Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are abandoning the middle ground for positions on Iraq and immigration that cater to their parties' fringes â€” the latest example of polarization trumping moderation in Washington.
Democrats are lurching to the left on Iraq. Republicans are moving right on immigration. Neither shift is a surprise; the two-party system encourages presidential candidates to appeal to each side's most fervent voters during the nomination fights.
Lately it seems all the leading presidential candidates are discussing their religious and moral beliefs â€” even when they'd rather not. Indeed, seven years after George W. Bush won the presidency in part with a direct appeal to conservative religious voters â€” even saying during a debate that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher â€” the personal faith of candidates has become a very public part of the presidential campaign.
Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and "Law & Order" actor, is taking significant steps toward an expected summer entry into the crowded but extraordinarily unsettled Republican presidential race.
His likely candidacy could give restless conservatives somewhere to turn.
A crucial bloc of the GOP, those voters have not fully embraced the leading contenders, giving Thompson what his backers argue is an opening for a "true conservative" who can triumph in November 2008.
Republican Mitt Romney said Tuesday he would likely donate his salary to charity if elected president, a financial freedom he described as a byproduct of a successful business career.
"I never anticipated that I'd be as financially successful as I was, and then my business went far better than I expected it would," Romney told a woman at a Liberty Mutual office in Dover, N.H., when she asked if millionaire candidates could resolve government problems in Washington.
"I wouldn't disqualify somebody by virtue of their financial wealth or their financial poverty," Romney added. "I would instead look at their record, what they've done with their life and whether they can make a difference, whether the things they have learned will enable them to be an effective leader."
How would have voters of the day reacted to the disclosure that Franklin Roosevelt's marriage had been in name only for many years and that he had intimate relationships with at least two women including Lucy Mercer with whom he carried on a decades long love affair?
What would have been the public's view of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had it known that Gen. George C. Marshall, his boss as Army chief of staff, had summoned him to Washington during World War II to order him to break off any relationship with Kay Summersby, Eisenhower's British chauffer and nearly constant companion overseas. Whether rumors of an affair were true or not, Marshall reasoned that even a hint of infidelity would severely damage home front morale among women left behind.
Seeking to add heft to his presidential bid, Democrat Barack Obama is offering a sweeping plan that would require every American to have health coverage and calls on government, businesses and consumers to share the costs of the program.
Obama said putting in place universal health coverage has been debated for decades, but the time has finally come to act. He said his plan could save the average consumer $2,500 a year and bring health care to all.
"The time has come for universal, affordable health care in America," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery at the unveiling of his plan Tuesday in Iowa City.
Voters are torn between competing cravings: Change or experience in 2008? They are demanding something new, but there is comfort in the tried and true.
The public's low opinion of Washington and growing concern about the direction of the country point to 2008 being a "change" election, one like the campaigns of 1976 and 1992 when people looked for a marked departure from the status quo.
But the war in Iraq and the rise of global terrorism make for an anxious electorate and could turn this into a "war" election, one like the campaigns of 1944 and 2004 when voters found comfort in the most experienced candidates.
Change versus experience? The White House will likely go to the man or woman who speaks best to both.
The immigration fight in Congress has spilled over onto the presidential campaign trail. John McCain is trying to sell the skeptical GOP base on contentious Senate legislation while Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and other Republican rivals oppose it.
"This immigration reform is an issue of national security," McCain, an Arizona senator, said Wednesday, stressing more secure borders and what he called an urgent need for the United States to know the identities and whereabouts of millions of illegal immigrants.
There was a time when Fred Thompson suggested that he couldn't see himself running for office again. "For me, the George Washington example of serving eight years and riding out of town on a horse and never returning has great appeal," the Tennessee Republican said in 2002, the twilight of his eight-year Senate career. Now, five years later, he is a well-known TV actor who finds himself on the verge of a real-life presidential bid, seemingly recruited by activists hungry for someone to fill what they see as a conservative void among the top-tier GOP hopefuls.
The huddle of folks under the basketball hoop can't get enough snapshots with the man, so it's dark by the time Sen. Barack Obama finally says goodbye and emerges from the Simpson College gym in Indianola, Iowa.
Obama slips into a group photo with local campaign volunteers, and in a camera flash he's alone again on a pathway leading to his waiting motorcade.
He gets close to the driveway and then he's stopped by one last reporter with one last question.