Thompson reorganizing his non-campaign

Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson is shaking up his still-unofficial campaign, replacing his top aide with a former Michigan senator and a veteran Florida strategist.

The shake-up comes amid consternation inside the campaign about the active role played by Thompson’s wife, Jeri, a lawyer, media consultant and former Republican National Committee official.

“Rumors are rumors,” said Thompson spokeswoman Linda Rozett. “It is not a personal issue. It’s an organizational issue. We are strengthening the organization as we enter the next phase.”

Acting campaign manager Tom Collamore will still advise Thompson, but his presidential operation will be run by the duo of former senator and energy secretary Spencer Abraham and a Florida GOP strategist, Randy Enright, according to Rozett.

Thompson, 64, is a former Tennessee senator better known as an actor in movies and on NBC’s long-running drama “Law & Order.” He has established a “testing the waters” committee that allows him to raise money for a presidential bid, with an official launch likely in September, after the Labor Day holiday.

Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain head the nine-man GOP field, but Thompson often registers in double digits in public opinion polls. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos survey showed general dissatisfaction among Republicans with their choices, underscoring the volatility of the 2008 GOP race.

Enright is a veteran operative in Florida who was part of President Bush’s political operation in the key swing state; he also was executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa. Abraham served in the Bush administration after losing re-election in 2000 to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow; in 2006, he joined a French-owned nuclear company, Areva Inc., as chairman of its board of directors.

Rozett said both men would be in charge of Thompson’s campaign. Enright is heading the political operation, while Abraham doesn’t yet have a title, Rozett said.

Scott Reed, a GOP strategist and campaign manager for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, said Collamore had put a good structure in place.

“Now the campaign can move to the next level with a formal announcement,” Reed said.

Thompson indicated he was serious about running after disclosing he is in remission from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer.

Since then, he has raised several million dollars, hired staff and visited early primary states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina. On Monday, he held a $1,000-per-couple fundraiser Monday in Montgomery, Ala., that drew some of the state’s top Republicans. He planned to visit Texas on Wednesday.

Details of Thompson’s fundraising remain unclear, however. As an undeclared candidate, Thompson can raise money to “test the waters” without having to file public financial reports until he actually enters the race.

Thompson has a conservative Senate record and casts himself in the mold of former President Reagan. He was a reliably conservative vote against abortion, in favor of President Bush’s tax cuts, for oil drilling in Alaska and against criminal background checks for gun show purchases.

He has been dogged by questions in recent weeks about lobbying work in 1991 for a family planning group that was seeking to relax an abortion counseling rule, and the changing explanations from his campaign.

He was known as an investigator, heading the committee examining President Clinton’s fundraising in 1996. He won fame for another investigation, as counsel for the Senate Watergate committee in 1973, when he asked the question that revealed Nixon installed hidden listening devices and taping equipment in the Oval Office.

A review of the Nixon tapes and other transcripts showed that Thompson had alerted the White House of the investigators’ discovery. The 1970s era material also showed that President Nixon and his top aides viewed Thompson as a willing, if not too bright, ally.

Thompson also has defended his work as a lobbyist for some 20 years. He lobbied for a savings-and-loan deregulation bill that helped hasten the industry’s collapse and a failed nuclear energy project that cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars.

His wife, Jeri Kehn Thompson, 40, worked as a political media consultant at a lobbying firm, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, and McPherson and Hand. Before that she worked for the Senate Republican Conference and the RNC. She and Thompson married June 29, 2002, and have a three-year-old daughter and a 7-month old son.

Republicans familiar with the Thompson circle said she is an influential figure and that her role has been a cause of concern for some operatives signing on to the fledgling exploratory campaign.

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Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Ron Fournier contributed to this report.

Lots of glitz, little substance

Eight Democratic presidential bandwagons got caught in gridlock Monday night at the cluttered campaign-trail intersection of YouTube and CNN.

This first-of-its-kind video/Internet campaign debate featured ordinary people doing what real journalists usually do: Questioning the candidates. It also featured CNN journalists doing what journalists too often do: Confusing news with entertainment, and especially, confusing undebatable gotcha-journalism questions with vital policy questions that need to be fully debated and challenged if we are ever going to get our country right again.

More than 3,000 people had videotaped themselves asking questions that were then fed through YouTube to CNN. The CNN journalists then selected 30 or so to be asked in the debate. They included a talking snowman, a song about taxes, two hillbillies yucking it up like refugees from “Hee-Haw,” one freebie commercial from each candidate’s camp. Then there was the Kansas guy who asked Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois whether he is “not authentically black enough” — a one-on-one gotcha question that can’t be debated by the others. And this debate-lite closer: a Colorado guy asked the candidates to say what they liked and disliked about the candidate to their left. Pathetically, they did as they were told.

Through it all, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper had the difficult task of trying to transform the so-called debate into a real debate by pressing the candidates to actually answer the questions they were asked.

His personal best came on a question taped in Darfur about what the United States should do to halt the genocide in that region of Sudan. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson served up a list of diplomatic initiatives plus a U.N. peacekeeping force. Cooper pressed: “Does that mean American troops?” It did not.

Next he asked Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware the same question: Send U.S. troops to Darfur? “Absolutely, positively,” Biden shot back, 2,500 troops. “… Those kids will be dead by the time the diplomacy is over.”

Cooper then asked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York if she agreed with Biden that U.S. troops should be sent to Darfur. Her reply was instant and positive-sounding: “I agree completely that what we need to do is start acting instead of talking. That means accelerating the United Nations peacekeeping forces along with the African Union. It means moving more quickly on divestment and sanctions on the Sudanese government …”

But Cooper bore in: “How about American troops on the ground?” Clinton finessed: “I think NATO has to be there with the no-fly zone, and I think that only the United States can provide the logistical support and the airlift to make a no-fly zone and the actual delivery of humanitarian aid work.”

Cooper: “Just in the spirit of trying to get the answer, does that mean no American ground troops?” Clinton was nailed: “American ground troops I don’t think belong in Darfur at this time. …We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing in Iraq, where our troops are stretched thin, and Afghanistan, where we’re losing the fight to al Qaeda and bin Laden.”

Next came Iraq. A Philadelphia fellow asked: “My question for all the candidates: How do we pull out now? … Don’t you think if we pulled out now that would open it up for Iran and Syria, God knows who …?”

Obama said he’d opposed the invasion from the outset, and pushed his phased-troop-withdrawal idea — but never addressed the core question: What would be the consequences on the ground of the U.S. troop withdrawal? This time, the beleaguered moderator failed to follow up. Instead, he asked the same question of Biden, who went his own way. Cooper just drifted on to other Iraq questions.

No candidate was forced to confront the real consequences of his proposal for unwinding America’s un-won war. Would the smaller numbers of U.S. troops left behind in a phased withdrawal be in greater danger? Would Iraq’s concentric civil wars erupt massively? Would tens of thousands of Iraqis die?

President Bush has said he will leave it to his successor to find a way of getting the last of America’s troops out of Iraq. That is why a full hour of real debate among these would-be successors on the combat-zone consequences of a troop withdrawal could have made Monday’s CNN-YouTube debate the first major event in Campaign 2008.

What we got instead was an entertaining night of political theatrics and high jinx, a harbinger of the decline and drift of journalism in the blog-beguiled Internet age.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)

Obama sets off a firestorm

Barack Obama’s offer to meet without precondition with leaders of renegade nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran touched off a war of words, with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton calling him naive and Obama linking her to President Bush’s diplomacy.

Older politicians in both parties questioned the wisdom of such a course, while Obama’s supporters characterized it as a repudiation of Bush policies of refusing to engage with certain adversaries.

It triggered a round of competing memos and statements Tuesday between the chief Democratic presidential rivals. Obama’s team portrayed it as a bold stroke; Clinton supporters saw it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator’s lack of foreign policy experience.

“I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive,” Clinton was quoted in an interview with the Quad-City Times that was posted on the Iowa newspaper’s Web site on Tuesday.

In response, Obama told the newspaper that her stand puts her in line with the Bush administration.

Both parties were weighing the potential political fallout, especially in Florida, an early primary state, a pivotal general election state — and where Cuban President Fidel Castro remains particularly unpopular.

“Anything that looks like pandering to dictators is bad politics in South Florida,” said Republican state Rep. David Rivera of Miami. He predicted Obama’s comments would come back to haunt him, particularly if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

The Republican National Committee on Tuesday circulated stories calling attention to and ridiculing Obama’s remarks.

In Monday’s debate from Charleston, S.C., Obama was asked by a questioner via YouTube if he would be willing to meet — without precondition — in the first year of his presidency with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

“I would,” he responded.

Clinton said she would not. “I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes,” she said. Clinton said she would first use envoys to test the waters.

The day after the debate, the Clinton campaign made former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Clinton supporter, available to reporters to further challenge Obama’s response.

“It’s a step-by-step process. It’s not just some event,” Albright said of such head-of-state meetings.

“I would think that without having done the diplomatic spadework, it would not really prove anything,” Albright said.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, circulated a memo by Obama spokesman Bill Burton saying Obama’s response to the question had played well with focus groups and that Clinton had changed her position on the subject — a claim her campaign denied.

Anthony Lake, an Obama foreign policy adviser who was national security adviser early in President Clinton’s administration, defended Obama’s statements.

“A great nation and its president should never fear negotiating with anyone and Senator Obama rightly said he would be willing to do so — just as Richard Nixon did with China and Ronald Reagan with the Soviet Union,” Lake said.

He said Obama was not trying to dictate the “shape of specific negotiations” and those would “depend on how best to conduct them” at the time.

Lake said he recognized Obama’s comments had stirred up a political hornet’s nest, particularly in Florida. But, he said, it would subside. “In two years, who knows who’s going to be ruling Cuba,” Lake said.

In February, Clinton had said: “You don’t refuse to talk to bad people. I think life is filled with uncomfortable situations where you have to deal with people you might not like. I’m sort of an expert on that. I have consistently urged the president to talk to Iran and talk to Syria. I think it’s a sign of strength, not weakness.”

Obama’s camp also attempted to shift attention to Clinton’s vote authorizing the Iraq war in October 2002 at a time when Obama, then a state lawmaker, had voiced opposition.

Joe Garcia, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Democrats and former director of the Cuban National Foundation, said he’ll give Obama the benefit of the doubt.

“Obviously, Hillary’s answer was a seasoned answer within the realm of what we’re doing. But I don’t think Obama was intending to say we want to give legitimacy to dictatorships,” said Garcia, who said he was not affiliated with any of the candidates. Obama speaks to the Miami-Dade Democrats at an Aug. 25 dinner.

Other 2008 candidates have stumbled on Cuban-American politics.

In March, Republican Mitt Romney told South Florida Republicans that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a persistent U.S. critic, “has tried to steal an inspiring phrase — ‘Patria o muerte, venceremos.'” But, added Romney, “It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba.”

In truth, the phrase does not belong to free Cubans. It has been a trademark speech ending for Castro, their most despised opponent.

Also, prospective GOP candidate Fred Thompson drew unwelcome attention last month when he appeared to suggest that illegal Cuban immigrants posed a terrorist threat. He later said people were trying to twist his words, and that he was referring to Cuban spies, not immigrants.

Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution think tank, said he thought Obama’s comments did show “a lack of experience” but were probably not fatal to his prospects. Furthemore, said Mann, “there is a growing group of younger Cuban-Americans and others” who want more engagement with Cuba.

Meanwhile, rival John Edwards tried to steer clear of the Clinton-Obama flap during a campaign stop in South Carolina but did say he fears a presidential-level meeting with rogue leaders could be used to denigrate the United States.

“I would not commit myself on the front end openly to meet with (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il, (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez,” Edwards told reporters in McClellanville, S.C. “I think there’s a real potential that would be used as a propaganda tool.”

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Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in McClellanville, S.C., and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla., contibuted to this report.

This medium is the message

Democratic White House hopefuls made history Monday, parrying Internet video questions from voters soured on modern politics, in a sign of the Web’s booming role in elections.

“Wassup? asked the first questioner Zach Kempf from Provo, Utah, in a greeting heralding an unconventional two-hour 2008 campaign debate hosted by video-sharing website YouTube and broadcast by CNN from South Carolina.

Front-runner Hillary Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, former senator John Edwards and five other long-shot candidates, faced a selection from the 3,000 YouTube videos submitted, played to them on a large screen.

The debate was seen as a bid to harness the power of the Web, as citizens armed with only webcams and computers demanded a say in politics dominated by multi-million dollar warchests, wealthy consultants and corporate media.

But if the medium was unconventional, candidates rolled out answers straight from tried-and-tested political playbooks, duelling on Iraq, Darfur, gay marriage, healthcare, tax policy and education.

In one poignant video, the mother of a young soldier about to deploy to Iraq asked “how many more soldiers must die while these political games continue in our government?”

Clinton thanked the woman for her family’s service and later said “we need to set a timeline to begin bringing our troops home now.”

But Obama, seeking to exploit Clinton’s 2002 vote in favor of authorizing Bush to wage war in Iraq — before Obama he was in the Senate — noted that he himself had been against the invasion all along.

“The time for us to ask how to get out of Iraq was before we got in,” said the Illinois senator, who is struggling to cut into Clinton’s opinion lead.

The two front-runners also clashed on foreign policy. Obama was asked whether he would meet leaders of US foes Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in his first year in office.

“I would,” he said. “The reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them.”

But Clinton, painting herself as the most experienced potential president, said she did not “want to be used for propaganda purposes” so would not meet leaders of such nations in her first year, but would send out top envoys.

Another video came from a camp for Darfur refugees, and three questioners standing behind refugee children asked them to imagine themselves a parent of one of the refugees and refrain from “empty” promises to help.

Long-shot candidate Senator Joseph Biden issued a passionate call to put US troops on the ground to stop the killing of Darfur refugees by militiamen.

“I am so tired of this … those kids will be dead by the time the diplomacy is over.”

Clinton said however that while she supported a no-fly zone for Darfur, she did not believe US troops, bogged down in Iraq, should be on the ground in the region.

Another YouTube video, from “Will from Massachusetts,” asked “is African Americans ever going to get reparations from slavery?” saying he expected to see the White House hopefuls “dipping and dodging” from his question.

In another short question, two women named “Mary and Jen” asked the candidates, as president, “would you allow us to marry …. each other?”

A woman called Kim pulled off a wig in one video, saying she was 36 and hoped “to be a future breast cancer survivor” but worried about rising healthcare costs.

Clinton headed into the debate after cementing her opinion poll lead over Obama and Edwards, six months before first voting opens in both Republican and Democratic nominating contests.

Also at the debate were longshot candidates, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Senator Chris Dodd, former senator Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, a member of the House of Representatives.

Forty-five percent of Democrats surveyed in a poll for the Washington Post and ABC News published Monday said they would support Clinton to be the party’s presidential nominee, compared to 30 percent for Illinois Senator Obama and 12 percent for former senator Edwards.

Republican presidential candidates will have their own version of Monday’s debate, on September 17 in Florida.

Mr. Giuliani goes to Iowa

SLOAN, Iowa — He squeezed into the diner flanked by burly fellows in pinstriped suits.

When the country’s most famous city slicker came to this small farm town last week, a good portion of Sloan’s roughly 1,000 residents jammed into the corner cafe to catch a glimpse or touch his hands.

Some call Republican Rudolph Giuliani “America’s Mayor” because of that day in New York City that he always reminds folks about: Sept. 11, 2001.

But now he has to convince people here, in this 264th-biggest city of the country’s 30th-most-populous state, that he can translate that City Hall experience to the White House.

“Believe it or not, this isn’t a lot different than when you run for mayor of New York,” he tells reporters after glad-handing his way through the diner and out to the sidewalk.

Sure, Giuliani is running against terrorists. And he offers up some of the toughest talk against Democrats who, he said, want to rush to “retreat” and defeat in Iraq.

But he’s also campaigning on a more basic message: that he’s a mayor who gets things done.

In two days of barnstorming across Iowa last week, Giuliani bragged of ridding New York’s streets of those dreaded “squeegie operators.” He talked of slashing the size of city government and reducing the welfare rolls. And he tried to equate his efforts to clear Times Square of prostitutes and drug dealers to his promise to seal the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ending illegal immigration, he said, is “no more impossible than bringing down crime in New York.”

Touting an energy-independence plan — one that’s hard to distinguish from his rivals’ plans — Giuliani told folks in Waterloo: “Beyond being a believer in it, I’m somebody who gets things done.”

And in Sioux City, when an audience member began railing against corruption and gridlock in Washington, Giuliani cut him off, saying: “I got the point. Washington’s not doing its job. We agree. I’d like to make this point. I don’t come from Washington.”

Start spreading the news. Another New Yorker has started paying attention to Iowa.

Until recently, the Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, was the only Empire State visitor that Iowans saw much.

Giuliani, who leads in the national Republican polls, has defied conventional political strategy by downplaying this first-in-the-nation caucus state, instead flashing his famous face in delegate-rich territory on the second page of the 2008 political calendar, like Florida and California.

Some people figured he was writing off Iowa, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the polls, when he announced he would skip the non-binding Ames Straw Poll on Aug. 11 — a traditional predictor of the next year’s caucuses.

But last week’s visit was intended as a statement, and at a time when Giuliani is bracing for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson to enter the GOP field.

“Imagine how we’ll surprise people,” he tells one crowd, adding that if his campaign wins in Iowa, South Carolina or New Hampshire, “we win the nomination.”

Giuliani, whose image was etched in the country’s consciousness after the 9/11 attacks, is running an unorthodox presidential campaign that’s loaded with gambles.

For starters, he’s sticking with an ardent defense of the unpopular war in Iraq and doing little to distance himself from a president whose approval ratings have approached historic lows.

“The thing President Bush did for us — for which he doesn’t get the credit he deserves — (is) he put us on offense” against terrorism, Giuliani said.

He’s going against conventional wisdom that it takes a social conservative, not someone with his moderate-to-liberal views on gay rights and abortion, to be the GOP standard-bearer.

“The Republican Party is looking for something broader than they’ve looked for in the past,” he told Iowans last week.

And, meanwhile, he’s figuratively looking over the heads of some of his Republican rivals and aiming his campaign rhetoric directly at the Democrats “who I believe I’ll ultimately be running against.”

In an interview Wednesday, Giuliani was asked to contrast his policy stands to those of Romney.

“I don’t think of the Republican candidates that way,” Giuliani said. “I only think of the Democratic candidates that way.”

He went on to lump Democratic contenders Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and controversial filmmaker Michael Moore into one broadside against supposed “European-Canadian-Cuban” health-care plans.

In projecting himself as a sort of inevitable nominee, he’s taking a page right out of Clinton’s playbook. Like him, she tries to blur the differences among rivals from her own party and points to a greater gulf between Democrats and Republicans, particularly over the Iraq war.

As Clinton told the Des Moines Register on Friday: “I am winning. I am beating the Republicans.”

It’s a front-runner’s game to try to make the primaries appear to be a foregone conclusion, directing voters’ attention straight to the general election.

For Giuliani to pull that off, he still has to overcome a persistent doubt that conservatives will stick with him when push comes to shove, particularly after Thompson enters the race.

After Wednesday’s event in Council Bluffs, when reporters pressed Giuliani on abortion, he pointed out that none of the audience members had asked him about it that day. “So maybe it’s more of an issue for you than it is for them,” he reckoned.

He might not be aware how often his name and the abortion issue come up at dozens of campaign stops for his more conservative rivals. Time and again, Republican audience members offer an immediate answer when asked if there’s anyone in the field they never could support. It’s Giuliani, they say repeatedly, because of his “liberal” stands on abortion and gay rights.

(Contact M.E. Sprengelmeyer of the Rocky Mountain News at www.rockymountainnews.com.)

All nice and polite…for now

The 2008 White House race has groundbreaking candidates, record-shattering spending and crowded debates, but so far it lacks a more common feature of recent campaigns — negative and sometimes personal attacks.

It’s still early, though.

The sprawling fields of contenders in both parties have kept a largely civil tone through the early stages of a fast-starting White House race, mostly avoiding direct confrontations and leaving the rare attacks to surrogates.

“It has been a very polite campaign, and that is in the best interests of all the viable candidates,” said Democratic consultant Doug Hattaway, an aide to Al Gore during his unsuccessful 2000 presidential run.

“The candidates are trying to connect with voters and negativity tends to turn people off, particularly when you are attacking someone from your own party in a primary,” he said.

With polls showing U.S. voters hungry for change and fed up with the partisan climate in Washington, nobody wants to be the first to throw a punch at leaders like Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Rudy Giuliani.

“You can’t just tee it up and be angry for six months in this atmosphere,” said Democratic consultant Dane Strother. “There is so much dissension, so much anger — if you become that, you become the problem. Voters want it all to end.”

The Democratic contenders have been the most collegial in debates and on the campaign trail. They largely agree on most major issues, and have skirmished only slightly over who showed the most backbone in fighting to end the unpopular Iraq war.

With more disagreements on policy, the Republicans have been more feisty. Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney traded potshots on immigration, and many second-tier candidates have taken aim at the top three declared contenders — derisively and collectively known as “Rudy McRomney.”

Giuliani has been criticized by conservatives for his support of abortion rights and gay rights. But he has taken little heat from top rivals McCain and Romney and still leads national polls among Republicans.

TOO EARLY TO FIGHT

With the first primary votes still six months away, and 16 months to go before the November 2008 general election, Republican consultant Joe Gaylord said this was not the time to roll out the heavy ammunition on any opponent.

“At some point somebody is going to go after Giuliani, it’s just a matter of when,” Gaylord said. “But now we’re so far away from anyone voting no one would remember what any of them said anyway.”

Giuliani adviser Jim Dyke said the former New York mayor would get his turn in the bullseye when the early contests approached.

“There will come a time when the other campaigns become more aggressive because they’ll decide that he can win, and they have to distort his story to prevent that,” Dyke said.

The mostly polite tone of the campaign so far is a contrast to contentious primary battles of the past, including the 2004 Democratic race.

That featured fiery Howard Dean, who battled rivals as he rose in the polls and skirmished repeatedly with Rep. Richard Gephardt as he flamed out in the final weeks before losing the first contest in Iowa. In 2000, George W. Bush won a nasty Republican primary fight with Arizona Sen. John McCain on his way to winning the White House.

The rivalry between McCain and Romney has been the most personal of the 2008 campaign, while the staffs of Clinton and top rival Barack Obama, the Illinois senator, have shown little love for each other even as the candidates stayed respectful.

Obama cast himself as the candidate of hope and a positive vision, leaving him little room to go on the attack if he still trails Clinton, who leads national Democratic polls, as the first nominating contests approach.

While the 2008 campaign has been groundbreaking, with fundraising records falling and Obama and Clinton striving to become the first black and woman, respectively, in the White House, it is unlikely to remain positive for long.

“There is little doubt the campaign will get more heated and the elbows will get sharper closer to the voting,” Hattaway said.

McCain has more cash than predicted

Second-quarter campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show former GOP frontrunner John McCain with $3.2 million cash on hand – about $1.2 million above the $2 million that the campaign predicted would be reflected in the official report.

The final figures erase a significant talking point promoted by the campaign of long-shot candidate Ron Paul which, for the last three weeks, has argued that their candidate would have more money in the bank than McCain.

McCain, however, is not out of the financial woods. His campaign filings show $1.8 million in debt through the end of June while the Paul campaign reports zero debt. Paul has more “net worth” than McCain at this point although McCain has outraised Paul 8-1 and outspent the Texas Congressman by 10-1.

The reports do show McCain’s campaign, while crippled, is not yet dead and that Paul, along with other second tier candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties, has a long way to go.

The Associated Press reports:

Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign spent more than it raised from April through June, leaving him financially strapped with $3.2 million cash on hand and a $1.8 million debt, according to a report filed Sunday with the Federal Election Commission.

Hindered by unpopular stands on the war and on immigration, McCain raised $11.26 million in the second quarter, short of his first quarter donations. He spent $13 million. Overall, McCain has raised $24.6 million so far in his campaign and spent $22 million.

McCain has raised $24.6 million through the end of June 30. Paul has raised just over $3 million. The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, taken July 17-18, shows McCain tied with non-candidate Fred Thompson at 16 percent, trailing frontrunner Rudy Giuliani by 11 points. Paul lags far behind with 2 percent. Mike Huckabee leads the second tier candidates with three percent.

Gallop shows McCain, from July 12-15, in third place behind Giuliani and Thompson, and Paul leading the second tier with 3 percent.

The high level of buzz generated by the Paul campaign through the Internet has not yet translated into support in the public opinion polls. The Gallop numbers are a slight bump from earlier polls but Zogby’s latest poll (July 12-14) shows Paul dropping from 3 to 1 percent from March and McCain dropping from 13 to 9 percent for the same period.

American Research Group shows McCain dropping from 30 percent in March to 14 in July but Paul remaining constant at 1 percent.

Iraq war will dominate 2008 election

Divisions over Iraq extended to the presidential campaign during the Senate’s all-night debate, with Republican John McCain steadfastly backing President Bush’s war strategy as Democratic rivals demanded troop withdrawals.

“Our defeat there would be catastrophic, not just for Iraq, but for us,” the Arizona senator said Wednesday. “As long as we have a chance to succeed we must try to succeed.”

In a speech just after 4 a.m., Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York argued: “It is time for us to move our troops out of harm’s way in the middle of the Iraqi civil war.”

The two were among several White House hopefuls in the Senate who participated in a marathon debate before voting on a Democratic-led measure ordering a drawdown in forces. The 52-47 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate under Senate rules.

Presidential candidates voted mostly along party lines, with McCain and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., opposing the measure, while Clinton and Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware supporting it. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican flirting with a bid, sided with the Democrats.

As the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, McCain took the lead for the GOP during the debate. It was a fitting role, given that, aside from Bush, he is widely viewed as the Republican whose political fortunes are perhaps most tied to Iraq. He was on the floor Tuesday until about 10:15 p.m., returned for several hours in the middle of the night, and was back at it by dawn.

McCain has long acknowledged the United States has made mistakes in the war, and he referred to wartime errors as he condemned the Democratic measure. “I cannot react to those mistakes by embracing a course of action that I know will be an even greater mistake, a mistake of colossal historical proportions,” he said.

Countering, Clinton argued that the U.S. military has accomplished its original missions: removing Saddam Hussein from power, helping Iraqis hold democratic elections and giving them the ability to start establishing a political framework. Thus, she said the United States must “start bringing our troops out of this multisided, sectarian civil war.”

“Our message to the president is clear: It’s time to start thinking of our troops and our broader position in Iraq and beyond, not next year, not next month, but today,” she added.

Her chief rival, Obama, was scheduled to deliver remarks between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. — around the start of the morning news shows — but a backlog caused him to cut short his speech when he took the floor several hours later than planned.

“All of us want to see our troops come home safely. All of us want the best possible result in Iraq,” Obama said. “Given we have no good options at this point, that we have bad options and worse options, I think it is very important for us … to recognize that none of us are interested in dictating military strategy to the president but rather to set a mission for the military.”

Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the vote “merely a first step.”

“We have to get us out of the middle of a civil war,” he said. “But then we have to be in a position … where we come up with a political solution.”

Can McCain survive?

The plight of Republican Sen. John McCain’s campaign for U.S. president conjures up all sorts of mixed metaphors: On a wing and a prayer, teetering on the brink, one foot in the grave, down to his last bullet.

Can he come back from the dead, rise from the ashes, turn the tide, survive to fight another day? Or has the train already left the station?

Political gurus say it will be extremely hard for him to rebound from financial woes, but that one can never completely rule out McCain, the Vietnam war hero and Arizona senator who gave George W. Bush a run for his money in the 2000 election.

“Sen. McCain’s standing as an American hero and a stalwart defender of his principles will always get him a seat at the table,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “But it’s extremely difficult to run a campaign at any level, especially the presidential level, with very limited resources.”

“The real question right now is why someone would write a check to the McCain campaign if they have not already done so in the past. I have a hard time coming up with a good answer to that question,” Ayres said.

McCain built a campaign planning to raise $100 million. Only about a quarter of that amount had come in after McCain angered the Republican base by backing a U.S. immigration overhaul that critics called amnesty for illegal immigrants.

He also has taken a tough position in support of Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq and, at 70, is competing against two Republicans who offer fresher faces, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Down to its last $2 million, the campaign has slashed costs, dumped staff and is studying more ways to cut its budget while trying to raise money and be in a position to run campaign television advertisements in the fall.

BEHIND IN POLLS

He will focus on New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa, the states that hold the first primary elections for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the November 2008 election.

Polls show him running behind Giuliani and Romney in those states.

“I’m looking at it as a kind of starting over,” said Republican strategist Charlie Black, a senior McCain adviser. “You’ve still got the best campaigner, and a guy who is actually better in an underdog role, and it’s a completely wide open race.”

Bill Greener, a former official at the Republican National Committee, said it was possible to run a lean campaign but he had to have enough money to deliver a message and pay the cost of basic physical operations.

“What it really takes to operate a credible campaign is probably a lot less than we might anticipate,” he said.

Chris Lehane, a political consultant who aided the campaign of Democrat Al Gore in 2000, said the obstacles for McCain were many and he would have to campaign like someone living in the African bush: “Live off land and move on a moment’s notice.”

“A modern-day campaign is like keeping a 757 in the air all the time. It requires a lot of fuel and costs a lot of money. He’s going to have to run a really guerrilla-like campaign,” Lehane said.

Democrat John Kerry suffered financial problems in 2003 and managed to survive to become his party’s nominee. To a lesser extent Gore had some financial challenges.

“This one is significantly different,” Lehane said. “At least in those situations there was a baseline of financial support that still existed, an existing campaign infrastructure that at the end of the day served as a firewall … This appears to be a free-fall situation.”

GOP voters: We don’t want any of ’em

And the leading Republican presidential candidate is … none of the above.

The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that nearly a quarter of Republicans are unwilling to back top-tier hopefuls Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, John McCain or Mitt Romney, and no one candidate has emerged as the clear front-runner among Christian evangelicals. Such dissatisfaction underscores the volatility of the 2008 GOP nomination fight.

In sharp contrast, the Democratic race remains static, with Hillary Rodham Clinton holding a sizable lead over Barack Obama. The New York senator, who is white, also outpaces her Illinois counterpart, who is black, among black and Hispanic Democrats, according to a combined sample of two months of polls.

A half year before voting begins, the survey shows the White House race is far more wide open on the Republican side than on the Democratic. The uneven enthusiasm about the fields also is reflected in fundraising in which Democrats outraised Republicans $80 million to $50 million from April through June, continuing a trend from the year’s first three months.

“Democrats are reasonably comfortable with the range of choices. The Democratic attitude is that three or four of these guys would be fine,” David Redlawsk, a University of Iowa political scientist. “The Republicans don’t have that; particularly among the conservatives there’s a real split. They just don’t see candidates who reflect their interests and who they also view as viable.”

More Republicans have become apathetic about their options over the past month.

A hefty 23 percent can’t or won’t say which candidate they would back, a jump from the 14 percent who took a pass in June.

Giuliani’s popularity continued to decline steadily as he faced a spate of headline headaches, came under increased scrutiny and saw the potential entry of Thompson in the mix; his support is at 21 percent compared with 27 percent in June and 35 percent in March.

The former New York mayor is running virtually even with Thompson, who has become a threat without even officially entering the race. The actor and former Tennessee senator has stayed steady at 19 percent. McCain, the Arizona senator who is revamping his nearly broke campaign, clocked in a bit lower at 15 percent, while Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, remained at 11 percent.

None of the top candidates has a clear lead among Christian evangelicals, a critical part of the GOP base that has had considerable sway in past Republican primaries. Giuliani, a thrice-married backer of abortion rights and gay rights, had 20 percent support — roughly even with Thompson and McCain who have one divorce each in their pasts. Romney, a Mormon who has been married for three decades, was in the single digits.

Among the legions of undecided Republicans is Barbara Skogman, 72, a retired legal assistant from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She isn’t at all excited about any of the prospects.

“I’m looking for a strong honest person. Do you know of any?” she joked. She had an easy time detailing why she was queasy about each of the most serious contenders. “Isn’t that sad?” Then she reached a conclusion: “I just don’t know.”

Andrew E. Smith, a polling expert at the University of New Hampshire, said the number of voters in flux is no surprise, given that the primaries aren’t for another six months. “People really don’t decide who to vote for until the last couple months or days,” he said.

On the Democratic side, 13 percent declined to back a candidate, and of those who picked a candidate, some may be willing to change their minds.

Barbara Hicks, 29, an English tutor in Arlington, Va., said her friends got her to lean toward former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards but she said, “It’s not set in stone. … I don’t favor him very, very strongly.”

The only other sign that Democrats are at all agitated about their choices is the continued support for Al Gore, the former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential nominee who says he’s not running. His popularity has slid some to 15 percent.

Otherwise, Clinton kept her strong advantage over Obama; her backers accounted for 36 percent of Democrats to his 20 percent, while support for Edwards remained essentially unchanged at 11 percent.

While neither Obama nor Edwards has threatened Clinton in national polls, both are giving her a chase in other areas. Obama leads her in fundraising for the primary and Edwards is running stronger in Iowa.

Nationally, the combined sample found Clinton has the edge among black Democrats, with 46 percent of their support to Obama’s 33 percent. Her advantage is even wider among Hispanics; she has the support of 45 percent of them to Obama’s 17 percent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose mother was Mexican, had the backing of just 5 percent of Hispanics and virtually no support among blacks.

The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted by telephone July 9-11 with 1,004 adults, including 346 Republicans and 477 Democrats. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points, plus or minus 5.5 percentage points for Republicans and 4.5 percentage points for Democrats. For the combined June and July samples, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for Republicans and plus or minus 3 percentage points for Democrats.

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Associated Press Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius, and AP Writer Natasha Metzler contributed to this report.