Tales from the Trail

Vice presidential candidates by the numbers

The vice presidential candidates who will take the stage for a debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky this week are just as polarizing as their running mates, according to Reuters/Ipsos polls. “Very unfavorable” was the most commonly held view of both men.

According to data collected last week, Vice President Joe Biden is seen “very unfavorably” by 22 percent of respondents, in line with President Barack Obama’s “very unfavorable” score of 27 percent.

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, the Tea Party darling and Republican budget master, has a corresponding figure of 25 percent. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s “very unfavorable” score is, like the president’s, 27  percent.

When the answers are collapsed into basic “favorable” and “unfavorable” categories, however, Biden looks to be the more popular of the two. “Favorable” responses of some sort — “very favorable,” “lean toward favorable,” “somewhat favorable” — totaled 53 percent for Biden and 47 percent for his counterpart from Wisconsin.

In a head-to-head matchup, Biden came out on top. Respondents said the 69-year-old former senator from Delaware was more qualified to be president than Ryan, 42, by a margin of 39 percent to 33 percent, with 28 percent saying they did not know.

Romney’s strong debate draws cheers and relief from Republicans in Congress

Mitt Romney’s strong debate performance eased concerns by fellow Republicans in Congress that his recent struggles could be a problem for all of them on Election Day.

“His first debate was very important – and he delivered,” said Congressman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House Republican leadership.

“He established himself as a person who can be president of the United States – and that will make everyone feel positive,” said Republican Senator Mike Johanns.

Obama takes a break from debate prep – at the Hoover Dam

U.S. President Barack Obama took a break from preparing for Wednesday night’s debate with a quick visit to the Hoover Dam.

Wearing a gingham shirt, khaki trousers and sunglasses, according to a White House press pool report, the president asked some questions of a dam manager and a staffer from the U.S. Department of the Interior. He learned that most of the power generated from the dam – in Nevada, not far from Las Vegas – goes to Southern California, and that some of the 28,ooo people who built the dam were killed, but “fewer than you can imagine.”

A reporter asked Obama why he made the trip, and he responded: “It’s spectacular and I’ve never seen it before. I didn’t realize it was so close by.” Obama often takes breaks to visit tourist sites as he travels. Aides have said the tourist stops offer a mental break from the work of his office.

Obama, McCain take on each other’s VP picks at debate

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – They weren’t part of the debate, but vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden did get some time in the spotlight on Wednesday.
 
At their final debate before the November 4 election, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain were each asked to rate the other’s vice presidential pick.
 
vps.jpgObama, when asked whether Palin, the governor of Alaska, was qualified to be president, demurred.
 
“You know, I think it’s — that’s going to be up to the American people,” the Illinois senator said. “I think that, obviously, she’s a capable politician who has, I think, excited the — a base in the Republican Party.”
 
Notice he did not mention her level of experience. 
 
McCain, when asked about Biden, said he disagreed with his Senate colleague but declared him qualified to be in the White House. “I think that Joe Biden is qualified in many respects. But I do point out that he’s been wrong on many foreign policy and national security issues, which is supposed to be his strength,” McCain said.
 
“In Iraq, he had this cockamamie idea about dividing Iraq into three countries,” the Arizona senator continued. “There are several issues in which, frankly, Joe Biden and I open and honestly disagreed on national security policy, and he’s been wrong on a number of the major ones.”

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young

Candidates spar over abortion rights

DALLAS – Barack Obama and John McCain got a chance during their third presidential debate on Wednesday night to directly address their respective bases when they were asked about abortion.

The candidates debate

Moderator Bob Schieffer, who noted that Democrat Obama supports the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe vs Wade decision that grants women a constitutional right to an abortion, while the Republican McCain opposes it, asked: “Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue?”

Both candidates said they would not apply ”litmus tests” if they were to select justices for the top U.S. court, whose nine members are currently almost evenly divided between conservatives and liberals.

Michelle Obama brings Republican date to the debate

rtr20fdd.jpgIt’s no surprise that Michelle Obama will be rooting for her husband, Barack Obama, when the Democratic presidential candidate squares off against Republican John McCain in their final debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York tonight.

What is a little startling, however, is that sitting right next to her will be Lilibet Hagel, the wife of Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel.

The Obama campaign said Lilibet Hagel, a Republican who has endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate, will attend the debate as Michelle Obama’s “special guest.”

Gores host post-debate fundraiser for Obama

obamas.jpgNASHVILLE, Tenn. - Democrat Barack Obama wasn’t quite ready to call it a night after his debate on Tuesday night with Republican John McCain.

Obama stopped by the home Al and Tipper Gore in Belle Meade, just outside of Nashville, where the former vice president and his wife were holding a fundraiser on his behalf.

The soiree raised more than $900,000 for Obama’s campaign coffers.

Gore said he didn’t want to take anything for granted but introduced Obama as the “next president of the United States.”

Biden chokes up as he goes toe to toe with Palin on family challenges

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden went toe to toe with Republican rival Sarah Palin at their debate when talking about understanding the kitchen table issues families face, choking up when talking about the challenges they face.

When asked about his Achilles heel possibly being his lack of discipline, Biden turned the question around to talk about his “excessive passion”.

Palin has periodically talked about her challenges as a mother without health care coverage as well as raising a family of five, including her decision to have a child that would have down syndrome.

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

McCain “disappointed” that media declared debate a tie

mccain3.jpgWASHINGTON – Republican White House hopeful John McCain, fresh from his first debate with Democratic rival Barack Obama in Mississippi, expressed regret on Saturday that his performance didn’t win over all the pundits in the press.
 
“I was a little disappointed the media called it a tie but I think that means, when they call it a tie, that means we win,” McCain said during a telephone call that was caught by cameras filming him at his campaign headquarters.
 
Both camps claimed victory after the 90-minute debate on Friday.
 
Meanwhile, Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, sought to lower expectations for the next debate in Tennessee on Oct. 7. It will be conducted in a town-hall style with questions from an audience.
 
“We will be a decided underdog in that encounter, and John McCain is the undisputed town hall champion,” Plouffe told reporters on a conference call, noting that McCain — who is fond of the format — had challenged Obama to do joint town hall meetings throughout the summer.
 
“He clearly feels, even more than the foreign policy debate, this is his home turf. So if we can just escape relatively unscathed against the undisputed town hall champion in Tennessee, we’ll be thrilled.”
 
Obama has held regular town halls of his own throughout the 2008 campaign and does not appear to struggle with the format.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder (McCain talks on the phone at his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, on Sept. 27)