Editor's note: Seattle-based national political writer Ted Van Dyk is on a book tour and is occasionally reporting from the road.
Saturday, Jan. 19, found me housebound in Raleigh, N.C.. While a rare snow-sleet-storm took place outside, I periodically checked in on political developments nationally and in the Nevada presidential caucuses and Republican South Carolina primary.
I left Washington, D.C., Thursday evening as competing economic stimulus packages were being floated by President Bush, congressional leaders of both parties, and the various presidential candidates. Clearly, such a package will be enacted in the weeks ahead, probably with equal emphasis on short-term jolts to the economy (most likely through cash payments to lower- and middle-income folk who would be likely to spend the money quickly) and longer-term measures intended to spur jobs and growth. Strangely lacking from debate has been emphasis on infrastructure spending – which would fall into the long-term category. Public infrastructure has been wearing out everywhere, with the Minneapolis bridge collapse and our own Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520 bridge situations being prime examples.
I talked on Friday with North Carolinians long active in the Democratic Party. They all were indifferent to former Sen. John Edwards' presidential candidacy and wondered why he kept it going. Edwards left the Senate to serve as 2004 vice presidential nominee, with the result that North Carolina now has two Republican Senators. While serving, he was notorious as a do-little performer. So it should not be surprising that his home staters have so little enthusiasm for his current run. One statewide officeholder, especially concerned with public education, told how he had tried to convince Edwards to include an educational component in his message of upward social mobility. Edwards, he explained, seemed simply not to get it. If Edwards does not run strongly in next week's South Carolina Democratic primary, it is hard to see him raising the money for expensive campaigns Jan. 29 in Florida and on Super Tuesday a week later.
Republicans, of course, held their South Carolina presidential primary on Saturday. Local media and politicos were predicting that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain would run one-two in a close contest, and they weren't far off. McCain edged Huckabee, 33 percent to 30 percent. McCain rallied the state's sizable active and retired military, emphasizing his continuing support for a surge strategy in Iraq. Huckabee counted on the state's numerous Protestant fundamentalists for his base of support. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was hardly a fit for the state and finished fourth (15 percent), behind former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who was third (16 percent).
The Republican race in South Carolina outweighs in importance GOP caucuses in Nevada, which Romney won. Nevada caucuses, though, were the only game Saturday for Democrats. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton beat Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, 51 percent to 45 percent, in a test of organization that Clinton won. After calling a truce in their increasingly testy exchanges earlier in the week, the two candidates' organizations had resumed them by Saturday.
As chance would have it, I caught a National Public Radio interview Friday night with Clinton on the subject of the economy, entitlement programs, and the current mortgage crisis. Over its course, I found myself being encouraged by her knowledge and then repelled by her recurring digs against Obama. When asked about Obama's proposals to rescue Social Security, she partly misrepresented and then sneeringly dismissed his central notion that the cap should be lifted on income subject to the payroll tax. When asked to list her own proposals, she refused to do so, stating that after the election "we should all join hands and work this out together." Ugh. I support Obama for the nomination but keep wanting to feel that Hillary would be a perfectly acceptable second choice. At such moments, I encounter such things as the smarmy NPR interview. Both Clintons are highly intelligent and capable. Why, under pressure, do they always resort to low politics? The habit, it seems to me, is contributing to many voters' affinity for Obama's more uplifting presentation. If Hillary were standing alone, without years of conditioning in The Clinton Way, she might be another kind of candidate. She continues to carry the hopes of many women who see her as an important symbol. For their sake, I keep wishing she would set a higher standard. On Martin Luther King's birthday, I am off to the LBJ School in Austin, Texas, and then to Houston. I'll report from the Lone Star State on how things look from there.