Governor in critical condition after crash

041307corzine.jpgGov. Jon S. Corzine was in critical condition Friday but expected to recover after his SUV crashed into a guard rail while heading to a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

Police were searching for a pickup truck driver whose actions were blamed for the crash on the Garden State Parkway.

Corzine, 60, suffered numerous fractures, including a leg, his ribs, sternum and a vertebrae, authorities said.

The governor won’t be able to resume his duties as governor for days, if not weeks, and he won’t walk normally for months, his doctor said. Fortunately, he did not suffer any brain damage, said Dr. Robert Ostrum, who performed two hours of surgery Thursday night at Cooper University Hospital.

Senate President Richard Codey has taken over as acting governor.

“He’s in serious shape, but he’s alive and going to survive. Hopefully, he’ll be back to work in a few weeks,” Codey said Friday on WNBC-TV.

Corzine was in the front passenger’s seat of a sport utility vehicle driven by a state trooper when a white pickup truck swerved to avoid a red pickup truck that had moved onto the highway from the shoulder, State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said. The white pickup hit the passenger side of the SUV, sending it skidding into a guardrail. The red pickup left the scene.

The crash occurred around 6 p.m. while Corzine was en route from Atlantic City to the governor’s mansion in Princeton to moderate the meeting between the Rutgers women’s basketball team and Imus.

Imus was fired from his CBS radio program Thursday amid furor about racially charged comments he made about the team on air. The closed-door meeting went on without Corzine, and lasted for about three hours.

Fuentes said it was unclear whether the governor was wearing his seat belt. State law requires front-seat occupants to wear seat belts.

Troopers in a vehicle following Corzine’s administered first aid and called for help. Corzine, Trooper Robert Rasinski and a gubernatorial aide were flown by helicopter to the hospital.

When Corzine arrived at the hospital, doctors said, he was conscious but had several injuries: a femur bone broken in two places that had lacerated his skin, a broken sternum, 12 broken ribs, a head laceration and a minor fracture on a lower vertebrae. Rasinski had minor injuries and the aide was fine.

The governor was moved to the trauma intensive care unit after surgery and was listed in critical but stable condition early Friday. He was sedated and receiving pain medication.

Ostrum said a rod was inserted in Corzine’s leg, and additional operations were scheduled for Saturday and Monday. The injuries were not considered life-threatening, but it would be at least three to six months before Corzine could walk normally, he said.

“He’s got a pretty significant rehab in front of him,” Ostrum said.

Corzine, a Democrat who gave up his seat in the U.S. Senate to become governor, went into politics after being ousted as CEO of Goldman Sachs in a power struggle in 1999. He was elected to the Senate the following year.

Codey served as acting governor for about 14 months after James McGreevey resigned in the midst of an extramarital affair with a man.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

North Carolinian wants apology from Elizabeth Edwards

Monty Johnson was heading home with a cooler full of catfish when he learned his new neighbor had turned him into a minor celebrity.

The first calls on his cell phone came from two lawyers asking to represent him in a slander case. Elizabeth Edwards, they told him, had called him a “rabid, rabid Republican.” That wasn’t all. The Democratic presidential candidate’s wife also told The Associated Press she didn’t want her children near Johnson because, she said, he once pulled a gun on workers investigating a right of way on his property.

Johnson, a 55-year-old retired landscaper, said he’s not interested in suing.

“I’d just like to know why she has such hard feelings to me,” he said. “They say they’re for poor people.”

The Orange County Republicans sent out a release denouncing Edwards’ remarks. Newspapers from as far as Ireland have picked up the story. On Tuesday, “Inside Edition” sent a film crew to his single-wide trailer in rural Orange County that sits near the Edwards’ $6 million, 29,000-square-foot estate.

Johnson didn’t rebut Edwards’ comments. He’s a proud member of the Grand Old Party and owns a 9 mm handgun he said he’s not afraid to use.

What got his goat, he says, was Edwards’ calling his 42-acre property “slummy.”

Johnson rents one of the two buildings at the front of his property to a mechanic. The gravel lot is strewn with cars waiting to get fixed.

Johnson thinks the Edwardses don’t like him because he put up a sign along Old Greensboro Road that reads: “Go Rudy Giuliani 2008.” The couple has to read it every time they pull into their winding driveway.

He also left an abandoned house facing their property. But he said he was born there and doesn’t have the money to fix it up or the heart to tear it down.

Still, he said he doesn’t know why Edwards, who recently announced her breast cancer had recurred, would badmouth him.

Johnson, standing beside his Ford F-350 that’s “just like George Bush’s,” said he doesn’t care much for his newfound fame or his neighbors.

The day they looked at their property, the couple and several Secret Service agents parked on his land and walked across the street into the woods.

Johnson approached the agents and asked what they were doing on his property. “The Secret Service let me know it wasn’t my concern,” he said.

Since Edwards made her remarks, Johnson’s phone has been ringing off the hook with interview requests. Augustus Cho, chairman of the Orange County Republicans, sent a release, saying Edwards does not support the First or Second Amendments and extended an invitation to Johnson to join his group.

“The Republican Party is welcome to all who ascribe to personal freedoms, property rights, individual responsibility and less intrusive government,” Cho said.

On Tuesday, “Inside Edition” turned up.

A producer and a videographer told Johnson to go in his trailer and then come out carrying his gun. They told him to describe it as the “weapon of mass destruction” that Edwards referred to, and talk about it as “nothing more than a squirrel gun.”

“This is my weapon of mass destruction,” Johnson said, looking into the camera.

But Johnson and his wife, Vanessa, are getting out. They put their land on the market for $1.6 million — before Edwards’ remarks, Johnson said — because the couple can’t afford the property taxes and don’t like all the growth around them.

“Whoever buys it can have it,” he said, adding he’ll sell it to the Edwardses if they want it.

In the meantime, Johnson said he doesn’t have hard feelings toward Edwards, but he does expect her to say she’s sorry.

“I think she owes me an apology,” he said. “And I won’t feel right until I get it. If this is how they treat people in the White House, America is in for a helluva time.”

Raleigh News & Observer

Playing the illness card

041207wulhner.jpgKentucky state Rep. Addia Wuchner (right) wants everyone to know that she’s beating cancer.

She wants to make sure people understand that chemotherapy is wicked, that it steals your hair, your eyebrows, even your toenails, but in the end, you will pull through.

Wuchner is revealing the details of her medical file because, as an elected official, she feels an obligation to be open and honest with the people who put her in office.

“People put their trust in us as elected officials, and we extend that same trust back to the community,” she said.

Across the country, public figures who are battling serious illness are not only choosing to be open about their disease, they are releasing intimate details of their medical condition in the interest of full disclosure.

Gone are the days when Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy concealed grave illnesses from the public view. Nowadays, politicians who are diagnosed with a serious disease feel almost a sense of obligation to make their conditions known.

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both alerted the public when they were stricken with serious health problems — Reagan with Alzheimer’s disease, Clinton with blocked coronary arteries requiring quadruple bypass heart surgery.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who may seek the Republican nomination for president next year, disclosed Wednesday that he has lymphoma. Thompson said the disease was diagnosed two years ago and is now in remission.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., publicly battled Hodgkin’s disease in 2005, and Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., revealed last year that he has been diagnosed with leukemia.

Even political spouses and associates who are battling serious illness feel the need to disclose their condition.

Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, revealed at a press conference late last month that the breast cancer she thought she had beaten has returned and spread to her bones. She even brought along her doctor to answer reporters’ questions about her illness and possible treatments.

A few days later, White House spokesman Tony Snow, who had his colon removed two years ago, announced that his cancer has returned and spread to his liver and elsewhere in his body.

In politics, such disclosures are not only inevitable, “it has become completely expected,” said Barron H. Lerner, a physician at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and the author of a book about celebrities who have battled illness in public.

“In most cases, I think certainly with politicians themselves, the public does have a right to know,” Lerner said. “It’s one thing if you are a Hollywood celebrity (who is ill). But if you are electing someone to public office, the public deserves to know whether or not that person is healthy enough to carry out the task.”

Some politicians choose to disclose a grave illness because they figure the news will eventually get out and that revealing it themselves allows them to control the message. Others, like Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., have no choice. Johnson suffered a severe brain hemorrhage last December and has required months of hospitalization and rehabilitation.

Regardless of their reasons for going public, politicians and other celebrities do a public service when they are candid about dealing with disease, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society’s home office in Atlanta.

The number of Americans undergoing colorectal screenings jumped considerably after television news personality Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy on air, Lichtenfeld said.

Likewise, Edwards and Snow have “undoubtedly raised interest in their respective diseases and cancer in general,” he said. “They have also given representation to literally thousands of cancer patients in this country who deal with these issues every day and go on living.”

For politicians, candor does come with risks. After John and Elizabeth Edwards revealed that her cancer had returned, the couple received an outpouring of public sympathy. But some bloggers accused John Edwards of exploiting his wife’s illness to boost his struggling presidential campaign.

“I think that’s very unfair,” said Wuchner, who, as a Republican, isn’t exactly of the same political persuasion as Edwards.

“I just don’t believe in my heart of hearts that anyone would do that for political gain, and I don’t believe the (former) senator would use his wife that way.”

Wuchner, 51, was diagnosed with breast cancer last October after a routine mammogram. She started taking aggressive chemotherapy treatments in early November, just a few days before she was elected to a second term.

At first, Wuchner shared her diagnosis with just a few political associates. Some of them urged her not to go public, fearing it would be a “chink” in her political armor.

“I just really didn’t feel comfortable with that response,” she said. “I feel like you are elected to serve. If God put me here as a public figure and I had cancer, then I thought it was also a way to help other people.”


To understand Rudy, look at the past

041107rudy.jpgLong before he became mayor of New York or the Republican front-runner for the presidency, Rudy Giuliani made a name for himself as a crime-busting federal prosecutor in Manhattan, taking on the mob and white-collar criminals in a manner that hinted of bigger things to come.

During a nearly seven-year stretch ending in 1989, Giuliani steered dozens of high-profile cases to completion, garnering more than 4,000 convictions. He tangled with mob bosses, Wall Street executives and corrupt politicians — and was never afraid to invite the bright lights of TV cameras to accompany his quests.

In 1986, he and then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato wore disguises and bought two vials of crack in an undercover operation designed to illustrate the drug epidemic that was raging across the city. At a news conference later, Giuliani showed up wearing a black leather Hells Angels motorcycle vest over his white shirt.

Among those who worked with him or observed him then, there were fans and critics of Giuliani’s showy style, but little criticism of the results.

Stuart Abrams, an assistant U.S. Attorney when Giuliani arrived at the prosecutor’s office in Manhattan in 1983, said Giuliani was greeted with skepticism when he first took the job because he had just left the No. 3 position at the Justice Department in Washington.

He had been in Washington since 1975, when he joined the Justice Department in the Ford administration after switching to the Republican Party following a stint as a Democrat. He left for private practice when Jimmy Carter became president, but returned under President Reagan.

Normally, Abrams said, federal prosecutors were chosen from among prominent attorneys in New York, rather than from those holding public office in the nation’s capital.

But Giuliani quickly won over admirers after proving to be highly skillful at using racketeering laws to diminish the clout of the mob in New York City.

Abrams said Giuliani annoyed some judges with his penchant for publicity, but managed to overcome critics by pushing across ideas, even if they weren’t always his own.

“It wasn’t as though he invented these things,” Abrams said. “People who do have fresh ideas and don’t have the ambition to make them reality, you probably never hear from.”

Alex Michelini, a former Daily News reporter, said Giuliani was a media darling for making splashy announcements of major crime initiatives such as the arrests of two Wall Street executives who were handcuffed at work and paraded past colleagues. The charges were later dropped.

One federal judge hated Giuliani so much that he used to enter the courthouse press room to complain about what he perceived to be an exceedingly brash young prosecutor, Michelini said.

But Giuliani had learned the buttons and levers of power in Washington and understood the value of publicity, Michelini said.

“He started going after politicians nobody had gone after. His attack on the mob was unprecedented,” he said. “He went after the subjects with absolute passion and in many respects was ruthless, but a lot of good came out of it.”

One of his most famous exploits was the undercover crack deal with D’Amato. Giuliani and D’Amato went out with an agent and handed a crack dealer $20 for two vials of the drug — a transaction that was recorded by agents and news photographers in a nearby van.

The stunt drew criticism from Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, who said the failure by the federal government to commit enough resources to fight drug dealers left local governments hopelessly outnumbered by drug dealers.

Giuliani went after mobsters and corruption with the same zeal. He prosecuted the leaders of all five of New York’s organized crime families, resulting in long prison terms for four of them, and launched the famous Pizza Connection case that broke up a Sicilian-run heroin operation.

Giuliani also launched probes resulting in the jailing of Wall Street titans like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, and ended the careers of several powerful but corrupt politicians, including bribe-taking Bronx boss Stanley Friedman.

Bruce Baird, another former federal prosecutor who worked for Giuliani, praised his old boss for his assault on organized crime and corruption and for expanding the number of prosecutors investigating Wall Street fraud from just a handful to about 25.

“He just took on one problem after another, was smart about it, and threw resources at it,” he said.

Baird said Giuliani’s success against organized crime “felt revolutionary.” Before Giuliani, few prosecutors used racketeering laws to lock up mobsters — a tactic that is commonplace these days.

“I had New York City cops coming up to me thanking me,” Baird said. “Breaking the stranglehold of organized crime in some areas felt like a new world.”

Charles Ross, a public defender during the 1980s, was critical of Giuliani’s effort to make federal crimes out of what normally were state drug cases involving buy-and-bust operations.

“I think it was a very ineffective policy. It’s a hard message to get out to low-level drug dealers. The drug problem continued unabated for years,” he said. “I think he genuinely believed it was an approach that would deter crime. I think his belief was misplaced.”

Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor who became one of Giuliani’s top mayoral aides, said one of Giuliani’s achievements included using federal forfeiture laws to evict drug dealers from low-cost rental apartments in housing projects.

“When agents showed up, the other residents of those projects literally stood and cheered,” he said.

But despite the turbulent times, Mastro said Giuliani never lost his sense of humor.

“He can quote line after line from ‘The Godfather,'” Mastro said.


Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Hillary, Rudy still hold leads

041007hillary.jpgLatest polling in the 2008 White House campaign shows Hillary Clinton (left) leading a three-way race for the Democratic nomination, while Rudolph Giuliani heads the Republican field, with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney showing early signs of a surge.

While opinion surveys are simply long-range indicators nine months before first nominating contests, they do serve to set perceptions of the race in the media and among likely voters, and spotlight trends that can be used by campaign chiefs to sharpen tactics.

New York Senator Clinton appears to be maintaining the lead in national polls that she has had for months.

A Time magazine national opinion survey in late March gave her the support of 31 percent of voters, compared to 24 percent for rising star Senator Barack Obama and 16 percent for defeated 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

The latest Fox News poll had her at 36 percent ahead of Obama with 18 percent support and Edwards back on 13 percent. Rasmussen last week put the race at 33 percent for Clinton, 26 percent for Obama and Edwards at 17 percent.

But when the focus turns to the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire, the race appears much tighter, and Clinton consequently more threatened.

After months of intense campaigning in Iowa, and several weeks after revealing that cancer had returned to haunt his wife Elizabeth, John Edwards led Clinton in a University of Iowa poll conducted between March 19 and 31, earning the support of 34 percent of likely voters, compared to the former first lady’s 29 percent. Obama trailed with 19 percent.

His lead in the state, the first to weigh in on the nominating process next January, was confirmed by a Strategic Vision poll last week, which pegged him at 27 percent compared to Obama on 20 percent and Clinton in third on 19 percent.

In the other key early voting state, New Hampshire, Clinton appears to be holding on to a steady, yet small lead.

A Zogby poll had Clinton at 29 percent last week, with Obama and Edwards tied at 23 percent. A CNN survey had Clinton on 27 percent, followed by Edwards with 21 percent and Obama with 20 percent support among likely New Hampshire primary voters.

All other Democratic candidates lagged well behind.

On the Republican side, Giuliani is at the head of the national race, well ahead of former front-runner John McCain and Romney, according to polls.

The ex-mayor of New York stacked up 34 percent support in a Cook Report/RT Strategies poll up to April 1. McCain had 17 percent followed by former senator and television actor Fred Thompson, who is mulling a White House bid with 10 percent. Romney came in fourth with six percent, behind former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, who is also thinking of running and had nine percent support.

In Iowa, Giuliani was leading the field in a Strategic Vision poll, nine months before the caucuses, with 25 percent, ahead of McCain with 20 percent. Thompson had 11 percent support. Romney had eight percent and Gingrich had six percent.

An average of several recent Iowa polls on the Republican side by independent political website Real Clear Politics had the race led by Giuliani, with 25 percent of the vote, McCain with 22 percent, Romney with 11 percent, Thompson with nine percent and Gingrich with five percent.

McCain was clinging on to a lead in New Hampshire, at 27 percent, in an average of polls taken in the state over the last month, ahead of Giuliani on 24 percent, Romney on 20 percent and Thompson on 6.3 percent.

But in a poll published last week by Zogby, Romney had rocketed into a tie to lead New Hampshire with McCain, doubling his support to 25 percent, followed by Giuliani with 19 percent.

Most of the Republican polling was however conducted before Romney shot to the top of the party’s fundraising race last week, raising more than 21 million dollars in the first three months of the year compared to Giuliani’s 15 million and McCain’s 12.5 million.

The money advantage could help Romney, who is vying to become America’s first Mormon president, increase his visibility and improve his opinion poll numbers.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse

John McCain’s falling star


040907mccain.jpgSenator John McCain, long seen as a likely favorite on the Republican side in the 2008 US presidential race, is scrambling to overhaul his campaign strategy as he lags in fundraising and in the polls.

With disappointing fundraising data just out and 19 months still to go before the 2008 vote, McCain’s campaign chief has pledged to do whatever it takes to battle back.

“Although we are pleased with the organization we’ve built and polls show us strongly positioned in key primary states, we had hoped to do better in first quarter fundraising,” Terry Nelson said of the 12.5 million dollars the team raised in the first quarter of 2007.

“We are already in the process of taking the necessary steps to ensure fundraising success moving forward,” he added.

The amount raised puts McCain in the presidential pack yet light years behind the funds brought in by Democratic favorites Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (26 million and 25 million respectively).

It also is far behind the top Republican fundraising candidate, former businessman Mitt Romney, who has netted almost 21 million, or 23 million counting money he has invested personally.

“It’s a troubling sign for McCain because his aura of inevitability has already sustained a good deal of damage,” said John Pitney, a professor at Claremont McKenna College.

Packing new accounting methods, fresh strategy and setting a date of April 25-27 for a tour to officially announce his candidacy, the McCain team is making it clear they are not giving up the fight.

McCain himself has tried to downplay any sign of vulnerability.

“It’s my fault. I haven’t done a very good job at (fundraising). I’m not very good at it, and I hope to get better,” he told NBC television.

“We’re happy with where we are, but we have some improvements to make. But in many areas, we’re very happy with the progress; in others, we’ve got a long way to go.”

Even just a few weeks ago, McCain, who never gave up his presidential ambitions after President George W. Bush defeated him in the 2000 party primary, had seemed unbeatable on the Republican side.

A Vietnam War hero with an accomplished career as a lawmaker over 20 years in Congress, McCain was the only Republican to take on the Bush administration and press it to explicitly renounce torture. He appeared certain to be anointed as the party’s presidential pick.

But competition from popular former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a determined Romney, and the hugely unpopular war in Iraq — seen as a mistake by about 60 percent of Americans — have knocked the wind out of McCain’s sails.

He is the Republican candidate most supportive of the war in Iraq — though he has harshly criticized Bush’s handling of it — and is a staunch supporter of sending more US troops there, a move Bush announced in January.

McCain drew fire from the media, which were stunned to hear him welcome the improvement of conditions in Iraq when he visited the country last weekend.

He seems ready to pay the price for his sometimes unpopular stands on the war, however.

“I can’t worry about the effect on my political ambitions of the war. It’s too important. Too many young people have sacrificed already. I’d much rather lose a campaign than lose a war,” he told MSNBC.

Giuliani told CNN of McCain on Wednesday: “I don’t expect to remain ahead of him for long. He is a very, very strong competitor and a really great guy.”

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse

It’s still anyone’s Presidential race

Gov. Mitt Romney (AP)


The GOP presidential race can be summed up this way: three strong contenders and a hunger for someone else. “There’s no question that there’s a very open field,” said Ken Mehlman, a former Republican National Committee chairman. Unlike in 1980, 1988, 1996 and 2000, “there’s not a presumptive front-runner,” he added.

The nomination fight has become even more fluid since the year began, which is unusual for a party that typically has a clear heir apparent.

For now, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has the lead in national popularity polls. Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the most money. Arizona Sen. John McCain may have the superior national political operation.

But none has a clear advantage in all three areas — polling, fundraising and organization — that are traditional measures in determining which candidate is in the best position to become the nominee. Perhaps more telling, Republicans say, is that none has articulated a message or offered an agenda that a majority of the party supports.

“What’s missing so far is a clear down-the-line conservative champion, an establishment candidate,” said Greg Mueller, a GOP consultant.

Nine months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses, the fragmented field and disenchantment with the top candidates may present an opportunity for a fourth formidable contender to emerge.

That could be an underdog such as Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas or two former governors — Mike Huckabee of Arkansas or Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin.

Other prominent Republicans are flirting with a run, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and could shake up the field. The latest to express interest is Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator who, friends say, is seriously considering a bid. He is running third in a few national polls without doing anything more than acknowledging he was thinking about running.

Such buzz is evidence of the degree to which GOP voters are seeking alternatives to Giuliani, Romney and McCain. Conservatives who dominate the Republican primary see all as flawed.

In Iowa, Susan and Roger Rowland of West Des Moines are attending campaign events to find someone to embrace. Last week, they saw Giuliani one night and Romney the next. But they were not impressed enough by either to commit. They have not seen McCain and are open to learning more about others, too.

“There are a lot of candidates out there, but I don’t really know what I’m looking for,” Susan Rowland said, sighing. Her husband said, “If I had to pick today, I’d probably pick Romney, but I’m really glad I don’t have to pick today.”

The Rowlands are not alone in their uncertainty.

“Significant numbers are really undecided,” said David Redlawsk, a University of Iowa political scientist. Short of someone else catching fire or entering the race, he said, “in a year where Republican caucus-goers are focused on electability, they may ultimately hold their nose and pick one of the three.”

It is Giuliani, McCain and Romney among the nearly dozen Republican presidential hopefuls who appear best positioned to capture the nomination.

Projecting invincibility, McCain spent more than a year meshing loyalists from his failed 2000 bid with some of President Bush’s top political operatives to build what he hoped would be an unrivaled organization. Despite its depth, McCain gradually has faltered.

Last week, he announced raising a disappointing $12.5 million in the year’s first three months. During a visit to Baghdad, he made upbeat comments about security only to have Iraqis mock his characterization. Before the trip, McCain drew criticism for saying some parts of the capital were safe enough to walk in freely and that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, drove around in an unarmored humvee. He told CBS’ “60 Minutes,” in an interview to be broadcast Sunday, that he misspoke when he made that remark.

To get back on track, McCain ordered an overhaul of his fundraising operation and better controls on spending. He scheduled policy speeches, including the first this Wednesday in which he will defend his support for Bush’s policy in Iraq. Other speeches and an official announcement tour are set for this month as he seeks to regain momentum.

Once he made clear he was serious about running, Giuliani jumped to a double-digit edge in national polls. His built-from-scratch political operation is not yet on par with the others. Still, Giuliani ended the January-through-March fundraising period with a respectable $15 million raised.

He continues to lead in national surveys but his advantage has softened as he has come under increased scrutiny. He has faced questions about his business dealings and about his ties to Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner against whom prosecutors reportedly are pursuing multiple charges.

Giuliani also has had to answer for his abortion-rights stance and clarify statements suggesting his wife would play a significant role if he were president.

Romney set out to prove he was a threat by ensuring he had a stellar fundraising start. He succeeded, collecting a surprising $21 million in the year’s first three months.

Yet he remains significantly low in national polls. He continues to be dogged by his reversals on abortion and gay rights, and his equivocations on other issues. He resumed television advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire to define himself. His campaign is eager to start debates, where aides believe he will shine.

Given the shifts in the field, Republican consultant Alex Vogel said, “You have to wonder whether gravity takes hold again and conventional wisdom will apply or whether this really does indicate a new paradigm in the Republican primary.”

Liz Sidoti covers politics for The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

The Hillary Clinton paradox


Call it the Clinton contradiction. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a political trailblazer, pursuing the precedent-setting achievement of becoming the first female candidate to win the presidency. How, then, did she also become the candidate of the Democratic Party establishment — a title historically attached to less-than-scintillating contenders like John Kerry, Al Gore and Walter Mondale?

It’s a curious paradox for Clinton, a presidential hopeful who calls herself a feminist and touts her experience as a woman and a “mom.” But her long career in Washington, army of political consultants and marriage to a former president have all cast her as a political insider rather than a pioneer.

And then there’s the Obama factor. With his newcomer’s appeal and quest to be the first black president, the Illinois senator has managed to dilute the significance of Clinton’s history-making run.

Obama’s grassroots allure was manifest this week, when the candidates disclosed their first quarter fundraising totals.

Clinton raised a record-setting $26 million from a network of donors developed through her two Senate races and Bill Clinton’s vast connections. But Obama’s $25 million almost matched her total and came from twice the number of contributors and a much more robust Internet presence.

The sense of inevitability Clinton has tried to project may have robbed her campaign of some of the freshness and excitement that is luring many party activists to Obama, analysts say. But his strong fundraising numbers have shaken the idea that Clinton is unbeatable, perhaps freeing her to engage more spontaneously on the campaign trail.

“Clinton has to conform to stereotypes and defy them, and she has to run as both the insider and the outsider,” said Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project, which promotes women running for high office. “She has to show she’s not entrenched in a system that has not been friendly to women, but also that she really knows it and is good at it.”

Clinton advisers insist her conflicting identities are a sign of strength. They believe her powerful organization and long career in public life have helped her to be taken seriously as a groundbreaking presidential candidate.

“I don’t think people would see her as able to break the barriers as a woman if she was not such a strong candidate with so many advantages,” Clinton senior adviser Mark Penn said. “She’s not saying ‘Vote for me because I’m a woman.’ She’s saying ‘Vote for me because I’m the best candidate, with the greatest ability to beat the Republicans.’ ”

Like the campaigns of other so-called establishment candidates in the past, Clinton’s has been steady, centrist, and relatively risk-free.

She’s collected endorsements from a string of prominent public officials, racked up miles on trips to early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, and prevailed in the first quarter fundraising race. Her speeches have revealed an enviable mastery of the details of public policy, but she’s avoided committing to specifics on contentious topics, like how to fund universal health care.

Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her vote authorizing military action in Iraq in 2002 has been her only real political risk so far. She’s angered many anti-war Democrats and opened a window of opportunity for Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, both outspoken critics of the war.

Her advisers acknowledge her position has cost her the support of many activists, but they believe most voters now care more about how to end the war than how it was started.

Her pattern of caution has also generated some controversy. After the nation’s top military officer, Gen. Peter Pace, made headlines by declaring homosexual acts “immoral,” Clinton was asked whether she agreed with Pace’s views.

“I’ll leave that to others to conclude,” Clinton replied, setting off a wave of criticism from gay supporters. She later issued a statement insisting she did not believe homosexuality was immoral, and acknowledged that her initial answer “sounded evasive.”

Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s insurgent anti-war presidential bid in 2004, said Clinton’s unique position as both the establishment favorite and first serious woman candidate make her a powerful contender in both the primary and general election.

“There’s a lot of women, particularly younger women, who really look at her as a trailblazer breaking the impossible glass ceiling,” he said, adding that she is a much stronger insider candidate than was John Kerry, whom Dean nearly toppled four years ago.

But, Trippi added, Clinton should resist the overly cautious approach that has bedeviled so many front-runners in the past.

“She really has the power to push some bold ideas, because she can grab the ‘I’m making history’ part of her candidacy and combine it with the insider, establishment, ‘I’ve been tested’ part of her candidacy. The combination would be formidable,” he said.

Recently, Clinton’s campaign has taken steps to generate greater excitement about her candidacy among women voters. Women for Hillary, a social networking organization aimed at encouraging women to talk up Clinton with their friends and co-workers, was launched earlier this month. The campaign has also rolled out endorsements from women famed for breaking barriers in their fields, including 1970s-era tennis star Billie Jean King and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

And while Clinton has promised toughness, pledging to “deck” opponents rather than fold to pressure, her campaign has also stressed the candidate’s softer side.

Recently, a group of her top female advisers took turns praising their boss in a Web chat aimed at women. Campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle told the audience that she tucks her two children, ages 9 and 5, into bed each night and that “Hillary is very conscious of not calling during bedtime hours.” Policy Director Leecia Eve, meanwhile, helped coach a Web chat participant on how to respond to concerns that Clinton is too aggressive or powerful.

“I for one am THANKFUL that she is both powerful and shares my values, including the need to work hard to improve the quality of life for so many Americans,” Eve wrote.

Clinton’s candidacy comes amid polling that suggests a majority of Americans believe the country is ready for a woman president. In a Gallup/USA Today poll taken in February 88 percent said they would vote for a well-qualifed candidate who was also a woman, while only 11 percent said they would not.

“She’s always going to be the insider, but we’ve got to lighten up and celebrate the fact we’ve got a woman in there who could actually be the president,” Wilson said. “I want the country to be fair with her.”

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Shaking the money tree


The preliminary first-quarter fund-raising reports from the presidential candidates are out and they come with a shocker: Barack Obama raised $25 million, almost as much as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s $26 million.

That is amazing for a novice on the national scene, one who was basically unknown outside of Illinois just three years ago. Obama also raised the money from 100,000 donors — twice Clinton’s number — giving him quite a mailing list.

Clinton, of course, is a household name who inherited her husband’s fund-raising operation and roster of donors. Moreover, her campaign chairman is the legendary fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe.

The quick take by political analysts was that Clinton no longer had an inevitable lock on the nomination and now faces a serious and credible challenger. John Edwards was third with $15 million. Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden trailed far behind.

In a reversal of the conventional wisdom that Republicans are the better money-raisers, the Democrats out-raised them in total by almost $80 million to just over $50 million. Mitt Romney led the GOP with $20.7 million, compared to $15 million for Rudy Giuliani and a surprisingly low $12.5 million for John McCain, with Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter bringing up the rear.

Big bucks are no guarantee of victory, as such lavishly financed flops as Phil Gramm and John Connally so ably proved. But having deep pockets means a candidate can survive early setbacks in the primaries. Less well-financed campaigns generally have to score early and big.

These will be the most expensive nominating races and presidential campaigns in American history, but that only shows the importance the voters place on the race. The big money numbers will undoubtedly bring renewed calls for campaign finance "reform," a chimera that has proved impossible to achieve without regulating and limiting political speech. Money really does talk.

Newt is looking for a candidate to peddle his ideas


Newt Gingrich wants somebody running for president — maybe himself — to embrace his solutions to the nation’s problems.

He’s not thinking about a presidential campaign now, Gingrich insists. Instead, the former House speaker is busy creating ideas, his stock in trade since leaving Congress.

"After Sept. 29, we’ll look," Gingrich said in an interview. "I’m hopeful a number of these ideas are so obviously popular that people will just adopt them."

Gingrich is planning Internet-based workshops on Sept. 27 and 29, inviting officials from every level of elective office — more than half a million people — to learn about his proposed solutions.

He is seeking change on a tremendous scale, similar to the economic and social reforms of the Progressive Movement at the turn of the 20th century.

He wants the Contract With America on steroids.

A rallying platform conceived by Gingrich, the 1994 Contract With America gets credit for helping Republicans capture control of Congress after 40 years of Democratic rule. The document promised a vote on each of 10 priorities — including tax cuts, welfare reform and term limits — within 100 days of Gingrich taking the speaker’s gavel.

"Multiply that times 50, and you’ll have some idea of the depth and scale of what we want to accomplish," Gingrich said. "What we’re trying to do is bring public service and public solutions into the 21st century information age, and so it’s very parallel to the Progressive Movement."

However, the circumstances under which Gingrich left Congress may water down his message, said David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University.

Gingrich quit when his party, after spotlighting President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, lost seats in the 1998 elections. The next year, Gingrich’s involvement with a congressional aide, Callista Bisek, led to his divorce from his second wife, Marianne; he later married Bisek.

Gingrich, 63, has tried to rehabilitate his image by admitting publicly to his extramarital affair during the Clinton impeachment scandal. He made the admission in an interview last month with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and he won praise for the acknowledgment from another conservative Christian leader, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

"His ideas are sort of tainted by that kind of negative baggage, and I don’t think they have quite the force and vibrancy they did when you first heard of him," said Woodard, who also is a GOP consultant.

"They’ll say, ‘I like him, but I can’t stand the fact this has happened,’" Woodard said. "Social conservatives keep up with all this stuff. They like all the gossip."

For the next six months, Gingrich will be offering ideas to Republicans and Democrats alike in hopes they will adopt his vision. His advice isn’t limited to the current crop of White House hopefuls; Gingrich plans to debate Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, on global warming next week.

Along broad themes, he seeks to govern from the right, modernize government and bloated businesses, and defend the United States against foreign adversaries.

The specifics are red meat for conservatives unhappy with the three top-tier GOP candidates — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Among his proposals is establishing patriotic education for children and immigrants, including making English the language of American government and keeping "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance as part of an effort to "re-center" the U.S. on God.

Gingrich came under fire in recent days for equating bilingual education with "the language of living in a ghetto." In response, Gingrich said — in a Spanish-language video statement — that his word choice was poor and he wasn’t attacking Spanish.

His said his point was, "In the United States, it is important to speak the English language well in order to advance and have success."

Other ideas: transforming Social Security into personal savings accounts, reducing lawsuits, simplifying the tax code, pushing Americans to excel at math and science, posting the cost and quality of health care at hospitals and other medical facilities, and investing in "scientific revolution," particularly in energy, space and the environment.

If a candidate embraces his ideas, Gingrich said, "then I won’t run, because there won’t be any reason for me to."

Whether he runs or not, Republicans struggling to find their sea legs after last November’s election losses may look for cues from him, said GOP consultant Greg Mueller, a former aide to conservative pundit Pat Buchanan.

Mueller draws a comparison to Buchanan’s campaign for president in 1992. Buchanan faded after losing the New Hampshire primary to George H.W. Bush, but he helped push a number of issues — taxes, immigration, abortion and gay rights — into the debate.

Gingrich, a regular contributor to Fox News and other television programs, "preaches right to conservatives — he’s got a pipeline into their homes," Mueller said.

"That doesn’t mean he’s going to be a candidate," he added. "It just means they’re going to look to him to provide guidance on the key policy issues we’re facing."

Since leaving Congress, Gingrich has made speeches, written books and articles, helped start a health care think tank, and run a communications and consulting firm.

His visibility helps explain the attention he gets as a possible presidential candidate more than eight years after leaving Congress. Gingrich ranked third in recent national polls, behind Giuliani and McCain, although actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson then edged Gingrich after saying he might enter the race.

"Newt is doing all the things you would do if you were running for office," conservative activist Grover Norquist said.

"It’s actually very wise," Norquist said. "You can’t go around giving speeches about how to reform health care and expect anyone to cover you unless you’re potentially campaigning for president."

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press