Monday, December 24, 2007

Hillary Clinton Seems In Trouble; Bill No Help

This is no week for front runners in American presidential politics. In New Hampshire, one newspaper, the Concord Monitor, actually did an anti-endorsement on former Gov. Mitt Romney, assailing him for inconsistency and lack of character. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports this morning that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani "has entered a turbulent period in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, marked by what his aides acknowledge are missteps, sharp shifts in strategy and evidence that reports about his personal life have hurt his national standing."

In New Hampshire, the Times reports, "A $3 million investment in radio and television advertising...a belated effort to become competitive in this state, is now viewed by the (Giuliani) campaign as a largely wasted expenditure."

Most important, as the brief Christmas hiatus in campaigning begins, just 10 days before the Iowa Caucuses and 15 days before the New Hampshire primary, there are new indications that the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, once viewed as rock solid, is becoming unraveled.

Mike Barnicle, the well-known New England columnist, writes in a special to the New York Daily News this morning that both Clinton and Giuliani "are rubbing New Hampshire voters the wrong way."

The Barnicle column appears just one day after a Boston Globe poll indicated that Sen. Barack Obama has taken the lead in New Hampshire over Clinton, 30% to 28%, while Sen. John McCain has rallied to within three points, 25%, to Romney's 28%, in the Granite State.

Meanwhile, in another of a series of compelling articles in the New York Times magazine, national political writer Matt Bai finds that the campaigning for Hillary Clinton by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has turned counterproductive.

Bill Clinton, Bai writes, is talking too much about himself (in one recent speech he used the word "I" 94 times, while using Hillary's only 7), while both Bill and Hillary Clinton are referring too often to the 1990s, as compared with the present decade, at a time when many voters are turning to the future, not the past. Bill Clinton, he suggests, is something of a loose cannon, whose ramblings seem out of the control of the tightly-organized Hillary Clinton campaign.

Hillary Clinton has stepped up both advertising and staffing in Iowa and has gone into an attack mode against Obama. Her able campaign manager, Patty Solis Doyle, has virtually moved to Iowa to put on a full court press. Independently-funded attack ads on Obama have also begun to mark the pro-Clinton campaign.

But Hillary Clinton now often looks tired in photographs and has, on occasion, turned testy. Iowa's electorate is extremely well-attuned to front runners who have lost their stride, as Howard Dean did four years ago, and there is real question whether she can hold on and win the Caucuses. If she loses, it could have a greatly adverse effect elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the perceptive Washington Post political writer David Broder has written a column extolling Obama's main stump speech these days as a 40-minute winner that appeals to the voters as a harbinger of change in the presidency. He thinks the speech is brilliant.

Obama, it is true, suffers from some of the same problems as Clinton. She would be the first woman president and Obama the first black, and many Democratic voters, concerned at their inability in the last two elections to defeat President Bush, are worried that the electorate, in the last analysis, could turn against either one in the general election next November. So, there is some holding back from both.

However, it should be noted, Obama is running better than Clinton in paired matches in the polls against Romney, McCain and former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

When the Christmas campaign hiatus is over, we will be closing in on both Iowa and New Hampshire. These are key days, since there is now every indication these early-voting states will be highly significant in the eventual outcome.

--

I've often expressed admiration for the writing of Jill Leovy in the Los Angeles Times. Last week, Leovy, as is often the case with her remarkably sensitive accounts of crime in minority neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, was initially kept out of the print edition and relegated to an online blog, in reporting on the murder ot Timothy Johnson, a 37-year-old African-American, also known by the nickname "Sinister," on Nov. 25 on East 92nd St. in Watts.

In this case, the readership rebelled. More than 100 people sent comments to the Times on the murder, and a significant share of them identified Johnson as a killer himself, who had finally gotten the retribution he deserved. Sort of like "the executioner was executed today."

The L.A. Times, to its credit, ran as the lead story in Sunday's Opinion section, a selection of the e-mails and letters on Johnson's murder, with introductions by Leovy, identifying Johnson as having been connected by Los Angeles police to four murders. This was a good call by Opinion editor Nick Goldberg.

Leovy, I have a sneaking suspicion, will one day win a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting of crime in the minority communities. She is one of the finest members of the Times staff, and often, it seems, under-appreciated.

The lead story in the Times today, by Richard Winton and Hector Becerra, reports that the city of Los Angeles looks on track this year to have less than 400 homicides for the first time in nearly 40 years. Murders have dropped off to only about a third of the number in 1992, a tribute to the efforts of the often-maligned Los Angeles Police Department, but perhaps also reflective of heartening social trends.

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