Monday, December 31, 2007

Crunch time in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Like other presidential candidates, Democrat John Edwards of North Carolina has mobilized a small army in the run-up to Thursday's caucuses.

Spokesman Dan Leistikow said the campaign is trying to reach voters in every precinct in each of the state's 99 counties. There are more than 1,000 canvassers and 51 phone banks manned by hundreds of volunteers.

The campaign has 25 field offices, 15 more than in 2004. It has more than 175 paid Iowa staff compared to about 100 four years ago.

Edwards himself has spent 87 days in the state, slightly more than Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York. He's stumped in every county, far more, according to the campaign, than his top rivals.

Edwards' campaign also has a small fleet of all-terrain vehicles ready to get its supporters to the caucuses.

Said spokeswoman Colleen Murray: "In the end it doesn't matter unless you get people out to caucus for you."

Cooter, Edwards and rural voters

SPENCER, Iowa -- Democrat John Edwards has a new traveling companion as he stumps through rural northwest Iowa today -- "Cooter."

Former Georgia Congressman Ben Jones, who played the tow-truck driving "Cooter" on the old "Dukes of Hazard" TV show, joined the campaign for its swing to small towns spaced between the snow-covered fields of this part of the state.

He's part of the campaign's concerted effort to appeal to rural voters, who because of the particular calculus of Thursday's caucuses, could have a disproportionate impact on the outcome.

Here, as at other stops, voters watched a DVD that features Jones and Edwards' rural adviser "Mudcat" Saunders as well as Edwards' parents from Robbins, N.C. It taps into Edwards' background in rural North and South Carolina.

"As we say back home, he ain't got above his raisin'," Jones told about 200 people packed into a community college room.

"We're supposed to be the people's party," he told another audience this morning. "John Edwards understands that. He comes from the heartland."

Elizabeth Edwards sells electability

BOONE, Iowa -- While Democrat John Edwards sticks to his new street fighter stump speech, he's left it to his wife Elizabeth to sell voters on his electability, reaching back to his 1998 Senate victory in North Carolina.

He won in a red state, she tells audiences, and "beat the Jesse Helms machine" in defeating Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth.

Elizabeth Edwards implicitly criticizes 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, who chose her husband as his running mate. But the campaign, she says, didn't compete in "red" states such as North Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, not airing a single ad.

Each of those states, she says, has elected a Democratic governor.

"You have no chance to win a football game if you don't show up," she told more than 400 people here. "Every place you give up you give up to Republicans. John won't do that."


On NBC's "Today Show" this morning, John Edwards denied suggestions that his campaign is finished if he doesn't win or show strong in Thursday's caucuses.

"We have great energy and momentum here," he said from a Storm Lake hotel. "And this message (of fighting for the middle-class) will resonate every single place in America."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Edwards: An "epic fight"

CARROLL, Iowa -- Democrat John Edwards, once the sunny populist, continued to cast himself as a combative fighter ready for what he called the "epic fight" against corporate influence.

Four days before Thursday's caucuses, Edwards is appealing to Iowans fed up with "corporate greed." On a sunny Sunday, he rode his bus caravan through western Iowa, drawing around 400 people to the small town of Boone and nearly 300 to a school library in Carroll.

At each stop he railed against corporate profits at Exxon and the influence of drug and insurance companies. "America doesn't belong to them, it belongs to us," he said.

Edwards told Iowa voters that he knows how to fight.

"I grew up in some rough neighborhoods," he said in Boone. "Where I grew up you had to fight to survive." He said his father told him never to start a fight but "never to walk away."

"We have a battle on our hands and better face up to it," he said.


N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is in Iowa campaigning for Edwards. She said she planned to knock on doors to urge voters to caucus for him.

Edwards to pull all-nighter

DES MOINES, Iowa -- John Edwards' campaign calls it a "Marathon for the Middle-Class." It's more like a sprint.

After a two-day swing through northwest Iowa that starts today, on New Year's Day the N.C. Democrat begins a 36-hour race through the state. That includes a midnight visit on Tuesday to the home of supporters in Atlantic, a 2:15 a.m. visit with supporters in Creston and a 5:15 a.m. pancake breakfast with backers in Centerville.

Two hours later, he starts a day-long trek that ends Wednesday night in Des Moines with a rally featuring singer John Mellencamp.

One rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, stepped up his implicit criticism of Edwards over the weekend, saying he had fundamentally changed positions in the last four years.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Donor gives $495K to pro-Edwards effort

WASHINGTON, Iowa -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said Saturday he has "absolutely no control" over a $495,000 donation a wealthy philanthropist made to a group that supports him.

News reports said Rachel Mellon gave the gift to the Alliance for a New America, an independent group helping Edwards. The so-called 527 group is not subject to federal campaign financing limits.

The group is spending a reported $1.7 million on radio and TV ads in support of Edwards in Iowa, whose Thursday caucuses kick off the 2008 campaign. The Alliance is headed by former Edwards adviser Nick Baldick. Coordination between such groups and campaigns is against the law.

Rival Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has criticized such efforts to help Edwards and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

Edwards has made a point of saying he doesn't take money from lobbyists or special interest political action committees. Saturday he repeated his call for the Alliance to stop its ads. Asked if he would push for the return of Mellon's donation, he said, "I have absolutely no control over that."

"I call on them (the Alliance) to stop what they're doing."

As a vice presidential candidate in 2004, Edwards called on President Bush to force a 527 group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to take down ads attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

"Mr. President, the clock is running," Edwards said at the time. "The American people deserve to hear from you. And they deserve to hear from you that these ads will come down."

Friday, December 28, 2007

In a call, Edwards warns Musharraf

TIPTON, Iowa -- Democrat John Edwards Friday detailed more of his conversation with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hours after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Speaking to about 60 people in a downtown restaurant, Edwards said he called Pakistan's ambassador to the United States shortly after hearing about Bhutto's death. A couple hours later, he said, he got a call from Musharraf, whom he had met several years ago during a visit to Islamabad.

"What I said to him was, number one, this democratization has got to continue," Edwards said he told the president. He also told him to let international investigators in to probe the killing.

Edwards said the U.S. should encourage Pakistani elections, which may be delayed because of Bhutto's assassination. He said America should re-evaluate its aid. News reports have said much of the aid has been spent not to fight extremists but to arm Pakistan for any potential war with its Indian neighbor.

And Edwards found room to criticize President Bush.

"Unlike President Bush, America should not be engaged with Pakistan unilaterally," he said. "This needs to be a multi-lateral approach."

Elizabeth Edwards hits the trail

VINTON, Iowa -- Elizabeth Edwards and her three children flew from Raleigh to snowy Iowa today to join her husband's final push to Thursday's caucuses.

Edwards traveled over snow-packed roads to speak to around 30 people at a nursing home in this tiny town. Her first campaign appearance since before the holidays came in part to show people she's still up to it. Earlier this year she was diagnosed with incurable cancer.

"I think people actually need to see me, that I'm healthy," she told a reporter.

She's undergoing treatment for the cancer and showed a bruise-like spot on her wrist where she's been injected. Other than "a few side effects," she says, she's feeling fine. She didn't seem to lack energy, answering questions in Vinton in her usual quick-paced style.

She called the Iowa campaign a "dogfight" and said she plans to join her husband for the duration. In Vinton, she posed for pictures and handed out autographs.

"She's awesome," said Sonia Kach, 42. "She'd make a wonderful First Lady."

Edwards" "It's close"

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Snow is falling in this corner of Iowa this morning, and several inches are expected before the day's over. It's the corner where Democrat John Edwards is scheduled to campaign today. Yesterday, his "Main Street Express" bus got stuck in the ice in nearby Waverly.

There are six days until Thursday's caucuses, the contests that jump start the presidential race for both parties. A lot of voters -- about a third according to one TV poll -- are still trying to make up their minds. The candidates and their supporters know they have to step it up.

Last night at a Waterloo high school, actor Danny Glover, bleary from a snow-delayed day of travel, mustered enough energy to fire up a crowd for Edwards, who was fired up himself, railing against "corporate greed" and Washington lobbyists.

Later, as Edwards rode an elevator to his room at the Country Inn and Suites, I told him he'd seemed more pumped up that usual.

It's almost over, he said of the caucus campaign. "And it's close."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bishop: Goodbye but no mea culpa

It’s not often a politician admits he’s not effective. But that’s what Mecklenburg County commissioner Dan Bishop says in explaining why he won’t run again next year.

Bishop, 43, is calling it quits after two terms representing south Charlotte’s District 5. he was part of a Republican minority.

"It’s a good idea for people who have these district seats to move up or out," he says. "And I don’t think I’ve been terribly effective as a member of that board. I’m not saying ‘mea culpa’ really. But the things I’d like to see accomplished I’m not seeing done.

"I’m just saying another Republican might be able to lead Republicans to a majority.’

Plus, he says, four years in politics goes a long way.

"I’ve had a good dose," he says.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

John Edwards: Box office boost?

Al Gore won an Oscar. Will John Edwards?

Edwards' campaign, with a boost from actor and supporter Kevin Bacon, released a video "movie trailer" today in the runup to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

It features images of corn fields and flags and against a Spielberg-like score, a narrator dramatically invites viewers to watch one man "restore the promise of America."

"On Jan 3 a candidate will rise," he intones. "A party will unite. And a nation will be redeemed. Starring John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, Cate Edwards and introducing Jack and Emma Claire Edwards."

The campaign calls the trailer "a new organizational tool to drive undecided caucus goers and supporters to the campaign’s Caucus Command Center."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

McCrory inching closer?

For years Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has said he's keeps the door open to higher office. Today he cracked the door a little further.

In an e-mail to supporters, McCrory disclosed the results of statewide polling he's done on the governor's race. According to him, they showed him beating not only the three Republicans who've been running for months but Democratic candidates as well.

"A strong majority (of voters) believe the state is on the wrong track," he wrote, "indicating the status quo in Raleigh does not reflect the views and values of North Carolinians. Now, I plan to go through a serious decision-making process and self-assessment to help me determine if I should run for governor. Our state has an incredible opportunity for new leadership, but before I make my decision I need and welcome your feedback."

McCrory has until late-February to decide. That's when filing closes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Edwards: "I'm the strongest"

During a conference call with reporters today, John Edwards talked about a new CNN poll that shows him as the only Democratic presidential candidate leading major Republicans in hypothetical match-ups.

The CNN poll showed:

Democrat vs Giuliani; Romney; McCain; Huckabee
Clinton 51-45; 54-43; 48-50; 54-44
Obama 52-45; 54-41; 48-48; 55-40
Edwards 53-44; 59-37; 52-44; 60-35

"We’ll make certain that caucus-goers in Iowa and primary voters in New Hampshire and the other early states are aware of all the evidence ... that I'm the strongest candidate in the general election," Edwards said. "What the CNN poll shows is exactly that."


Illinois Sen. Barack Obama today picked up the endorsement of former S.C. Democratic chairman Joe Erwin.

"People want a change," Erwin said. "And they want a candidate who is not so much about partisanship but about making government work for people."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is GOP real winner in sheriff's election?

Last night I ran into a lifelong Democrat I've known for years, a Yellow Dog if there ever was. She said she and her husband are thinking about taking a drastic step: changing their registration to independent. The reason is last week's election by Mecklenburg Democrats of Nick Mackey as the new sheriff.

Mackey is the candidate who beat acting Sheriff Chipp Bailey, who was hand-picked by former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. With the help of a voting system weighted under party rules, Mackey won overwhelmingly.

But just as overwhelming has been the criticism, both of him and the process. Like my acquaintance, a lot of Democrats are among those turned off by Mackey's record. He left the police department a few years ago after being suspended without pay after what sources described as a probe that found he put in for hours he didn't work. He later filed for bankruptcy. Letters to the editor and online message boards are full of criticism.

Before the election took place, Democratic county commissioner Parks Helms proposed a plan that would have stripped the new sheriff -- whoever it was -- of responsibility for jail administration. The idea was roundly shot down. Now Democrats are even less likely to embrace it.

John Minter, a former Observer and Charlotte Post reporter who advised Beverly Earle's mayoral campaign, sent this to commissioners this week:
"Changing the rules in the middle of the game will only reinforce the assumption by many African Americans that 2007 is not much different from 1907, when poll taxes and other ruses often were used to stifle black political influence. Most of you owe your very positions to loyal black support at the polls. The attempt to pull an end run around black voters now will break bonds that have put Democrats in control of local Mecklenburg County and Charlotte City governments. What will be the reward for black voter loyalty?"

Republicans have no base among African American voters. Their candidates for county commissioner in 2008 could run on what would amount to an anti-Mackey platform, pledging to hire a professional jail administrator and strip the sheriff of those duties. That would leave Democrats in what many would consider the uncomfortable position of defending a sheriff whose debut, at least, has been rocky.

Republicans would only need two of three at-large seats to retake the county board.

What do you think?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oprah envy?

Two days before Oprah Winfrey helps Barack Obama pack Columbia's Williams-Brice Stadium, some of John Edwards' supporters wanted to make one thing clear: Not every black South Carolinian will be in the seats.

"We don't need politicians to do publicity stunts or get notoriety because of a star, we need somebody to come and say what you’re going to do about our educational systems and our seniors," Spartanburg City Council member Linda Dogan said today.

Dogan made the comments during a conference call the Edwards' campaign set up with reporters and a half-dozen black supporters.

A campaign spokeswoman said the timing was unrelated to the Obama-Oprah event, or to Democrat Hillary Clinton's endorsement last week by representatives of 50 black church groups in Spartanburg.

"We hope people are going to vote for John Edwards' policies over Barack Obama's celebrity friends," said spokewoman Teresa Wells.

But California labor leader Tyrone Freeman, who was also on the campaign's call, had a different take.

"Let's be very honest," he told reporters. "You all are the reason for the timing because you've given unjust coverage of what's happening. All of us here would do this call every week if we could get your attention and time. It's only now we could get your attention because of the Oprah phenomenon."