Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Washington Whispers

USN Current Issue
Washington Whispers by Paul Bedard

Sen. John McCain, The Rebel Of 2008

January 02, 2008 04:58 PM ET | Permanent Link

Poll: Left for dead, Sen. John McCain has surged back in New Hampshire to take on the sheriff of New England, Mitt Romney. Do you think McCain will beat Mitt or crash in New Hampshire?

...continue reading.

Tags: New Hampshire | Romney, Mitt | McCain, John | campaign 2008 | bobbleheads | bobblepolls

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A Bobbling Happy Political New Year To You

December 31, 2007 02:31 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

Tags: bobbleheads

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Republicans Have A Bit More Fun, Ritz Tells Us

December 28, 2007 12:40 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

When it comes to picking a president, it's not just about experience and competence. Ritz Crackers tells us that fun also plays a role. In fact, their new Ritz Cracker "Fun-alysis," provided to Whispers, finds that 74 percent of 1,000 people polled say that the ability to have fun is an important quality in a presidential candidate. Rudy Giuliani tops the fun charts on the Republican side at 39 percent, while Sen. Barack Obama is Mr. Giggles on the Democratic side at 35 percent. For Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton is second at 27 percent followed by John Edwards at 19 percent. After Rudy on the GOP side, the fun quotient sinks, with Fred Thompson at 16 percent, Sen. John McCain at 14 percent, and Mitt Romney a cellar-dweller at 7 percent. There's more: Hillary was the pick at 33 percent among Democratic women. And 42 percent of Republicans say they have "a lot of fun" every day, compared with just 35 percent of Democrats. Oh, the reason for the poll? Ritz is launching an "Open for Fun" campaign to promote its crackers.

Tags: politics | campaign 2008

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Space Invaders on the Campaign Trail

December 28, 2007 11:29 AM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

They laughed way back in the 1980s when President Reagan suggested that the people of the world would unite if an alien space form threatened the globe. But now the idea is back—and to cheers—because Sen. Hillary Clinton has raised the specter of world unity. It came during a campaign event when she referenced the movie Independence Day. According to the New York Post, she said, "Remember that movie Independence Day, where invaders were coming from outer space and the whole world was united against the invasion? Well, why can't we be united on behalf of our planet?"

Some presidential UFO watchers noted that she was actually ripping off her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who used the same language after watching the Will Smith movie.

Now Reagan allies tell us that the whole thing started with former President Reagan, who made repeated comments about world unity in the face of an alien attack, especially around the time of the last flyby of Halley's Comet. "It looks like she stole the idea from Bill who stole it from Reagan," says one.

Of course, you could be asking: Why is there a site dedicated to what presidents say about UFOs? Check it out here.

Tags: presidential election 2008 | Clinton, Hillary | campaign 2008

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Ho-Ho-Ho from CIA Boss Mike Hayden

December 27, 2007 01:02 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

Let's face it, working the overnight shift on Christmas Eve stinks. And apparently CIA Director Mike Hayden knows that. So what did the spy chief do on Monday? At exactly 11:45 p.m., we hear, he sent a Christmas Eve thank-you message via E-mail to all hands on deck around the globe. His missive:

One of CIA's defining qualities is the willingness of our officers to put country first and Agency before self. Tonight, hundreds of you give meaning to those words. Manning duty stations across the globe,you represent the very best of what our agency promises to be—an alert and steady guardian, protecting the American people. Jeanine and I, along with the rest of your colleagues, have you in our thoughts tonight. We are sincerely grateful for your dedication and selflessness. Please also convey our appreciation to your families. Merry Christmas.

And it didn't end there. He also sent a video to everyone associated with the spy agency. In that, he and his wife continued the charm offensive the spy boss has pushed since taking over at the agency. Here's the text of that video:

General Hayden: Jeanine and I feel very privileged to be part of theCIA family, and we send all of you warm wishes for a joyous holidayseason. It's a time to appreciate what we work so hard to protect—our families, our friends, and our American way of life.

Jeanine Hayden: For those of you posted far from home, Mike and I offer our deepest gratitude for your service and dedication. Please pass along our thanks to your families, whose sacrifice, understanding, and support make such a strong contribution to the success of our Agency. And may the season's spirit of peace and fellowship be with you wherever you serve.

General Hayden: Looking back on the year, each of us can be proud of what CIA has achieved. You have helped guide our nation's leaders in meeting challenges overseas. You have served with distinction in Iraq, Afghanistan, and everywhere our mission demands. Above all, you have kept the American people safe. That's the ultimate measure of our work,the product of great skill and deep devotion to our country. Last week, at our holiday reception here in headquarters, Jeanine and I had the opportunity to thank many of you for your service. And we hope all of you enjoy the warmth and cheer of the season. In our home, we share that joy by saying Merry Christmas. We wish you and those dear to you that same happiness, throughout the holidays and into the New Year.

Tags: CIA | Hayden, Michael | Christmas

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The AMT Blame Game

December 26, 2007 11:27 AM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

It took all year for congressional Democrats to extend the alternative minimum tax "patch" so that middle-income taxpayers don't get whacked by a tax originally designed to target the rich. As a result, until last week, the IRS couldn't start writing the AMT formula, a task that can take up to nine weeks. Meaning: Tax refunds will be delayed. So who's to blame? Democrats say President Bush and his administration. In a letter to Bush, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid say that the IRS was notified October 30 that Congress would most likely pass the AMT fix, though there were competing proposals before the House and Senate. Now, the Democrats say that the formula should have been designed weeks ago so that refunds wouldn't be delayed. Says a GOP strategist: "What nerve! They pass AMT relief at the last minute then send a letter to Bush asking him to get refunds out in a timely fashion."

Tags: Congress | politics | Bush, George W. | alternative minimum tax

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Is Hope Now a Dirty Word?

December 20, 2007 01:17 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

Stalled GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is chasing rising foe Mike Huckabee in an unusual way: He's calling the most recent Arkansas governor a Bill Clinton copy. And it's not just that he's labeling Huckabee a liberal. Romney also has printed up some fliers that suggest Huckabee and Clinton are clones, both being born in Hope, Ark. "Two Governors from Hope: One Was President, One Wants to Be," says the flier.  Well, it's not just the flier. Our Suzi Parker reports that a freelance film crew was recently in Hope making videos to tie Clinton to Huckabee, as well as other footage. Gary Johnson, museum director at the Hope Visitor Center & Museum, Hope says that when he got to work last Saturday morning, a 10-person crew was shooting outside the facility. A handwritten sign that Johnson said the crew created was in front of the museum. It said "Birthplace of Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee" and in the corner in smaller type "And Hillary, too?" (She was born in Illinois.) The crew shot at the museum, the high school where Huckabee graduated, and the train station. According to Johnson, the group said it was doing freelance work for Romney, though the campaign hasn't confirmed that.

Not surprisingly, Huckabee isn't too keen on the effort to link him with Bubba, telling us: "Political dumpster diving isn't really new, but Romney is now giving a better understanding of how he's spending those millions of his — people in my hometown were laughing about a big film crew coming to Hope to try and find something negative about me. Maybe they will find that I broke lunch line in kindergarten or was forced to sit next to the teacher's desk for talking too much in fourth grade. If Romney had spent as much time telling people who he is today instead of telling them who he thinks I was when I was a child, he might not be watching his numbers plummet."

Tags: Arkansas | Huckabee, Mike | Kerry, John | campaign 2008

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The Servers Get Served by the Top Brass

December 18, 2007 12:27 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

Betty Ford over a decorated Alamo.


Hillary Clinton over the decorated Hubbell Trading Post, a historic site and most likely not a reference to her old pal and Clinton administration scandal figure Webb Hubbell.


They served some 120,000 White House Christmas Party guests at 23 holiday events, and now the residence staff is getting a party of its own—and it's the president's staff that will do the serving. The evening party will be the final shindig of an event-packed season that probably saw the highest number of guests ever during the administration to file through the public rooms to feast on roast beef, shrimp, and cookies made to resemble forest animals. The server staff is a who's who list of top aides. According to the White House, the following staff members will serve the residence staff, including ushers, cooks, and others, during the party tonight: Josh Bolten, assistant to the president and chief of staff; Fred Fielding, counsel to the president; Ed Gillespie, counselor to the president; Joie Gregor, assistant to the president for presidential personnel; Ashley Hickey, special projects coordinator; Jim Jeffrey, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser; Karen Keller, special assistant to the president and personal secretary; Doug Lute, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan; Anita McBride, assistant to the president and chief of staff to the first lady; Bill McGurn, assistant to the president for speechwriting; Jim Nussle, director, Office of Management and Budget; Dana Perino, assistant to the president and press secretary; Jared Weinstein, special assistant to the president and personal aide; and Raul Yanes, assistant to the president and staff secretary.

Tags: politics | White House | Christmas

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WWJD? Eat and Vote

December 17, 2007 12:04 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

As if Christian evangelical voters haven't received enough attention in the upcoming presidential election, Redeem the Vote has a plan to hit Iowa before the January 3 caucuses to literally butter them up. A tricked-out political bus with a storied campaign pedigree and a stockpile of southern delicacies will hit Des Moines this week as part of Redeem the Vote's latest effort to sign up new voters—mostly Christian evangelicals—for the caucuses.

"We're going to bring collard greens, some grits, and 'Daisy-made' banana pudding," says Randy Brinson, founder and chairman of Redeem the Vote, which signed up tens of thousands of new voters in 2004. The bus, seen in the picture, is a campaign trail veteran: Owned by Johnny Williams, Brinson's neighbor just outside Montgomery, Ala., it carted George W. Bush around the campaign trail during his 2000 presidential run and was John Kerry's political carriage in 2004. It has a foldout stage, a public address system, and its own satellite feed. The voter registration tour begins tomorrow at the state Capitol in Montgomery and will arrive in Iowa's capital city Thursday. The bus tour will initially hit Democratic and Republican candidate events, and then target churches it has had success with in previous campaigns.

And what is this "Daisy-made" banana pudding? "Daisy has been my housekeeper for 20 years and she makes a mean banana pudding," Brinson tells our campaign reporter Liz Halloran. "I'm not talking this fake stuff."


Tags: Iowa | campaign 2008 | Iowa caucus

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American Idol-Mania Hits Clinton Country

December 13, 2007 06:36 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link


Patrick Kennedy had never watched the Fox TV hit American Idol when he began preparing the first issue of Frank, the Clinton School of Public Service's new magazine. But the editor figured show cofounder Simon Cowell would be just the right newsmaker to feature in the pop culture section. "This is just a ridiculous show," says Kennedy, while acknowledging its "cultural significance." But now, after his interview, Kennedy's ready to croon for Idol. "He's really a brilliant guy," says Kennedy, the school's director of public programs. "This Simon Cowell guy actually has some sense."

Frank is the first of its kind: a twice-yearly magazine from a presidential school—this one at the University of Arkansas—that mixes historical and policy stories with current cultural showstoppers in a, ahem, frank way. In it, Cowell talks Idol and issues, like political correctness, which he dubs "an epidemic." On his future: "I would never go into politics. It can be very annoying when other people in my business go into politics." But he's cool with pols who go Hollywood. His two examples: Bill Clinton's sax-playing and former Bush aide Karl Rove's recent impromptu rap dance that made it onto YouTube. "I really liked him for doing that," Cowell says of "MC Rove," adding, "He showed himself to be a human being." As for Bubba: Charisma trumps squeaky notes.

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What Tops NASA? Keeping LSU's Miles

December 13, 2007 06:33 PM ET | Bedard, Paul | Permanent Link

Sean O'Keefe's résumé screams Mr. Fix-It. As Navy secretary, he worked on military treaties and had to right the Tailhook scandal. As NASA chief, he put the agency back into space after the Columbia disintegration. So when he took over as chancellor at Louisiana State University in 2005, he could have expected a lighter load. Nope. First Hurricane Katrina hit the state, and he opened LSU to students stranded from their schools. And then the crisis of the decade: rumors that football coach Les Miles was being wooed by Michigan even as his team headed for the national championship against Ohio State. "I've had experience negotiating treaties with Russians and Europeans and the Japanese," O'Keefe tells us, "and this was right up there. The world of head coach relations is just about as challenging." Lucky for him, all Miles wanted was an extension, and O'Keefe delivered. But the pressure was great. "I could have hosed up a treaty 10 times and not got near the same grief I would have gotten here," says the school's boss. "All the preparation I ever went through in government all came into play to work this one out," he adds. Better yet, the controversy and successful ending brought lots of media attention. "That raises the visibility," he says, "and motivates people to take a second look at us."

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