Tales from the Trail

A little stealthy debate help from friends? It could happen

debate.jpgBIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Is it possible that a candidate could get a little help from friends during a presidential or vice presidential debate?
The idea that a contender could get advice or facts from staff through an earpiece while at the podium might strain the bounds of moral possibility, but technologically it could happen.  The CIA created an earpiece known as the SRR-100 in the 1970s to enable its officers in Moscow to monitor KGB frequencies and see if they were under surveillance, according to a recent book by Robert Wallace, the agency’s former director of Technical Services.
The CIA’s problem was disguising the earpiece but using 19th century technology known as an induction loop it became possible and today variations of the gadget are available for less than $100.
“The technology exists for someone using a two-way radio to give instructions to someone on stage via an easily concealable earpiece over nearly four thousand channels,” said director of sales at customearpiece.com Steve Perodi.
“The earpiece is especially easy to conceal if the wearer has a lot of hair,” Perodi said.
But it wouldn’t be easy.
The Commission on Presidential Debates employs a frequency coordinator armed with a spectrum analyzer capable of detecting any radio use during the debate. ”It’s improbable but not impossible. My job is to find them, which isn’t hard with a spectrum analyzer,” said veteran frequency coordinator Steve Mendelsohn.
“But as we used to say in the Navy: ‘We can see every submarine in the world. The question is, can we prosecute them?’ Who’s going to go up to a presidential candidate and pat them down?,” he said.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young

Obama to fainting supporter: Eat!

obama-oct-2.jpgEAST LANSING – With a little over a month to go until the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential election, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama has no time for fainters. At an outdoor rally on Wednesday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, the Democrat was all business.

Interrupted during his speech by a signal from someone in the crowd that a person may have fainted, Obama pointed medics to the area and had this advice for their potential patient — “Next time, if you come to a 20,000-person rally, remember to eat something before you get here.”

Back in January on the morning of the New Hampshire primary, another Obama supporter fainted as the U.S. senator from Illinois spoke at Dartmouth College. Back then Obama waited a full 15 minutes for medics to arrive and treat the patient before continuing with his speech. 

Amid inaction on financial bailout, blame game continues in McCain ad

PHOENIX  – U.S. lawmakers have yet to back a plan to try and stem the global financial crisis. But the vigorous round of finger-pointing over who is to blame for it continued on the campaign trail on Tuesday as John McCain’s camp singled out Democratic rival Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton in a new ad.


The 60-second spot argued that, while the veteran Arizona senator sought to rein in excesses by troubled mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – which were rescued by the government earlier this month – Obama, an Illinois senator, did nothing.

“John McCain fought to rein in Fannie and Freddie,” a voiceover says. It then quotes The Washington Post saying McCain “pushed for stronger regulation … while Mr. Obama was notably silent.”

New crop of ads has both Obama, McCain slinging mud

WASHINGTON – If mud is the currency of political campaigns, the U.S. presidential race is on sounder footing than Wall Street.
Just look at the latest crop of campaign ads.
The way they tell it, voters on Nov. 4 are either going to elect a president with crooked friends or one who rtx8tgc.jpgwouldn’t mind seeing them sick and poor in retirement.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s new commercial portrays rival Barack Obama as being part of a corrupt Chicago political machine.
It revives questions about Obama’s links to political fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who raised up to $250,000 for the Illinois senator’s previous political campaigns.
Rezko was convicted of fraud, attempted bribery and money laundering earlier this year. Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with Rezko but has acknowledged an error of judgment in a land deal with the businessman.
McCain’s ad tries to tar Obama with his fundraiser’s misdeeds, and with his connections with Chicago politicians who have been investigated for various issues.
“His money man Tony Rezko. Client. Patron. Convicted,” the ad announcer intones. His political godfather Emil Jones. Under ethical cloud. His governor Rod Blagojevich. A legacy of federal and state investigations.”
“With friends like that, Obama is not ready to lead,” the ad says.

The Illinois Democrat takes a few shots — and a few liberties — in two of his own new ads that try to raise voter fears about McCain.
One portrays the Arizona Republican as wanting to gamble away people’s Social Security in the stock market.
“A broken economy, failing banks, unstable markets, families struggling. To protect us in retirement, Social Security has never been more important,” the ad says.
It notes that McCain has favored privatizing Social Security by letting people invest some of their Social Security retirement savings in the stock market. And it quotes him saying he campaigned for Bush’s plan to do that.
“Cutting benefits in half. Risking Social Security on the stock market,” the ad says. “The Bush-McCain privatization plan. Can you really afford more of the same?”
Sounds worrisome, but FactCheck.org dismisses the benefit cutting as false. It says no one now getting benefits or close to retirement would have seen any reduction in benefits under the plan McCain supported. 
In another ad, Obama says deregulation of the financial industry led to the current U.S. economic crisis.
It accuses McCain of being a backer of that deregulation and says he now wants to do the same with health care.

“McCain just published an article praising Wall Street deregulation, said he’d reduce oversight of the health insurance industry too ‘just as we have done over the last decade in banking,’” the ad says.
“Increasing costs and threatening coverage. A prescription for disaster. John McCain. A risk we just can’t afford to take.”
FactCheck.org says the deregulation claim is taken out of context. In fact, he was only calling for deregulation to enable the sale and purchase of health insurance across state lines, FactCheck says. 

Palin sees debate with Biden as ‘quite a task’

WASHINGTON – Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin sounds a bit wary about her upcoming debate with her really, really, really experienced Democratic rival.
“Senator (Joe) Biden has a tremendous amount of experience,” she told Fox News. “I think he was first elected when I was like in the second grade.”
If her running mate John McCain, 72, wasn’t hoping to be the oldest person to begin a first term as president, one might think Palin was suggesting Biden, 65, was old. 
“He’s been in there a long, long, long time,” Palin said. “So he’s got the experience. He probably has the sound bites. He has the rhetoric. He knows what’s expected of him. He is a great debater, also.”
“So yes, it’s going to be quite a task in front of me,” she said.
Palin also said she didn’t mean to insult Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in her nominating speech when she belittled his experience as a community organizer. 

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities,” she told the Republican convention.
“I certainly didn’t mean to hurt his feelings,” Palin told Fox News. “Didn’t mean to offend any community organizers either.”
She said she did it because Obama had taken a shot at small town mayors.
The Alaska governor, little-known before being chosen as McCain’s running mate, said she respected former Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton but disagreed with her on the issues.
Clinton has been campaigning on behalf of Obama since losing the Democratic nomination, but she has avoided direct confrontation with Palin.
Clinton planned to speak at a demonstration against the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, near the United Nations which convenes its annual General Assembly next week but she canceled the appearance on Wednesday after learning Palin would also address the crowd.
A Clinton adviser said the protest had not been billed as a partisan political event.
Organizers of the demonstration subsequently announced Thursday they had decided not to let any American political personalities appear.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Financial gloom doesn’t halt glitzy Obama fundraiser

So what does Barack Obama do after a hard day of defending the common man during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?
Throw a $28,500-a-head fundraising dinner, of course.
Followed by a $2,500-a-head reception featuring Barbra Streisand singing a song or two.

The Democratic presidential candidate spent the day Tuesday campaigning in Colorado, where he talked to supporters about the mortgage crisis that has reshaped Wall Street and caused many people to lose their homes.
Speaking a day after the stock market had its worst day since 2001, he assured a rally in the Denver suburb of Golden that he understood the impact the crisis was having from Wall Street to Main Street.
“Jobs have disappeared, and peoples’ life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet,” he said.
“These are the struggles that Americans are facing. This is the pain that has now trickled up.”
Then he jetted off to Los Angeles Tuesday evening for a pair of glitzy fundraisers that could be the biggest for Democrats during this election cycle.
Republican John McCain lost no time pointing out Obama was courting the stars instead of ordinary folk. 
“(He) talks about siding with the people, siding with the people — just before he flies off to Hollywood for a fundraiser with Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends,” McCain told a rally in Vienna, Ohio, a critical battleground state. “Let me tell you my friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than here with the working men and women of Ohio.”

Streisand, a Democratic activist and Oscar-winning actress and singer,  initially endorsed Hillary Clinton but has embraced Obama since he won the nomination.
The Illinois senator has put together a formidable fundraising machine that has attracted hundreds of thousands of small donors, pulling in $66 million in August alone. That compared with $47 million for McCain.
Obama’s fundraising skill prompted him to forego federal campaign financing, despite earlier pledges not to do so. That enables him to raise and spend more than he could if he accepted federal money. But it also means he has to spend more time off the campaign trail raising money.

Gore had his Internet, McCain his BlackBerry

In the annals of inventor-lawmakers, Republican presidential candidate John McCain may rank even higher than Al Gore.
rtr21w17.jpgGore famously said in 1999 as he was preparing to launch his presidential bid that he helped create the Internet while he was a member of the Senate.
He was roundly ridiculed for the comment, which rumor and repetition quickly converted into an urban myth that Gore claimed to be the inventor of the Internet.

McCain evidently has been busy in the Senate too. Even though he doesn’t use computers or e-mail, the Arizona senator helped create the BlackBerry. So says one of his economic advisers, Douglas Holt-Eakin.
“You’re looking at the miracle that John McCain helped create,” Holtz-Eakin told reporters while brandishing a BlackBerry wireless e-mail device during a briefing in Miami.
Holtz-Eakin’s remarks came as he was defending McCain’s knowledge of the economy while stock markets reeled from the financial crisis.
Early in the campaign, McCain said his economic understanding wasn’t all that great. He’s been trying to claw back that statement ever since.
Holtz-Eakin cited McCain’s work on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees telecommunications and the senator chaired for a time, as evidence of his economic experience. Then followed the BlackBerry proclamation.
The Obama campaign, aware of the ridicule Gore suffered over the Internet, was quick to try to tar McCain with the BlackBerry.
“If John McCain hadn’t said that ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong’ on the day of one of our nation’s worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week,” said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. 
Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Robert LeSieur (McCain in New Hampshire Sept. 14)

Obama ad challenges McCain’s honor

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is using a scathing new attack ad to challenge the fundamental perception that John McCain – former Navy aviator and prisoner of war — is honorable.
It was bound to happen. The McCain camp has been doing the same thing to Obama for weeks, trying to turn public perceptions about his strengths into weaknesses using attack ads and ridicule.
McCain went after Obama’s popularity and his strength as an orator. His campaign even tried to defuse the race issue by accusing Obama — who would be the first black U.S. president if elected — of racism.
So it was inevitable the Obama camp would eventually strike back — and it did after McCain was roundly criticized in the press for an ad that falsely accused the Illinois Democrat of favoring sex education for kindergarten children.
“What’s happened to John McCain? He’s running the sleaziest ads ever. Truly vile,” the narrator of the ad entitled “Honor” says as quotes pulled from newspaper columns scroll over an ever-shrinking photo of the Arizona senator.

“Dishonest smears that he repeats even after its been exposed as a lie. Truth be damned. Disgraceful, dishonorable campaign. After voting with Bush 90 percent of the time proposing the same disastrous economic policies, it seems that deception is all he has left,” it says.
McCain often speaks of duty, honor, country, sacrifice and has cultivated the image of being a man of honor.
The ad takes aim at that perception, asking if McCain is honorable, why is he running this kind of campaign.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage. 

Photo credit: Reuters/Neal Hamberg (Obama speaks in New Hampshire Sept. 13)

Obama defends community organizers

newphil.jpgLANCASTER, Pa. - The work of community organizers, who work  for low salaries to help people in impoverished communities,  is getting lots of attention this week as Republicans poke jabs at Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama‘s job experience.

The three years Obama spent as a community organizer “maybe … is the first problem on the resume,” said former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in his speech at the Republican convention on Wednesday.

Giuliani, who failed in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and now runs a lucrative consulting firm, said community organizing sounded as though Obama had “immersed himself in Chicago machine politics.”

‘Gaffe Machine’ says election is so about the issues

biden3.jpgFORT MYERS, Florida – Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, mocked by Republicans as a “gaffe machine,” took a swipe Wednesday at a remark by John McCain’s campaign manager that “this election is not about issues.”
“This election is not about issues?” Biden asked rhetorically, drawing hoots and hollers at a town-hall style meeting with several hundred people in Fort Myers, Florida. Noting Americans have difficulty paying for such basics as health insurance and gasoline for their cars, Biden said, “Where I come from, that’s an issue.”
Campaign manager Rick Davis, in an interview with The Washington Post, said, “This election is not about issues.” He said, “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” He predicted that the more voters get to know McCain and Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama, the more they will like the Republican ticket.
Biden bristled. “You have the greatest character in the world, but you are not going to give me a fighting chance that would keep my job. I love ya, but I don’t want you as president,” he said.
During 35 years in the Senate, the fast-talking, often long-winded Biden has earned a reputation for gaffes. Republicans count two since last week’s Democratic National Convention — when he referred to Obama as “Barack America” and put himself on the top of the ticket by saying he was “running for president.”
On Wednesday, Biden made another slip of the tongue. In promising to help Americans if elected, he said, “the Biden, excuse me, the Obama-Biden administration.” Amid laughter, he added, “Believe me, you all got it right: Obama-Biden.” 

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage

- Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young