Tuesday Reads: Gordon Gekko for President?

Good morning! Today is the New Hampshire primary. We’ll live blog the returns later tonight. As of last night, Gordon Gekko Mitt Romney had a big lead in the polls, with Ron Paul second and John Huntsman and Rick Santorum tied for third place.

Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, holds a 24 percentage point lead over his closest rival, with 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters indicating they’d vote for him, the WMUR New Hampshire Primary Poll said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul from Texas was favored by 17 percent of likely primary voters, followed by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, each with 11 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich collecting 8 percent.

Several polls indicated Gingrich would finish in the top three.

“All of the candidates behind Romney have a good chance finishing anywhere between second and fifth place,” said Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center in Durham.

Yesterday Romney stepped in it again when he told an audience that he really likes firing people.

The final day of campaigning saw Romney under fire for a comment about health insurance that quickly became fodder for criticism.

Asked about the issue in Nashua, New Hampshire, Romney said he wanted a person to be able to own his or her own policy “and perhaps keep it the rest of their life.”

“That means the insurance company will have the incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them,” he said.

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” Romney added. “If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say I am going to get somebody else to provide that service to me.”

Romney complained that everyone was taking his remarks out of context, but when you’re a former corporate raider worth $250 million, it’s probably a good idea to watch what you say about putting people out of work.

Anyway, the latest meme about Romney is that he’s Gordon Gekko brought to life. I think it’s a pretty good comparison. I don’t know if you recall the quote from the recent Vanity Fair profile of Romney that I included in a recent post:

Romney described himself as driven by a core economic credo, that capitalism is a form of “creative destruction.” This theory, espoused in the 1940s by the economist Joseph Schumpeter and later touted by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, holds that business must exist in a state of ceaseless revolution. A thriving economy changes from within, Schumpeter wrote in his landmark book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” But as even the theory’s proponents acknowledged, such destruction could bankrupt companies, upending lives and communities, and raise questions about society’s role in softening some of the harsher consequences.

Romney, for his part, contrasted the capitalistic benefits of creative destruction with what happened in controlled economies, in which jobs might be protected but productivity and competitiveness falters. Far better, Romney wrote in his book No Apology, “for governments to stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in a free economy.” He acknowledged that it is “unquestionably stressful—on workers, managers, owners, bankers, suppliers, customers, and the communities that surround the affected businesses.” But it was necessary to rebuild a moribund company and economy.

That sure sounds Gekko-like, doesn’t it?

Yesterday, Rick Klein of ABC News addressed the Romney/Gekko issue.

Virtually all of Romney’s rivals are now sensing a powerful issue. Jon Huntsman said today that the firing comment shows that Romney is “completely out of touch” with the American economy.

Rick Perry, skipping ahead a state, is calling it the “ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain, because he caused it.”

Gingrich is equating Romney’s business style with finding “clever legal ways to loot a company.” Rick Santorum’s stump speech includes a line about not needing a CEO as president, and he suggested at ABC’s Saturday night debate in New Hampshire that Romney’s background calls into question whether he “can inspire and paint a positive vision for this country.”

Romney hasn’t made matters easier for himself as he’s tried to connect with voters on the economy. The son of a millionaire business titan said over the weekend: “I know what it’s like to worry about whether or not you are going to get fired.”

Klein claims it’s too late for any of this to affect the New Hampshire primary results. I wouldn’t be so sure. New Hampshirites are famous for making up their minds at the last minute. Remember Hillary’s surprise win in 2008?

Romney has been expecting the Gordon Gekko comparisons, so you have to wonder why he hasn’t managed to curb some of these Gekko-like remarks.  I guess he just can’t help himself.

Mitt Romney says he knows a photo in which he appears with other executives at Bain Capital LLC posing with cash in their hands, pockets and mouths will be used against him if he wins the Republican presidential nomination.

The 1980s image — called the “Gordon Gekko” photo by some Democrats, a reference to the Michael Douglas character in the movie “Wall Street” — offers an easy attack line at a time of high unemployment and sharp rhetoric against the nation’s top money managers, investors and bankers.

“We posed for a picture, just celebrating the fact that we had raised a lot of money and then we hoped to be able to return it with a good return,” Romney said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Here’s Romney’s defense of the photo on Fox News Sunday.

Andrew Leonard of Salon also discussed the comparison of Romney with Gekko.

Like Gekko, Romney made his fortune buying and selling companies; and like Gekko, he believes that his “greed is good” version of rough-and-tumble creative destruction is a positive force for America, weeding out the bad performers and nurturing lean-and-mean profit engines. If you are looking for the paradigmatic exemplar of the new style of capitalism mogul launched by the Reagan revolution, Romney is your man. Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko is merely ersatz.

But what Leonard finds so amazing is that this attack on Romney and his leverage buyouts is being led Newt Gingrich.

The shock is to see Newt Gingrich and his financial backers channeling the Oliver Stone critique so passionately and wholeheartedly. If you have not seen the three-minute advertisement “When Romney Came to Town,” the soon-to-be debuted documentary lambasting Romney as the enemy of the American worker, prepare to be flabbergasted.

“Their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits.”

“This film is about one such raider and his firm.”

“His mission: To reap massive rewards for himself and his investors.

“Romney took foreign seed money from Latin America, and began a pattern exploiting dozens of American businesses.”

And so on. Michael Moore doesn’t sting this hard, and MoveOn isn’t this angry. If Romney, as expected, ends up winning the Republican nomination, Obama’s campaign team can relax. Their work has already been done.

Here’s the trailer for the 27-minute documentary that Gingrich backers have purchased.


Politico calls it “the Bain Bomb.”

While conservatives look unlikely to unite around one alternative to Romney, the campaigns themselves are uniting around the theme that the former head of Bain Capital looted companies, tossed people out of jobs and is now exaggerating his success at the venture capital firm.

In the context of this moment in American politics, in which frustration with the privileged is boiling hot, the attack, from Republicans on one side and the Obama campaign on the other, will test Romney. If he ends up looking more like an opportunist who profited for the few than like a man who created jobs for the many, it’s hard to imagine his polls numbers won’t drop.

Conservative bloggers, who generally can’t stand Romney have begun defending him against his rivals attacks, and Dana Millback called Romney “the Scrooge McDuck of the 2012 presidential race. Bloomberg reports that buyout firms are getting nervous about damage to their reputations.

This could be fun to watch. I thought Newt’s attack on Romney yesterday was spot on.

Is Romney full of shit or what? He even makes Newt Gingrich look good. I hope Newt sticks around and continues letting it all hang out. Every single word he said about Romney was the truth.

I’m going to wrap this up with a more serious take on Romney from Robert Reich: Mitt: Son of “Citizen’s United.” I had forgotten that Reich ran for governor of Massachusetts in the the Democratic primary in 2002. Please go read the whole thing and try not to weep while you’re doing it.

As Reich says, Romney is the ultimate big money candidate. He was in 2002, and now with the help of the Roberts Court, he has more money than any candidate ever dreamed of before. If you thought Obama was the candidate of Wall Street–and he was in 2008–Romney is soooo much more so. He has money and connections that make Obama’s fundraising look pathetic. And none of this money even needs to be reported–it could be coming from overseas, even from foreign governments, and we’d never know.

Tonight we’ll find out of any of this barrage of Gordon Gekko/Mitt Romney comparisons will have any effect. I’m rooting for Romney to be taken down a peg. And then on to South Carolina!

Please share your links in the comments, and I hope to see you tonight for the live blog.


Rick Santorum’s notion of “rational, reasoned thought”

Yesterday Rick Santorum spoke to a group of high school and college students at “College Convention 2012” in Concord, New Hampshire and engaged them in what he apparently sees as some kind of Socratic dialogue about same-sex marriage. Here’s the video.

ABC News summarized and quoted from the exchange. Here’s a bit of it:

As Santorum addressed a group of college students, one asked him how same-sex marriage affects him personally and why not have legal same-sex marriage as long as it’s not religious in nature.

Santorum answered that for “230 years marriage has been between one man and woman. So if you want to change the law … you have to make the positive argument about why.” ….

He called on a woman who asked, “How about the idea that all men are created equal, rights to happiness and liberty?

Santorum responded, “Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?”

Several members of the crowd loudly yelled, “Yes!” ….

“So anyone can marry can marry anybody else? So if that’s the case, then everyone can marry several people … so you can be married to five people. Is that OK?” Santorum asked.

It seems to me that Santorum is oddly obsessed with fantasies of group sex. He has made this comparison of same-sex marriage to polygamy repeatedly in the past. In this instance, when students told him his questions about fantasized group marriages were “irrelevant,” he actually lectured them:

“You know it’s important if we’re going to have a discussion based on rational, reasoned thought, that we employ reason, okay? Reason says that if you think it’s okay for two then you have to differentiate with me why it’s not okay for three, right?

That’s Santorum’s notion of reason and rationality? He sets up a bizarre straw man argument and refuses to deal with the question he’s being asked about how two people of the same sex marrying could hurt him. There are already laws against polygamy for heterosexuals in this country, and laws could also be passed against group same-sex marriage if groups of people begin agitating for the right to marry. But as far as I know that isn’t happening.

A little later in the discussion, Santorum explains why he believes marriage must only be between one man and one woman.

“I believe we’re made that way. God made men and woman to keep civilization and provide the best environment to raise children,” Santorum said. “I have no problem if people want to have relationships, but marriage provides a good to society. It’s unique because it is the union that causes children to be raised.”

Santorum added that “every child in America deserves” to know their mother and father.

“We deny children that birthright, then I think we are harming kids and society and not promoting what’s best,” Santorum added, before moving on to the next question.

That’s his idea of logic? Americans should behave according to Santorum’s personal beliefs? So if every child must know his or her mother and father, does that mean that Santorum opposes adoption? Well, he opposes gay couples adopting, but I haven’t been able to find his position on heterosexual adoptions.

After Santorum moved on to other questions, he displayed more of his “reasoned, rational thinking.”

…when a crowd member asked if he would adhere to the conservative pillar of state’s rights in cases when a state legalizes gay marriage and medical marijuana.

“I think there are some things that are essential elements of society to which a society rests that we have to have a consensus on,” Santorum said. “That’s why I believe on things as essential as ‘what is life’ and what life is protected under the Constitution should be a federal charge, not a state by state.”

He then admitted he was not familiar with medical marijuana laws, which led the crowd to press him on how he came to developing his views on issues he was unfamiliar with.

“Well I form that opinion from my own life experiences and having experienced that,” he said. “I went to college too.”

So no states’ rights if the issue is one that involves Santorum’s “beliefs,” apparently. After the town hall with the students ended, Santorum told a reporter his goal in the exchange was “to engage them to get them thinking about why they’re thinking the way you’re thinking.”

Huh? WTF does that mean? All I can say is that this man’s thinking processes seem to me to be not only illogical but also deeply disordered. This, combined with his obvious hypocrisy and corrupt behavior should disqualify him–even from becoming the nominee of the Republican Party, much less President of the U.S. Thank goodness most Americans probably won’t be as receptive to Santorum’s “reasoning” as Iowa Republican caucus voters were.


Tuesday Reads: Iowa Caucuses Edition

Good Morning!!

The Iowa Caucuses will be held tonight, and we’ll live blog the results later on. The outcome is still pretty much up in the air. I’m definitely rooting for Romney to lose, but I can’t decide whom I’d rather see come in first–Rick Santorum or Ron Paul. Neither one has a shot at the nomination, but I’d love to see the GOP elites scrambling if Paul wins it. I think they won’t get as upset by a Santorum win, but it would be irritating for them. Either Paul or Santorum could mess things up for Romney in New Hampshire, if they come out of Iowa with some momentum.

Nate Silver has his usual thorough analysis of the polls: Iowa Race Tightens in Final 48 Hours.

A new Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa, conducted Saturday and Sunday, shows a virtual three-way tie in advance of the Iowa caucuses. Ron Paul has a nominal lead with 20 percent of the vote in the poll, followed by Mitt Romney at 19 percent and Rick Santorum at 18 percent.

Our forecast model, which combines the Public Policy Polling survey with other recent polls of the state, also shows an effective three-way tie, although it has Mr. Romney ahead by the slimmest of margins. The model projects Mr. Romney to receive 21.0 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Paul at 20.6 percent and Mr. Santorum — whose numbers have been on the rise — at 19.3 percent.

Silver notes that the PPP poll shows a weaker result for Romney’s than the Des Moines Register poll.

The most noteworthy feature of the Public Policy Polling survey is that it shows a slightly worse result for Mr. Romney than The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, which was conducted Tuesday through Friday and had Mr. Romney at 24 percent of the vote.

We can interpret this in one of three ways. It may merely be random variance. It may reflect methodological differences between the surveys; the Des Moines Register poll calls cellphones, for instance, and uses live interviewers, which the Public Policy Polling survey does not. (Previous Public Policy Polling surveys have shown slightly better results for Mr. Paul, and slightly worse ones for Mr. Romney, than those conducted by other polling firms.)

Or it may suggest that that there has been a percentage point or two worth of erosion in Mr. Romney’s numbers, since the Public Policy Polling survey is the more recent of the two….There is some slight evidence for the latter theory in that Mr. Romney performed slightly worse in interviews that Public Policy Polling conducted on Sunday, receiving 18 percent of the vote to the 21 percent he received on Saturday.

Oh please, let Romney lose!

As for Mitt himself, he’s oozing confidence.

“You guys, I need you tomorrow night,” he told more than 600 people packed into an asphalt company’s truck garage. “I need every single vote in this room, and I need you to get a couple of other votes in your neighborhood, get them to caucus. I need a great showing here in Cedar Rapids. We’re going to win this thing with all our passion and strength and do everything we can to get this campaign on the right track to go across the nation and to pick up the states and to get the ballots I need and the votes I need to become our nominee. That’s what we’re going to get, with your help.”

Campaign aides later said that Romney meant he was going to win the nomination, not necessarily the caucuses.

Roger Simon of Politico says that Romney will be the nominee no matter how he does in Iowa.

If Mitt Romney wins the Iowa caucuses, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

If Mitt Romney comes in second in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

And if Mitt Romney comes in third in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

Why? Is his message of goodness and decency and American exceptionalism so overwhelmingly persuasive or are his personal attributes so awesomely compelling?

No. It’s because the Iowa caucuses do not pick winners as much as they eliminate losers. And the Iowa caucuses Tuesday are likely to eliminate from serious contention the only two men who might have blocked Romney’s path to victory: Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.

Now that’s depressing. If Simon is right, we’ll have nothing to look forward to but a year of boring back and forth between ultra-boring Mitt and even more boring Barack. Ugh!

But the Republicans still want to find a Romney alternative. Suddenly Rick Santorum is raising big bucks, according to CNN.

Rick Santorum’s poll numbers aren’t the only thing on the rise. The former senator from Pennsylvania’s fundraising figures are also skyrocketing.

A senior Santorum adviser tells CNN the campaign raised more money in the last week than they raised on-line the past six months, adding that fundraising is between 300% and 400% higher on a daily basis than it was just ten days ago.

Yup, they can’t stand Romney and don’t want to get stuck with him. I can totally empathize with that too. I wonder if it bothers Romney that he’s so unwanted? I supposed not….

The candidates are still saying some pretty outrageous things. Mitt Romney compared President Obama to Kim Kardashian because he didn’t live up to his campaign promises. Ron Paul claimed that Rick Santorum is “very liberal” [!]

Ron Paul dinged rival Rick Santorum Monday for being a “very liberal” candidate, saying the former Pennsylvania senator and staunch social conservative voted for too much spending during his time in Congress.

Speaking to CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash before a campaign event with his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the White House hopeful said his rival had taken positions counter to true conservative ideas.

And Rand Paul called Santorum a “war mongering moderate” on a talk radio show yesterday. Here are the relevant Rand Paul quotes via TPM:

He’s also someone who never served in the military. Ron Paul served in the military, will use force against our enemies if it’s required and if Congress approves of it, but I’m a little concerned about someone who didn’t serve in the military like Santorum, who’s a little over-eager to bomb countries because I don’t think he’s maturely thinking through the process and the consequences of war.

Well, you know you’re starting to see that some of the conservatives have gone here and there and they’re looking for someone who they think is their champion. But before they settle on Santorum they need to realize he was a big supporter of Medicare Part D, the expansion of Medicare, a big supporter of No Child Left Behind, I’ve seen him asked directly about the Department of Education, he’s for it. … We still believe in eliminating the Dept. of Education, that there is no function on the federal level for that. But Rick Santorum’s a big supporter of the Department of Education; he in fact voted to double the size of the Department of Education with No Child Left Behind. So I call him a big government moderate and I think conservatives need to be wary before thinking Santorum can be their champion.

Supporting the Department of Education? The horror!

The Daily Beast published a primer on the workings of the Iowa Caucuses yesterday for those (like me) who need a review of the process. Here’s the gist of it:

What happens at a caucus meeting?

At 7 p.m., caucus-goers will recite the Pledge of Allegiance and elect officers to run the meeting. Representatives from each campaign—usually campaign staffers—will give a brief speech urging those present to vote for their candidate. After the speeches, caucus-goers will write the name of their preferred candidate on a piece of paper, and campaign representatives will watch while they are counted. The caucus will then report the results to the room, and then by phone to the Iowa Republican Party. Caucus-goers will finish the night by picking delegates and writing platform resolutions—building blocks of a party manifesto—for the county GOP convention. The Iowa GOP will announce the statewide results to the media and on its website.

Yes, there will be Democratic caucuses, even though there’s no competition for Obama.

Jan Bauer fondly recalls the energy that then-candidate Barack Obama brought to Iowa in the 2008 Democratic presidential caucuses and the razor-sharp ground game that paved his road from here to the White House.

Four years later, Bauer finds herself calling other Story County Democrats to remind them that they have important political work to do Tuesday just like their Republican counterparts – even if Obama is unopposed for their party’s nomination.

“A lot of Democrats aren’t even aware that we’re caucusing,” said Bauer, Democratic chairwoman in the county that includes Ames, home to Iowa State University. “We’re getting little to no attention in the media … but we still have to reorganize the party.”

Obama will be speaking to them by satellite.

There’s also an fascinating article at the Daily Beast about Obama’s tightly controlled reelection operation. These guys sound like a lot of frat boys–or maybe Skull and Bones members. I’ve annotated the following for those (like me) who aren’t hip to current yuppie culture.

The Obama campaign is not kidding around. I recently visited its headquarters in Chicago, and I can personally vouch for how much it’s not kidding around. Yes, there was a blue Ping-Pong table in the middle of the office—custom-made, evidently, because the Obama 2012 logo was emblazoned on it. (Twice.) There were printouts of people’s nicknames—Sandals! Shermanator!—where corporate nameplates usually go. There was a mesh trucker hat from South Dakota, which was blaze orange and said “Big Cock Country” on the crown. There was a cardboard speech bubble (“nom nom data nom”) affixed to an Uglydoll. There was miniature air-hockey table. A narwhal mural. A stuffed Rastafarian banana.

But do not be deceived. There was also a chaperone following me everywhere I went and digitally recording everything anyone said to me. Ben LaBolt, Obama’s press secretary, and Stephanie Cutter, his deputy campaign manager, closed their doors as I walked by. An underling clammed up when I asked what she and her colleagues do on the weekends. At one point my minder agreed to let me out of her sight for a few milliseconds, but then I got too close to a big whiteboard covered in hieroglyphic flow charts and she instantaneously materialized at my side, having somehow teleported the 50 yards from where I’d last seen her. “Sorry,” she said, not sounding sorry at all. “You can’t look at that.” The next day it was covered by a tarp.

Sigh…. These are the people who are running the Democratic Party …. and the country. Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Thursday Reads: Primary Season is Upon Us

Good Morning!!

It’s hard to believe, but the Iowa Caucuses are just a few days away, next Tuesday, January 3. The New Hampshire primary will be held on January 10. The South Carolina and Florida primaries will be on January 21 and 31 respectively.

I’ll be focusing on the Republican primary campaign this morning, but please do post links to other stories that interest you in the comments.

Unfortunately, there’s no primary contest on the Democratic side, so we’re reduced to watching the Republicans. The good news is that the Republican candidates are entertaining to watch–that is, if your taste in entertainment runs toward the bizarre, the ironic, and the surreal and if you enjoy black humor.

Yesterday morning’s PPP poll showed Ron Paul still leading in Iowa.

The last week and a half has brought little change in the standings for the Iowa Republican caucus: Ron Paul continues to lead Mitt Romney by a modest margin, 24-20. Newt Gingrich is in 3rd at 13% followed by Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum at 10%, Jon Huntsman at 4%, and Buddy Roemer at 2%.

Paul’s strength in Iowa continues to depend on a coalition of voters that’s pretty unusual for a Republican in the state. Romney leads 22-20 with those who are actually Republicans, while Paul has a 39-12 advantage with the 24% who are either independents or Democrats. GOP caucus voters tend to skew old, and Romney has a 34-12 advantage with seniors. But Paul’s candidacy looks like it’s going to attract an unusual number of younger voters to the caucus this year, and with those under 45 he has a 35-11 advantage on Romney. The independent/young voter combo worked for Barack Obama in securing an unexpectedly large victory on the Democratic side in 2008 and it may be Paul’s winning equation in 2012.

The poll showed that Paul’s supporters are much more “passionate” than Romney’s, and Romney’s approval rating with Iowa voters had dropped from 49 to 44 percent. Interestingly, Romney is doing well with Fox News watchers, while Paul does much better with voters who don’t watch Fox.

Later in the day yesterday, the CNN/Time/ORC poll showed Romney ahead of Paul with likely Caucus-goers 25 to 22 percent, with Gingrich continuing to lose support rapidly and Rick Santorum surging, as Gingrich supporters move to him.

A new survey of people likely to attend Iowa’s Republican caucuses indicates that the former House speaker’s support in the Hawkeye State is plunging. And according to a CNN/Time/ORC International Poll, one-time long shot candidate Rick Santorum has more than tripled his support since the beginning of the month.

Twenty-five percent of people questioned say if the caucuses were held today, they’d most likely back Mitt Romney, with 22% saying they’d support Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Romney’s three point margin is within the poll’s sampling error….

In Iowa, both Romney and Paul are each up five points among likely caucus goers from a CNN/Time/ORC poll conducted at the start of December. The new survey indicates that Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, is at 16% support, up 11 points from the beginning of the month, with Gingrich at 14%, down from 33% in the previous poll. Since Gingrich’s rise late last month and early this month in both national and early voting state surveys, he’s come under attack by many of the rival campaigns.

Santorum’s increasing support is coming mostly from the right wing Christians.

“Most of Santorum’s gains have come among likely caucus participants who are born-again or evangelical, and he now tops the list among that crucial voting bloc, with support from 22% of born-agains compared to 18% for Paul, 16% for Romney, and 14% for Gingrich,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

It certainly looks like Iowa tea party voters are still seeking an anti-Romney candidate to get behind. The CNN/Time/ORC poll also sampled New Hampshire voters and found Romney still leading there.

Establishment Republicans are rooting hard for Mitt Romney. Everyone on Morning Joe yesterday was confident that he would eventually take the nomination. At Politico, Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Martin, and Alexander Burns report that Romney is “within striking distance” of winning Iowa.

Even as he tried to keep talk about his prospects in check Tuesday, a slew of public and private polling and anecdotal evidence on the ground suggests that Romney is within striking distance of a first-place finish in Iowa — especially as Ron Paul’s momentum spurt appears to have run into the reality of front-runners’ scrutiny.

Romney’s team is moving to make the most of it. The candidate launched a bus tour Tuesday and suggested on a conference call with Iowans this week that he’ll be in the state for New Year’s Eve. After a solid ad buy in Iowa for a month totaling more than $1.1 million, Romney’s camp has upped its spending in the Quad Cities market, sources familiar with the purchase told POLITICO. His team has dropped a collection of mail pieces, both positive about Romney and negative about the perceived closest alternative — Newt Gingrich.

In another clear sign he’s playing to win, he has quietly moved a handful of staffers from his headquarters in Boston and in other states earlier this month to give his skeleton Iowa staff a needed boost. And he’s cycling in a platoon of high-profile surrogates to rally around him in the state at stump stops and on talk radio, including Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. John Thune, Rep. Aaron Schock and former Sens. Norm Coleman and Jim Talent.

At Philly.com, blogger Erik Uliasz argues that Ron Paul will win in Iowa, because he has the best organization in the state.

The caucuses are not won by opinion polls alone. They’re won by the politician who can pack Iowa’s churches, libraries and community centers at 7 p.m. exactly on a frigid January Tuesday, and whose supporters won’t suddenly decide to back a different candidate during an hour’s worth of jawing, dealing and very public voting.

Unlike other “flavors of the week” of the GOP contest, Paul hasn’t surged into the lead all of a sudden — he’s grown his support gradually, earning supporters the hard way.

And that’s why Paul’s surge to first place has to be taken seriously. Alone among the candidates, he has built an organizational machine to recruit and identify caucus-goers and turn them out on Jan. 3. Paul’s rise in Iowa isn’t a bubble. It’s a mound, and it is rock solid….

Paul’s campaign has built a sophisticated voter turnout machine. With its intensely dedicated core of youthful followers recruiting non-party regulars to the caucus electorate, it is reminiscent of nothing so much as Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa campaign, which was his springboard to the Democratic nomination.

In addition, the fact that there are no candidates competing with Obama in the Democratic caucuses will help Paul. Much of his support comes from Democrats and Independents (see PPP poll results above), and they can attend the Republican caucuses.

At CNN though, Micah Sifry writes that “Paulbots,” who sound remarkably like the Obots of 2008, might “torpedo” his campaign by being too obnoxious and too up front about Paul’s real beliefs, as reflected in the recently released old newsletters. Sifry writes that

there’s a paradox buried inside Paul’s rise in the Republican field, a time bomb ticking away. Call it the curse of the “Paulbots.”

The more Paul rises, the more he needs to temper his rhetoric and fine-tune his message (especially given the kind of baggage he carries). And the more he needs a fine-tuned message, the more he has to control his fractious fans. But people who organize themselves online today are notoriously hard to control.

They sure do sound like Obots:

Recall how in 2007, the “Paulbots” were everywhere: running up the numbers on every online poll they could find, generating one-day fundraising records in a desperate bid for national attention (they coined the word “money-bomb”), and creating massive amounts of voter-generated media on his behalf. They made everything from viral videos to a Ron Paul blimp….

This year the Paulbots have been a bit calmer and more under the radar says Sifry.

But things are about to get a bit crazy. Paul’s late surge and possible win next week in Iowa are going to generate a huge burst of national media attention and plenty of hard-edged questions about his past and views. And the Paulbot base doesn’t handle criticism very well.

The other day, for example, my techPresident colleague Sarah Lai Stirland reported on a growing battle breaking out on the massive social news filtering site Reddit between Paul supporters and critics tired of their efforts to “spam” Redditors with slanted news favoring Paul. Vocal Paul supporters outnumber their critics on the site, but their language and tactics are often arrogant and ugly. Passion can power a campaign, but self-righteousness can also cripple it.

Here’s a little sample of the kinds of information the Paul people might not want spread far and wide in the national media. From Talking Points Memo:

Paul’s Iowa chair, Drew Ivers, recently touted the endorsement of Rev. Phillip G. Kayser, a pastor at the Dominion Covenant Church in Nebraska who also draws members from Iowa, putting out a press release praising “the enlightening statements he makes on how Ron Paul’s approach to government is consistent with Christian beliefs.” But Kayser’s views on homosexuality go way beyond the bounds of typical anti-gay evangelical politics and into the violent fringe: he recently authored a paper arguing for criminalizing homosexuality and even advocated imposing the death penalty against offenders based on his reading of Biblical law.

“Difficulty in implementing Biblical law does not make non-Biblical penology just,” he argued. “But as we have seen, while many homosexuals would be executed, the threat of capital punishment can be restorative. Biblical law would recognize as a matter of justice that even if this law could be enforced today, homosexuals could not be prosecuted for something that was done before.”

Reached by phone, Kayser confirmed to TPM that he believed in reinstating Biblical punishments for homosexuals — including the death penalty — even if he didn’t see much hope for it happening anytime soon. While he said he and Paul disagree on gay rights, noting that Paul recently voted for repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he supported the campaign because he believed Paul’s federalist take on the Constitution would allow states more latitude to implement fundamentalist law. Especially since under Kayser’s own interpretation of the Constitution there is no separation of Church and State.

And this is interesting: Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign manager has switched horses and joined the Ron Paul campaign.

In a surprise move, and a blunt reflection of the shifting fortunes of Republican presidential candidates ahead of the opening vote in the 2012 nominating contest, Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman defected Wednesday night to Ron Paul’s campaign.

State Sen. Kent Sorenson, a tea party favorite, was hired as a Bachmann staffer in Iowa even before she announced her candidacy. He helped lead her campaign to victory in the Ames straw poll in August. Ever since, however, Bachmann’s popularity has been in decline….

“It’s difficult, but it’s the right thing to do,” Sorenson said, announcing his decision before a crowd of several hundred at a Veterans for Ron Paul rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

Sorenson predicted that Paul would be the object of attacks by the Republican establishment in the days ahead, and said he wanted to help defend him.

The Texas congressman welcomed his newest staffer in understated fashion, thanking Sorenson for “stopping by. That was very nice.”

So, there’s lots of intrigue in Iowa, and next week the focus will move to New Hampshire. If Ron Paul really does pull off a win or even a close second in Iowa, I would not be at all surprised to see him do very well or even win in New Hampshire. At least it might be fun to watch the Republican insiders squirm if that happens.

What do you think? And what are you reading and blogging about today?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning! It has been dark and dreary here for weeks it seems. I know the sun has come out a few times, but most of the time it has been either raining or about to rain. I think I’m beginning to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Or maybe it’s just watching the 2012 presidential campaign. Either way, we’re talking dark and depressing.

On Tuesday Newt Gingrich told Larry Kudlow (yeah, I know) of CNBC that Obama is the “food stamp president,” and he (Gingrich) will be running against him as the “candidate of paychecks.”

“We are going to have the candidate of food stamps, the finest food stamp president in the American history in Barack Obama and we are going to have a candidate of paychecks.”

The former House Speaker went on to say Obama represents a hard-left radicalism. He, on the other hand, wants big tax cuts and big cuts in the federal government.

LOL! Obama is the furthest thing from a radical, and I doubt if he gives a damn about food stamps. I don’t know how Gingrich gets away with this stuff. Oh yeah, the media sucks. He spewed more lies too:

Gingrich also reiterated his claim that he is not a lobbyist. While he’s been steadily rising in the polls, he’s also been under scrutiny for his consulting work with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

“I do no lobbying; I’ve never done any lobbying. It’s written in our contracts that we do not do any lobbying of any kind. I offer strategic advice,” he said. “The advice I offered Freddie Mac was, in fact, aimed at how do you help people get into housing.”

Gingrich also referred to himself in the third person in talking about the sad ending of his career as Speaker of the House.

“The job of the Democrats was to get Newt Gingrich. They couldn’t beat any of our ideas so they decided to try to beat the messenger,” he said. “I think it actually will help people understand what happened in that period and how much of it was partisan.”

Poor Newt. He’s filthy rich, but he can’t stop obsessing about the paltry help poor and unemployed people get from food stamps. Last week he claimed that food stamp use has increased dramatically under Obama and that recipients use their food stamp money to take vacations in Hawaii. According to Politifact as reported in USA Today:

PolitiFact, a fact-checking project of the Tampa Bay Times, noted in May that Bush made “more aggressive efforts to get eligible Americans to apply for benefits,” and new rules took effect to broaden eligibility for the assistance. At the time, PolitiFact said:

Gingrich oversimplifies when he suggests that Obama should be considered “the most successful food stamp president in American history,” because much — though probably not all — of the reason for the increase was a combination of the economic problems Obama inherited and a longstanding upward trend from policy changes. On balance, we rate Gingrich’s statement Half True.

As for Gingrich’s claim that food stamps can be used to go to Hawaii, the federal government has clear rules about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP). Basically, you can buy groceries or the seeds and plants from which you can grow your own food.

Right now Gingrich is the clear front runner for the Republican nomination. According to a new CNN poll, he has double-digit leads in three of the first four primaries, Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. And he is catching up with Romney in New Hampshire. According to the poll, much of Gingrich’s support is coming from tea party types.

I wonder if these folks realize that when back in the day, when Newt was one of the most powerful people in DC, his fellow Conservatives worked hard to get rid of him? And some of them still don’t want him back in power.

As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trumpets his leadership skills in his quest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, a different picture of his stewardship emerges from some GOP lawmakers who served with him during a failed 1997 coup attempt against the controversial speaker.

Twenty disgruntled Republicans in the House of Representatives squeezed into then-Rep. Lindsey Graham’s office in July 1997 and rebelliously vented about Gingrich. They were tired of his chaotic management style, worried that he was caving in to then-President Bill Clinton, and sick of constantly having to defend him publicly on questions about his ethics or his latest bombastic statement.

“Newt Gingrich was a disaster as speaker,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

As Gingrich seeks to gain the world’s most powerful office, it’s worth recalling that when he once held great power in Washington, his own conservative Republican lieutenants rebelled against his rule less than four years after he led them to House majority status for the first time in 40 years. And their disaffection evidently helped persuade him to step down as speaker the next year and leave office.

King, for one, still believes that Gingrich’s widely disparaged egotistical complaining about the poor treatment he perceived from then-President Clinton on an Air Force One flight in 1995 is why Republicans suffered blame for federal government shutdowns later that year.

“Everything was self-centered. There was a lack of intellectual discipline,” King said

Karl Rove has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he blasts Gingrich’s pathetic campaign organization.

In the short run, Mr. Gingrich must temper runaway expectations. For example, his lead in the RealClearPolitics average in Iowa is 12 points. But what happens on Jan. 3 if he doesn’t win Iowa, or comes in first with a smaller margin than people expect?

That could happen in part because Mr. Gingrich has little or no campaign organization in Iowa and most other states. He didn’t file a complete slate of New Hampshire delegates and alternates. He is the only candidate who didn’t qualify for the Missouri primary, and on Wednesday he failed to present enough signatures to get on the ballot in Ohio. Redistricting squabbles may lead the legislature to move the primary to a later date and re-open filing, but it’s still embarrassing to be so poorly organized.

That’s because Gingrich had no expectation of doing this well. He just entered the race so he could sell his books and his wife’s films. But it turns out Gingrich will be on the ballot in Ohio after all. As for Missouri, Gingrich claims he didn’t want to be on the ballot there because the primary is non-binding.

In a press conference in New York City today, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared that he never intended to qualify for the ballot in Missouri and that failing to meet the deadline was “a conscious decision, not an oversight.”

The primary is non-binding; it is followed a month later by caucuses where Missourians pick their convention delegates. But every other major candidate is participating in the primary, which gives the public an idea of where Show Me State voters stand.

“We have never participated in beauty contests,” Gingrich said when asked about his failure to qualify for the ballot. “We didnt participate in Ames [the Iowa straw poll], we didnt participate in P5 [a Florida straw poll].” ….

But failing to qualify for the ballot was widely seen as a sign of Gingrich’s lack of campaign organization.

Another sign is the papers he filed in New Hampshire. His papers were sloppily written in pen and he fell 13 short of the required 40 delegates.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think Romney should still win New Hampshire, but the question is how many Southern states he can carry. Of course I’d be enjoying watching the Republican primary mess a lot more if there were a liberal Democratic candidate to vote for.

Oh, Romney did come in first in one poll: the one that counted the number of jokes told about the Republican candidates on late night TV.

OK, I’ll let go of my obsession with Republican nomination campaign for now and give you some other things to read.

Last Friday, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters may have been the intended victim of a right wing James O’Keefe-type scam designed to make him look like hypocrite for writing in support of the Occupy movement.

It was the middle of the day on Friday, and Eric Boehlert heard a knock on the door. A senior fellow at Media Matters, a nonprofit watchdog that challenges conservative news outlets, Boehlert works from his Montclair, N.J., home.

A short, bearded man stood outside, holding a clipboard and wearing a Verizon uniform. He asked Boehlert if he’d be willing to take a customer survey. Verizon had, perhaps coincidentally, been at the house a week earlier to handle a downed wire. Boehlert quickly agreed and noted that a Verizon worker had actually failed to show up when he said he would.

But the interview questions got weird and then weirder. The man kept talking about Boehlert being rich and being able to work at home, Boehlert began to smell a ratf*ck.

“After he mentioned my salary and that I work from home, all the bells went off, and this is not who this guy says he is. Therefore, I kind of lost track of the exact wording of the question, but it definitely was like very accusatory of me and I’m a hypocrite and how do I have this supposedly cushy job while I’m writing about real workers and the people of the 99 percent,” said Boehlert.

“So there was this pause, and I said, ‘You work for Verizon?’ And he just sort of looks back at me and [says], ‘Will you answer the question? Will you answer the question?’ And I said, ‘Can I see your Verizon ID?’ And he wouldn’t produce any Verizon ID, and I think he asked me another time to answer the question. And basically I just said, ‘I’m done so you can leave now.'” ….

By now he [Boehlert] had realized that the man was likely pulling a political stunt, and James O’Keefe’s notorious “To Catch a Journalist” project came to mind as a possibility.

“The only sort of comical part was he forget which way he was supposed to run in case I started following. He ended up sort of in the road, and he sort of turned left and then right,” said Boehlert. “The last I saw him he was in a full sprint down my street running away from my house.”

In the Massachusetts Senate race, Elizabeth Warren is ahead of Scott Brown 49% to 42%, her biggest lead so far. But some people are *very concerned* because at a recent candidate’s event Warren was asked if she knew in which recent years the Red Sox had won the World Series, and she answered 2004 and 2008 instead of 2004 and 2007. Horrors! Paul Waldman has a very funny piece about it in The American Prospect.

In today’s election news, a candidate for the World’s Most Deliberative Body is facing an earth-shattering scandal because she said “2008” when she should have said “2007,” demonstrating to all that she is utterly incapable of representing the interests of ordinary people. As the normally even-tempered Taegan Goddard indignantly described it, “Elizabeth Warren (D) and the rest of the Democratic field for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts couldn’t answer a simple question about the Boston Red Sox at a forum yesterday. Apparently, they learned nothing from Martha Coakley’s (D) defeat two years ago…”

Here’s what Waldman had to say about this nonsense:

I don’t think anyone in Massachusetts could in good conscience vote for someone who is unable to identify both the state’s fourth-largest city and its third most commonly spoken language. I mean, what are we supposed to do, send someone to the Senate who doesn’t have a command of all master of state-related trivia? The answer is clearly to amend the Constitution so 12-year-old winners of the state geography bee can become senators.

Reporters, I beg you: If you’re going to discuss this “gaffe” and others like it, do your audience a service and explain why this is supposed to matter. And I don’t mean just by saying, “This reminds people of when Martha Coakley called Curt Schilling a Yankee fan, damaging her candidacy.” I mean explain specifically what exactly misremembering the Sox series victories as 2004 and 2008 instead of 2004 and 2007 tells us about the kind of senator Elizabeth Warren would be. Does it mean that despite all the other evidence to the contrary, she really doesn’t care about ordinary people and will upon taking office immediately introduce legislation to make the purchase of brandy snifters and riding crops tax-deductible? Then what?

Yesterday a got an e-mail from Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) about an attempted Republican takeover of the Detroit city government. Bloomberg had a piece about it yesterday.

Detroit has the highest concentration of blacks among U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. It will exhaust its cash by April and may run up a deficit topping $200 million by June.

Last week, Governor Rick Snyder, a white Republican, ordered a review that may lead to appointment of an emergency manager, rekindling rancor in a city scarred by race riots in 1967. Detroit lost one-quarter of its population since 2000 — much of it to largely white suburbs.

Four Michigan cities are controlled by emergency managers. All have populations that are mostly black. If Detroit joins them, 49.7 percent of the state’s black residents would live under city governments in which they have little say.

Michigan’s emergency managers have sweeping authority to nullify union contracts, sell assets and fire workers. Snyder has said he doesn’t want one for Detroit, though he called the city’s financial condition severe enough to warrant help.

Michigan citizens are currently collecting signatures to put repeal of the law on the ballot in 2012.

A maintenance man Ryan Brunn, 20,has been charged with the brutal sexual assault and murder of 7-year-old Jorleys Rivera, who disappeared on Friday in Canton, GA.

Keenan said Brunn, who has no known criminal record, had keys to both the empty apartment and the trash compactor bin where Rivera’s body was placed.

“We are confident that Brunn is the killer and that is why he is in custody,” Keenan said, declining to detail what evidence investigators have against him….

Keenan said investigators focused on Brunn after receiving information from the public. Brunn had been under police surveillance since Tuesday night. Keenan said the investigation will continue for several months.

“This is a mammoth case,” Keenan told reporters at a news conference in Canton. “We believe that this horrendous crime was planned and calculated, and we’ve recovered a lot of evidence.”

At least he was caught quickly. But another innocent young child is gone.

Yesterday the Obama administration overruled the decision of the FDA to make Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages.

Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor’s prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration’s reasoning: The FDA’s conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages “can understand the label and use the product appropriately.” The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and “have significant cognitive and behavioral differences.” HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor’s prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration’s reasoning: The FDA’s conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages “can understand the label and use the product appropriately.” The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and “have significant cognitive and behavioral differences.” HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

So if you’re under 17 and you’re raped, you’re going to have to figure out how to see a doctor and get a prescription. Isn’t that just ducky?

I’ll end with some better news for women. The FBI has decided to expand the definition of rape.

An October vote by the Advisory Policy Board’s UCR subcommittee recommended the board at-large change the definition of “rape” to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Activists said the new definition was needed because the current one does not recognize that men can be raped, women can rape women, inanimate objects can be used to commit rape or that rapes can occur while the victim is unconscious.

Many local law enforcement agencies use a much broader definition of “rape” than the FBI, causing thousands of sex crimes to go unreported in federal statistics.

The FBI had been under pressure by the Feminist Majority Foundation, which launched an email drive urging the agency to update the definition.

Now let’s start doing more to protect women and children from rapists.

That’s all I’ve got. What are you reading and blogging about today?