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) In a campaign cycle that has seen a series of untraditional announcements—John Edwards by cell phone, Barack Obama by video, Rudy Giuliani on Larry King Live—John McCain maybe topped them all this week: He announced on David Letterman’s show. It’s hardly a surprise, but the fact that McCain is officially in the race quiets some speculation that his health might have delayed his formal entrance. Born in 1936, McCain would be the oldest president ever elected to the office.
2) Don’t underestimate the importance of this front-page New York Times story today saying Americans are increasingly fed-up with the health care crisis: “Only 24 percent said they were satisfied with President Bush’s handling of the health insurance issue, despite his recent initiatives, and 62 percent said the Democrats were more likely to improve the health care system. Americans showed a striking willingness in the poll to make tradeoffs to guarantee health insurance for all, including paying as much as $500 more in taxes a year and forgoing future tax cuts.” Winners from this? No. 1: Hillary Clinton, obviously. No. 2: Mitt Romney, who “did it” in Massachusetts (even though his program is now experiencing growing pains). No. 3: Fresh face Barack Obama—the more Americans are fed-up with the current system, the better a new face looks.
3) The social-conservative primary is wide open, as everyone from the New York Times to Robert Novak is noting. A push poll in Iowa told respondents about questionable conservative credentials of some of the leading candidates. The not-so-surprising winner? The candidate for whom the push poll was conducted: former Virginia governor and dyed-in-the-wool conservative James Gilmore. Now Gilmore’s not the most likely conservative candidate—Newt Gingrich probably is—but the entrance of a major social conservative into the race would up-end a lot of it. To see exactly what that means, look no further than where Gingrich and Gilmore will be this weekend: the major Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, where everyone from Mitt Romney to Rudy Giuliani to Sam Brownback to Mike Huckabee will be trying to bolster his conservative credentials. And as if one needs a reminder about how quickly the race can change, look back a year ago, when Senator George Allen was one of the key players at CPAC 2006.
4) Al Gore won an Oscar this week (well, technically he didn’t, but most of America thinks he did). That, combined with some ongoing chatter in the media by Clinton friends, is continuing to advance the idea that Gore might get into the race. Add in a few attacks in venues like the Drudge Report, which spent several days trumpeting Gore’s high energy bills, and it’d be easy to feel a major draft sweeping through the Democratic primary. Not so. As Hotline's Marc Ambinder outlined, it’s parly an Astroturf-laden draft meant to undermine Obama’s support. A Gore candidacy may very well be in the future, but there are major hurdles—he’d be putting a lot of his new-found respect on the line and threatening his own global warming campaign.
5) In what has to be the most bizarre story of the election year so far, John Edwards’s campaign headquarters in the virtual world game Second Life was attacked and vandalized. As Edwards’ campaign blogged, “Shortly before midnight (CST) on Monday, February 26, a group of republican Second Life users, some sporting ‘Bush ’08’ tags, vandalized the John Edwards Second Life HQ. They plastered the area with Marxist/Lenninist posters and slogans, a feces spewing obsenity, and a photoshopped picture of John in blackface, all the while harrassing visitors with right-wing nonsense and obsenity-laden [sic] abuse of Democrats in general and John in particular.” You can’t help but laugh a little when you see the pictures.
6) Mitt Romney’s campaign saw a minor setback when a 77-slide PowerPoint outlining the campaign’s strategy, positioning, and supposed weaknesses ended up in the Boston Globe. There aren’t too many surprises—campaign spokeshunk Kevin Madden passed it off as an “absolute compilation of the conventional wisdom”—but it does provide a valuable window into the campaign. Romney is seen on the one hand as a “tested, intelligent, get-it-done, turnaround CEO governor” but also as a “political opportunist.” It also lists some bizarre “bogeymen”: France, taxes, Hollywood values, and Hillary Clinton, among others. As the washingtonpost.com’s Chris Cillizza explained, “Mistakes like these are not terribly important. But they can start to matter if they suggest a lack of discipline and a too-large inner circle within a campaign.” One question for the Globe: If you have the presentation, why not post it? That’s what the Web is for. The Politico quickly jumped on the opportunity to post a similar leaked Giuliani strategy memo last month.
7) National Journal is out today with Richard Cohen’s annual roundup of congressional voting records, and it offers some interesting perspectives. The three things you need to know, with a rating that makes her more liberal than 70 percent of the body Hillary Clinton’s least liberal (i.e. most moderate) year since entering the Senate was 2006, which, depending on your perspective means she’s either positioning herself well in the middle or running away from who she really is; Barack Obama is the most liberal Democratic presidential candidate, with a rating of 86 percent; John McCain’s record is continuing to get more moderate, having gone from being more conservative than about 80 percent of the Senate to being pretty close to the center of the body. The numbers do mean something: John Kerry was tagged as being the most liberal member of the body during his presidential run thanks to this poll.
8) Feel the need to keep up with all the news from the various campaigns but don’t have time to read all the sites yourself? Here’s the resource for you: oh-ate.com pulls together all the various campaign blogs on one handy, graphically simple page.