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Inside dirt on the presidential election

Newsweek has a very readable piece on the inside story of the presidential campaign. The magazine has been doing it since 1984, assigning a team of reporters who follow the candidates around for a year working with the understanding nothing they learn will be published until after the election.

The juiciest stuff involves -- big surprise -- Sarah Palin.

One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family — clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast."

McCain himself rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and aides kept him in the dark about the details of her spending on clothes because they were sure he would be offended.

Other interesting stuff:

  • Palin asked to speak along with McCain at his Arizona concession speech Tuesday night, but campaign strategist Steve Schmidt vetoed the request.
  • Palin launched her attack on Obama's association with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground bomber, before the campaign had finalized a plan to raise the issue. McCain's advisers were working on a strategy that they hoped to unveil the following week, but McCain had not signed off on it, and top adviser Mark Salter was resisting.
  • McCain also was reluctant to use Obama's incendiary pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as a campaign issue. The Republican had set firm boundaries: no Jeremiah Wright; no attacking Michelle Obama; no attacking Obama for not serving in the military. McCain balked at an ad using images of children that suggested that Obama might not protect them from terrorism. Schmidt vetoed ads suggesting that Obama was soft on crime (no Willie Hortons). And before word even got to McCain, Schmidt and Salter scuttled a "celebrity" ad of Obama dancing with talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres (the sight of a black man dancing with a lesbian was deemed too provocative).
  • On the night she officially lost the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton enjoyed a long and friendly phone conversation with McCain. Clinton was actually on better terms with McCain than she was with Obama. Clinton and McCain had downed shots together on Senate junkets; they regarded each other as grizzled veterans of the political wars and shared a certain disdain for Obama as flashy and callow.
  • McCain ... was relieved to face Sen. Joe Biden as the veep choice, and not Hillary Clinton, whom the McCain camp had truly feared.
  • The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied.
  • You've got to admit, this is more fun than the aftermath of Bush-Kerry.

    Golisano comes up empty

    Money can't buy you love, and, if you're Tom Golisano, elections.

    I'm not sure how downstate candidates he supported fared last night, but here in WNY, Golisano and his Responsible New York came up empty. Joe Mesi lost to Michael Ranzenhofer and Kathy Konst came up short against Dale Volker in two Senate races in which Golisono spent a lot of money.

    He also failed to unseat Sam Hoyt in the September primary for the State Assembly.

    The Rochester billionaire started the election season with a $5 million kitty and spent much of it, not just here, but around the state. The candidates he backed had uphill fights, facing incumbents and/or an electorate whose party enrollment favored the other guy. But that only partly explains the losses.

    What, exactly, was the reform message Mesi, Konst and Barbra Kavanugh articulated? I'm not sure I heard one.

    I'm sorry, but "I used to be a famous boxer" doesn't cut it.

    The Obama generation

    There are a lot of reason why Barack Obama won the presidential election, and pundits will no doubt pulverize us with the details in the hours, days and weeks ahead. Dubya's ineptitude, the economy,  war(s) etc. had a lot to do with it, and McCain and Palin did not help themselves.

    But I think there's something else that played big, something very fundamental and lasting, and I come to that conclusion largely by listening to my two college-age kids.

    They, and a whole lot of young Americans, don't see thing as their elders do. Black-white, gay-straight, red-blue, the distinctions and divisions don't mean much to them. They are the hangups of their elders.

    While there will be many skirmishes in the future, I view Tuesday as the final major volley in the culture wars that have been a basis of American politics since Richard Nixon fashioned the "silent majority" en route to victory in 1968.

    Since then, the right has won many a political battle. Heck, they've occupied the White House 28 of the past 40 years.

    But along the way, the right has lost the culture war whose roots date to the 1950s, one part Birmingham Jail, one part Jailhouse Rock.

    Civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, reproductive rights. Americans under 30 take these as givens.

    Likewise, the culture is in a very different place than it was a generation ago. The barriers have been breached, the lines have been blurred. I may not like the rap music blasting out of my kids' laptops any more than, say, Todd Palin does, but I realize that ship has sailed. I take comfort in the fact my son also appreciates early Kinks.

    That's the way it is with so many of those who traipsed to the polls for the first time Tuesday. Their world isn't red-blue, it's a lot of colors. So when they went to the polls, they didn't see it as a matter of race, middle names or the like.

    Mayberry_rfdInstead, they saw it as one guy who text-messages the masses and another guy trying to get the hang of this new-fangled e-mail thing. One guy who finished near the top of his class while the other barely scraped through. One guy who cut his teeth as a community organizer in the 'hood, while the other signed up a running mate who thinks Mayberry RFD is where it's at.

    Translation: Obama is black -- big whoop.

    Mind you, this election was fairly close, at least when it came to the popular vote. Obama won 53-47. But I think the vote represents a tipping point.

    The silent majority is dying off. Exit polls show McCain won only with the 65 and older crowd. Voters between 18 and 29 went for Obama 66-32. But it wasn't just the young whipper-snappers.

    Exit poll data shows that, while McCain managed to win the white vote, Obama did better with this demographic than John Kerry, Al Gore or Bill Clinton.

    In other words, Barack did better with Bubba than Bubba.

    There are other reasons to think a page was turned yesterday.

    Grant_park_2The face of the Obama coalition -- as evidenced on television last night, live from Chicago's Grant Park -- reflects the changing face of America. The Census Bureau projects that those now categorized as "minority" will become the majority by 2042.

    Then there's Obama himself.

    If history is any indicator, he's probably got the job for eight years. The times will test him, and he may fail. But my hunch is that he'll do OK. He's smart and level-headed, and a competent presidency will further erode the mindset that Obama managed to transcend on Election Day.

    My college-age daughter reminded me last night of a conversation I had with her one day long ago when we were waiting for the school bus -- when she was in kindergarten. Bill Clinton had been elected president the night before and I told her it was an historic day in America.

    I told her last night that this election was a whole lot more historic.

    It's not just because the nation elected its first black president. But because a whole lot of people like her and her brother look at the world differently, and what that means to the country as we move forward. Finally.

    I was going to end this post with a Bob Dylan video -- The Times They Are a Changing -- but I think this one is more appropriate.

    The kids are, indeed, all right.

    Words for Election Day

    This seems like an appropriate rant for Election Day. Take a look, then get out and vote, if you haven't already.

    Pension problems

    Newsday had a story the other day about a $30 billion drop in state pension funds that includes a paragraph I find staggering:

    (State Comptroller) DiNapoli announced in early September that the average contribution rate for state and local government employers would be 7.4 percent of payroll in 2010, down from 8.5 percent in 2009. The rate for police and fire departments would fall to 15.1 percent of payroll in 2010 from 15.7 percent in 2009.

    Which is to say, that for every cop making, say, $75,000, the city, town or village they work for has to kick in another $11,775.

    It's no wonder that a study by the Empire Center for New York State Policy found pension costs are bleeding budgets around the state.

    The last few years have seen a dramatic surge in public pension costs in New York State ... Tax-funded contributions to public pensions in New York State rose from $1 billion in 2000 to $6.7 billion as of 2005.

    Could this state be in any worse financial shape?

    Golisano vs. Mohr

    Ralph Mohr and Tom Golisano are engaged in an interesting and unusual battle.

    Mohr is questioning if Golisano's Responsible New York is operating on the up and up and says Steve Pigeon has been playing fast and loose with campaign finance law for some time now.

    Mohr_and_golisanoGolisano has taken offense, to put it mildly. He went so far as to stage a press conference  Friday outside Mohr's office at the Erie County Board of Elections. Among TG's beefs -- politics at the Board of Elections.

    These two stories by Bob McCarthy lay it all out.

    Buffalo Pundit has a good video clip showing Friday's conversation between Mohr and Golisano. Much of it involves TG jawing at Mohr.

    Golisano, in complaining about politics at the board, is stating an obvious fact that everyone in government has overlooked for, well, forever.

    Boards of Elections are political cesspools all over New York. State law lays the groundwork and county legislatures take it from there, appointing political types as commissioners.

    Look at who we've had in Erie County. Right now we've got as commissioners Mohr, a Republican insider who used to serve in the County Legislature, and Dennis Ward, a Democratic Party insider whose wife just happened to be vying in the recent Senate primary with the Golisano-backed Joe Mesi.

    Puts Ward in a compromising position, wouldn't you say? And what about Mohr, who just happens to spring into action involving a Senate race that could decide the balance of power in the State Senate.

    Let's not stop with the two commissioners. Look at their deputies. Dennis Ryan is chairman of Republican Party in the city, while Alonzo Thompson Jr. is president of Grassroots Inc., the political organization from which Mayor Brown emerged.

    It's been like this for a long, long time. In recent memory, we've seen Roger Blackwell move from the County Legislature to the Board of Elections. Larry Adamczyk, a key political strategist for Dennis Gorski, succeeded Blackwell. Mohr's predecessor as GOP commissioner was Phil Smolinski, a Jimmy Griffin political operative and secretary of the Erie County GOP.

    The result is a good old boys network in which the kind of enforcement Mohr is now pursuing is rare. And in this case, refreshing.

    I don't know if Golisano or Pigeon is violating campaign finance laws. But, based on my previous reporting of their involvement in the Sam Hoyt-Barbra Kavanaugh primary, I believe Mohr is certainly within bounds asking questions and using his power of subpoena.

    In opting to operate as an independent political committee, and using Pigeon as his quarterback, Golisano should have anticipated the scrutiny. Now he's got it.

    In refusing to answer questions, Golisano is running the risk of the he "doth protest too much" syndrome.

    And in investigating potential skulduggery, Mohr begs the question "Why doesn't the Board of Elections do this more often?" This is only the second time in nine years the board has used its subpoena power.

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