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Hillary's opportunistic flip-flop

   WASHINGTON -- Just as John Kerry voted for funding the Iraq War before he voted against it, Hillary Clinton was against recognizing the delegates from the rogue Michigan and Florida primaries before she was for it.

  "We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process," Patti Solis Doyle, then the Clinton campaign manager, said last summer, after the Democratic National Committee stripped Michigan and Florida of their convention delegates. "And we believe the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role."

   Flash-forward to Jan. 25, after Clinton lost to Barack Obama in Iowa and a day before Obama would crush her in the South Carolina primary, and suddenly, Clinton had a change of heart.

   "I believe our nominee will need the enthusiastic support of Democrats in these states to win the general election, and so I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan," she said in a statement.

   Now, finally, the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee is about to meet to decide who's right --Clinton, or Clinton.

   What say you? Who's right? Clinton circa 2007 or Clinton circa 2008?

-- Jerry Zremski

Is the party over for Hillary?

   WASHINGTON … The lights were out in the media filing center at Hillary Clinton headquarters in Indianapolis Tuesday night, and perhaps it was symbolic.

   Because to hear the pundits tell it, Tuesday was lights-out for the Clinton campaign.

   Hoping for a big win in the Indiana primary and maybe even a surprise in North Carolina, Clinton instead narrowly beat Barack Obama in the Hoosier State while losing by double digits down south.

   That meant Clinton fell farther behind in the race for delegates -- and will have to win a whopping 68 percent of them the rest of the way to claim the Democratic presidential nomination.

   Obama, in contrast, will have to win a mere 37 percent.

   Not surprisingly, then, former Sen. George McGovern Wednesday called on Clinton to leave the race, and even her supporters were choosing their words carefully when asked whether she should continue.

   And all that leads me to paraphrase the late, great Joe Strummer, of the late, great band, the Clash:

   Should she stay or should she go now?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Hoosiers and Tar Heels: It's May Madness

   MERRILLVILLE, Ind. - No game of free association would lead one to link Hillary Clinton and firetrucks, but there she was on Monday, standing in front of the ruby-red beauty that the local volunteer firefighters rely on every day.

   No, she didn't do a Full Dukakis and get behind the wheel. She just stood there with a dozen uniformed firefighters up above her on the truck, basking in the applause of the huge crowd of folks in work clothes and jeans and t-shirts that had gathered to see her.

   There she was: Hillary Clinton, working-class hero.

   Meanwhile, 268 miles to the south, Barack Obama mixed with a bunch of brick-layers, aching to prove that he, too, had a lot more in common with the working folks than he had with, say ... the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

   So this is what this campaign has come to. Hillary swigs a shot of whiskey at a bar in Pennsylvania and drops the "g"'s from every blinkin' word that ends with "ing" here in Indiana. And Obama throws gutter balls in a Pennsylvania bowling alley and fusses over the locally baked biscuits in the Hoosier State.

   So, workers of the world, what do you make of it all?

   --- Jerry Zremski

Old stigmas still dog presidential race

  So why won't Hobert Wicker of Sanford, N.C., vote for Barack Obama for president?

   "I guess you might say I'm a little prejudiced," the 68-year-old retired auto dealer explained.

   And why won't Tom Weeks, also of Sanford, vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton?

   "I think Obama is a fine fellow. I think he's smart. And we need a man to lead the country," said Weeks, 67.

   So there you have it: two voters who said what others may think, but dare not say in polite company.

   As Obama and Clinton continue to battle it out for the Democratic nomination, voters like Wicker and Weeks are no doubt among the many factors swaying the results in this historic contest.

   They're also a sign that the Democratic Party could leave this contest divided no matter who wins.

  -- Jerry Zremski   

Where are the documents?

  Campaign aides for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said Wednesday that Sen. Hillary Clinton has been "cagey" about when she will release her and her husband's income tax returns and exactly what she will release. The Clinton campaign has said the couple will release their returns by April 15, the federal tax filing deadline.

  Almost simultaneously Clinton's deputy press secretary Phil Singer said Obama's claims of openness were "just words" and said Obama could be more forthcoming about data dealing with his early career in the Illinois State Senate.

Singer's criticisms came just as a conservative think-tank, Judicial Watch, charged Obama with side-stepping promises he made about disclosing his records when he was a state senator, 1996-2003.

When questioned on "Meet the Press" Nov. 11, 2007, by host Tim Russert, Obama said, "well, let's be clear; in the state Senate every single piece of information, every document related to state government was kept by the State of Illinois and has been disclosed and is available and has been gone through with a fine-toothed comb by news outlets in Illinois ... every document related to my interactions with government is available right now."

In response to Judicial Watch's open records request, the Illinois Secretary of State said it does not maintain Sen. Obama's papers, or maintain records generated by his office. The secretary said it had not received any request from Obama to receive anything Obama generated.

Obama's successor, Sen. Kwame Raoul, told Judicial Watch that any document he would have inherited from Sen. Obama "would have been constituent work files, and those were reviewed and discarded upon me taking office."

Obama has posted online his tax returns dating to 2000, something that the Clintons have yet to do.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Sen. Clinton has pledged to appoint an attorney general with a solid record of public accountability while Obama has promised to use technology to make the federal government more transparent even broadcasting cabinet meetings over the Internet.

-- Douglas Turner

            

               

Does Obama's explanation satisfy you?

0318blogobama WASHINGTON - Illinois Sen. Barack Obama sought to quell a firestorm about remarks his former pastor made by giving an address in Philadelphia on Tuesday about race and his quest to bring America together.

The speech was prompted by disclosures of remarks made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright in recent years at Chicago's United Church of Christ, which Obama attended for two decades.

  Wright's quotes, broadcast by cable news organizations, particularly Fox News, and circulated on the Internet in recent days, blamed the 9/11 attacks on repressive white Americans, accused whites of deliberately infecting African Americans with HIV/AIDS, and supporting apartheid in Africa.

    Obama has made several attempts to deal with the information, including statements that he did not know Wright was saying such things, and that he had not been in church when the remarks were made.

    On Tuesday however, Obama said: "Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely."

    Obama said he condemns Wright's statements, but said he would not repudiate him as a man.

     "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect."

     As prepared by The Associated Press, here are excerpts of some of Rev. Wright's comments.
      -- In a sermon after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001:

   "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Wright said. "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

  --In a 2003 sermon, he said blacks should condemn the United States:

   "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

  -- Promoting Obama's candidacy in a sermon last December:

   "Barack knows what it means to be a black man to be living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that. Hillary ain't never been called a n-----."

    Some have defended Wright's comments as typical of some sermons in some African-American churches. Others criticize Obama for waiting so long to denounce Wright's views, saying that it is an indication that Obama lacks the judgement to be commander in chief.

   What do you think?

     --Douglas Turner

Clinton in dire need of a new punchline

   CLEVELAND -- So maybe Hillary Clinton should hire a new punchline writer.

   Last week at a debate in Austin, Texas, she upbraided Barack Obama for purloining passages of a supporter's speech, calling it "change you can Xerox."

   The audience booed.

   And last night here in Cleveland, she complained that she always gets the first question at debates.

   "You know, I'll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious. And if anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow," she said.

   The audience groaned.

   For his part, Obama tends to avoid these sort of zingers, and thus maybe doesn't get his debate clips picked up quite so often afterwards.

   But the question is: Why does Clinton, a candidate with a notoriously high "negative" rating, persist in lobbing pointed bon mots at the man who' is beating her in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination?

   Is it helping her in any way?

  -- Jerry Zremski

Obama gets it in gear

   WASHINGTON — So much for the Clinton machine.

   It turns out that Barack Obama, the former community organizer from the city that gave political machines a bad name, is out-organizing Hillary Clinton in state after state.

   Combine that with the fact that Obama's message is resonating better with voters, and the fact that he's out-raising Clinton on the Internet, and it's no wonder that the Illinois senator is the new Democratic front-runner.

   Obama has a lead in delegates now, and given that the Democratic Party divides its delegates proportionally based on primary performance, the Obama campaign argues that it will be very difficult for Clinton to regain the lead.

   But what of the Clinton machine? Wasn't she supposed to have the can't-miss connections that would fill her campaign coffers and guarantee that the voters would turn out for her?

   Whatever happened?

— Jerry Zremski

Giuliani finds out Sept. 11 was a long time ago

   Just six weeks ago, Rudy Giuliani's standing in the national presidential polls had his legions of local supporters riding high.

   But after new polls on Monday showed the former mayor of New York badly trailing Sen. John McCain … even on home turf … just about everyone realizes he must win Florida or pack up and come home.

   His local supporters, however, remain optimistic.

   "These polls are just a snapshot in time," said Erie County Republican Chairman James P. Domagalski, a top Giuliani supporter in Western New York. "These polls have changed literally 100 times.

   "But regardless of the poll," he added, "I believe New Yorkers will vote for their favorite son … Rudy Giuliani. When they get into the voting booth, they'll remember what he did on Sept. 11."

   That started out as the central Giuliani strategy … cast the former mayor as the leader who took decisive action in the tragedy's aftermath and as someone who could deal with terrorists and rogue states around the world.

   But amid a plummeting stock market and mounting fears of a national recession, some observers say that theme no longer ranks as the top concern of Florida … or even New York … voters. As a result, the former mayor is retooling and shooting at McCain for opposing President Bush's tax cut program several years ago.

   Now the Giuliani hope is that the large crowds he has been drawing in Florida will translate into a victory there on Jan. 29, and that the original strategy of building on that momentum for "Super Duper Tuesday" (which includes New York), will still hold true.

---  Robert J. McCarthy

Iowa horse trading

DES MOINES, Iowa — Caucus rhymes with raucous, and it turns out that it could not be any more fitting.

For proof, witness what happened Thursday at McCombs Middle School on the outskirts of Des Moines. About 160 people crammed into the school cafeteria and went to the area designated for the candidate they were supporting, except for the handful that looked like they were lost.

Then the caucus chairman announced that everybody had better stay put, because the counting was going to begin soon.

And then all politics broke loose.

The huge Clinton contingent at the center of the room sat smug and quiet while the slightly smaller Obama crowd in the corner whooped and hollered.

Worse yet, the poor caucus-goers supporting losing candidates like Joe Biden and Chris Dodd had to fend off emissaries from the Clinton, Obama and John Edwards camps, who pleaded with them to abandon the losers for the "viable candidates."

"Your brethren in the New York Fire Department — they're for Hillary!" one middle-age woman beseeched a lonely firefighter for Dodd.

"I have a son who's a firefighter!" a woman from the Edwards camp noted, not that it did any good.

Meanwhile, ambassadors from the Dodd, Biden and Bill Richardson camps negotiated unsuccessfully to merge efforts so that one of the three would get 15 percent of the total caucus goers and thus be "viable."

There was much whispering and marching back and forth among various corners of the room, prompting an organizer from Biden to sum up the caucus process for exactly what it is.

"This is great! It's like Monty Hall … let's make a deal!"

This, friends, is how America starts picking its presidents.

For the record, Clinton won the caucus in Precinct 92, with 60 caucus goers versus 49 for Obama and 46 for Edwards.

But does America win when it begins its elections with these raucous caucuses in a state where the hogs outnumber the people by more than five to one? What do you think?

---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.

[email protected]


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.

[email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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