On location in New Hampshire

I am in New Hampshire. (Iowa would have been nice, but I am self-funded, and the logistics of Iowa are cost-prohibitive)

I will be in the pool today with John McCain. This weekend, I hope to be with all the candidates.

Last night I got in late, and decided to catch the end of John McCain’s townhall in Laconia. The snow was awful, and the snow had not been plowed yet. But the Laconia VFW was packed. The parking lot was full. The parking lot of the shopping mall next door was full. Unfortunately, something went wrong with the video I shot. The local Laconia paper covered it. McCain focused almost exclusively on foreign policy.

Incidentally, the only ads I have seen on TV are from Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Romney’s are all negative all the time. Rudy’s are solid, but non of the earned media seems consistent with the message. And Paul is talking about stopping foreign students, which is dumb and delusional.

Romney ad “misleading”; McCain responds

Mitt Romney dropped a negative ad in New Hampshire attacking John McCain. However, it seems that Romney, again, has some truthiness problems. Given the factual errors below, it is clear why McCain goes straight to Romney’s credibility problem.

Factcheck.org, "More Mitt Malarky":

Romney’s latest ad attacks McCain in New Hampshire with false and misleading claims

WaPo’s Howie Kurtz:

Mitt Romney, who targeted Mike Huckabee in an earlier commercial, is now running the most negative campaign of any presidential candidate in either party. … Romney’s description of McCain’s failed immigration bill — which was backed by President Bush — is so selective as to be misleading.

New York Times:

Specifically, Mr. Romney assails Mr. McCain on both tax policies and immigration. On both topics, the commercial presents facts that could be construed either as selective or worse, misleading.

Mark Halperin from Time points out:

First negative ad against Romney by any candidate, first negative ad by McCain, first negative ad by any candidate besides Romney.

Negative campaigning. Lying. Debating what the definition of "saw" is. Who does that sound like?

Desperate Romney flip-flops and goes negative in NH

UPDATE: NYT fact-checks the ad. Some misleadin’ and some makin’ up.

This is pretty funny. Mitt Romney told Jill Zuckerman of the Chicago Tribune reporters should stop looking at his "old quotes":

"I know that there are some—particularly in opposing campaigns—who will try to look at old quotes, and perhaps take them out of context and perhaps not, and go back 14 years or 15 years, and say, ‘You said this here, you said that there,’ " said Romney. "But… if you want to know what I’d do as president, you can see what I did as governor."

14 or 15 years? How about 24 hours? The closing graf was:

Romney’s campaign produced two television ads Wednesday in New Hampshire. He said both were positive, containing his closing argument to voters, and that he has not yet decided whether to air any "contrast" or negative ads.

Let’s be clear. Wednesday (afternoon?) Romney told the Trib reporter that they are going positive. By Friday morning, they were going negative, according to the AP:

Mitt Romney takes GOP presidential rival John McCain to task on taxes and immigration in a new advertising push in New Hampshire as he seeks to fend off the Arizona senator’s challenge.

Of course, Romney’s problem is that he is out of credibility. As the Union-Leader pointed out, "the more Mitt Romney speaks, the less believable he becomes."

You know though. Maybe he was right. He did flip-flop in under 48 hours as governor in some cases. Or maybe the Wednesday night tracking polls were that bad. Or maybe (probably?) he just lied to a reporter. Again.

The closing argument: Experience versus management

It is clear that in Iowa, the debate is not  about experience. It will be a fight between Mitt Romney’s money and Mike Huckabee’s churches. There are real doubts that Huckabee can sustain a challenge to any mainstream GOP candidate. Ultimately, his foreign policy and other flubs might create real problems. One imagines the pressure of the establishment and the media turning on him in a big way.

The fight in New Hampshire seems increasingly the decisive one on the GOP side. (Of course, if Fred Thompson were to come in 3rd in Iowa, that might shift to South Carolina) There, the fight is between Romney and John McCain. Especially in the context of the Bhutto assassination, McCain is trying to frame the debate as around experience, as is Hillary Clinton. Romney is focusing on judgment:

“If the answer for leading the country is someone that has a lot of foreign policy experience, we can just go down to the state department and pick up any one of the tens of thousands of people who spent all their life in foreign policy,” he said. “That is not what a nation needs in a president. The person that is president of the United States we look to have leadership skill. Which is the ability to assemble a great team of people, to be able to guide and direct them to understand what decision has to be made on the basis of data and analysis and debate and deliberation. An individual who knows how to make difficult decisions.”

Romney is focusing on his ability to "manage", something long-time campaign-mouthpiece Hugh Hewitt has focused on. There is a reason that Hewitt and Romney focus on management skills. He doesn’t have much in terms of experience. As Hugh says in his book on Romney:

And Romney knows the war. He he worked to learn its complexities and the nature of our diverse enemies, constantly reading the sorts of books that must be absorbed.

McCain contrasts this "book-learning" with his knowledge. From the Des Moines Register:

"I knew Benazir Bhutto. I know Musharraf very well," McCain told an audience of about 200 at the Elks Club in Urbandale. "If I were president of the United States I would be on the phone right now and I would be meeting with the National Security Council."

Seemingly a contrast between book-smarts and street-smarts. McCain knows the actors (thus his thoughts about Putin, which President Bush seems to have gotten wrong and McCain right) and operates from that position. One gets to argue from data though. How have people argued in the past from the input of experts? Ronald Reagan, of course, rejected the experts on "tear[ing] down that wall" and the SALT Treaty. He even created a new intelligence agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency because he wasn’t satisfied with the experts at the CIA.

Of course, if you rely too much on the experts, you run into the problem of being "brainwashed by the generals and the diplomats," to quote Romney’s father.  (National Journal/MSNBC notes that Romney is closing on, in part, his father) It seems that if you take Romney’s "judgment" answer, you are trapped by your advisers, a problem that Reagan transcended.If you have your own experience, you have something to work with.

I think that I know where I would prefer to be. I wonder where the people of New Hampshire will land.

Rudy pulling out of NH?

The Nashua Telegraph is suggesting that Rudy Giuliani is pulling television ads from New Hampshire media markets. If the theory is right that Rudy splits votes with John McCain, then this should help McCain in NH. Presumably Rudy is going to spend the money in South Carolina or Florida, where he is struggling. Anyways, all the details from the Telegraph:

Pulling out

Giuliani is moving resources (read $$$) out of the New Hampshire media market.

Giuliani scaled way back on his TV buys on Boston stations for this week compared to last week.

It’s important to note that Giuliani didn’t alter his high level of ad volume on WMUR.

Romney leads (what a shock!) the Republican field with about $250,000 a week on WMUR. Giuliani is in the range of $180,000 a week and McCain is third with roughly $120,000.

Huckabee began his first New Hampshire advertising buy with about $40,000 a week on WMUR.

In the case of Boston TV however, records confirm Giuliani’s team purchased one large number of TV spots and then trimmed it back or canceled it six days later.

The examples:

• WHDH, Channel 7 – $102,745 in ads bought Dec. 5; changed to $40,700 worth of ads bought Dec. 11.

• WLVI, sister station, Channel 56 – $20,300 in ads bought Dec. 5, that ad buy canceled Dec. 11.

In other cases, the per-week spending on other Boston stations previously by the Giuliani campaign will be considerably less than it had been.

Other examples:

• WFXT, Fox – Had spent $67,000 a week before; now $20,000 a week.

• WCVB, Channel 5 – Previous ad total cut by 50 percent.

• WBZ, Channel 4 – Cut by 50 percent.

• WSBK – Cut by 50 percent.

This could be part of a strategy to shift more ad money to Florida, where some polls show his large lead slipping, or to Michigan, which votes a week after New Hampshire and is Romney’s birth state.

An attempt to reach the Giuliani campaign for comment was unsuccessful.

Giuliani will be back on Monday with one public stop at Goss International in Dover. Spies report that Foster’s Daily Democrat has secured the first editorial board interview with Giuliani on the same day.

Fox News: Romney mailer “is not true”

Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday called one of Mitt Romney’s mailers in New Hampshire "not true." Watch the video.

What is Romney’s strategy? Lie about everything through the primary? CNN caught him being dodgy yesterday. But the guy has the money to do it.

I don’t think that the Republican Party wants a guy who spends millions of his own money to spread lies about other Republicans. I just think that the party is more decent than that.

UPDATE: Quote of the day from Rudy Giuliani’s campaign:

"Mitt Romney’s already changed his own position on illegal immigration, so it should come as no surprise that he’s trying to change everybody else’s position as well."

Union Leader endorses McCain; Romney goes negative

Drudge is reporting that the NH Union Leader is endorsing John McCain tomorrow. My gut is that, as newspaper endorsements go, this is a relatively big deal. The UL is influential in NH, and it can also drive local media.

For a while people thought that Mitt Romney was going to get this endorsement. It was long the conventional wisdom that Judd Gregg would go with Romney, and Joe McQuaid, the UL editor, is very close to Gregg. In fact, NH sources tell me, McQuaid called Gregg to tell him about the endorsement, as a courtesy and recognition of their long friendship. Unfortunately, the Romney campaign had no such deference to the friendship. They leaked the story to Drudge and started moving around negative material on McCain.

Typical Romney scorched-earth tactics. Of course, if the recent Fox News poll is any indication, Romney may end up with something to worry about in NH.

Of course, it seemed that a McCain endorsement was likely. They had whacked Fred Thompson repeatedly. McQuaid is very pro-life, and so Rudy was out of the question. And McQuaid had attacked Romney on abortion:

CAN PRO-LIFE Americans count on Mitt Romney to protect the unborn? Maybe, but Romney has not been convincing on this point. …

That is not reassuring. It is a tacit admission that he told the people of Massachusetts what they wanted to hear, essentially saying he would govern according to state law and not his own personal beliefs, but then governing according to those personal beliefs. …

Romney has given two accounts of his changing views on abortion. One is that he was pro-choice until 2005, when he became pro-life after researching stem cell issues. The other is that he was personally pro-life but refused to impose his views on the people of Massachusetts.

Both cannot be true. Which is it? We are not sure we care. But we do care that Romney has two stories that don’t mesh and appears to have inadvertently admitted to taking a position on this issue because it was politically expedient to do so.

In Iowa, Romney’s line that he is tired of people being "holier than thou" because they’ve been pro-life longer than he has was a good one. But it’s not about who’s been pro-life longer. It’s about whether Romney really is pro-life. Despite his assurances, we, along with many conservatives, are not convinced he is.

What happens if the UL really goes after Romney? An extended attack on Romney’s credibility could do a lot of damage. And there’s plenty of material.

The strange anti-Romney push poll

Let me start with a story.

Several years ago, in a swing House seat, volunteers for the Democratic candidate, started calling the finance committee of the Republican candidate, three days out. The message? That the Democratic candidate was a Jew and "we can’t let another Jew get in office." The Democrat volunteers identified themselves on the call as Republican volunteers. The Republican campaign was inundated with outraged phone calls from the finance team demanding that they stop. A couple of hours later, the Republican campaign obtained solid evidence that it was Democrat volunteers. And the Republican candidate called the Democrat candidate and threatened legal action of the calls didn’t stop. The Democrat candidate denied having anything to do with it, but the calls stopped within about 15 minutes of the calls.

The point is that sleazy, disgusting things happen in the world of telephones. And in the hurly-burly world of politics, there are plenty of examples of things not seeming what they are. And they involve vile attacks, usually bigoted, hitting highly targeted lists of people.

I use that as an introduction to the whole IA/NH anti-Romney push poll stories. Phil Elliott at the AP and the Politico’s Jonathan Martin have stories about this. Several facts jumped out at me that make it clear that this is a made for outrage, made for media thing.

First, they called a Romney supporting IA State Rep. From the AP story:

In Iowa, Romney supporter and state representative Ralph Watts got a call on Wednesday.

"I was offended by the line of questioning," Watts said. "I would be equally as offended if someone called and said in the nature of if, ‘you know the Catholic Church supported pedophile priests.’ I don’t think it has any place in politics."

My educated guess is that Rep. Watts was put on the list because he would report it to the Romney campaign and the media. I would assume that the next call by Rep. Watts was to the Romney IA state director. Again, made for media and made for outrage.

Second, the questions. It seems clear that there was an attempt to link this to the John McCain campaign. How do we know? According to Jonathan Martin, a bunch of the questions were positives about John McCain. Did McCain do this? Of course not. It doesn’t make any sense for them to be doing these in Iowa, where they basically aren’t competing. They are low on cash. And everyone knows that John McCain is a war hero. What’s the plus? Furthermore, as recent activity as indicated, they understand that they need to go through Rudy Giuliani, not Mitt Romney.

Third, there was also an attempt to muddy the waters by linking it to former vendor for Giuliani’s pollster. Although there is plenty of evidence that the Giuliani campaign is not behind it, at least not directly.

I have another question. If someone is trying to slime Mitt Romney with his religion, do they really go to a Utah-based call center run by people in Romney’s world? Wouldn’t they know that it would get out? What does it tell us if it doesn’t?