News & Politics

8 on ’08: Hillary’s In To Win

This week we saw the 800-pound gorilla arrive, along with a big sigh of relief from many in the party when the 2004 nominee decided not to run.

This week saw the 2008 presidential field further solidify and numerous candidates competing to show who's more serious, more studious, or more hard-working. We'll still in the "peacock plumage" stage of the campaign, where campaigns that haven't even yet figured out their policy platforms strut over process stories—who landed which consultant, who can line up which advisors, who raised how much, and who can give the most serious topic.

Without further ado, here's the top eight developments you need to know about this week's presidential campaign. Memorize this column each Friday and you'll be able to hold your own with any full-time political operative at a cocktail party over the weekend:

1) Just as the big news last week was that Barack Obama got in, the presidential campaign-shattering news from this week is that Hillary got into the race on Saturday. (We might take a moment to point out that this column recommended last Friday that Hillary Clinton couldn't afford to wait too much longer and within 24 hours she entered the race.) Since then there's been almost non-stop announcements from her explatory committee—from her visit this weekend to Iowa to that she'll headline New Hampshire's 100 Club Democratic fundraiser—all with the point of underscoring the second half of her announcement: "I'm in," she said. "And I'm in to win."

2) This week saw the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and another demonstration that Sam Brownback may end up causing more trouble in the GOP primary than most people imagine. "Brownback for President" signs littered the crowd during the March for Life and whereas most other candidates were absent, Brownback's speech riled everyone up. If the true-red social conservative can raise enough money—not a ton, mind you, just "enough"—he'll force John McCain and Mitt Romney to tack further right than they want in Iowa and elsewhere.

3) In the who's in, who's out department. New York Governor George Pataki, who's been flirting with the race, has packed up his New Hampshire office and put it up on Craigslist. It's not a definitive sign that he's not running, but everyone else is racing to open offices, not close them. John Kerry also formally bowed out of the race this week, ending much speculation and even contradicting moves from just a few weeks ago. Kerry dropping out really helps Joe Biden, who was sharing the third-tier candidacy with Kerry and is also a powerhouse on foreign affairs. Of course, more "I love me" stories like this keep Biden from being taken too seriously.

4) If you want to see a monkey wrench in the presidential campaign, watch Andy Stern. Stern's the powerful head of the rebel service employees union, whose executive committee meeting this weekend will be a must-stop for Democratic presidential candidates. The February issue of The Washingtonian speculates that Stern might consider a third-party bid for the White House, which could not be taken lightly given his 1.8 million adoring fans/members. And Stern's not mincing his signals: He leaves the executive committee meeting for his own tour of Iowa and New Hampshire early next week. Stern may not be able to win, but if he gets pissed off he could certainly ruin someone else's chance of winning.

5) Money. Hillary's announcement this week spelled the end of the current public financing model in presidential campaigns. The fine print on her website shows that she's planning to opt-out of the system not just for the primary but also, if she gets there, the general election. Just four years it seemed impossible that a Democrat would opt-out but most observers now credit Howard Dean's 2003 decision to leave the public system with giving John Kerry the cover to do the same, and, hence, stay competitive with President Bush in the months after the nomination was decided. Now no serious candidate will stay in the system. One unanswered question to watch: How will Obama's decision to forgo contributions from registered lobbyists affect his ability to raise money?

6) Romney spent this week burnishing his foreign policy credentials. First, a not-too-subtle visit to Israel (complete with numerous press releases and advisories) and a speech there on containing Iran. Then the announcement that Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the ranking member of the House intelligence committee and its former chair, will advise Romney on intelligence and "tutor" him on foreign affairs. Hoekstra is a big "get," and a sign that Romney's ready to play foreign affairs.

7) The false rumor that Barack Obama might have attended a madrassa Islamic school while he was growing up in Indonesia set off one of the first big kerfuffles of the 2008 campaign—and ended with a pointed fight between Fox News and Obama, with CNN somehow emerging as the good guys in the dispute. The hard-hitting and immediate pushback from the Obama camp is another example of how each 2008 candidate has sworn that they will not be "swift-boated," as John Kerry was in 2004. Even false attacks can prove deadly if left unchecked.

8) The Washington Post's new poll this week shows that Hillary is well positioned as a moderate in the race and that Rudy Giuliani is leading nationally right now. This means nothing at all except that it gives Giuliani a few more weeks to flirt with a possible campaign. His organization keeps asserting that it's a serious operation, but so far it doesn't seem that way. Giuliani would shake up the race, at least in terms of the media spotlight, although few give him a credible chance at the Republican nomination given his pro-gay, pro-choice, anti-gun stances—and let's not get started on his potential pitfalls: divorces, shady business deals, civil rights controversies as mayor, etc. Giuliani's got to get serious, as he failed to do in the 2000 campaign against Hillary for New York's senate seat, or he's got to get out of the way.