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Washington Post The Fix blogger Chris Cillizza gives analysis of Iowa and New Hampshire, one week out from the Iowa Caucus

Saturday, December 29, 2007

HH: Joined now by Chris Cillizza. He’s a Washington Post blogger at The Fix. Chris, welcome. Let’s start on the Democratic side. Friday’s when you put your line out. How do you see this shaping up as we head into the home stretch in Iowa?

CC: Well, Hugh, let me first caveat it by saying I don’t really know, but that doesn’t stop me from making predictions.

HH: Nobody does.

CC: (laughing) Look, my sense is, and in talking to people out there, and I’m headed out there myself tomorrow, my sense is that we’ve seen a little bit of a mini-burst for Senator Clinton. Now that’s not terribly surprising. You know, she had really dipped down a few weeks ago, there were stories every day about how there was infighting in the campaign, all those old Clinton things that voters don’t like to be reminded of. She gets the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, and things start to look up. She’s now focused on this message that she spent a week and a half talking about how she is a real human being, and you know, having people vouch for her in any number of ways. And now, she’s trying to close on a strength and experience message, which frankly, she got in unforeseen, and probably, frankly, in unwelcome but nonetheless a boost from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. You know, anytime you see chaos in the world, people turn on their televisions, see riots, see all that sort of thing, people tend to choose safer candidates. They tend to go with the people they know, as opposed to taking a risk. And if that is the case this time, that helps Senator Clinton.

HH: Now Chris, the blog, Sweetness and Light, and other bloggers like Mark Levin, have pointed out that she significantly overstated her relationship with Benazir Bhutto. Does that sort of exaggeration matter to the Democratic roots that will participate in the Caucus?

CC: I don’t think so. I mean, you know, I think that a lot of these things that go on are things that I pay attention to, you pay attention to, and a significant segment of people pay attention to. But I’m not sure your average voter pays attention to it. I think they sort of have a general sense of the thrust of the media coverage, and where these things are going. And my guess, and this is only a guess, but my guess would be your average voter, if we called 200 Iowa Democrats tonight, and asked about Hillary Clinton and Benazir Bhutto, they would say they’re friends, they knew each other.

HH: Yup.

CC: Now maybe we would run into ten or fifteen who would say well, I’m not sure, she said they’re friends, but I’ve heard since that she may have overstated it. I just don’t think people follow politics at the granular level that we follow it at. And so I think we have to be careful. I know, I run into this all the time. You have to be careful that assuming that what we know about a situation is what everyone knows about a situation.

HH: Right. Now what about the Edwards surge, which I’m reading about on websites and news sites all across the internet today? Is John Edwards sneaking up on the both of them in Iowa?

CC: You know, he has a message that if you sit down, and I’ve done this, if you sit down and listen to five minutes of Edwards, Clinton and Obama, their stump speech, the stump speech that gets you off of your chair is Edwards. You know, he’s talking about we need to take power from the corporate interests, and these people have disenfranchised us…

HH: You sure that’s not Mike Huckabee?

CC: (laughing) You know, I will say there is a similarity in their stump speeches, between Huckabee and Edwards. It’s both this sort of populism, that you need to be empowered. It’s about you, it’s not about me. It’s about us all fighting together. The Edwards message is very, very sharp. And people respond to it. Now the question is, is when they go into this Caucus next Thursday night, are they going to say yeah, I like Edwards, but you know, I don’t think he can win, I’m going to go with either Obama or Clinton? Or are they going to stand up for him, literally? I think it’s probably likely they stand up for him. Remember, these are people, many of whom have been with this guy since late 2003, early 2004, and have stayed with him through Clinton and Obama, you know, arguably the two hugest stars who can run. You know, Bill Clinton can’t run anymore, but who could run in this race. They’ve stood with him, so I can’t imagine them abandoning him at the last minute. I do think it’s real, I think it’s largely based on the fact that this guy’s message is very sharp right now, and really appeals to those Democratic base voters.

HH: Now I think on the Republican side, first of all, you still have Romney in the pole position. You still have him ranked number one on the line.

CC: I do.

HH: And I agree with you on that.

CC: Okay.

HH: I also think he tricked John McCain into fighting on the wrong terrain for McCain. He got McCain to get angry about immigration. They’re sending around the e-mails this afternoon. They’re quoting Howard Kurtz. And so that puts the McCain-Kennedy immigration bills of ’05, ’06 and then the big bust up bill of ’07 front and center, and in front of a Republican electorate that hated everything John McCain stood for through those debates.

CC: That’s absolutely…Hugh, that’s just what I was talking about before, about people maybe, your average voter maybe not grasping every single detail of what’s going on. The broad thing they hear is McCain and immigration, right?

HH: Right.

CC: And so that reminds them, wait a minute, John McCain, he’s not as conservative as he says he is. You know, he was part of this bill. I think you’re right. I think that’s territory…Mitt Romney, I think, fights a fight over immigration with John McCain every single day of this campaign if he can.

HH: Oh, clearly. We just did that last hour, I’ll replay that next hour, and he was very eager to contrast the positions on this.

CC: Absolutely, because he knows it’s a winning issue for him. I think your sense is exactly right. It’s like when Republicans are fighting Democrats on health care, it is likely Democrats will win that fight, just simply because the American people have a perception that Democrats are more trusted on that issue. McCain has very little credibility on immigration with the Republican base, which you know better than I do. And so any time he’s talking about immigration, it’s an uphill fight for him, no matter how reasonable he is, no matter how many times he says I’ve learned my lesson, people want to enforce the borders. You know, voters have a long, long memory, and they remember his name was on that bill with Ted Kennedy. That’s the double whammy.

HH: Twice…twice. Now let’s talk about Rudy. He’s in Iowa, and I’m just stumped. He’s so far down in the polls. Do you think that he knows something we don’t know? Or is it just an attempt to stay relevant where the cameras are?

CC: I think it’s an attempt to stay relevant where the cameras are. This was always the problem that I think many people identified with the Giuliani campaign, which is that sure, the number of raw delegates that are given out in these five early voting states aren’t that large, in that in places like Florida on the 29th, and then in California and Illinois that the delegate counts are much larger. But you and I both know this, in the last thirty years or so, this is not a mathematical fight for the nomination. This is all about symbolism and momentum, and you know, it’s not about well, such and such has 231 delegates, and such and such has 229. It just doesn’t come down to that, or it hasn’t in recent political history, and that’s the problem for Giuliani, is every reporter is either in Iowa, well, is in Iowa now, or going to Iowa. Then, they’re going to be in New Hampshire, then they’re going to be in Michigan and South Carolina and Nevada. And in not one of those states can Rudy Giuliani say I’m going to win, or frankly, I’m going to finish second.

HH: Yeah.

CC: So that’s basically one full month of full bore, full press political coverage in every newspaper, radio station and television outlet, radio in this country, that leaves him out of it. Can he last that long? Or will people just say you know what? The race has sort of passed him by. I think at the moment, he’s feeling a little bit trapped, which is why you see him in Iowa, trying to say hey look, I’m here, I’m fighting, I’m still in this campaign.

HH: Because I think he’s also counting on if Romney falters, he gets Romney’s people, and I think he might be right about that. At least he gets me.

CC: The question is can he last that long, and I don’t know.

HH: Right. All right, 45 seconds, Chris, and people should be reading The Fix all weekend long, the interest level at my blog, I’m sure as yours, has gone through the roof…

CC: Yeah, it’s great.

HH: And we’re working hard all weekend long on this stuff. Mike Huckabee’s had, depending on how you count, five or six major gaffes. Now each one of them doesn’t matter, but when you do that in 24 hours, do people notice?

CC: I think they do. I think people still have doubts about Mike Huckabee, is he up to the job. They like him, but remember, in these last four or five days, people, I really do, voters in Iowa, give a close examination. Is this a guy who I can imagine being in the White House? This Bhutto assassination, I think, has put Huckabee on the spot. What would he look like if he was president, and I, like you said, one in a vacuum isn’t a big deal. Five or six is a problem, because it lends to a perception that this guy may…

HH: Have a big problem. Chris Cillizza, thank you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

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