McCain Skipping Ames Too

The campaign just released this statement:

“John McCain has built a solid grassroots organization in Iowa and intends to win the state’s caucuses. He appreciates the unique and critical role the caucuses play in the nomination process and enjoys traveling the state, meeting Iowans, and holding town hall meetings.

“In light of today’s news, it is clear that the Ames Straw Poll will not be a meaningful test of the leading candidates’ organizational abilities, so we have decided to forego our participation in the event.”

Clearly, he’s using Rudy’s decision as a cover to bail out of Ames. It’s also uncertain whether Fred Thompson will compete. If Thompson skips too, then three of the frontrunners will not be participating, removing a lot of the significance of the event. The question now is how much Romney will benefit from his near certain victory in Ames.

Rudy Will Not Be Participating in Ames Straw Poll

Rudy Giuliani will not compete in the August straw poll in Ames, Iowa  his campaign manager Mike DuHaime just said on a conference call.

More: DuHaime said that the campaign is still, "100 percent playing in Iowa," but that they decided instead of spending time, money, and resources to compete in a straw poll, they'd rather focus on the caucus. He said he believed caucus goers will cast their votes after looking at the candidates' records, not on whether they participated in "some non-binding straw poll in August." Jim Nussle, Rudy's Iowa consultant, called the event a "sideshow."

The difficulty for Giuliani is that though the event is non-binding, Iowa political observers argue that it's difficult for a candidate to seriously compete in the caucus while skipping the straw poll. The Des Moines Register pointed out that no candidate in the straw poll's nearly  30-year history has avoided the event and won the caucus.

In the call, DuHaime dismissed the "conventional wisdom," saying that Giuliani's candidacy has been defying it every step of the way.

In addition to costing the campaign a lot of money, participating in the straw poll would have been a huge gamble, because if he showed up and had a poor showing, it would raise a lot of questions about his candidacy. Now, if Giuliani does poorly, he can attribute it to the fact that he wasn't there.

Giuliani's decision to bail on the straw poll will reinforce the view among skeptics that his organization in the Hawkeye State lags his rivals, particularly, Mitt Romney, who has to be seen as the odds on favorite to win the poll now, if he wasn't already.

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Fred and Lamar

A commenter to my post below on F. Thompson writes:

The new Lamar Alexander…whoopee…get Fred a lumberjackshirt and roll up the sleeves….

The Lamar comparison is something that has ocurred to me recently, and not just because both men are from Tennessee, but because like Alexander before him, Thompson is running as a regular guy who shares everybody’s frustration with Washington. Granted, Thompson has a lot more charisma than Alexander, but I think there’s a comparison to be made in terms of their populist messages.

UPDATE: Another one chimes in:

Fred Thompson did exactly what he should have done at this juncture, and that was to effectively articulate his unique grasp of, and perspective on the problems and issues that are of greatest concern to voters. Please tell us you didn’t really think he was going to use the venue of an often-times tabloidish TV talk/argument show to lay out his entire policy agenda. And this without even being a full-fledged candidate?? To use the contemporary vernacular, “GET REAL!”

Fair enough. But the point is, now that he has moved from the realm of a fantasy candidate to a likely candidate who is “testing the waters” he has to begin to offer more. And those who have been building him up as the savior of the party should begin making a much more substantive case for his candidacy than they have been up until now. It’s okay to have a wait and see attitude, but there are people out there declaring him the winner of last night’s debate, and I don’t know what they were watching. I sat through two hours of candidates wrestling with challenging questions, giving detailed answers, and offering solutions. Then I watched Thompson ruminate on our challenges in a softball interview with Sean Hannity. And don’t get me wrong, I actually like Thompson and agreed with much of what he had to say. But when you’re running for the most powerful job in the world, you need to bring more to the table. Obviously, it’s still early, and I look forward to seeing more from him.

NYT on Libby: Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass GO

From today’s editorial:

The jail sentence and fine imposed on Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, are an appropriate – indeed necessary – punishment for his repeated lies to a grand jury and to F.B.I. agents investigating a possible smear campaign orchestrated by the White House. Although Mr. Libby plans to appeal, as he has every legal right to, the judge ought to send him to jail now as a lesson that such efforts to frustrate justice will not be tolerated.

Fred Fizzles

I also tuned in to watch Fred Thompson being interviewed by Sean Hannity. The news portion of the interview was that Thompson announced his new website, I’mWithFred.

After watching two hours of Republicans answer tough questions, I thought Thompson’s performance was a dud. If I didn’t know going in that he was considered a top tier presidential candidate, I would have thought of him as just another talking head. He was fine at laying out a lot of the problems and challenges we face that he said people aren’t really talking about correctly or don’t comprehend (Iran, the War on Terror, globalization, entitlements, etc.) but he didn’t offer any solutions to those problems or make any sort of case for why he thinks he might be the person best suited to solve them. Say what you want about Romney, McCain, and Giuliani, but they point to specific accomplishments of theirs to make the argument that they are the most qualified to lead the nation at this time. When Rudy Giuliani complains about government not working, he can credibly say, as he did in tonight’s debate, “I turned around New York City, I can turn around Washington.” For all of the hoopla surrounding Thompson, neither he nor any of his fans have made the case for what he has tangibly done that recommends him for the highest office in the land. Obviously, it’s early, and he hasn’t even announced he’s running yet. But now that it seems apparent that he intends to run, it’s showtime–and he has to offer more than just more folksy outsider schtick.

The Third Debate

Rudy: Though he didn’t have as defining a moment as his smack down of Ron Paul in the last debate, he still turned in the best performance of the evening. He was forceful, had a commanding presence, and a mastery of the issues. His abortion answer, again, won’t win him any fans among social conservatives, but he got it out of the way quickly, and the fact that lightning struck during the answer allowed for a moment of levity. His unequivocal defense of the Iraq war by putting it in the context of the broader war on terror will anger liberals, but can only help him in a Republican primary. The direct answer also stood in stark contrast to Romney’s use of the “null set” dodge. Rudy continued to attack Democrats, which seems to work well for him, and will be even more effective if the Democrats begin to take the bait. It was also a great moment when he turned the tables on Wolf Blitzer, and asked whether the media would report the good news if the surge were a success. Not only because it gets him brownie points for going after the liberal media, but also because it demonstrated strength. (Same on his Libby answer). Rudy also showed a grasp of the details in his criticism of the immigration bill by conveying the sense that he may have actually read it, and not allowing McCain to imply that the bill addressed all of his criticisms. All in all, Giuliani has seemed much more prepared in the last two debates, and is displaying the qualities that made him such an effective mayor, but that were missing in the early stages of his campaign. As I’ve been arguing since he gave it, that Houston speech on abortion changed everything about Giuliani’s demeanor, and he’s simply been a much more confident, effective, candidate ever since.

McCain: He had some wonderful moments in the debate. When he stood up and addressed the woman who lost her brother in Iraq with a heartfelt, passionate, and substantive answer it reinforced why, though I may disagree with McCain on many issues, I’ll always have a lot of respect for him. His defense of his immigration policy, though I take a different view, was one of the better defenses I’ve heard. I think with his answers on immigration and in opposition to English as the official language, he regained some of his Maverick label. The problem is, he’s taking a stand on a piece of legislation that is hated by much of the conservative base. Granted, some of McCain’s boosters may point to polls showing that public opposition to the bill isn’t as great as on the blogs and talk radio, but in my view the difficulty that McCain faces is that the people who oppose the bill oppose it with more passion than the people who support it. Some Republicans may support the bill, but they don’t say, “That’s a great bill, I want to volunteer for McCain!” But many of those who oppose it are saying, “Anybody but McCain!”

Romney: Pretty lackluster performance, I thought. Granted, I’ve been quite critical of Romney on this blog and find him far too plastic for my taste, but I thought he was particularly off his game tonight. He seemed especially unprepared for the audience question about how he could support English as the official language and still take out ads in Spanish. With that said, I thought he did answer the Mormon question well, and to the disappointment of journalists everywhere, passed up an opportunity to escalate his war of words with McCain, instead taking the high road by calling McCain a friend with whom he disagreed.

Paulson on China’s Gradualism

Earlier today, I attended a speech and Q&A held at the Heritage Foundation featuring Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who focused on ongoing economic talks between the U.S. and China. Much of his discussion revolved around  currency valuation and intellectual property rights, with Paulson making the argument that "we agree on principles" with the Chinese, but they are  "proponents of gradualism" while  the U.S. wants to see China make changes more rapidly. "A big part of  our discussion really  centers around timing," he said.

Paulson touted some progress the U.S. has made with China, including a commercial air agreement that will lead to more flights between the two countries, an increase in quotas on American businesses, and a removal of caps on investment.

One of the major causes of the widening trade deficit between the U.S. and China (other than the undervalued Yuan) is the relatively high savings rate of the Chinese people, and relatively low rate of consumption. The problem, Paulson said, is that because China has a limited financial services sector, the Chinese put their money in banks for virtually no interest (actually negative interest if you factor in inflation). If more financial isntruments were available, it would help reduce "precautionary savings" and increase consumption.

Paulson said when U.S. negotiators make the case to their Chinese counterparts  to allow  the nation's currency to reflect its actual value, they tell the Chinese, "It's very difficult to have a market economy without market price signals." He said the Chinese understand this in principle, but feel they need to maintain  more  control over their currency.

Asked about intellectual property, Paulson said, "I very much believe that they take it seriously" and that they were putting the legal infrastructure in place to deal with the problem. But again,  it's a matter of timing.

Overall, I thought Paulson's presentation was worthwhile, but I remain much  more skeptical about  Chinese intentions.  What he calls gradualism, I call intransigence.

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