For 2008 the goal is win, win, win

A bit of bubbly, a few verses of Auld Lang Syne and candidates, candidates and more candidates. It’s New Year’s Eve in Iowa and New Hampshire.

With the caucuses and primary just days away, many presidential hopefuls are spending every precious minute campaigning — even if it’s while voters and the rest of the world ring in the New Year with celebrations, not politics, on their mind. The Democratic and Republican contests in Iowa, on Thursday, and New Hampshire, on Jan. 8, are essentially dead heats.

No candidate can afford to take time off, except perhaps for a sip of champagne.

Romney’s candor gap

As a presidential contender, Mitt Romney has the looks, the money and the campaign machine. He also has something of a candor gap.

When confronted with questions that might conflict with his message of the day or political record, the Republican candidate has shown a tendency to bob and weave or simply dismiss history. He has done so all year, providing an easy target for his opponents.

“If you aren’t being honest in obtaining the job, can we trust you if you get the job?” Romney rival Mike Huckabee asked on Sunday during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Can Montana help Ron Paul?

Supporters of long-shot presidential hopeful Ron Paul say the Montana Republican Party’s quirky caucus rules could create an opening for their candidate that other states don’t offer.

Under the “closed caucus” system recently adopted by the Montana GOP, voting in the Feb. 5 caucus will be limited to about 3,000 Republicans who hold party posts, such as members of Congress, statewide officeholders and precinct captains. That includes hundreds of volunteer precinct posts that have long been vacant and that some candidates are now scrambling to fill with supporters.

Shuffling the pawns in Iowa

“You want to talk why Iowa is three-dimensional chess, it is the ultimate. I think it’s more five-dimensional chess, if there’s such a thing … ” — NBC political director Chuck Todd put it well on Meet the Press last Sunday.

Here’s what we think he means.

Iowa caucus strategy isn’t as simple as moving around a few pawns and trying to rook the fellow on the other side of the board.

There are multiple games on multiple tiers. “Winning” is not a simple as “winning.”

Presidential battles heat up

White House foes renew battle Saturday on multiple fronts, through snow piled prairies and a blizzard of political ads, a tantalizing five days before their fates are first put to voters.

Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, locked in a cut-throat struggle ahead of Thursday’s leadoff Iowa nominating caucuses, are straining to outdo one another with clarion calls for political change.

Fine-tuning the campaign rhetoric

After a year of position papers and policy speeches, handshakes in the summer heat and winter snow, advertising that floods mailboxes and TV screens, and too many bites of pork on a stick at too many county fairs, it’s time.

For the final arguments.

Heading into the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, the presidential candidates are boiling down their messages.

On the Democratic side, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are in a three-way tie in the polls. Among Republicans, it’s a close race for first between two former governors — Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

Candidates strike out with young voters

While the 2008 presidential candidates are taking potshots at each other, some young Americans are taking shots at the entire two-party system.

When asked to respond to a YouTube video by Medill News Service that shows young adults shouting the first five words they think of when they hear the words Republican and Democrat, one 19-year-old called the two-party system a failure, an opinion supported by a 28-year-old.

It’s still the economy, stupid

Voters began to worry more about their pocketbooks over the last month — even more than about the war in Iraq.

More than half the voters in an ongoing survey for The Associated Press and Yahoo! News now say the economy and health care are extremely important to them personally. They fear they will face unexpected medical expenses, their homes will lose value or mortgage and credit card payments will overwhelm them.

Events, however, can quickly change public opinion. Thursday’s assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto could draw more attention to terrorism and national security, an issue that still ranked highly with the public and which 45 percent of those polled considered extremely important.

The GOP’s alien agenda

Who said this?

“Immigration to this country is increasing and is making its greatest relative increase from races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes among those races … half of whom have no occupation and most of whom represent the rudest form of labor.

A tough guy named Rudy

A jet passenger remembers seeing Rudolph W. Giuliani on a Dallas-to-New York flight. Heading home after a March 2005 speech, Giuliani perused a volume of Elizabethan literature.

Miles above Pennsylvania, a door-seal suddenly cracked. As the cabin depressurized, the pilot nose-dived from 38,000 feet to a safer 9,000. Oxygen masks swung above the heads of horrified travelers.

What did Giuliani do? As another, visibly rattled traveler recalled: “He put his mask over his face, picked the book back up, and kept reading Shakespeare.”