Friday, March 07, 2008

Ken Starr versus the monster

I miss the Swedes. When I was a foreign correspondent back in the early '90s, I covered a national election in Sweden, and the experience was memorable for several reasons: (1) The whole campaign lasted four weeks, which is considerably less time than the warring Democrats will spend in the state of Pennsylvania, and (2) The dialogue was unremittingly civil. Candidates from the seven or eight political parties - spanning the political spectrum, from communists to right-wing nationalists - calmly recited their issue agendas; none of them dared try to assail a rival in personal terms, or rip somebody a new posterior. Such behavior was culturally unacceptable.

Excuse this pang of nostalgia, which was brought on by the latest outbreak of name-calling in America's longest running steel-cage death match: The attempt by a Hillary Clinton flak to paint Barack Obama as the reincarnation of conservative prosecutor Kenneth Starr; and an intemperate outburst by an Obama foreign policy advisor, who told a Scottish newspaper that Clinton is a "monster."

Which insult is worse? You be the judge. What I find most noteworthy is how the candidates reacted to the behavior of their own surrogates - and what their contrasting reactions tell us about the current dynamic of the race.

But first, here's what happened: After the Obama people renewed their demand that the Clintons release their tax returns from the past eight years, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson took umbrage, charging that Obama was "imitating Ken Starr." Starr, of course, is best known as the special counsel who pursued Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal; his official report detailed the trysts, as well as Bill's creative use of cigars, and paved the way for the GOP impeachment drive. Starr is a dirty name to the Democratic base, so, in that sense, Wolfson was smart in his choice of epithets.

One might argue, however, that the issue of secret tax returns is a tad more substantive than the issue of oral sex, and that Wolfson's attempt to equate the two is nothing more than a transparently clever con. One might also argue that his Starr insult is nothing more than rank hypocrisy - given the fact that, when Hillary ran for the Senate eight years ago, one of her big complaints was that Republican opponent Rick Lazio had failed to release his tax returns. Indeed, one of the demonstrators who showed up at a Lazio event, and yelled at Lazio to release his tax returns, was a Clinton campaign aide named...Howard Wolfson.

Meanwhile, in the Obama camp this week, foreign policy advisor Samantha Power, a Pulizer Prizewinning author and Harvard academic, gave an interview to a Scottish newspaper and said of Hillary: "She is a monster, too - that is off the record - she is stooping to anything." She also said of Hillary: "The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive." It's a tad unusual for a foreign policy advisor to assail a rival candidate in such personal terms.

And note, in particular, Power's attempt to retroactively remove her "monster" insult from the record, which is somewhat surprising, given the fact that Power is a former journalist herself. (Full disclosure: While I was reporting in Croatia back in 1994, I met Power. We traveled together to a refugee camp at the border, where we interviewed victims of the war in Bosnia. It was quickly clear that she was excellent at her job.)

But, most importantly, note the difference in candidate reactions. When Hillary was asked by reporters yesterday about Wolfson's Ken Starr insult, she simply said, "I'm not going to respond to that." Translation: She had no problems with what Wolfson had said. He was in the clear.

By contrast, Obama spokesman Bill Burton rebuked Power yesterday, stating: "Sen. Obama decries such characterizations, which have no place in this campaign." And Power followed with her own statement: "I should not have made these comments, and I deeply regret them. It is wrong for anyone to pursue this campaign in such negative and personal terms." Then, today, Power resigned (a largely symbolic gesture, since, in her own words, she was only an "informal advisor").

Therefore: advantage, Hillary. She has been portraying herself as a "fighter," somebody who knows to do what it takes to win. If her people want to rumble in a back alley on her behalf, that's fine with her. But Obama has been promising a "new politics" of civility, which means that he can't sanction back-alley rumbles without losing some of his luster and compromising his core principle. Indeed, he's on record as vowing to sack any underlings who talk trash about the opposition.

Hence, the Obama conundrum. If Hillary pulls a knife on him, and he refuses to slash back, can he win over the lunch-bucket Pennsylvania voters who yearn for a fighter? On the other hand, if he does meet her in the alley, can he outfight such a seasoned street pugilist? Either way, this looks a bit like what the military specialists refer to as asymmetrical warfare. And I feel farther and farther away from Sweden.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The odd couple's latest mating dance

For the sake of sanity, I'm taking a one-day break from the Democratic phantasmagoria, and dwelling instead on the photo op that occurred yesterday at the White House. You probably saw it. There was the newly crowned Republican presidential nominee, John McCain (not wearing a flag pin, by the way), staging his umpteenth awkward love embrace with George W. Bush.

The Rose Garden pictures cried out for cartoon captions. For instance...

McCain's inner thoughts: "This guy is presiding over a $3-trillion war, record-high budget deficits, record-high oil prices, and a record-low dollar when pegged against the euro, and two-thirds of the American people - including the the independents who will decide the election - think he's a buffoon. But if I hide him in a closet, the nutty conservatives will go ballistic on me. So I'm stuck with him."

Bush's inner thoughts: "He was a pain in the butt who got in my way eight years ago, which is why we had to falsely smear him with rumors that he'd fathered a black baby out of wedlock, and a host of other things I knew nothing about. I still don't totally trust him, because he's not always a loyal Bushie. But he's the nominee, so I'm stuck with him."

These two have rarely been comfortable bedfellows. I remember the first mating dance, back in May 2000. Bush, having steamrolled McCain in the Republican primaries, wanted his vanquished foe to endorse him, but for many weeks McCain resisted. Certain memories were still fresh. Bush allies had spread the rumor that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock (whereas, in reality, he and his wife had adopted a girl from Bangladesh); and had run TV ads claiming that McCain was hostile to breast cancer research and thus to women with breast cancer (whereas, in reality, he had backed legislation to double the funding of the National Institutes of Health, and, besides, his own sister had breast cancer).

Suffice it to say that McCain had not enjoyed being slimed. Finally, however, he grudingly said, yes, he would endorse. The two men met in Pittsburgh, then emerged to face us journalists. They barely shook hands, and they wore political smiles. McCain even said that he felt like a child being forced to "take the medicine now" for his own good. When asked why he seemed to be having trouble saying the word endorse, he grimace-grinned and mimicked the tone of an errant schoolboy writing on a blackboard after class: "I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush!"

In a sense, he's still taking the medicine. He needs Bush to run interference for him, and help cure his ills with the conservative base. He needs Bush to pry some money from the hands of conservative donors. Ideally, he might be inclined to hide Bush in a closet for the next eight months, but he knows that if he distances himself too much, most conservatives will go ballistic.

The problem is, every medicine has its potential side effects. He can't go public with Bush in any of the swing states without risking the ire of independent voters. It's instructive that, in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll autumn matchups, McCain trails Barack Obama by 12 points and Hillary Clinton by six points - primarily because Bush-averse independents run the other way. McCain would prefer that independents see and hear Bush as little as possible.

And independents are not the only concern. Political analyst and Emory University professor Alan Abramowitz, having studied voting behavior in the '06 congressional elections and in the recent Virginia and Wisconsin primaries, warned today that "John McCain's efforts to woo GOP conservatives by stressing his support for the war and his determination to continue President Bush's policies if he is elected are likely to cost him support among moderate-to-liberal Republicans in November."

Abramowitz notes that these Republicans, "dissatisfied with the performance of President Bush in general and with the war in Iraq in particular," defected in sufficient numbers to elect Democratic senators in three red states (Missouri, Montana, Virginia), thereby wresting Senate control away from the GOP - while also contributing to the Democratic takeover of the House. More awkward Bush-hugging could repeat the pattern this year.

Which is probably why McCain chose his words so carefully yesterday. He said that he hoped to schedule some joint events "in keeping with the president's schedule," which he characterized as a "busy schedule."

In translation: "George, I know you don't have all that much to do, given the fact that your lame-duck agenda is going nowhere, but I'd be happy to buy you a new mountain bike to keep you occupied."

Indeed, 36 hours after the Bush-McCain Rose Garden embrace, there was still no mention of the event anywhere on the McCain campaign website.

Naturally, the Bush White House insists that there's no debate going on over whether Bush is an albatross; in the words of press secretary Dana Perino, "It's not normal for the president and the nominee to campaign a lot together."

Oh, really? Back in 1988 - as former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein recalled yesterday - Reagan stumped alongside the senior George Bush in 16 states, including the key battlegrounds of California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Perhaps what Perino meant to say is that it's not normal for a nominee to campaign with a president in crucial states when the latter is a virtual pariah.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Onward they slog

So onward they shall slog across the electoral landscape, like a pair of prison escapees joined at the wrist by handcuffs, each yearning and scheming to be free of the other, and we still don't know how this movie will end. Rumor now has it that they're fixing to hole up for six long weeks in Pennsylvania.

Hillary Clinton can thank the kind souls of Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island for providing some much-needed aid and comfort. She can reasonably claim that she has the wherewithal to persevere. Let's face it, no candidate who wins a state like Ohio - a bellwhether state, a linchpin state for any Democrat planning an autumn victory strategy - is going to celebrate that achievement by dropping out. Especially after winning it so decisively. And when you add that with the Rhode Island win (decisive again) and the Texas win (narrow), that's sufficient ammo for the psychological warfare that we are sure to witness in the days ahead.

"As Ohio goes, so goes the nation...and so goes this campaign," Clinton declared last night, and indeed her goal is to frame the Tuesday results as evidence of a paradigm shift in momentum, a theme aimed in part at her worried donors and superdelegates. She wants them to focus on the Clinton spin, not on Barack Obama's math.

Indeed - and we won't know this for many hours - it's probable that Obama's national delegate lead (roughly 150) will remain virtually unchanged after all 370 pledgees from the four states are allocated. The latest reliable estimate is that his lead was trimmed last night by roughly a dozen delegates. In terms of the big picture, he tops Clinton in delegates, states won (roughly two-thirds of them, in fact), and the aggregate popular vote. (In all the states that have awarded delegatesn thus far, Obama is ahead by 49 to 47 percent, or a margin of 600,000 votes.) Clinton last night, while seeking to demonstrate her national reach, felt compelled to extol her meaningless, delegate-free victories in Florida and Michigan - but that itself is a sign that she will renew her demand that the delegates from those states be seated (even though it means changing the rules that she originally agreed to).

Nevertheless, she did manage to halt Obama's steady incursions into her base. In the last few rounds of primaries, in places like Wisconsin and Virginia, Obama had done well among working-class voters, Hispanics, and even seniors. Not this time, however. Clinton recouped strongly among all those folks (working-class voters and seniors in Ohio; Hispanics and seniors in Texas). In both those states, she even outperformed Obama among white men, a switch from earlier contests.

And, perhaps most tellingly, when Ohio and Texas voters were asked in exit polls which candidate had a "clear plan" for America, Clinton was favored over Obama. In other words, she was perceived as more specific on the issues. This suggests that her anti-Obama message - that he is more rhetorical than substantive - gained some traction. She sowed doubt about her opponent; the "3 a.m." TV ad may have been a scare-mongering ripoff of an ad that Walter Mondale ran in 1984, but it may have connected with voters who were worried that Obama lacks experience - while shoring up support among women with kids. We'll no doubt hear more about this "gravitas" theme in Pennsylvania, where Obama would be well advised to make some adjustments.

(Regarding that ad: Clinton was asked on CNN today whether she can cite any experience dealing with a wee-hour crisis, amd she replied: "Well, you know, there isn't any way that anyone who has not been president, but you know, the administration sent me to war-torn zones." Italics mine.)

Despite her delegate deficit, she has stuck around partly in the hopes that Obama would screw something up. And finally he did. He and his aides were slow and hamfisted in responding to the flap involving his economic advisor, who may have winked to Canada that Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric was mere politicking. The timing could not have been better for Clinton, given the fact that it occurred while Obama was seeking votes in Ohio, where NAFTA is a dirty word among the blue-collar working stiffs - and given the fact that Clinton's husband was the president who signed NAFTA into existence. We'll soon see how (or whether) the Canada incident plays to Clinton's advantage in Pennsylvania, which is also home to a large number of blue-collar working stiffs.

By the way, last night provided fresh proof that negative attacks work. People say they don't like those tactics - exit polls showed that they pegged Clinton as the more negative campaigner - and yet, Ohio voters who made up their minds in the final three days broke strongly for Clinton. And what dominated the discourse over the final three days in Ohio? The 3 a.m. TV ad, and the NAFTA/Canada flap. And late-deciding Texas voters broke for Clinton as well, erasing Obama's reported popularity among those who cast early ballots ahead of primary day.

This is all great news for John McCain. He gets to set up his general-election operation, raise money, potentially frame the terms of the autumn campaign, and unite the Republicans (the latter, not necessarily an easy task) all while Clinton and Obama spend six weeks and tens of millions of dollars beating each other up from one end of Pennsylvania to the other. If Clinton trashes Obama as an inexperienced naif, McCain can use that against Obama in the fall, citing Hillary; if Obama goes on offense and trashes Clinton as a typical pol who's hiding her tax records and the donor lists to her husband's library, McCain can use all that against Clinton in the fall, citing Obama.

Only the Democrats could manage such a scenario, in a year when the prevailing winds are supposedly in their favor.

After Mississippi votes next Tuesday, Pennsylvania will become the new Iowa; with no competing contests, it will be the target of unremitting national attention. And it will be a brutal battlefield. For all the glib comparisons to Ohio, its rustbelt neighbor, there are significant differences that could aid Obama. Pennsylvania has a larger black population than Ohio, larger cities, and a larger student population. In contrast to Texas, it has a small Latino population. It has populous white liberal suburbs around Philadelphia.

On the other hand (advantage Hillary), it has the second-largest senior electorate in America, behind Florida. It has a large population of lunch-bucket guys, just as in Ohio. And, perhaps most importantly, the Keystone State primary is open only to registered Democrats. Obama-friendly independents need not bother to show up - unless they re-register as Democrats in advance, by the March 24 deadline. It's hard to imagine that these converts will vote in the same numbers as the independents in other states.

The overall delegate math still looks bad for Clinton, even if she wins Pennsylvania, and she would no doubt like to ignore one jarring statistic in the exit polls. When voters were asked whether superdelegates should pick the candidate they feel would win in November, or whether superdelegates should ratify the candidate who leads at the end of the primary season, the ratification option won in a landslide (62 percent in Texas, 61 percent in Ohio). That's basically the Obama argument, but she'll slog onward anyway. Her basic character pitch is that whatever hasn't killed her has merely made her stronger, and that "fighter" argument goes over well with a lot of Democrats.

So I'm passing the word to my fellow Philadelphians: The circus is coming to town.


I did a gig on C-Span's "Washington Journal" earlier this morning, verbalizing much of what appears above, and then came the questions from viewers. That's always a high-wire act. My favorite: "I believe that Jeb Bush is going to end up being president. And I believe that, because McCain will choose him as a running mate...McCain is suddenly going to get sick, or not able to fulfill the duty, and you're going to have Jeb Bush as your president."

I politely suggested in response that nobody with the name of Bush would be appearing on any ticket in 2008...and that I don't think any of us are capable of handling any more twists and turns, beyond those we perpetually seem to be experiencing.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sound and fury, signifying nothing?

So what's gonna happen, anyway? Beats the heck out of me. There are too many scenarios to contemplate, too many potential plot twists still in the offing, more trash-talking that needs to play out, too many lies that still need to be sorted out, and no way of knowing who will be left standing at the end.

But enough about HBO's Sunday finale of The Wire.

By comparison, the Democratic presidential contest is a cakewalk. All we need contemplate tonight are these possibilities:

1. Obama wins decisively in Texas, Ohio, and Vermont, losing only Rhode Island - thereby virtually cementing the nomination in the minds of everybody except the Clintons and their most loyal allies.
2. Obama wins Texas and Vermont decisively, wins Ohio narrowly, but loses Rhode Island decisively - another scenario that would put pressure on Clinton to quit.
3. Obama wins Texas and Vermont decisively, but loses Ohio and Rhode Island decisively - thereby setting off a spin war over the results.
4. Obama wins Texas narrowly and Vermont decisively, but loses Ohio narrowly and Rhode Island decisively - thereby encouraging Clinton to fight on, particularly since most Democrats apparently would applaud her decision to stay the course in the event of a split verdict.
5. Clinton wins Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island decisively, but loses Vermont decisively - thereby encouraging her to behave as if she has won the nomination.
6. Clinton wins Texas narrowly, and Ohio and Rhode Island decisively, but loses Vermont decisively. See her behavior in #5.
7. Clinton wins Texas and Ohio narrowly, and Rhode Island decisively, or maybe narrowly, but loses Vermont decisively. See #5, but take her behavior down half a notch.

Then we have to determine the proper definitions of narrow and decisive. In the scenarios above, I consider a narrow margin to be two points or less, but it would not be a surprise tomorrow if the Obama and Clinton campaigns offer warring definitions of their own, depending on how they want the media to frame the story line.

But here's the thing: With the possible exception of #5, Clinton at this point has virtually no chance to change the fundamental dynamic of this race.

Obama has a triple-digit delegate lead going into tonight (with roughly 150 more pledgees than Clinton), and he will likely emerge tomorrow with a similar delegate lead. In that sense, the contests in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island are not nearly as important as they seem. Arguably, to paraphrase Shakespeare, they're a lot of sound of fury, signifying nothing. I'm betting that, in the end, it'll all be a wash - with Obama and Clinton basically splitting the new delegates - just as Tsunami Tuesday proved to be. Translation: Advantage, Obama.

My seven scenarios are even more complicated than they appear, because it's quite possible that Clinton wins the Texas popular vote narrowly, yet still racks up fewer delegates than Obama. Under the Texas rules, the primary votes are broken down by state senate districts. Each of the 31 districts has a pool of delegates, but those districts that voted heaviest for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2006 are given more delegates as a reward. Clinton is reportedly stronger than Obama in Texas' Hispanic districts, but those districts were not nearly as loyal to the Democrats in 2004 and 2006 as the black districts were. So the black districts have more delegates, and Obama is stronger than Clinton there. The white liberal districts around Austin (a university town)also have more delegates than the Hispanic districts, and Obama is stronger there as well.

Then remember that Texas has a two-step process: a primary, followed by an evening caucus. Only people who voted in the primary can join the caucus. A separate pool of delegates is awarded in the caucus, and Obama repeatedly demonstrated, during February, that his people are better organized to win caucuses. The Clinton people, overconfident during the planning process, never thought they would need to be.

Then remember that, because Ohio's Democratic delegate rules are similar to the Texas rules, Obama could lose the state and still garner a hefty share of the delegates (particularly in heavily-black enclaves, which are delegate-rich as a reward for their loyal Democratic performances in previous elections). Just a few weeks ago, Clinton was leading in the Ohio polls by as many as 17 points. That's still the winning margin she needs, to really narrow the delegate gap. I doubt she'll get that now. Then remember that the likeliest prospects for a blowout are in Vermont, where Obama is strong, and where he could wind up netting around five delegates, cushioning whatever marginal slippage he might suffer in the big states.

And then remember what comes next: Wyoming holds caucuses on Saturday (another state where Obama is organized at the grassroots), and Mississippi holds its primary next Tuesday (a heavily-black electorate, and thus another Obama victory). So those are two more pit stops where Obama can refuel and add to his delegate count, further mitigating whatever erosion occurs tonight.

If Clinton wins three out of four tonight, in terms of the popular vote, her spin tomorrow will be about "momentum" and about anti-Obama "buyers' remorse." Her people will conveniently forget spokesman Howard Wolfson's prediction on Feb. 11: "I think we will be ahead in the delegate race after Texas and Ohio."

But smoke and mirrors are no substitute for the delegate math - which is precisely what the Clinton team would be arguing if the positions were reversed.


Regarding the primary results and the state of the Democratic race, I'm slated to share my thoughts on C-Span tomorrow morning, from 7:30 to 8 am.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tony Rezko and the Obama image

On the eve of yet another round of crucial primaries, Barack Obama will be stumping for votes in Texas - which means he'll be 1000 miles away from Tony Rezko. No doubt he'd like to keep it that way.

His old friend and fundraiser, a real-estate hustler and political fixer who also helped Obama swing a nice deal for a sumptuous house, is set to stand trial today in Chicago on federal bribery, kickback and extortion charges. Obama is not mentioned in the Rezko indictment, nor is there evidence that Obama performed any favors for Rezko in exchange for Rezko's financial generosity. However, their past ties - and Obama's general reluctance to discuss those ties - is evidence that Obama is not necessarily as saintly as his image would suggest.

I doubt the Rezko case will have much of an impact on the voters in Texas and Ohio tomorrow. The details are too "inside baseball"; as Obama strategist David Axelrod said yesterday on ABC News, "this is not what people want us to be talking about. They want to talk about their lives, their problems" (which is exactly what the Clintons used to say in 1992, when Bill's aberrant behavior was front and center). Nevertheless, Obama in this campaign has painted himself as an ethics purist; therefore, he needs to be assessed accordingly.

Which is why it's noteworthy that his judgment seems less than stellar, at least with respect to this particular friend.

Rezko helped Obama become a credible U.S. Senate candidate in 2004, raising at least $150,000 for the upstart state legislator, and the court documents reportedly suggest that Rezko played fast and loose with campaign finance laws (without Obama's knowledge) in order to make it happpen. But that's the small stuff. The gist of the Rezko story is that Obama decided in early 2005 to do some real-estate business with Rezko even though the guy at the time was under active federal investigation, and was being sued by various creditors in a dozen different lawsuits.

Obama had his eye on a house near the University of Chicago, but it came with an adjoining lot that he could not afford. The seller insisted that the house and the lot were a package deal. Things worked out beautifully in June 2005. Rezko bought the lot at the full asking prices - or, more accurately, he bought it in his wife's name, in order to keep his creditors at bay - and Obama got the house for $300,000 less than the asking price. Not long after, Obama expanded his yard by swinging a deal with Mrs. Rezko to buy a portion of that lot.

There are no indications by any authorities that these dealings were illegal. Still, in politics, appearances matter. Obama has virtually presented himself as a paragon of clean government. Yet here he was electing to do business with a guy who was already under a legal cloud. Rezko had been mentioned, in numerous press accounts dating back to 2003, as an alleged shakedown artist, a confidant of the Democratic governor who was suspected of extorting money from prospective government appointees. Obama, nevertheless, insisted on TV two months ago that "no one had an inkling" about Rezko's legal woes during their relationship.

It must be embarrassing for Obama to be rebuked by the good-government watchdogs in Illinois; as Jay Stewart of the state's Better Government Association has reportedly said (to various news organizations), Obama "should have been on high alert" at the time he was house-hunting. Indeed, Stewart said, "If you run as an agent of change, a reformer...that's holding yourself to a pretty high standard. But when you're laying out that kind of makes sense for people to say, 'Let's look at what you've done. Let's see if your rhetoric matches with reality."

Obama has responded sluggishly to the Rezko story. More than a year ago, he released a mea culpa statement: "It was a mistake to have been engaged with (Rezko) at all in this, or any other personal business dealing that would allow him, or anyone else, to believe that he had done me a favor."

Since then, the candidate has generally remained vague on the details, reportedly claiming that he couldn't remember how the real-estate deal with Rezko came into being ("I don't recall exactly"..."I am not clear"), but that, after an initial conversation with Rezko, "I just worked through my real estate broker." Last month, however, Obama added one new detail, telling reporters that he and Rezko had toured the house together prior to the deal.

The Chicago press corps has other questions - such as whether Obama ever asked Rezko to find jobs for Obama allies in the Democratic governor's administration - but answers have been slow in coming. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet wrote the other day, "Obama has never agreed to an interview with the reporters from the Chicago papers who know the story best, and it has not been for lack of trying." (On ABC yesterday, Obama strategist Axelrod said that Sweet was "wrong," and that the Rezko saga has been "thoroughly reviewed."

I'd leave it to Democratic primary voters, assuming they care, to determine whether Obama's ties to the indicted Rezko (house deal, roughly $150,000 in campaign money raised) are more or less problematic than Hillary Clinton's ties to the escaped felon Norman Hsu (no house deal, roughly $850,000 in campaign money raised). Perhaps they balance out on the merits (or lack thereof), if one considers that politicians are always going to attract hustlers.

On the other hand, Obama's core pitch is that Clinton is a typical pol and he is not. By that measure, perhaps he comes off as the loser. And here's another measure, as proposed by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz this morning: "Would Clinton have skated as easily (in the media) if she were found to have...bought land from an indicted businessman, as in the Rezko case?...That is hard to imagine."

Nor would Obama's image be well served if he winds up being called to testify this spring in the Rezko trial - for the defense, no less. He might want to rack up a larger delegate lead before the mileage between him and Rezko is narrowed.


So on one front, Obama is laboring not to be seen as just another politician. Yet on another front, he's laboring not to be seen as a foreign wierdo with a funny name and an aversion to the red, white, and blue. I wrote about that in a print column yesterday.