, "How to Steal an Election Without Breaking a Sweat," for more on misreporting and media manipulation.)
Siddiqa also cautioned against viewing new Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kiyani as a "knight in shining armor" coming to the country's rescue. While Kiyani has demonstrated an encouraging desire to keep the Army out of politics, he also faces the expectation that the military will move against Musharraf if Pakistan descends further into chaos. It's also important to remember that Kiyani will retire after three years. Given the officer corps he has inherited, any major reforms may be fleeting. Siddiqa:
The military culture has changed dramatically during Musharraf's regime. Younger officers have a sense of empowerment now and tend to look down on civlians."
In other words, Kiyani may be watching how the election plays out just as nervously as the rest of us.
Delivering his victory speech last night, Barack Obama gave his usual spiel about the "Washington game," and then took aim at U.S. trade policies:
It's a game where trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart.
This is the highest-profile attack Obama has launched on this issue, and it comes ahead of primaries in Wisconsin and Ohio, two states where the Democratic base is very angry about trade. Obama's remarks are a preview of the critique he'll be launching against Hillary Clinton, whose husband pushed hard for NAFTA's passage over the objections of many in his own party. (Hillary has called for taking a second look at the treaty, and voted against a number of free-trade agreements in recent years.)
So, what about the factual claim? Has NAFTA shipped U.S. jobs overseas? Well, it doesn't make a lot of sense, since Mexico and Canada share land borders with the United States. But in the United States, there was never the "giant sucking sound" of jobs heading south that Ross Perot railed against. Most economists will tell you in general that technology has a lot more to do with lost manufacturing jobs than trade does.
As for NAFTA, it was intended primarily to help Mexico, and on that score it has been a mixed bag. The Mexican business community loves it; small farmers hate it (see the above photo). Berkeley economist Brad DeLong, a big NAFTA booster in the Clinton Treasury Department, discusses some of went wrong in this YouTube video from October 2006:
Mexico is now further behind the United States in relative terms than it was in 1992, and the distribution of income within Mexico has become much more unequal.... Perhaps we would have been better off advising Mexico in the 1990s to focus its attention on fixing its education system and cleaning up its public-sector corruption than in going for free trade with America. I'm still a believer in NAFTA, yes, but my belief is relatively shaky now.
Tyler Cowen, who strongly supports NAFTA, adds:
The more globalized parts of Mexico -- most of all the north -- have done extremely well since NAFTA passed. The biggest problems remain in the least globalized parts, most of all the south and big chunks of the interior.
We're in the midst of the most exciting presidential race in decades here in the United States. Pakistan's legislative elections are coming up on Feb. 18. And within the next two months, we'll also see elections in Russia, Spain, and Taiwan. But there's one more upcoming election that you probably haven't heard much about: the presidential race in Cyprus that takes place in two rounds on Feb. 17 and 24. Right now, there's a virtual dead heat between the top three candidates. Check out this poll here. It's in Greek, but the colors on the chart show it all: 30.0 percent to 30.1 percent to 30.5 percent.
You might be asking: Why should you care about a presidential election taking place on a tiny island that's home to fewer than one million people? We'll get there, but first, a little background.
Cyprus has been split into two entities ever since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in response to a military coup that was backed by Athens. The northern part is currently recognized as a state by only Turkey. Everyone else recognizes the southern Greek-speaking part as the official government. As the EU expanded, there were hopes that Cyprus could enter as a united island, but unification talks sponsored by the U.N. were unsuccessful. Cyprus joined the EU, still divided, in May 2004. Current Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, who is running for re-election, is considered by many to be a hardliner when it comes to Greek-Turkish rapprochement. One of his opponents, Communist Dimitris Kristofias, was previously in a ruling coalition with Papadopoulos, but decided to run on his own this time. The other front-runner is Ioannis Kasoulides, a member of the European Parliament and someone who is largely in favor of unification. The winner will be tasked with determining how unification talks move forward.
So, the Cypriot elections mean a lot for the future Europe as a whole, and not just for the island itself. Turkey will never be able to accede to the EU so long as Cyprus is opposed, and Cyprus will continue to oppose it so long as Turkey still recognizes the north as legitimate. Cyprus also plays a major role in how the EU approaches prospective independence for Kosovo. Cyprus is opposed to independence for Kosovo because it's viewed as a vote against U.N. legitimacy. Greek Cypriots are also worried that Kosovar independence would be a rubber stamp for Turkish Cypriots to gain legal recognition. The most powerful states in the EU are in favor of independence for Kosovo. But as long as Cyprus remains opposed, the EU's goal for a common foreign policy remains stymied. The elections in Cyprus may seem like small peanuts compared to other happenings in the world, but there are a lot of people who are watching closely.
In this morning's Wall Street Journal, former Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Toomey floats the names of five potential running mates for John McCain: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, and billionaire publisher Steve Forbes. The most viable name here is Sanford. He's a youthful fiscal conservative who could help McCain in the south.
Over at the Campaign Standard, Stephen Hayes and Fred Barnes add the names of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Ohio Representative Rob Portman, and Sens. Tom Coburn, Sam Brownback, and Richard Burr. These guys are all too obscure. McCain will need someone who is trusted, like Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and ready on Day One, as Hillary would say.
Perhaps even more improbable, all of these names assume that McCain is now magically going to suck up to bedrock conservatives after a 20-plus-year congressional career defined by upsetting them. I know it's hard to swallow, friends, but the Karl Rove era of politics died along with Mitt Romney's presidential bid. I don't care how much chatter there is about McCain needing to "reconcile" with the GOP base. Anyone who has watched McCain during the course of his political career will tell you that he's not big on, shall we say, accommodation.
One guy who's bound to get a look is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's got a perfect blend of maverick and conservative credentials. Why would Gingrich do it, when he clearly has differences with McCain? Because he's a party warrior. "I clearly have disagreements, particularly with Sen. McCain on key issues such as amnesty for illegal immigrants or tax cuts or what I thought was a censorship law that was unconstitutional, McCain-Feingold. But if I had to look at the record of Sen. McCain over his career, compared to the record of Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton, he is vastly better for America's future than either of those two candidates," Gingrich told Human Events a few days ago.
Why would McCain pick Gingrich? The war in Iraq, for starters. It may not be at the forefront of voters' minds, if we are to believe the exits, but it still matters. Two thirds of Americans say they are against the war, no matter how well the surge is doing. McCain can straight-talk all he wants, but you don't get elected by telling two thirds of the country that they are dumb and ignorant. So he needs someone who can reach out on the Iraq issue. Gingrich can do that, because he's already been outspoken about the leadership failures in Iraq—and get away with it, because many in the party still harbor a touch of nostalgia for his role in taking back the House in 1994. Oh yeah, and as a former rep from Georgia, he's got southern ties.
Of course, Gingrich would be a controversial choice. But that's McCain's style. And just to rile up the naysayers even more, here are some other provocative names who I think will almost certainly get a look: Sens. Lindsay Graham and Chuck Hagel. And you can bet your bottom dollar the McCain folks are drawing up a list of every woman and African American in the party...
Following Mitt Romney's withdrawal speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain had this to say about the topic that has gotten him into such hot water with conservative activists and voters:
On the issue of illegal immigration, a position which provoked the outspoken opposition of many conservatives, I stood my ground aware that my position would imperil my campaign. I respect your opposition for I know that the vast majority of critics to the bill based their opposition in a principled defense of the rule of law. And while I and other Republican supporters of the bill were genuine in our intention to restore control of our borders, we failed, for various and understandable reasons, to convince Americans that we were. I accept that, and have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first, and only after we achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure, would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration. [UPDATE: Watch McCain getting booed here.]
That's pretty much what he's been saying on the campaign trail thus far, and it's been a good enough fudge to net him the nomination. Will conservatives be satisfied with this answer? Probably not, but it seems McCain may have smoothed over some rough patches today. David Freddoso of the National Review writes, "I think the proper reaction to McCain's victory is: Don't Panic. The world has not been destroyed just yet." Mission accomplished?
UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru chimes in—
I'd prefer it if McCain took one more small step. It isn't enough that the border be secure; the illegal population has to start shrinking. (A lot of illegal immigrants came here legally and overstayed their visas, so securing the borders doesn't solve the problem.)
Personally, I think it's wrong to look at illegal immigration as a law-enforcement problem rather than a black-market problem. You can build all the walls you want, but you won't dry up illegal immigration until you drastically raise the number of legal immigrants you let in. But that is for another post and another day.
Being a political operative for a major presidential front-runner means talking to the media. Public scrutiny is part of the package. That's just the way it works. That is, unless you are Chelsea Clinton. As Hillary's numbers have declined in national polls, and as youth voters have shown a 3 to 1 preference for challenger Barack Obama, the Clinton campaign has increasingly called on Chelsea to act as a political operative, reaching out to youth voters on behalf of the candidate.
Once a silent figure who stood behind Bill and Hillary, Chelsea now delivers speeches and holds rallies, all by her lonesome. Today, she is holding two events in Lincoln, Nebraska. She even privately lobbies members of the media on behalf of the candidate. Yet, she repeatedly refuses to answer questions on the campaign trail and declines offers for interviews. Asked to answer questions on December by a 9 year-old reporter for Scholastic News, a children's publication, Chelsea responded:
I'm sorry, I don't talk to the press, and that applies to you, unfortunately. Even though I think you're cute."
Mitt Romney's son, Tagg, speaks to the media. So do Meghan McCain and Sarah Huckabee. Ditto Cate Edwards, back when her dad John was in the race. Sorry, Chelsea, but if you didn't want to face public scrutiny, you should have stayed in the private sector. It's time to step up. And if you'd like to start with a discussion of Hillary's foreign policy, we are available.
Early national exit polls suggest that the economy is the most important issue to Republican voters. Interestingly, the war in Iraq is only their third-most important issue, while immigration is the second-most important. John McCain has long been cast as the war candidate or the war on terror candidate by the pundits, yet it still looks to be a very good night for him. These early exits suggest that efforts to portray McCain as against the party on immigration and ill-informed on the economy have failed.
Democrats — top issue: economy 47%; war in Iraq 30%; health care 19%.
Republicans — top issue: economy 38%; immigration 24%; war in Iraq 20%; terrorism 15%.
Chris Matthews, ever the quick wit, had some sharp political observations on MSNBC tonight:
Romney has a problem with evangelicals. It might be his LDS religion; I'm not sure. Huckabee has a problem dying.
Mike Huckabee was the surprise winner today in West Virginia, where Republicans held a statewide convention to decide where to allocate the state's 18 delegates. But the big prize tonight is California, where Mitt Romney has pledged to make his stand. The former Massachusetts governor flew across the country to California and then again from California to West Virgina—only to see McCain voters throw the race to Huckabee. No wonder Mittens was so cranky when the West Virginia results were announced. Having taken the red-eye from San Francisco myself last night, I feel Mitt's pain.
Pro-Europe candidate Boris Tadic narrowly beat out his opponent Tomislav Nikolic in the second round of Serbia's presidential election, held on Sunday.
EU High Representative Javier Solana declared the results a sign that Serbian citizens want to "resume the European path." But Serbian democracy is not out of the woods. Its democratic coalition, led by both Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, is on shaky ground. Kostunica did not endorse Tadic prior to the elections and is now opposing efforts to sign a cooperation agreement with the European Union.
Despite the importance of Sunday's elections, it was not the only presidential race on the minds of Belgrade's Serbs. I visited the Serbian capital between its first and second rounds of voting and found students there more interested in U.S. politics than in their own. Demonstrating a global trend mentioned here earlier, the students I spoke with were closely following the U.S. primary season. A bit skeptical of the hubbub, they found the state by state run-offs both frivolous and fascinating. All were intrigued by the prospect of an African-American or female U.S. president, but several told me, with a classically Serbian cynicism, that they thought the Obama-Clinton battle was all for show—that, in the end, "the Man" (the white man) would prevail. I guess that's a vote for McCain?
We've heard a lot about how folks around the world are tuning in eagerly to the '08 campaign in the United States. But what about China? "Sufei" from Sexy Beijing wanted to know what the Chinese "man on the street" thinks about the U.S. elections. The answer? Not much:
Judging from the video, Chuck Norris is not exactly a household name in China, either.
The Politico's Ben Smith and David Paul Kuhn say the collapse of Rudy Giuliani's bid for the Republican nomination heralds the "end of 9/11 politics":
Giuliani's failure reflects a broader shift in the American landscape, in which Sept. 11 has so diminished as an emotional touchstone that neither The Gallup Organization nor The Pew Research Center has even polled Americans about the attacks for a half year."
While it may be true that Americans tired of Guiliani's one-note piano, I doubt that "9/11 politics," or in the larger sense—campaigning on fear—has seen its final days.
Just visit the Museum of the Moving Image's online exhibit, The Living Room Candidate, a repository of scary campaign commercials by U.S. presidential hopefuls dating back to 1952, and you'll see what I mean. Some of my favorites: Johnson's famous "Peace Little Girl (Daisy)"; the nuclear dialogue between Nixon and Humphrey in 1968; Reagan's 1984 brilliantly enigmatic "Bear" ad; and, more recently, George W. Bush's "Wolves," a 2004 copycat version of the Reagan original.
Let's face it: Scaring the bejeezus out of folks is a time-honored American tradition. Until something even more frightening than terrorism enters the political landscape, I'd say 9/11 campaigning is far from over.
At a congressional hearing Tuesday on Pakistan's upcoming legislative elections, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher had this to say:
We don't necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but if history is any guide and reports are any guide, we should expect some."
Not to pick on Boucher—as a diplomat representing a country that backs Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he can't very well go out and speak the truth—but it's likely that Musharraf has already stolen the elections. Only amateurs steal an election on election day, as election experts say.
As Carnegie Endowment expert Ashley Tellis carefully explained to Congress earlier this month, Musharraf has to ensure that the new parliament will ratify his extra-constitutional power grab. But he can't be sure that his party will win enough seats in a fair contest (and based on Musharraf's cratering personal popularity, it surely wouldn't). So he either has to trust that his main political rivals—former PM Nawaz Sharif, whom he deposed in a military coup, and Asif Zardari, who believes Musharraf is responsible for his wife's murder—would honor a power-sharing arrangement, or he has to cheat.
And indeed, some of the techniques from this week's List, "How to Steal an Election Without Breaking a Sweat," are already being deployed: sacking judges, manipulating the voter rolls, criminalizing media criticism of the incumbent, and so on. "Some" level of fraud? More likely, there's going to be just enough of it for Musharraf's party to win (which is the U.S.'s preferred outcome at this point, anyway). The real question, though, is how will the opposition parties react? Will there be riots in the streets? Will the Pakistani military, now under the leadership of the reportedly apolitical Ashfaq Kiyani, be willing to shoot demonstrators? We'll find out on Feb. 18.
Why won't leading Russian presidential candidate Dmitri Medvedev debate his opponents? It would take too much time away from pressing the flesh, say his handlers:
Senior United Russia member Vyacheslav Volodin said Medvedev was meeting ordinary citizens in an extensive campaign across Russia and that television debates would disrupt his schedule. "The most important thing for us is real deeds, meeting people and solving actual problems, not wrangling in a TV studio," Volodin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
Why debate your political opponents when you can simply pretend they don't exist? Soon enough, after all, they may not.
Serbia may be a shrinking country, but international eyes are keeping a close watch on its presidential elections, scheduled for Feb. 3. This Sunday, voters will be asked to choose between pro-European candidate Boris Tadic and Russia-leaning candidate Tomislav Nikolic.
Much is at stake in the elections. The next president must navigate Serbia's path to EU accession and respond to a likely declaration of independence from Kosovo, Serbia’s Albanian-majority southern province. William Montgomery, former U.S. ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, says about Sunday's election:
[It] will determine whether Serbia continues on a path (slowly or rapidly) towards integration into 'Europe' or alternatively, becomes a 'Belarus of the Balkans,' belligerently looking East instead of West and in some state of confrontation with the EU, the United States and its new 'neighbor,' Kosovo."
But with Serbian voters facing a choice between Europe and Russia, it is American icons that are getting all the attention. For over a month now, images of great U.S. presidents—George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and JFK—have appeared on Belgrade's billboards, along with quotes from presidential speeches, tweaked to support Kosovo as a part of Serbia. For instance, beside the face of George Washington appear the following words (in Cyrillic):
'The time is near at hand which must determine whether we are to be free men or slaves.' Kosovo is Serbia!”
Hollywood stars have been sucked into the Kosovo debate, too. Last week, Serbian news outlets claimed that George Clooney, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, and Sean Connery all stood in opposition to an independent Kosovo, even crediting Gere with poignant statements such as this:
There must be something in that Kosovo, if they will fight for it so hard."
The Hollywood stars have denied making such claims, but the occasionally sensationalist Serbian newspaper Blic claims to know better: Just as Serbia has a been a pawn of Western powers, Clooney too has succumbed to international pressure, denying his statement against independence for Kosovo only after "the UN exerted pressure on the actor."
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