What the Candidates Stand For, Aside From Raising Money
TThe Odds Are With McConnell in ’ 08
he 2008 presidential campaign seems these days to be mostly about raising money. But when all is said and done, the candidates’ policies and ideas are supposed to matter as much as anything else. Although the highest stakes are in Iraq, other big challenges are looming. One is developing new energy sources, a realm catching on with Democrats. But other problems aren’t on anyone’s list, such as the coming crises in Social Security and Medicare, both big issues in the last few elections.
Despite the rap that some candidates are all hat and no cattle, most are starting to line up behind a few big causes. Based on their speeches and policy papers, here’s a look at the issues primary.
At Churchill Downs in Louisville, this horse would probably go off at around 3- 1.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a political thoroughbred, on a course that suits him. President Bush won Kentucky in 2004 by a large margin. The Army’s 101st Airborne Division, now serving in Iraq, is based at Fort Campbell. As McConnell quipped last week, “ Kentucky’s not Berkeley.”
But the four- term Republican has emerged as a top Democratic target for 2008, the next cycle’s Rick Santorum — the former No. 3 Senate Republican, once regarded as a GOP rising star, who was soundly defeated in November.
A new independent political organization called the Bluegrass Freedom Fund was registered last week by Craig Varoga, until recently the campaign manager for former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack’s presidential bid. Varoga also worked for Senate Majority Harry Reid about 16 years ago. He acknowledged that some interested donors are funding the group “ as an opportunity” to raise issues in Kentucky, with McConnell on the ballot in 2008 and a hotly contested governor’s race later this year.
The Reid connection suggests payback for 2004, when Bill Frist ( R-Tenn.), then Senate majority leader, personally campaigned against Tom Daschle ( D- S. D.), the Senate minority leader, and Daschle lost his reelection bid. Reid spokesman Jim Manley said, “ We have absolutely nothing to do with this.”
Meanwhile, in a more immediate threat, the liberal group Americans United for Change is currently airing an anti- McConnell ad on broadcast and cable stations in Lexington and Louisville and on cable statewide. The spot accuses McConnell of ignoring U. S. casualties in Iraq as he defends President Bush’s war policies in the Senate. “ Kentucky sees it,” the ad says. “ Why won’t he?”
McConnell seemed unimpressed. “ I would doubt that an antiwar effort would get much resonance in a pro- military state like mine,” he said.
Refusing to Be Second- Class Candidates
Single- digit presidential candidates of the world, unite! Top advisers to Sen. Chris Dodd ( Conn.), Sen. Joe Biden ( Del.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are refusing to attend an April 11 forum sponsored by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics because, they say, organizers grouped the candidates by perceived chance to win the Democratic nomination.
A March 19 panel discussion featured senior operatives for the Democratic “ first tier”: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ( N. Y.), Sen. Barack Obama ( Ill.) and former senator John Edwards ( N. C.). Dodd, Biden and Richardson advisers said they were segregated into a later forum for candidates running behind the front pack in state and national polling.
“ We won’t participate in something that perpetuates the idea of different ‘ tiers’ of candidates based on hype and money,” said Richardson campaign manager Dave Contarino. Another strategist, who would not speak on the record, noted that if the same rules had applied during the 2004 nomination fight, Edwards — the runner- up to Sen. John Kerry ( D- Mass.) for the nomination — would not have made the cut.
“ Given the large number of presidential candidates, we believed that breaking the sessions into several events would be productive for both campaigns and observers,” said Harvard’s Esten Perez. “ We are disappointed that several Democratic presidential campaigns invited to an April 11 event have declined to participate.