Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from Andrew Malcolm

Category: Caucus

Bill Clinton to do lunch with Senate Democrats, look at 2010 elections without healthcare reform

President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton at Ted Kennedy's funeral Aug. 29, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put out the word last night -- this is a must-attend event.

Former President Clinton, whose presidency and arguably his marriage were clouded by his failure in 1994 to enact healthcare reform, is doing lunch today with Senate Democrats.

His expected topic: what the 2010 elections might look like for Democrats if the Senate fails again to pass healthcare reform.

The weekly lunch is of course closed to reporters, but already speculation is rife that Clinton -- on a mission for the Obama White House -- will focus his attention on the moderates whose votes could prove pivotal.

And he has personal ties to most of them. Clinton knew Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson when they both were governors. There's the Arkansas connection to the state's two Democratic senators -- Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. And he and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman were once close personally. Of course that was before Clinton was impeached for lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which Lieberman decried as immoral.

Here's a younger Clinton, addressing Congress on healthcare in 1993.

Then as now, as MSNBC's First Read noted, "Clinton's at his best when he's giving others political advice, and he excels at framing an argument better than just about anyone on the political stage today."

Aside from politics, no word yet on what they are having for lunch.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: President Obama and former President Clinton at the Boston funeral for Sen. Ted Kennedy. Credit: Getty Images

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Iowa caucuses move to Saturday in '10, likely '12; Good seats available

Milking a Cow the Old-fashioned Way

Anyone who's anyone who likes endless talking will want to mark their January 2010 calendars now: And book a ticket on the train.

The Iowa caucuses, those clumsy, endless exercises in evening democracy while the farmfields sleep every other January, have been moved. They will no longer be on a weekday evening with everyone having to get up early in a few hours for work in offices, factories or livestock barns.

Now, both party's caucuses will be on a Saturday --1 p.m. Central time Jan. 23. So the Hawkeyes football season will be over. Might cut into a basketball or hockey game, but Iowa isn't Indiana or Minnesota.

The scheduling switcheroo is a bipartisan experiment in buzz generation on what are normally off-year snoozefests, with the thinking being the real caucuses in January of 2012 will also be on the weekend if things turn out successfully.

Both years' attention is likely to focus more on Republicans, who will have to come up with a challenger for incumbent Democrat Gov. Chet Culver next year. And in 2012 they'll have to do the same thing for the GOP presidential ticket, since everyone assumes aging Joe Biden will bump what's-his-name out of the way for top spot on the Democrat ticket.

Just kidding. What's-his-name will be doing the bumping.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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With Michael Jackson still dead, Democrats launch major caucus-primary reforms

Despite the nation's pop paralysis over the death of sad singer Michael Jackson, the Democratic National Committee's Change Commission begins its complicated work tomorrow of reforming the procedures, timing and rules of that party's convention delegate selection process.

What comes from this series of meetings, that sprouted from the long bitter struggle last year between Barack Obama and a NMissouri Democrat Senator Claire McCaskillew York senator, could radically alter the way Democrats pick their presidential candidates for many elections starting in 2012.

As The Ticket reported here in March, it's a delicate delegate process because certain states -- we'll call them Iowa and New Hampshire -- believe they have a right handed down by Thomas Jefferson to go first in the selection process, which is deemed to make them more important. Or at least help fill the state's hotels and restaurants and empty the rental car lots during a normal winter's months when inbound flights to Des Moines often have vacant seats.

At the "suggestion" of its nominee at last summer's Democratic National Convention in Denver, delegates voted to establish a commission to examine everything including improving the caucus process, which can seem even longer than Iowa winters, reducing the number of unpledged delegates and quite possibly tinkering with the calendar window for the caucuses and primaries for the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Co-chairs of the Change Commission are Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina. There'll be a lot of talking starting Saturday at 9:30 Eastern in the Capitol Hilton. They'll start with history lessons and a speech by DNC Chair Tim Kaine, who isn't the governor of New Jersey despite VP Joe Biden's comments.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Dick Whipple / Associated Press

With new (green) hope, Barack Obama visits old Newton, Iowa -- text

The patient Maytag Man whose washing machines were so good he never got any service calls

Barack Obama returned to Iowa today.

No, not for that again already. Caucus preparations are still weeks away.

The president flew all the way out to midcountry in his large airplane to the Hawkeye State to talk about saving the environment and developing green energy, which a 747 isn't. But who would ever point out such an inconsistent, inconvenient truth unless it involved evil automobile chief executives in their private jets?

Anyway, Obama went to Newton. Ring a bell? Newton, Iowa? Onetime headquarters home of Maytag, a famous American thing that they don't manufacture there anymore. Nor in Searcy, Ark. Nor in Herrin, Ill. Which made even Maytag women unemployed.

Ever since 2006, one more thing that's clearly Bush's fault. No, better yet, Bush-Cheney, Obama's evil cousin. Eight long years. All that.

So here below is what the country's new chief executive said there about the good news he sees developing now in Newton. And hopefully elsewhere. We have a video excerpt down there too.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Remarks by President Obama at Clean Energy at Trinity Structural Towers, Newton, Iowa, April 22, 2009

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you, Rich, for the great introduction. Thank you very much. Please, everybody have a seat. (UPDATE: The prepared speech opening has been edited to reflect the additional remarks the president inserted.)

It is good to be back in Newton, and it's a privilege to be here at Trinity Structural Towers.  I've got a couple of special thank-yous that I want to make, because I've got a lot of old friends -- not old in years, but been friends for a long time now. 

First of all, your outstanding governor, Chet Culver, please give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  His wonderful wife, Mari, I see over here.  She's not on the card, but -- (applause.)  My outstanding secretary of Agriculture, who I plucked from Iowa, Tom Vilsack and his wonderful wife, Christie Vilsack.  (Applause.) 

We've got the attorney general of Iowa, one of my co-chairs when I ran in the Iowa caucus and nobody could pronounce my name -- Tom Miller.  (Applause.)  My other co-chair, Mike Fitzgerald, treasurer of Iowa.  (Applause.)  We got the Iowa secretary of state, Mike Mauro.  There he is.  (Applause.)  We've got your outstanding member of Congress who's working hard for Newton all the time, Leonard Boswell.  (Applause.)  And your own pride of Newton, Mayor Chaz Allen.  (Applause.)  There he is, back there.  It's good to see you again, Chaz.  

It is terrific to be here -- and by the way, I've got a whole bunch of folks here who were active in the campaign, and precinct captains.  And I just want to thank all of them for showing up, and to all the great workers who are here at this plant -- thank you.  (Applause.)

I just had a terrific tour of the facility led by several of the workers and managers who operate this plant.  It wasn't too long ago, as Rich said, that Maytag closed its operations in Newton.  And hundreds of jobs were lost. These floors were dark and silent.  The only signs of a once-thriving enterprise were the cement markings where the equipment had been before they were boxed up and carted away.

Today, this facility is alive again with new industry. This community continues to struggle, and not everyone has been so fortunate as to be rehired, but more than 100 people will now be....

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Six days to the presidency, Obama issues first veto threat, senator says

Well, that didn't take long.

President-elect Barack Obama is still 6.75 days away from inauguration as No. 44, and according to the omnipresent Ryan Grim quoting the omni-voluble Sen. Joe Lieberman on HuffingtonPost, the Connecticut sort-of member of the Democratic congressional caucus emerged from today's closed lunch to say that the almost-president had issued his first solid veto threat.

And here we thought the new presidency and new Congress were controlled by Democrats determined to work together. Ah, the smell of gridlock in the afternoon.

It's one of those bass-ackwards deals that Washington operatives love, involving the president asking for dispersal of the next $350 billion of the bailout/stimulus money and if Congress doesn't stop it in 15 days, then it happens. But if Congress does move to stop it, Obama reportedly says he'll veto the stop.

Maybe it's a muscle marker to former colleagues, like an elbow to the chin on the first play from scrimmage. But it sounds like something very familiar to believe in.

Got it? Get it.

Thanks, Joe. Thanks, Ryan.

--Andrew Malcolm

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A new poll shows Barack Obama is winning the youth vote, beer vote

Beer_7 Barack Obama has locked down the youth vote, according to a poll released Monday.

The USA Today/MTV/Gallup survey found that 61% of 18- to 29-year-olds who are registered to vote prefer Obama, versus 32% who like John McCain.

The numbers aren't exactly a surprise. Obama has gone to great lengths to reach young people -- many have remarked upon his campaign's technological savvy -- and young voters often lean left.

But the poll revealed some interesting things about the Millennials (that's the nickname given to people born in the years between 1980 and 2000).

For example: 64% of the youth surveyed say they have given the presidential race a lot of thought and 44% of them believe this election is the most important of the last 50 years. And age matters, it seems. More than 70% of those polled said they thought Obama understands the problems of young people better than McCain.

And now to the important stuff: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may need to rethink that "Joe Six-Pack" line of hers. After all, 52% of the young people polled said they would prefer to have a beer with Obama. Only 27% would want to throw one back with McCain.

-- Kate Linthicum

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Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Behind-the-scenes Democratic talks halt caucus reform

DENVER -- Prameela Bartholomeusz is no fan of the Democratic Party’s caucus system, a method used in certain states to select the party’s presidential nominee.

A member of the Platform Committee, Bartholomeusz hoped to get strong language in the party’s new platform opposing caucuses. But at a private meeting the night before the committee met in Pittsburgh, she got word that her issue would be shot down.

Bartholomeusz, who lives in Palo Alto, said she attended a meeting with party Chairman Howard Dean and Barack Obama campaign representatives, where various amendments were hashed out outside public view.

Bartholomeusz supported one that called for doing away with the caucus system in favor of....

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Barack Obama's Iowa connection could cost the state

DENVER -- Iowa no doubt always will occupy a special place in Barack Obama's heart. But might Iowa come to rue the role its Democratic voters played in propelling him toward the party nomination he accepts next week? Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama at a recent townhall meeting with voters in Virginia

David Yepsen, the state's premier political journalist, has raised that prospect.

Iowa could pay a stiff price, Yepsen asserts in the Des Moines Register, if Obama fails to capitalize on the year's Democratic advantages and gets beat in the general election. In that scenario, Yepsen predicts some activists will point an accusing finger at Iowa, seeing in the '08 outcome a repeat of 2004, when John Kerry rode his win in the state's oh-so-important caucuses to the Democratic nomination but then fell short in November.

If Obama likewise loses this fall, Yepsen writes, "Iowa's critics will have more ammunition to make the argument that the state's leadoff position (in the nominaion process) doesn't work for the party, since, once again, it elevated a candidate too liberal or too bad at campaigning to win the general election."

He concludes: "While all Americans have a lot at stake in this presidential election, Iowa also has its caucuses at stake."

Of course, if Obama defeats John McCain, the state that first rallied to his cause will be a lock to retain its special status on the Democratic calendar. And at the moment, Iowa appears prepared to do its part to put Obama in the White House. A recent University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll showed him leading McCain, 50% to 43%.

Obama should win Iowa -- a variety of factors favor him there, including the cold shoulder McCain turned toward its GOP caucuses earlier this year and, even more so, in his 2000 presidential bid. Indeed, among the states Obama needs to snatch from the '04 Republican column to win the presidency, Iowa seems the one he can most count on.

But as Yepsen warns, Iowa could pay a steep price if a couple of other red states don't follow suit.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Getty Images

Barack Obama, other Democrats call for fixes to caucus/primary scheduling

For most folks, the inanity that marked the early part of this campaign's caucus and primary calendar no doubt has been forced from memory -- like a bad dream.

To review:

-- The states that have come to view their sway in the nomination battles as a God-given right played every card at their disposal to hang on to their special places in the process. At one point, the specter loomed of Iowa caucuses that convened before 2008 even arrived! As it was, the caucuses and the New Hampshire primary were crammed into the year's first few days (holiday cheer be damned).

-- Other states, anxious for a greater voice, tried to muscle their way into the action. One result: Rogue primaries in Florida and Michigan that ended being a long-term headache for the Democrats. Another: So many states scheduled their contests for the same day -- the first Tuesday in February -- that several of the candidates simply had to ignore some of them (in the case of Hillary Clinton, a consequence that cost her dearly).

The defects were well-noted by hard-core politicos -- (Democratic activist Elaine Kamarck, for instance, was reflecting on needed fixes back in April, and discussions have been underway within Republican circles on the matter.

Today, Barack Obama's campaign, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee, announced a step designed to prevent a repeat of what happened this year.

As Democrats start gathering in Denver this weekend for the national convention that starts Monday, the party will be asked to establish a special commission to grapple with the timing of the nomination calendar and other aspects of delegate selection. (Goals will include reducing the number of "superdelegates")

Our colleague Frank James has more on the move at the Swamp.

-- Don Frederick

Top of the Ticket, the start of Year Two

On this, the first anniversary of our Top of the Ticket blog, we are reminded of the mercurial, unpredictable nature of U.S. politics -- part of what makes what we do so fascinating.The Rev Al Sharpton celebrates the first birthday of The Ticket

Our goal -- one of us on the East Coast and the other on the far more important or at least less humid West Coast -- was to write about Campaign '08 virtually around the clock.

Our second-ever posting, 12 months ago today, previewed an upcoming L.A. Times/Bloomberg Poll; later in the day, we detailed the results of the nationwide survey. The findings were in line with other polls of the time.

In the Republican presidential race, which then seemed the most likely to last deep into the primary season, Rudy Giuliani was perched in first place. His lead wasn't overwhelming, but it was strong enough that he appeared certain to remain a major contender.

His liberal record on social issues loomed as an obvious liability within his party, but his tough-on-terrorism message was attracting substantial support from moderates and GOP-leaning independents.

Gee, who are these people passing on the stage--Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

His major headache among rivals last June was an as-yet-undeclared candidate who was riding a wave as the great conservative hope -- Fred Thompson. He ran a strong second in the poll.

Lagging far behind were John McCain and Mitt Romney, each barely with double-digit support. In our preview posting, we were especially scornful of McCain, noting sarcastically (and foolishly, as it turned out) that in the poll, he found himself "in heated competition with the 'Don't Know' category."

Meriting no mention from us was Mike Huckabee, one of several back-of-the-pack candidates barely earning any support across the country.

The Democratic race, at that point, seemed so much more cut-and-dried.

Hillary Clinton was the clear front-runner; Barack Obama was just as clearly ...

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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