Politics gets weird; the weird turn pro

It’s a strange world:

When doctors conspire to kill innocent people; when the president who insists on tough sentences for criminals lets a convicted felon who is a friend out of doing jail time; when a government that failed to protect its citizens from a killer hurricane’s wrath still hasn’t helped them rebuild two years later.

It’s a puzzling world:

When a once-popular presidential candidate, John McCain, is written off after raising “only” $24 million in six months; when a presidential candidate blasts the president for leniency toward a friend-scofflaw while her own husband, standing beside her, did the same thing; when the government pays farmers not to farm while importing tainted food.

It’s a perplexing world:

When the vice president in the same week both pleads executive privilege in refusing to give documents to the Senate and also says his office is not part of the executive branch in denying other documents to the National Archives; where the government that bans drugs that other countries insist save lives lets in thousands of tubes of poisonous toothpaste.

It’s an incomprehensible world:

When the only foreign leader the president invites to his family’s ocean-side vacation home is from Russia, thwarts U.S. policies and represses democracy; when the Supreme Court, designed to protect the rights of minorities, rules in favor of segregation; when Congress, deploring the fact that an estimated 12 million immigrants have no legal status, cannot figure out what to do about it — and states start forcing employers to find out if their employees are legal or risk going out of business.

It’s a baffling world:

When one of the president’s stalwart supporters, Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, says the war in Iraq, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,500 Americans, is a de facto quagmire and the president says he’ll respond in September; when the United States refuses to help the Palestinian government until it’s too late; when the Bush administration essentially says, “OK, if the courts don’t want us to suspend habeas corpus at Guantanamo, we’ll get Congress to pass a law letting us hold foreign terror suspects on U.S. soil.”

It’s a confusing world:

When states ordered flags flown at half-staff on behalf of soldiers killed in Iraq while federal flags just across the street flew at full-staff (a policy only now being changed, four years into the war); when a federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is used to prevent relatives from getting patient information to help safeguard hospitalized family members.

It’s a stupefying world:

When the president who vowed to spread democracy around the world has gotten majorities in 33 of 47 countries surveyed by the Pew global opinion poll to express hostility to democracy; when federal support for mass transit has eroded despite more dependence on foreign oil; when the head of the Smithsonian Institution was to get $915,698 a year while taking 10 weeks of vacation annually before he resigned.

It’s a weird world:

When two of the hottest possible contenders for the White House are 1) a billionaire and 2) famous for being on TV; when, despite the July Fourth holiday, the state of New Jersey says it can’t afford to preserve and mark the graves of five of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; when the federal government says the Seneca Indian Nation may open a $125 million, 5,000-square-foot casino in downtown Buffalo, N.Y., on land not owned by the reservation.

It’s a paradoxical world:

When the Labor Department refuses to share with the public the results of tests on workers for toxic substances in the workplace; when the Vatican proposes negotiations with China’s atheist leaders over repression of the country’s Catholics; when an economic rebound could greatly expand the risk of inflation, which could join with weak business spending, a correction in the financial markets and weaknesses in the housing market to weaken the economy; when the president and Congress support subsidies for corn-based ethanol to “save” energy, although energy is used to make ethanol and it all makes no economic sense.

But, hey, it’s only July. Maybe the world will straighten itself by August.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com.)

Waving the political red, white & blue

Presidential politics spiced up Independence Day celebrations across Iowa on Wednesday, as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney competed for attention in the same parade and four other 2008 candidates blanketed the state.

Crowds jammed front lawns, porches and sidewalks in Clear Lake for a chance to see Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former president, as well as Republican Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

The Clintons, on the last leg of a three-day tour of the critical early-voting state of Iowa, marched several hundred yards ahead of Romney in the town’s July 4th parade. The three had a brief, cordial chat before the parade kicked off.

Area residents began staking out space along the route with blankets and chairs as early as Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, the route was full, residents said.

“This is wilder and more crowded than anything I’ve ever seen,” said Mary Petersen of nearby Fertile, Iowa, a parade veteran for years. “We usually get our fill of politicians, but never anybody this high profile.”

Clinton and Romney led a horde of 2008 presidential contenders who crisscrossed Iowa on the holiday, with Congress on break and many Americans taking long weekends off work.

Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph Biden of Delaware, and Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, also marched in July 4th parades elsewhere in Iowa. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois attended three Independence Day celebrations across the state.

Iowa kicks off the voting in a fast-starting 2008 race in less than seven months, with big fields of contenders in both parties hoping a win here can help propel them to the nomination.

While Clinton leads the Democratic presidential field in national polls, she trails rival John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, in Iowa. Romney trails former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in national Republican polls, but leads state polls in Iowa.

PRO-CLINTON CROWD

The Clear Lake crowd was decidedly pro-Clinton, however, roaring as the former president and senator neared. Hillary Clinton signs and stickers dominated the route.

“I love Hillary,” said Dee Kahler, a hairdresser from Britt, Iowa, who grabbed both Clintons in hugs as they came by. Her daughter had driven from Minnesota with her grandchildren to see the couple.

The Clintons, marching near the front with former Gov. Tom Vilsack, weaved back and forth across the parade route to plunge into the crowd and shake hands. “Thank you for coming, happy Fourth of July,” the New York senator said repeatedly.

Romney, trailed by his son Josh’s “Mitt Mobile” camper, also worked both sides of the street. He occasionally broke into a run to catch up or fall back to his supporters and was clearly happy to spot some Boston Red Sox baseball fans along the way.

“I’ve got to shake hands with you guys,” he told two young boys wearing Red Sox hats.

As it rolled through Clear Lake, the “Mitt Mobile” blared the 1966 Boston rock classic by the Standells, “Dirty Water,” and its chorus: “I love that dirty water. Oh Boston, you’re my home.”

Lots of flash, little substance

Fred Thompson’s easygoing, no-nonsense style is clearly his strength and undoubtedly has helped him soar in presidential polls. It may only get him so far. Sooner or later, the all-but-declared candidate will have to answer the question: What else do you offer?

“Smooth is good, but sometimes nitty gritty is essential,” says Tucker Eskew, a Republican strategist unaligned in the race. “He’ll be tested (but) he has a little time.”

Indeed, the actor and former Tennessee senator has bought himself a grace period; he hasn’t yet officially joined the 10-man GOP field. He’s raised at least several million dollars, assembled a nascent staff and visited early primary states New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Top candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain mix it up daily, taking questions from voters and fleshing out their presidential agendas.

Not Thompson.

His stump speech consists of broad conservative themes, talk of bipartisanship and commentary on issues of the day, but it largely lacks any vision for the future of the country. He deflects questions on what a Thompson presidency would look like and demurs when pressed for specific proposals for how to fix the nation’s ills. He opines on hot topics, from taxes to terrorism, in online columns and on his Web site, usually without being challenged.

Aides say he has plenty of time to project his vision, and internal policy discussions are occurring. Yet, Thompson is starting to feel the heat of the presidential race.

Faced with questions about where he stands on abortion, he cites a National Right to Life endorsement in his 1994 Senate race and brags, “I was ranked 100 percent on abortion-related issues.” But the group gave him a less-than-perfect score in subsequent years, and a Project Vote Smart candidate questionnaire from 1994 indicated that he backed abortion rights in the first trimester.

Thompson also has been forced to defend his lobbying career amid questions about some of his clients, including deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In response to such inquiries, Thompson told reporters: “Nobody yet has pointed out any of my clients that didn’t deserve representation.” That kind of statement is not likely to deter reporters from looking more closely any more than it did in 1987 when Gary Hart dared people to investigate him amid allegations of philandering. They did and he ended up withdrawing from the race for a time when an extramarital relationship was discovered.

Thompson also has had to deal with a few unforced errors. Last week, he felt the need to clarify a remark he made while criticizing the failed immigration overhaul bill in the Senate. He bemoaned illegal immigration from Cuba and elsewhere, and said: “I don’t imagine they’re coming here to bring greetings from Castro. We’re living in the era of the suitcase bomb.”

A day later, he posted an explanation on his Web site. Democrats assailed him for not understanding Cuban-Americans.

So far, the scrutiny and stumbles don’t appear to be hurting him.

Thompson backers credit what they call his Ronald Reagan-like style with his quick rise to the top tier in polls and argue that he’ll have staying power because of it.

They describe Thompson as having a laid-back, guy-next-door nature that puts people at ease around him. At the same time, they note he can be a commanding presence with his imposing 6-foot-5 frame, his unmistakable deep voice and his straight-talking way.

“He projects common sense to the complex problems of Washington,” said Michael Thompson, a South Carolina state representative who is not related to Thompson.

The White House aspirant put his Southern-tinged style on display in Columbia, S.C., last week. He pleased GOP activists with a 30-minute speech peppered with plainspoken points and folksy sayings. They clapped at his applause lines and laughed at his jokes as he commented on hot-button issues from Iraq and immigration to terrorism and taxes — and the dispirited state of the GOP.

“Our people think our party is back on our heels right now, but we ain’t gonna stay like that very, very long. We’re gonna get back on our toes where we belong,” Thompson said.

At ease behind the podium, he grinned broadly and spoke in a conversational manner, glancing at notes before him and gesturing often, his eyeglasses in one hand. He made a self-depreciating joke about the Senate and Hollywood, invoked Reagan and, in his deep drawl, used phrases like “hitched up our belts” and “the dogs ain’t eatin’ the dog food when they put that one out there.”

Republicans raved.

“His style was very different. It’s a little folksy, a little refreshing in a race that’s going to get spirited,” said Katon Dawson, the GOP chairman in South Carolina. Added Chip Felkel, a Republican consultant in the state: “I was impressed. He has the ability to talk to people like he’s sitting on their front porch.”

“I don’t see any political correctness. He tells it like it is,” gushed Charlie Lybrand, a county registrar in Charleston. “He is who he is.”

Still, for all Thompson’s style, he left others waiting to hear more substance.

“I like him a lot, but the jury’s still out on him until he tells us more,” said Thomas Gilbert, 76, who traveled from Fayetteville, Ga.

His wife, Margaret Gilbert, 73, agreed: “He’s a good speaker and said things I think that essentially most Americans agree with, but I really don’t know that much about him or what he’d do.”

___

Liz Sidoti covers presidential politics for The Associated Press.

Rudy tops in GOP fundraising

Rudy Giuliani emerged as the winner in the Republican presidential money contest this quarter, raising more and spending less than both of his leading rivals. Mitt Romney tapped his personal wealth for a $6.5 million loan and John McCain’s campaign was seriously considering public financing to revive his all-but-broke presidential bid.

As the campaigns head into a new round of fundraising and spending, Giuliani has about $15 million in the bank for the primary contests, Romney has $12 million and McCain has just $2 million.

For Romney, whose assets are estimated at between $190 million and $250 million, one of every $5 of his revenue has come from his personal wealth.

Romney increased his number of donors by nearly 50,000 for a total of more than 80,000 for the year so far. McCain reported a total number of contributors of 72,000 for the first six months. The Giuliani campaign said he doubled his number of donors this quarter, bringing his total to about 56,000.

Key fundraising numbers:

  • Giuliani raised $17 million with about $15 million devoted to the primary and about $2 million for the general election. Candidates can’t use general election money unless they win their party’s nomination. In six months, he has had revenues of nearly $32 million and has spent about $17 million.
  • Romney raised $14 million, all primary election money. He lent himself an extra $6.5 million. His six-month revenues are about $44 million and his expenditures are about $32 million.
  • McCain raised $11.2 million with about $10.4 million devoted to the primary. His overall revenues are about $26 million; the campaign spent about $24 million. In the first quarter, the campaign reported a debt of nearly $2 million. Aides would not comment on where his debt may stand.

Combined, the leading three Republicans raised roughly $42 million in primary and general election money in the second quarter, a sum dwarfed by the $68 million top Democratic candidates — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards — brought in over the same period.

Giuliani campaign manager Michael DuHaime applauded the efficiency of the former New York mayor’s campaign.

“We are serious about being good stewards with the money that has been entrusted to us,” he said in a statement.

Giuliani was the only one of the three to see an increase in his fundraising and appeared to rely on large dollar donors. He remains in the lead in most national polls, though Romney has taken a lead in surveys in Iowa and has a slight advantage in New Hampshire.

“We’re obviously competitive with Mayor Giuliani,” Romney said while campaigning in Creston, Iowa. “We’re very much in the game here and we’ll both have the money we need to run a very successful primary campaign.”

Still, their fundraising weakened, Romney and McCain were forced to take steps that they had once vowed to avoid.

In January, Romney, who made his millions as a venture capitalist, said “it would be akin to a nightmare” if he donated to his campaign, although he reserved that right.

On Tuesday, Romney said his intent was “to contribute just as other people are contributing.”

As Giuliani and Romney released their fundraising totals, McCain’s campaign settled into its new reality with dozens of fewer staffers, a narrower strategy focused on early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and a serious look at accepting public financing and all its limitations on spending.

The Arizona senator blew through roughly $24 million over six months without spending a dime on what is typically the most costly expenditure — television advertising. While the details of McCain’s spending won’t be known in full until July 15, payroll, consultants, fundraising and travel command a large part of a presidential campaign’s budget.

Federal Election Commission records show McCain spent $1.6 million on salaries in the first three months of the year, and officials say that despite an early round of staff cuts, that level remained roughly the same in the second quarter. At the same time, the figure isn’t an accurate gauge of just how much the campaign spent on personnel because it doesn’t take into account equipment, overhead and other costs associated with each staffer.

McCain paid heavily for finance operations, including direct mail, phone banks and events aimed at raising money. He also hired finance consultants in several states, as well as general consultants.

Another major expense: the candidate’s travel costs. McCain has abided by proposed Senate ethics rules, refusing to fly in corporate jets at discounted rates, paying full air charter fares as he maintained a full schedule of cross-country travel. Romney and Giuliani, not bound by the Senate rules, do fly on corporate jets and pay lower rates that are equivalent to commercial first-class fares.

On Monday, McCain’s campaign moved to restructure itself, laying off staff, cutting salaries and paring down its organization across the board.

In looking to accept public financing, the McCain campaign will have to live with some strict spending limits that have bedeviled past presidential campaigns.

A candidate who accepts public financing could get up to $22 million in taxpayer money. But he would face spending limits in each state with a caucus or a primary. This year, that limit would be about $1.5 million in Iowa and $820,000 in New Hampshire.

The limits are flexible, however. Television ads that contain a fundraising solicitation could count as a national fundraising expense. Ads aired in Massachusetts or Vermont stations but viewed in New Hampshire don’t count toward the New Hampshire limits.

GOP strategist Charlie Black, who is backing McCain, said McCain does not need to spend as much money in early primaries as Romney and Giuliani.

“He’s totally known to all the voters,” he said. “He does have a knack for being a very effective campaigner who gets a lot of press coverage.”

More significantly, Black said, is that McCain would be limited to spending about $50 million for the entire primary contest, up to the Republican National convention in early September.

“If you get nominated, then you have to go from February … until September without having hardly anything to spend,” he said. “It’s possible to do, but it becomes difficult.”

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Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti in Washington and Amy Lorentzen in Iowa contributed to this report.

Thompson leads GOP field for Pres

To give you an idea of just how fractured the Republican Party is in the 2008 race for President, an undeclared candidate is the frontrunner.

That’s right. Fred Thompson, sometimes Senator and sometimes actor, leads the GOP Presidential field, topping former New York City Major Rudy Giuliani.

Mitt Romney edges out John McCain for third and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee leads the also-rans with all the rest not even registering enough to be called has beens.

According to Rasmussen Reports:

After weeks of turmoil and change, the race for the Republican Presidential nomination has stabilized.

Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson remains on top in Rasmussen Reports national polling with 27% support. That’s unchanged from a week ago. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is three points behind at 24%.

Thompson has a 16-point advantage over Giuliani among conservatives while Giuliani holds an even larger edge among moderate voters. However, in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination, there are always more conservative voters than moderates.

A separate survey found that Thompson is currently viewed as the most conservative of all GOP candidates. Giuliani remains the best liked candidate. Seventy-four percent (74%) of Republicans now have a favorable opinion of America’s Mayor. Thompson’s numbers among the GOP faithful have been moving in the opposite direction. Sixty-four percent (64%) of GOP voters have a favorable opinion of the actor while just 12% have an unfavorable view.

This week’s national GOP poll also finds former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with a one-point edge over Arizona Senator John McCain for the fourth time in six weeks. Romney and McCain were tied during the other two weeks. Now, the numbers are 13% for Romney and 12% for McCain.

Romney is viewed favorably by 58% of Republican voters while 30% have a less flattering opinion. McCain is viewed favorably by 55% and unfavorably by 40% of Republicans.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is atop the second tier at 3%. Six other candidates–Senator Sam Brownback, Congressman Ron Paul, Congressman Tom Tancredo, former Governor Tommy Thompson, Congressman Duncan Hunter, and former Governor Jim Gilmore?split 4% of the vote. Eighteen percent (18%) are not sure.

Dems outpace Republicans in fundraising

In past election years, Republican candidate could always depend on the deep pockets of loyalists to give them a financial edge.

No more.

Leading Democratic Presidential contenders are outraising Republican hopefuls and the shortfall in campaign cash is affecting other GOP campaigns as well.

Public dissatisfaction over the failed war in Iraq and other dismal policies of the faltering GOP is blamed for most of the dropoff in contributions but others point to the Internet as a Democratic cash cow.

Writes Michael D. Shear of The Washington Post:

Campaign contributors to the 2008 presidential candidates heavily favored Democrats in the three-month period that ended Saturday, giving three dollars to the party’s leading contenders for every two dollars they gave to the top Republican candidates.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s 258,000 contributors since January exceed the combined number of donors of former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), according to estimates provided by the campaigns.

Romney announced yesterday that he has lent his campaign $6.5 million from his personal fortune to supplement the $14 million he raised from April through June. Giuliani’s campaign said it raised about $15 million during the quarter. Last week, McCain announced a dramatic staff shake-up after raising only $11 million, leaving him with just $2 million in the bank.

During the quarter, Obama (Ill.) raised $32.5 million, $31 million of which can be used in the primaries. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) raised $21 million for the primaries and a total of about $27 million in the same period.

The fundraising results continued a striking reversal of fortunes for Democratic presidential hopefuls, who have often labored with less money than their Republican counterparts.

“Clearly, that’s a reflection on the war and a reflection of the past,” said Alex Castellanos, Romney’s media consultant. “There’s a lot of pent-up disappointment in the Republican Party on issues like spending. It’s not just the administration, being unable to keep its promises . . . since we’re the guys in charge, we pay a price for that.”

The Blackberry hack caper

Call it the great Blackberry hack caper or just another case of political dirty tricks.

Whatever you call it, the campaign season must be in full swing because the tricksters are hard at work and so are those who file lawsuits.

A former employee of the political consulting firm that works the Presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton claims Hillary’s chief campaign strategists approved hacking into his Blackberry and monitoring his email.

The other side, of course, claims it did nothing wrong.

Writes Sara Kugler of The Washington Post:

Mitchell E. Markel, a former vice president at Penn, Schoen & Berland, claims in the lawsuit that the firm began monitoring all messages sent from his personal BlackBerry device nearly a month after he had resigned and become president of his new business. The suit claims that Mark Penn, who is Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, knew about and approved of the monitoring, which the suit says violates federal wiretapping laws.

Penn, Schoen & Berland, which has helped elect clients such as former president Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, is accused of hacking into Markel’s BlackBerry and rigging his e-mail accounts to send copies of his e-mail to another account that the firm had set up. The suit says the BlackBerry that Markel used was always his own, never the property of his former employer.

Howard Rubin, an attorney for Penn, Schoen & Berland, disputed the claim that the e-mails were private and that the firm engaged in unauthorized monitoring.

“The company hasn’t done anything improper, and the e-mails came in on our own e-mail account,” he said. He declined to elaborate.

McCain cuts staff after fundraising falters

Republican John McCain struggled to keep his deeply troubled campaign afloat Monday, laying off dozens of staffers after lackluster fundraising and excessive spending left him with just $2 million for his second presidential bid.

Considered the GOP front-runner just six months ago, the Arizona senator trails his top rivals in money and polls. McCain’s fortunes soured this year as he embraced President Bush’s troop increase for the Iraq war, a conflict a majority of Republicans support, and a bipartisan immigration bill that has divided the GOP. He also has fought to win over skeptical conservatives who make up the core of the party.

Officials with knowledge of the reorganization said more than 50 staffers, and perhaps as many as 80 to 100, in every department of the campaign were being let go, and senior aides will be subject to pay cuts. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the campaign would not publicly discuss specifics.

The campaign’s fundamental leadership will not change. Terry Nelson, a veteran of President Bush’s winning 2004 campaign, will remain campaign manager but said he would volunteer his time instead of drawing a salary for the next few months. A few senior aides were doing the same.

“We confronted reality and we dealt with it in the best way that we could so that we could move forward with this campaign focused on winning our primaries in the early states,” Nelson said.

McCain raised just $11.2 million in the second financial quarter of the year, which ended Saturday. That was less than the $13.6 million he brought in during the year’s first three months when he came in third behind Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

In what would be a major strategic shift, the campaign said it was seriously considering taking public matching funds of about $6 million. But doing so could tie the campaign’s hands by limiting the amount of money it can spend in individual states, particularly if his rivals forgo taxpayer money as expected.

Nelson acknowledged that the campaign has faced a series of challenges over the past six months and said it made “incorrect assumptions” about its fundraising ability.

“At one point, we believed that we would raise over $100 million during this calendar year, and we constructed a campaign that was based on that assumption,” Nelson said. That, he said, proved to be wrong.

Thus, aides said, McCain needed to cut staff positions to ensure he had enough money to compete and run television ads in early voting states. They made clear that the campaign now would focus primarily on the first states to hold votes — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

As 2006 ended, McCain had built an expansive national campaign organization that melded top operatives from Bush’s political and fundraising team with his own base of longtime loyalists from his failed 2000 presidential run.

But the money hasn’t come in as expected, and the initial spending soared.

At its peak, Federal Election Commission records show McCain’s payroll covered 150 staffers. From January through March, McCain spent nearly $1.6 million on salaries, the highest among Republican candidates. Romney was second at $1.1 million and Giuliani spent nearly $900,000.

As the second financial quarter began in April, the campaign cut some consultant contracts and low-to-mid-level jobs, and revamped its finance operation. Despite the changes, McCain’s fundraising continued to lag.

The financial difficulties have fueled speculation that McCain would drop out of the race but he has dismissed that notion, and his aides insisted on Monday that he was in no way abandoning or suspending his campaign. They argued that McCain’s character, experience and leadership would carry him to the nomination when voters tune into the race.

As his aides notified staffers, McCain embarked on his sixth trip to Iraq, where he will spend the July 4 holiday with U.S. troops. He last visited Iraq in April, when he was widely criticized for saying he was cautiously optimistic of success even as he toured Baghdad under heavy military guard. He is to address the public about the war upon his return.

Six months before primary voting begins, McCain is struggling for some semblance of momentum.

His popularity among Republicans has dropped since the start of the year, in part because of his support for measures in Congress that don’t sit well with the GOP’s base, like the immigration bill. He declined to participate in an early test of organizational strength in the leadoff state of Iowa this summer, and, the 70-year-old is fighting the perception that he is yesterday’s candidate.

McCain’s support in national polls has slipped. He is in single digits in some surveys in Iowa and South Carolina, trailing Giuliani, the former New York mayor; Romney, the ex-governor of Massachusetts, and Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator who hasn’t officially entered the race.

Among other Republicans, underdog Sam Brownback’s campaign said he raised about $1.5 million in the second quarter; he raised $1.3 million in the first.

Can Hillary control Bill’s ego?

Love him or hate him, anybody who’s followed Bill Clinton’s career knows it’s always been about him – as in No. 1 or “me,” “my” and “I.”

Now it’s about her.

Considered by friends to be as self-absorbed as he is brilliant, the former president checks his ego at the curb this week to fly to Iowa and take a surrogate’s role in the presidential campaign of his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Her advisers privately fret that the former president will overshadow Sen. Clinton with his unparalleled campaign skills and career-long habit of drawing attention to himself. One of her confidants, still stinging from the Monica Lewinsky affair, refers to Clinton as “Mr. Me.”

But the senator needs his help and her staff is betting that Bill Clinton is ready to be Mr. Her.

“He’s going to talk about her and she’s going to talk about the country,” campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said. “And nobody can do better than him.”

Wolfson pointed to a powerful, five-minute campaign video in which the former president outlines Sen. Clinton’s biography. Framed by a lamp’s soft yellow glow, Clinton talks about his wife’s commitment to public service, starting in law school, where they met, and continuing throughout their years in Arkansas.

“She just kept plugging away with new ideas, making progress, day in and day out,” Clinton says. “That’s the kind of leader she is.”

The video is a taste of things to come in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond, campaign officials say.

Still, a few discerning Clinton associates note that he used the words “I,” “me” and “my” 16 times in the video. They wryly observe that the taping was a model of self-control when compared with his past habits.

One friend, who refused to be identified because the couple frowns on anything close to criticism, said Clinton’s rhetorical style brings to mind the hit country song by Toby Keith, “I Wanna Talk Talk About Me.” The chorus goes like this:

“I wanna talk about me.”

“Wanna talk about I.”

“Wanna talk about No. 1, oh-my-me-my,

“What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see … .”

This friend, and several other associates, said Clinton truly wants to promote his wife’s candidacy and is getting better at it every day. They note that former presidents – much like former chief executive officers – find it difficult to stop talking about their accomplishments and the people who benefited from their leadership.

“Remember how good he was at describing what his presidency was about?” said former White House press secretary Mike McCurry. “And yet, he wasn’t an ‘I’ person. It was more about what we’ve done – what we can do as a country.”

Clinton’s job now is to evolve from the singular “I” and collective “we” to the servile “she.”

“He’s like a great batter adjusting to pitching,” said former Clinton aide Chris Lehane. “He needs to adjust so she comes out the star.”

As a campaign surrogate, Clinton bats better than average. He draws huge crowds, enjoys a high approval rating among Democrats and can lay it on thick for those he endorses.

But there’s always an “I” hook.

In 2005, New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine was so pleased with Clinton’s appearance on his behalf that he turned it into a campaign ad.

“If you ever need a governor who’s strong and smart and good and experienced and full of new ideas and capable of implementing them, you need that person now,” Clinton said, before dropping the I-bomb five times in his next three sentences:

“And I’m here to tell you I did that job for 12 years. I served with 150 other governors. I don’t know of a better qualified person I ever saw present himself or herself for the office of governor than Jon Corzine.”

In 2004, seven weeks after quadruple bypass heart surgery, Clinton campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. The Kerry camp, like Al Gore’s team in 2000, was deeply divided over whether the former president’s appeal to hard-core Democrats outweighed his tendency to turn off swing voters.

Kerry’s aides had another concern: Clinton’s habit of hogging the spotlight. One of them, a consultant who had worked with Clinton, was given the unwelcome assignment of urging the former president to avoid overshadowing Kerry.

The advice didn’t take.

In a 1,400-word speech, Clinton talked about his heart, his record and his presidency as much as he did about Kerry’s campaign. He even gave a nod to Kerry’s rival, President Bush, by telling the crowd, “You’ve got a clear choice between two strong men … .”

Pleased with his performance, Clinton walked off stage, winked at McCurry and said something to the effect of, “I toned it down a little.”

Not enough for some. At Kerry’s headquarters, a few old Clinton hands who had just joined the campaign were thrilled. A few others, those who had been with Kerry for months, were dispirited – even angry.

They could be heard muttering to each other about Clinton: Why is it always about him?

Ron Fournier covered Bill Clinton for The Associated Press during his years in Arkansas and Washington.

Obama sets money record: $32.5 million

Sen. Barack Obama outraised Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by $10 million in second-quarter contributions that can be spent on the Democratic presidential primary contest, aided by the contributions of 154,000 individual donors.

Obama’s campaign on Sunday reported raising at least $31 million for the primary contest and an extra $1.5 million for the general election from April through June, a record for a Democratic candidate.

Clinton’s campaign announced late Sunday that she had raised $21 million for the primary. With general election contributions added, aides said her total sum would be “in the range” of $27 million. Candidates can only use general election money if they win their party’s nomination.

Obama’s whopping amount ensures his place as a top contender for the Democratic nomination. It steals the spotlight from Clinton, his main rival. And it establishes the two of them as the fundraising juggernauts of the entire presidential field.

Counting this quarter’s surge of donors, the first-term senator from Illinois has received donations from more than 258,000 donors through the first half of the year, an extraordinary figure at this stage of the campaign. Obama raised $25.7 million in the first three months of the year.

“Together, we have built the largest grass-roots campaign in history for this stage of a presidential race,” Obama said in a statement Sunday. “That’s the kind of movement that can change the special interest-driven politics in Washington and transform our country. And it’s just the beginning.”

The Clinton campaign would not divulge its number of donors.

Meanwhile, Democrat John Edwards raised more than $9 million from April through June and relied on nearly 100,000 donors during the first half of the year.

The fundraising total met the campaign’s stated goal but was about $5 million less than what he took in during the first three months of the year. The campaign has said it is on track to raise $40 million by the Iowa caucuses in January.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was at Edward’s heels, with his campaign reporting more than $7 million raised. But Edwards’ six-month total was $23 million, compared with more than $13 million for Richardson.

“Democrats are clearly engaging the public and expanding the donor base,” Edwards deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince said Sunday in reaction to Obama’s fundraising.

He said the aim of the Edwards campaign was to attract more contributors by holding more small donor events to build a grass-roots network. “We feel we are exactly where we need to be,” Edwards adviser Joe Trippi said. “This is not a money race, it’s a race to win the nomination.”

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., on Sunday reported raising $3.25 million in the quarter for his presidential campaign, bringing his total raised this year to $7.3 million. Dodd last quarter also transferred $4.7 million from his Senate campaign account. His campaign said he had $6.5 million cash on hand at the end of the quarter.

The figures that some campaigns released Sunday are estimates. Details of how much the campaigns raised and spent in the latest period will not be available until the candidates file financial reports with the Federal Election Commission by July 15.

While several Democrats revealed their total sums, Republicans were not expected to announce their figures until Monday or later in the week.

For Obama, vaulting ahead of Clinton in the money race is an important achievement. Despite broad public interest in Obama’s candidacy, he trails the New York senator and former first lady in national polls. Polls show the contest to be closer in some key early states and Obama is leading in South Carolina.

Obama aides on Sunday downplayed the polls, but the campaign has begun running biographical ads in Iowa to better acquaint voters with the candidate.

“While voters have a distinctly positive feeling about Barack, they don’t have a great depth of knowledge about his life and history of leadership in Illinois and Washington,” campaign manager David Plouffe wrote Sunday in an e-mail to supporters. “As we educate voters about Barack, we have strong reason to believe that our already impressive support in the early states will solidify and slowly build later in the year.”

In announcing their fundraising totals on Sunday, the Obama campaign moved to ensure that his success would dominate the political news cycle as Clinton embarked on a three-day tour of Iowa with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. The campaign trip is the first time the Clintons have campaigned together in the state.

“Hillary has had a couple of good weeks, but there’s nothing like killing momentum for Obama to come in with these unbelievably high fundraising numbers,” said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who is not aligned in the presidential contests.

At this point in the campaign, fundraising figures can act as an easy measure of candidate strength and create tiers of contenders based on their ability to amass money.

Other financial tallies can be as telling. That includes a campaign’s spending rate, the size of the average donations and how much money can be used in the primary races and how much could only be tapped for the general election.

Several leading candidates in both parties have raised money for both the primary and general elections. The total numbers are misleading, however, because general election money cannot be used unless the candidate becomes the nominee. Early in the year, Obama raised more than Clinton in primary dollars.

Clinton aides have said she would raise “in the range” of $27 million in the April-through-June period in both general and primary election dollars.

Only Republican George W. Bush, in each presidential campaign, raised comparable amounts in the second quarter of the year before the general election. The single-quarter record is $35.1 million, by Bush from April through June in 2003. Clinton captured the first quarter Democratic record with $26 million, covering the first three months of this year. Clinton also transferred $10 million from her Senate campaign account in the first quarter.

Among Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign has said he will fall short of the $20.7 million raised in earlier in the year.

Rudy Giuliani was expected to exceed his first quarter total of $16 million. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was struggling to match the $13.8 million he took in during the first quarter.