Without further ado, here are the top eight developments you need to know about what's happening on both sides of the presidential campaign:
1) The first television ad of the 2008 presidential race went on the air this week. The ad, by GOP media guru Alex Castellanos, was shot with hand-held video cameras during Mitt Romney’s announcement tour last week. It features a mix of photographs of Romney, a summary of his resume (“Business legend. Rescued the Olympics. The Republican governor who turned around a Democratic state.”), and shots from his stump speech—including a few notable conservative phrases. Sixty-second and 30-second versions of the ad, entitled “Unplugged,” aired in New Hampshire and Iowa this week and will go up in other key states next week.
2) A second interesting angle to the Romney television ad story: The headline on the Boston Globe article about the ad read, “Faltering in polls, Romney takes to the airwaves.” It’s a subtle point, but the Globe’s framing was unequivocally negative, while most news organizations characterized Romney’s taking to the airwaves so early as impressive, if odd. The Globe is arguably the toughest hometown paper for a presidential candidate—it made John Kerry’s life difficult for years leading up to his 2004 campaign, and it’s not showing any inclination to cut Romney any “favored son” slack, either.
3) Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both moved heavily into Hollywood this week, with Obama firing the opening salvo with an event Tuesday night that attracted huge support—and $1.3 million—in a key area known for its support for the Clintons. Among the bold-face names at the fundraiser hosted by Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks colleagues David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg: Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Eddie Murphy, Oprah, and Oliver Stone were there. The participation of Spielberg, a longtime FOH and FOB (Friend of Hillary and Friend of Bill), did not go unnoticed, even though he has said he’s still on the fence. Helping his fundraising efforts, Obama won a major legal victory this week from the Federal Election Commission, which released a draft decision saying he could raise money as if he was opting out of public financing for the general election but then determine later whether he would opt back in.
4) The Hollywood fundraiser touched off another major development: the first public Hillary/Obama feud. Clinton’s campaign blasted Obama for critical comments made by David Geffen; Obama shot back that he didn’t see why he had to apologize for something someone else said, and besides, Geffen used to be a good friend of the Clinton’s. The only winner to emerge from the debacle? Former Virginia governor Mark Warner. Both Tom Vilsack and Bill Richardson hit Obama using Hillary’s talking points, which suggests that they think their best chance for a VP slot is with the former First Lady. If that pattern continues and Obama wins the nomination, then when he goes looking for a Democratic governor to balance his managerial inexperience, the Virginian’s going to look pretty good.
5) Continuing his bizarre will-he-or-won’t-he presidential “run,” Rudy Giuliani was in South Carolina this week, where he met with firefighters in what has to be one of the friendliest turfs a presidential candidate could have, even as supporters in the state rallied to get people involved in next week’s precinct organizational meetings. The New York Times’s piece noted how the former New York mayor is avoiding all the tough questions as he gears up for the race, fueling speculation that, contrary to Hillary’s assertion when she announced, he’s not “in it to win.”
6) Two prominent South Dakotans drew their lines in the sand this week: Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle will support Barack Obama while the man who defeated him, John Thune, will support John McCain. In their own ways, each endorsement is critical: Daschle’s opens up a vast fundraising network to Obama, and Thune is considered a hero by the right and a rising star in the Republican party. Both would be key contenders for high-level posts in either administration.
7) John McCain laid down another marker this week, too: He called Donald Rumsfeld “one of the worst secretaries of defense in history,” drawing a rebuke from Vice President Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, in California with with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he threw another log on the fire, saying, “I would assess this administration’s record on global warming as terrible.” McCain’s attacks on the Bush administration mean that no candidate will be strongly supporting Bush’s record in the 2008 race and also signal how he’s positioning himself as both the establishment candidate and yet still a GOP maverick. It’ll be a fine line to dance.
8) If you read only one other story about the 2008 presidential race this week, make it Adam Nagourney’s ode to the disappearing living room in the Iowa caucuses. If 2008 proves to be the end of small-town retail politics in Iowa, there will be virtually no place left where candidates actually meet voters for the sake of meeting voters instead of just posing for the cameras.
Bonus #9) Just as this column went to press Tom Vilsack announced he's dropping out. He's at least the third major second-tier candidate to drop out of the race, following in the trail started by Mark Warner and Evan Bayh. His decision further tightens up the Big Three: Obama, Hillary, and John Edwards.
Finally today, congratulations to Jim Brayton, Obama’s Internet director, whose wife gave birth yesterday to their first child, Jack Brayton, 8 lbs, 10 oz.