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Presidential Debate

Obama, McCain try to mute stands on abortion

WASHINGTON - Both presidential campaigns this week attempted to soften their stands on the issue of abortion. The platform committee for the Democratic National Convention, setting the stage for the nomination of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, bid to woo pro-life voters with proposals aimed at reducing the need for abortions.

    Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican presidential nominee, told an interviewer that he wouldn't necessarily rule out a pick for his running mate just because that person had been pro-choice. All GOP presidential candidates since Ronald Reagan in 1980 have been strongly anti-abortion, with the exception of George H.W. Bush in 1988, who wanted wiggle room on the issue.

    "I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party," McCain told an interviewer. "And I also feel that - and I'm not trying to equivocate here - that Americans want us to work together. You know (former Pennsylvania Gov.) Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders, and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don't think that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out."

       In 2000, Ridge was erased from the list of potential running mates for George W. Bush partly because the Catholic bishop of Erie, Pa., Donald Trautman, former vicar general of the Diocese of Buffalo, banned Ridge from attending Catholic functions outside of Mass in his diocese.

      McCain's statement did him no good with the National Abortion Rights Action League, which supports Obama. NARAL President Nancy Keenan said no one will be fooled by what she described as a momentary "flip-flop" by a candidate who is worried about falling poll numbers among women.

        The new Democratic language "strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and the availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support and caring adoption programs."

      This would be added to platform language, in force since 1988, that guarantees a woman's right to choose.

         Will these gestures to the great middle of the American opinion help either candidate?

-- Douglas Turner

Critics see pro-Obama media bias

With the lead anchors of ABC, CBS and NBC following Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama across Asia, the Middle East and Europe, are Americans seeing a media bias in favor of the Illinois senator?

A new Rasmussen Reports survey showed Monday that 60 percent of those surveyed said the media treats Obama better than Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, with 14 percent saying McCain gets more favorable coverage.

On Sunday, the media critic of the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz, said national media are in danger of undermining their credibility unless they post tough questions to Obama on the trip or try to even out their coverage. Kurtz, who has a media show on CNN, showed a string of Newsweek magazine covers of Obama as evidence of that publication's Democratic tilt.

Kurtz asked rhetorically whether reporters and news organizations were covering Obama "as if he were already president?" (Newsweek is owned by Kurtz's main employer, the Washington Post Company.)

Wolf Blitzer also raised the issue of media bias during his show on the left-leaning cable network, CNN.

Obama also got the break last week in print coverage, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Obama had a significant presence - 77 percent in the 342 print stories studied last week - compared to 48 percent for McCain.

As the debate swirled, the New York Times rejected an op-ed piece offered by McCain to expand on his views of the Iraq war. The Times did publish a piece on July 14 written by Obama on the same subject.

NBC News President Steve Capus told the Associated Press that he finds it funny this is an issue, considering how much people have accused the press corps — and still do — of being too cozy with McCain. The Arizona senator had been a frequent guest of "Meet the Press."

"We're just trying to do our jobs," Capus said. "There's no question that there's great news value in Sen. Obama's trip overseas. That's why we are doing this."

Talk show host Rush Limbaugh said, "my prediction is that the coverage of Obama on this trip will be oriented toward countering the notion he has no idea what he is talking about on foreign policy and defense issues and instead will prop him up as a qualified statesman. McCain, on the other hand, is a known quantity on these issues and his position does not excite nor fit the mainstream media's narrative on Iraq and Afghanistan, so they simply ignore it and him."

--- Douglas Turner      

New Yorker cartoon ignites a firestorm

   Monday was a typical Washington day, with the media providing us with a kerfuffle du jour to distract us from all of that repetitive stuff about gasoline prices, people losing their homes and soldiers dying in far-off wars.

   And this time the kerfuffle was all about ... a cartoon!

   In case you spent Monday in a submarine exploring the depths of Lake Erie and somehow missed it, The New Yorker this week ran a cartoon on its cover that featured Barack Obama in a robe and turban. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was shown fist-jabbing his rifle-toting wife in an Oval Office where a portrait of Osama bin Laden hung above the mantle and the U.S. flag burned bright in the fireplace.

   Now this was supposed to be a parody of all the Internet-fueled hooey that's convinced some Americans that Obama is, well, just not one of us.

   And it reminded me of the woman I met in North Carolina a couple months ago, who said to me: "I hate Barack Obama. I think he's a Muslim. And I can't stand that minister of his!"

   Now what do you think she will make of that cartoon?

   -- Jerry Zremski

McCain says Social Security is a "disgrace."

WASHINGTON - At a town hall meeting in Denver, Colo., on Monday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed."

Asked about the comment the next day (Tuesday), the Republican presidential candidate told CNN: "On the privatization of (old age and retirement) accounts ... I would like to respond that I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money, which is their taxes, and put it into an account with their name on it. Now that's a voluntary thing; it's for young people; it would not affect any present day retirees or the system as necessary.

"So let's describe it for what it is. They pay taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken; that's why we can fix it."

Jared Bernstein, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, said he is shocked by McCain's statement.

"That is truly an amazing quote," Bernstein said. "It's like saying, 'I just found out that taxes come from people. ... That's a disgrace.' It betrays a really quite scary lack of knowledge about basic government. I know he's not into this kind of stuff, but it would be hard not to know about the intergenerational financing of Social Security."

Who's right?

--- Douglas Turner

McCain differences from President Bush

Prescription drugs could be imported from Canada to save seniors money if Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, were elected president, a senior aide told reporters on Monday.

President Bush has opposed reimportation of drugs from Canada, where government health programs purchase them for less cash than can individuals covered under Medicare or private prescription plans in the U.S.

But Carly Fiorina, may have been hard-pressed to point to many other major differences between the senator and the Republican president he would like to succeed.

Fiorina, a senior adviser to McCain on business and economic questions and a former executive in the computer business, spoke for an hour with national political writers.

The other big differences she cited were: 1) That McCain, unlike Bush, sees government policies on energy as influencing global warming, 2) McCain was an early critic of the Iraq War policies of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and promoted the '"surge" of increased military pressure in Iraq, which is working, and 3) McCain supports retraining and other benefits for workers who have been displaced as a result of foreign imports.

McCain sides with Bush on many more issues including passage of a free trade agreement with Colombia, and expansion of health savings accounts to provide insurance to the nearly 50 million Americans who have none.

Fiorina said controlling health care costs, which she said are increasing 20 to 30 percent a year, is a key to making health insurance more available. She said McCain would like to remove state regulations that make it virtually impossible to purchase health insurance out of state.

At the briefing, Fiorina, who formerly headed Hewlett-Packard, did nothing to downplay speculation that she might be selected as McCain's running mate. When asked if she might join McCain on the ticket, Fiorina said that business leaders have a lot in common with politicians, and often have to make tougher decisions, particularly on spending, than do politicians.

Fiorina also signaled she would be available to serve in a McCain cabinet.

Do you think that McCain's policies are sufficiently distinct from the president's to enable the senator to separate himself from the president's current unpopularity?

--- Douglas Turner 

Absent but not forgotten

  WASHINGTON -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton went back to work in the Senate Tuesday after missing 97 of the Senate's 155 votes this year in her quest for the presidency.

   Meawhile, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, missed 95 votes -- and the Republican choice for president, Sen. John McCain, missed 121.

   Now this is nothing unusual for senators running for president  -- but it is unusual for New York state, which has not had a senator running for president in 40 years.

   And it does pose an interesting question: What do you think would happen if you went off on, well, an extracurricular activity for nearly 63 percent of your work time this year?

-- Jerry Zremski

Dream ticket or nightmare in the making?

   WASHINGTON -- Imagine it: Barack Obama at home in the White House, Hillary Clinton across the way in the vice president's office and Bill Clinton -- well, not baking cookies.

   "It could be like a reality show," said Tom Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland/Baltimore County. "Ryan Seacrest might want to option the rights to it. I think it's a one-for-the-price-of-two situation."

   That's just one reason there's not a unanimous call for a "dream ticket" between Obama and Clinton.

   Supporters of the idea see it unifying the Democratic Party like nothing else, but opponents say Obama has plenty of choices for vice president that would come without the drama that seems to follow the Clintons around.

   Is that so? Then who do you think is a better pick?

    -- Jerry Zremski

Hillary charts a new course

  WASHINGTON -- Nearly 17 months after she declared she was "in it to win it," Hillary Clinton is about to get out of it.

   Finally, after nearly four months in second place, she plans to throw her support to Barack Obama here on Saturday.

   Now I know this is going to be a hard, sad day for many people. One of the little-noticed secrets of this campaign is that Clinton's supporters are just as passionate as Obama's, and now, finally and officially, their passion will turn to disappointment.

   But one thing is for sure. We have not heard the last from Hillary Clinton, not by a long shot.

   She could be Obama's vice president, or a great Senate icon, or a cabinet
secretary, or ... the Democratic nominee in 2012.

   Which will it be?    

  -- Jerry Zremski

The Democratic Party -- a house divided?

   WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Party Saturday solved the dilemma of the rogue delegates from
Michigan and Florida by splitting them -- and maybe the party -- in half.

   By granting those delegates -- chosen in rule-breaking early primaries -- half a vote each, and by awarding Obama delegates for those who voted "uncommitted" in Michigan, the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee made the Barack Obama campaign happy.

   But supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton  were outraged.

   "How can you call yourselves Democrats if you don't count the vote?" one man shouted before being escorted out by security. "This is not the Democratic Party!"

   Well, what do you think? What will that guy do this November -- vote for Obama, vote for Republican John McCain, or sit at home?

   And what will it all mean for Obama's chances to become president?

  -- Jerry Zremski

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |