Pollsters are still scratching their heads at the results of the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses. But, Las Vegas odds-makers got it right in Iowa, exactly right. We’ll see how their predictions pan out Saturday, January 19 when Nevada voters take to the polls.

‘Change’

We saw the candidates morph and re-invent themselves before our very eyes, all because of a simple mantra – change. Sen. Hillary Clinton changed campaign signage from “Experienced” to “Ready,” all to keep up with Obama’s apparently successful slogan. But, even he added, “Yes, We Can!”

In any race for an open seat, or one against a long-term incumbant, the chant is always “change” (from the status quo). So, how is Obama’s message of “change” different?
If it’s charisma and believe-ability, Sen. Clinton is certainly now a quick study. She picked up on this almost immediately during the ABC pre-New Hampshire caucus debate, “One Party – Two Nights.”

When asked about polls which stated that she had “like-ability” problems, she demurely replied that her “feelings were hurt.” This was definitely a lightbulb moment for the Senator and may be the turning point in her campaign strategy. The next day, during a campaign rally, Hillary had tearful eyes when asked by a New Hampshire woman how she got through her day. The sometimes stiff, seldom smiling politician is learning to be charismatic, and not a moment too soon.

“Change” was also mentioned among the GOP candidates. Mitt Romney admitted that he changed his position from pro-choice to pro-life while Governor Mike Huckabee, the Iowa winner was questioned about his criticism of the Bush administration’s decisions on Iraq, calling it an “arrogant bunker mentality.” Romney said that “…we need to use our military and non-military resources…so the Muslims are able to reject the extremists.”

Another aspect of change came when in a surprise move, the Democratic choice for 2004 President, John Kerry threw his support to Obama. Although Kerry has political ties to the Clintons, and Edwards was his former running mate, Kerry said that Obama “brings the lessons of the neighborhood, the lessons of the Legislature and the lessons of his own …” He also described Obama as a “transformational leader” when “leadership requires an ability to inspire” during a time when America “is ready to move in a different direction.”

The Iowa Debate

The debate with the Republican candidates preceded a second separate debate with the Democrat contenders.

There was a striking difference between the two on main debate topics. The Republicans addressed immigration while the Democrats focused on healthcare.
Nearly all of the Republican candidates cited President Ronald Reagan as their hero, but Libertarian-turned-Republican Ron Paul was quick to mention that during Reagan’s presidency, there was a blanket amnesty program for illegal aliens.

The issue of immigration will play more prominently with the Democrats as the candidates look to the southern border states for votes, especially the larger states of California (441 delegates/February 5 primary) and Texas (228 delegates/March 4 primary).

Ron Paul stated that America should not be “the police of the world. The Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war is not a minor change, this is huge. This was the first time we as a nation accept as our policy that we start the wars. … They don’t attack us because we are free and prosperous…. But because we invade and occupy their countries…”

Guiliani said that it was not about our foreign policy but the terrorists’ perverted feelings.
President Bush’s tax cuts expire in 2010. Huckabee and Paul propose the elimination of federal income and payroll taxes, to be replaced with a “Fair Tax.” Huckabee also proposes a 23 percent national sales tax with a “prebate” cash subsidy for low income workers.

Huckabee said, “People want a president that reminds them of the one that they work with rather than the guy that laid them off.”

The Las Vegas Debate

Democrats held a debate in Las Vegas Tuesday night and only three of the candidates were invited to the party – Clinton, Edwards and Obama. One of the hot topics was military recruiting on college campuses. Colleges stand to lose government funding if programs are eliminated. None of the candidates disagreed with the programs.

As the debate progressed, Obama went further by saying that he is for a volunteer army but feels that there must be an end to those who serve three, four or more tours.

Edwards agreed and voiced a concern about those returning from the war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He also addressed the problems that veterans have in facing homelessness, mental and physical health needs and job training.

When the subject of immigration came up, Edwards said, “We need comprehensive immigration reform, a path to citizenship. I am not for amnesty.” He said that if you come here illegally, you should have to pay a fine. “You should learn to speak English and we should help with that process. It should be a requirement to be an American citizen.”

Clinton was asked about one of her campaign worker’s statement that Hispanics don’t vote for blacks. She responded, “The agenda for America is an agenda for blacks and browns.”
Obama was asked if he believed the statement. He said, “Not in Illinois. They all voted for me!” He further quipped, “Latinos know that they will have an advocate… I have consistently stepped up.”

A question from the organization, 100 Black Men, asked about the high drop out rate of black male students. Obama responded that the reason is similar to why Latinos have high drop out rates – children start school behind. “Every dollar that we spend in childhood education, we get back 10 times… We need after school and summer school programs because poor and minority youth don’t have what they need.”

Clinton said, “This is a black and brown debate… We need more involvement from the community.”

Edwards offered, “We need universal pre-care for every child in America. We have high schools that are drop out factories. We need second chance schools.”

A panelist then asked the candidates to respond to reports that Nevada leads the nation in gun deaths and that gun deaths were the leading cause of death among young black men.

Clinton said, “I am against illegal guns… I understand that the political winds are very powerful against getting guns off of the street and out of the hands of young people…. We need to have a registry that really works… crack down on illegal gun dealers and enforce the laws on the books…. I believe in the 2nd amendment.” She stated that she will not back off from a national registry plan.

Edwards said “I am against it… growing up in the rural South everyone had guns and hunted.”

But, he admitted, “I don’t believe that you need an AK47 to hunt….”
Obama said that he would like to see some common sense enforcement.

Where race enters

After the New Hampshire caucus at a campaign stop, Sen. Clinton was introduced by Francine Torge, a former John Edwards supporter, who said, “Some people compare one of the other candidates to John F. Kennedy. But he was assassinated. And Lyndon Baines Johnson was the one who actually passed the civil rights legislation…”

Sen. Clinton said, “You know, today Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. He basically compared himself to our greatest heroes because they gave great speeches.

“President Kennedy was in Congress for 14 years. He was a war hero. He was a man of great accomplishments and readiness to be president. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement. He was gassed. He was beaten. He was jailed. And he gave a speech that was one of the most beautifully, profoundly important speeches ever written in America, the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
“And then he worked with President Johnson to get the civil rights laws passed, because the dream couldn’t be realized until finally it was legally permissible for people of all colors and backgrounds and races and ethnicities to be accepted as citizens.”

Hillary has since repeated her great respect for Dr. King. The Clinton camp charged that Obama played the race card. Obama scoffed, “How can we be charged for playing the race card for a comment that we didn’t make and haven’t responded to?”

Then, during a church service in South Carolina, black billionaire and founder of BET Bob Johnson said, “To me, as an African American, I am frankly insulted the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book, when they have been involved.” Johnson’s reference was immediately linked by the media to Obama’s admitted teen drug use in his memoir, Dreams From My Father.

Back-peddling, in a statement released by the Clinton campaign, Johnson quickly stated that his comments referred to Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago and nothing else. This raises the question, if Obama was doing community work, why not “say what he was doing?”
Kerry told ABC Sunday morning political roundtable host George Stephanopolous that any efforts to define Obama (by other campaigns) will be countered immediately. He said that Obama has more legislative experience than Clinton and that he is older than either (Presidents ) Bill Clinton or John Kennedy when they ran for the same office.

In a statement that echoes the “change” and race themes, former Bush aide Karl Rove told NPR host Michel Martin, “Americans are looking for a way to break barriers. They would love to elect a woman president; they would love to elect an African American president. And to the degree that either gender or race plays into this race, it plays far more in a positive direction than it does in a negative direction.”

So, both the Obama and Clinton campaigns are exercises in strategy. In Obama’s case, we’ll see if he can avoid the dreaded “Tom Bradley Effect” where voters proclaimed that they were voting for Bradley, but when they entered the seclusion of their booth, they just could not follow through.
Updates and chatter in the wings

Guiliani’s staff has decided not to draw a salary to help further fund their candidate’s race. The former New York mayor is expected to do well in Florida, and must do well in this GOP winner-take-all delegates state.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that the challenge of Obama has been good for Hillary. He told Stephanopolous that Hillary has a narrow edge, but not a big one and that Obama is a Bobby Kennedy type. If he can take the reform wing of the party and get the African American vote, he will have a good chance.

What about Clinton’s win in New Hampshire and “the emotional moment?” Gingrich said that “Hillary got about $10 million dollars of free advertising as the press ran with it. Her campaign noted that this was a pivotal moment and will build on it.”

Michigan’s favorite son, Gov. Romney, took home his first victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary, followed by Sen. McCaine and Gov. Huckabee.

Michigan and Florida are the only states that will not hold a Democratic primary. Earlier, the national party announced that it would not seat delegates from the two states because they were holding their primaries earlier than the party rules allowed.

The next group of ballots will be cast on Saturday, January 19. At stake for the Republicans are 34 delegates in the Nevada caucus and 24 delegates in the South Carolina primary. The Democrat candidates will be seeking 33 delegates from the Nevada caucus. Voting for Democrats in South Carolina will be Saturday, January 26. South Carolina is the first race where there is a majority of African American voters.