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Washington Post The Fix blogger Chris Cillizza analyzes Iowa and previews New Hampshire

Friday, January 4, 2008
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HH: To talk Democratic politics, I need someone who covers both sides. Chris Cillizza is a Washingtonpost.com blogger at The Fix. The Daily Fix is always something I start the morning with, as well as the Friday Line. Chris, welcome back, I’m sure you were up late last night. Where do you we find you today? Still in D.C?

CC: Hugh, I am walking into a Mitt Romney event in between two snow banks in Manchester, New Hampshire.

HH: What’s it look like, the level of enthusiasm in there?

CC: Well, I’m not there yet, so I can’t tell. The level of enthusiasm out here is quiet, because it’s just snow.

HH: Okay, I have to think McCain’s got a double digit lead over Mitt Romney right now, judging by the press coverage I’ve been following. But I also see that Romney’s not giving up, and that they’ve just deployed everyone to New Hampshire, trying to make it close there. What’s your sense?

CC: Yeah, Hugh, I think the first thing you said is right on. Look, I think that the worst thing that could have happened to Mitt Romney is what happened, a not very close loss to Mike Huckabee yesterday in Iowa. John McCain has very similar to what he did in 2000, camped out here over the last three or four months, here meaning New Hampshire. Polls, independent polls show him ahead, and I can’t imagine that a nine point, or whatever it wound up being loss by Romney last night to Huckabee is really going to energize people here on his behalf. It’s a tough task. He’s got four days to do it, but it’s not easy.

HH: I’m going to quarrel with you a little bit, because I had lunch today with California State Senator Mark Wyland, one of the smartest guys in California, had California Congressman John Campbell in the studio yesterday, both are Romney guys. And both are angry at what they perceive is the manipulation of this race between Huckabee and McCain to wrest it away from the Reagan coalition. Senator Wyland’s flying to Boston to go to work for the Romney people. So I think you might be wrong about that. I think there’s quite a lot of anger at the attempted coup by the Huckabee-McCain people from the Reagan agenda. Let me play something for you, Christ Cillizza.

CC: Sure.

HH: Moments ago on Fox News Channel, Charlie Bass came out, New Hampshire Congressman, former, retired, endorsed McCain. And here’s why he said why. Listen to this:

CB: John McCain is quite different. He’s been very specific now for years about the things that he thinks are important: climate change, campaign finance reform.

HH: You tell me, Chris, is that a Republican agenda, campaign finance reform and climate change?

CC: (laughing) Yeah, I don’t think if John McCain could have picked the issues that Charlie Bass would talk about, he probably would have wanted him to say the war in Iraq.

HH: Yeah.

CC: No, neither of those things are things that really engage the base. In fact, campaign finance reform is downright upsetting to the base of the party. I know a lot of conservatives said they could never be with McCain, simply because the legislation his name was on limits their grassroots organizing abilities. There’s a lot of anger with him in that sort of activist community. And Hugh, to your earlier point, and this is why I think everyone’s saying, and I agree with you about that this race is over, McCain is going to beat Romney, don’t forget there still exists considerable anger within the Republican base. And we may not see it here, we may see it in South Carolina, we may see it in Michigan. But anger about the base with McCain – immigration, campaign finance reform, these are issues that matter a lot to these people. They feel like McCain is not with them, and there remains this lingering sense that McCain is just not one of them. They may not be able to put a finger on it, but he doesn’t fit with them. And you know, who does fit with them? Is it Huckabee? Is it Romney? Is it Fred Thompson? I can’t imagine it’s Rudy Giuliani, but you know, I’m just throwing all the names out there. There is a sense that it’s not McCain. And it is hard to win a Republican primary, as John McCain found out in 2000, when the base isn’t with you.

HH: Now of course, he won New Hampshire against Bush in 2000 on the strength of independent votes, Chris Cillizza. Now, independents have two races to choose from which are interesting. Which way do you best most independents go? Towards the D or towards the R on Tuesday?

CC: Well, Hugh, I don’t know, but look back at 2006. You saw a Democratic governor in New Hampshire be reelected with 70% of the vote. You saw both Republican incumbent Congressmen thrown out. You saw huge gains for Democrats in the state legislature. That didn’t just come from Democratic voting. That came from a lot of independents going out and voting Democratic. That, I think, should be worrisome to McCain. Barack Obama is a huge, both national and international story at the moment. Because the calendar’s so compressed, there’s just four days. You know, I can’t imagine this dying down anytime in the near future. McCain has to convince independents, or at least a significant enough number, that they should bypass Obama and go with him. But it’s not going to be easy. New Hampshire is no longer a toss-up state. At least based on 2006, this is a state that tilts towards Democrats because independents are acting like Democrats these days here.

HH: In the campaign coverage of today, no one has asked McCain, I haven’t seen it reported, whether or not he will positively swear off matching funds. Matching funds, of course, would doom the Republican Party, because they’re going to get outspent by Obama or Hillary. Have you heard him swear off matching funds, John McCain today, Chris Cillizza?

CC: No, I have not. I’m going to try and hit an event of his after this, and we’ll try and put that to him. Look, we talked about this the last time I was on, Hugh. I agree with you. This is a big issue. You know, McCain, it’s no secret McCain’s fundraising has lagged. And you know, some of that is lost in this coverage about how well he is doing in New Hampshire. But without money, I don’t know how McCain plays in Michigan, I don’t know how he plays in South Carolina, and I certainly don’t know how he plays in Florida, California, Georgia, Illinois, some of these huge states on February 5th. I think that’s…you know, I think we gloss over a lot of things with McCain rising in the polls. It’s a great political comeback story. But remember two things. One is the money, and two is the base, and those are questions he’s going to have to answer.

HH: And let me also put the theory out there, Chris, that this could be a giant head fake. We’ve got Huckabee riding a very narrow and very adamant group of people, born again Evangelicals in Iowa. He’s not even going to finish second in New Hampshire, which kind of underscores what Huckabee’s campaign is all about, identity politics. Then you’ve got a very narrow, very momentum-driven McCain campaign. They’re putting it together on a wing and a prayer. Media’s going along with it. But come February 5th, we could be back where we were with a Rudy-Romney race.

CC: I mean, that’s the thing, Hugh. When Mike Huckabee won this race, won Iowa last night, he threw this thing into an absolute chaotic mess. You know, Rudy Giuliani is sitting, praying and hoping this thing remains chaotic all the way through January 29th, which is when Florida is. I don’t see a way that it can be resolved in any way, shape or form before South Carolina, certainly, and that’s got Michigan, Nevada and then South Carolina to go. But probably, Florida, and into February 5th, there’s just too many places where a candidate can claim a win without any one of them winning enough states to claim a mandate.

HH: Last question, Chris. Hillary Clinton took a blow much more significant than Mitt Romney, because she was built on inevitability, not on a momentum and depth and breadth, et cetera. Can she recover?

CC: You know, Hugh, I don’t know. I’ve just been on the ground, and so I’m going to try and figure that out over the next couple days. Here’s the hard thing, is that the thing working for her is her campaign organization is excellent in this state, probably better than it was in Iowa. But you know, as we saw with Huckabee, momentum can overwhelm organization. If it was an organizational battle, Mitt Romney would have won the Iowa Caucuses. Mike Huckabee used momentum, used energy, used an organic sort of model to win, and so I think that’s what has to worry the Clinton people. She lost among every demographic group that matters. They did, women did dominate the Iowa Caucuses, but Barack Obama won them. You know, he won people of all different income levels. He won people from all over the state. I mean, there isn’t a lot of good news for her when you look at those entrance polls. It was a pretty stunning rebuke.

HH: And mark this down, as people on the Republican side begin to recognize Obama as the candidate, they’re not going to turn to a 72 year old Vietnam-era generational figure to lead against a generation jumper. Chris Cillizza, I’ll be reading The Fix all weekend, www.washingtonpost.com/thefix. We’ll talk to you next week, hopefully on election day in New Hampshire.

End of interview.

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