Independents leaning Democratic

Michael Brooks is exactly the kind of voter the Republican Party can ill afford to lose. But in a foreboding omen for 2008, it may have already done just that.

The auto parts store worker from St. Charles, Mo., says he used to be a Republican but felt abandoned and is now an independent.

“For some reason or other, they didn’t seem to be for the masses anymore,” said Brooks, 59, citing a lack of help for middle-income earners. He said he voted for George W. Bush in 2000, thinking the Republican was “more middle of the road, for the people. Obviously I was incorrect.”

Rudy panders to the gun lobby

Republican Rudy Giuliani sought to reassure the National Rifle Association of his support for a constitutional right to bear arms as rivals Fred Thompson, John McCain and Mike Huckabee contended the former New York mayor is no friend of gun owners.

In a direct appeal Friday to the powerful lobbying group, Thompson, McCain and Huckabee stressed their backing for gun rights and record of siding with the NRA. Giuliani, who once referred to the NRA as “extremists,” tried to explain his shifting views on the issue.

Dems step up attacks on Hillary

Hillary Rodham Clinton is finding herself in her rivals’ cross-hairs.

Barack Obama and John Edwards try to paint her as a candidate of the Washington establishment and beholden to special interests. Chris Dodd questioned the former first lady’s competence on health care reform. They have hinted she’s too divisive to govern effectively as president.

Hillary’s fundraiser charged with fraud

Days after top-tier Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu was arrested in a 15-year-old fraud case, he contacted the FBI and confessed to making bogus business deals in a sprawling new scheme, prosecutors said.

Hsu was charged Thursday with swindling at least $60 million from investors and using some of his profits to make illegal donations to political campaigns. Prosecutors allege Hsu had engineered a “massive” Ponzi scheme that ensnared investors across the country.

Hillary, Rudy top polls in California

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is leading among Democrats in the California presidential primary, while Rudy Giuliani is slightly ahead of his three major Republican rivals, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Clinton has the support of 41 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, according to the survey, which was taken over a seven-day period following the Labor Day weekend and released Thursday. Her closest rival is Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has 23 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is at 14 percent.

Can we buy what Hillary’s selling?

Hillary Clinton is humble. She also works well with others, deplores big government and is no liberal ideologue.

At least that’s what Clinton hopes voters will conclude from the rollout of her health care plan, a smart bit of political branding that put her chief Democratic presidential rivals on the defensive and exposed a lack of leadership from the GOP field.

Voters will need to decide whether they buy what she’s selling.

Many voters undecided about 2008

Just off the quaint town square, a pizza shop owner and an employee took a break to banter about politics one recent late-summer day. They did not always agree, but like many others, found common ground on their preference for president — no one yet.

“I am turned off,” Chad Ver Steeg, a 42-year-old Republican who runs the Pizza Ranch restaurant. He lamented the mudslinging by both parties and said, “I don’t look forward to this election.”

Added fellow conservative Joel Ruisch, 36: “I haven’t followed it enough to even come close to picking who to support.”

Is Barack Obama too white?

Jesse Jackson was quoted as saying Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was “acting like he’s white” for not speaking out more forcefully about a racially charged schoolyard beating in Louisiana.

Wednesday’s (Columbia) State newspaper said Jackson made the comment about Obama and the Jena, La., case after speaking Tuesday at Benedict College, a historically black school. “If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,” Jackson said in his remarks after the speech, according to the published account.

In search of…the Republican Latino

A national Republican group contacted me for information about a prominent Latino public official who served during the Nixon administration in the 1970s. He was nominated for a lifetime achievement award, but the awarding group wasn’t exactly sure what he had done.

Fortunately, I did. It was in the pages of my book.

It seemed curious that staffers around that GOP group didn’t have histories and narratives around to guide them.

Will the real John Edwards stand up?

John Edwards’ presidential campaign is not so much about the “two Americas” as it is about the two John Edwardses.

One image of Edwards is that he’s a champion of the embattled middle class and poor, an up-from-his-bootstraps populist waging war against special interests who favor the rich and established.

The other take: He’s a phony.

Which is it? Is the Democratic presidential candidate a man of the people, as he says, or the fake his rivals call him?