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December 2007 Archives

This just in from Lynn Sweet in Des Moines and Abdon Pallasch following Barack Obama in Ames.....

DES MOINES, IA—A poll released Monday night put White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) solidly in the lead for the first time in Iowa, sending him into Thursday’s caucus with newfound momentum.

“It looks like it may be working,” Obama said at a New Year’s Eve rally at Iowa State University in Ames after he learned he led the Des Moines Register final Iowa Poll. LINK TO REGISTER STORY

“So we just might pull this this thing off, Iowa. Who would have thunk it.”

DES MOINES, IA,--Watch the video to learn why Barack Obama wrote this note at an Iowa rally. Lynn Sweet's on-the-road video report. VIDEO LINK

dec31 (Photo by Lynn Sweet)


DES MOINES, IA.--Hillary Rodham Clinton uses a New Years Eve countdown theme for her latest video-only spot.


DES MOINES -- Think of the Iowa Democratic presidential caucus as a contest of Olympians when it comes to the three front-runners, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

They are all running their personal best. But Thursday night, only one will come in first, and every poll shows it is too close to call.

(December 30, 2007 Sunday Final Edition sorry, server problems delayed posting)


DES MOINES, IOWA--At dusk Thursday, in an annex of Hillary Rodham Clinton's main Iowa campaign headquarters, dozens of operatives formed a chain loading snow shovels and boxes filled with election materials and T-shirts for precinct captains onto a fleet of rented U-Haul trucks.

The Clinton campaign is leaving nothing to chance in turning out the caucus vote for the New York senator on Thursday. And if it snows (the forecast now is "mostly sunny"), the campaign expects its volunteers to wield shovels if that's what it takes to get Clinton supporters to their neighborhood caucus.

Sweet: New Obama spot, "Hope."

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DES MOINES, IA.--The latest Obama spot. The last shot comes from a rally in July.

Sweet: New Obama ads

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DES MOINES, IA.--The campaigns are hustling to finish producing new end of campaign spots to deliver to television stations before they close for the weekend. Campaigns will also have less potential to throw last minute spots into the rotation because of the New Years Day holiday.

Barack Obama released two new spots on Friday and more are on the way..... This is an Iowa ad.



click below for other spot...

Sweet: New Clinton Iowa ad.

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DES MOINES, IA.--A new wave of spots are hitting Iowa the weekend before the Jan. 3 caucus. Hillary Rodham Clinton talks about the housing crisis in this ad, one of her closers.

DES MOINES, IA.—The Obama campaign faced a distraction on Thursday after some news outlets ran stories suggesting chief Obama strategist David Axelrod seemed to link Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war with the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

DES MOINES, IA.—The assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday shook off the domestic narrative—at least for a day-- that has been dominating the closing days of the deadlocked Democratic presidential primary in Iowa.

With the race so close, Bhutto’s death could have an impact on the outcome in Iowa and the other early voting states if the conversation turns to national security experience and judgment in an age of terrorism.

But then again, a severe winter storm the night of Jan. 3 may also make a difference on who wins in Iowa.

DES MOINES, IA.--The assasination of Benizir Bhutto quickly brought a strong reaction from top U.S. government officials and the 2008 GOP and Democratic presidential candidates.

Included in this searchable package
*Statements from President Bush and Senators....Joe Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, John Kerry, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Lieberman and former Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. John Boehner.
*White House briefing.

december27 001 Teleprompter laptop loaded with Barack Obama speech. Obama reads from text for major speeches. (photo by Lynn Sweet)
DES MOINES, IA.--White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) departed from his prepared text at the start of a speech billed as his closing argument to say he was "shocked and saddened" by the assasination of Benizar Bhutto.

"We want to make clear we stand with Pakistan in their quest for Democracy."

Obama underscored the highly aspirational core of his campaign and his hope and change message in his speech. Hope, said Obama is not "blind optimism."

Excerpt...."In the end, the argument that is going on between the candidates in the last seven days is not just about the meaning of change. It’s about the meaning of hope. Some of my opponents appear scornful of the word; they think it speaks of naivete, passivity, and wishful thinking.

But that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task before or that roadblocks will stand in our path."


december27 002 (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WEBSTER CITY, Iowa -- "You want to make a good closing argument," Barack Obama is saying Wednesday, explaining why he is sharpening and retooling his stump speech, bolstering his message of change and methodically working to portray Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretive and anything but a change agent.

The Illinois senator is commenting about the tight Democratic race in a Hy-Vee grocery store, his first visit to a food store since he started his presidential run almost a year ago. He shook hands and visited with surprised shoppers, asking them for their caucus vote.

WEBSTER CITY, IA.--Barack Obama picks up two boxes of Christmas cookies and some fruit during a stop at a Hy-Vee grocery. The cashier rang up $12.46. I asked him when he was last in a grocery store. "I have to admit," he said, "I have not grocery shopped since I started this campaign. It actually feels pretty good."

Obama made his first appearence, albeit short on the press bus when the entourage was ready to leave to drop off the cookies. (photos by Lynn Sweet)

december26grocery 003

december26grocery 009

click below for more pictures....

MASON CITY, IA.---A candidate can't be everywhere; surrogates fill the gaps. Michelle Obama is starting a seven-day Iowa swing on Wednesday and Barack Obama's two half sisters will also be traveling for him in the state.
Obama launches a "Stand for Change" swing in Mason City this morning.

Clinton starts a "Solutions: Time To Pick A President” tour today with former President Clinton and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and his wife Christie.

december26 002 Obama has a time-effecient system to autograph his books people bring to events. Here, a staffer at an Obama rally Wednesday morning at Newman Catholic High School asks a woman to leave her book with her and fill out a slip with id information. Obama later, in a holding area,will speed sign books lined up at a table. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

DES MOINES, IA.--After a short Chrisman break, five Democrats and three GOP presidential contenders plus their surrogates are stumping in Iowa on Wednesday, as their television spots saturate the airwaves.

Between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., with just a bit of channel surfing, I saw two Barack Obama spots; two Mitt Romney; two Joe Biden; one Chris Dodd; one Hillary Rodham Clinton; one Mike Huckabee; a spot for Edwards paid for by the Alliance for a New America, a 527 third party organization run by a former Edwards campaign manager, followed by an ad featuring Elizabeth Edwards funded by the campaign.

DES MOINES, IA.—There is a group of freelance photojournalists who are taking extraordinary pictures of the 2008 presidential contenders in Iowa. Last Spring, the four news photogs moved to Des Moines and rented a split level house.

They’ve gotten beyond visual clichés and the staged photo op. Each day, they pick a snap and feature it on their web site, www.thestumpinggrounds.com Check out their work http://www.thestumpinggrounds.com/ LINK

december25
Sign at gate F5 O'Hare 4:07 p.m. central. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--Good thing I arrived at Reagan National in Washington early for my 2:45 p.m. flight to Des Moines via Chicago. After a few days off the campaign trail, I'm back on road. But first, travel news.

United cancelled my flight but the communication system I praised in my Friday blog post failed on Christmas. United did not e-mail or robo call to tell me the flight was cut. I did not find out until I was at the airport; I was there at 1:15 p.m. and it turned out be a good thing I was early--and travelling with carry-on luggage, so I could be flexible.

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's campaign is increasingly concerned about whether anticipated spending by third parties -- known as "527s" -- for John Edwards and Hillary Rodham Clinton for television spots will hurt him in Iowa and the other early-voting states.

On Friday, Obama sent an e-mail to supporters deploring third-party spending for ads, mailings and phone calls.

WASHINGTON--Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton agree--the GOP will throw darts at the Democratic presidential nominee. Clinton, to dilute the argument that her baggage will give the Republicans ammunition, says any Dem will be roughed up. Obama Sunday on CBS "Face the Nation" said he'll be in better shape because he won't start out with high negatives.

CHICAGO (O'Hare Airport, gate B5)--For holiday travellers--the ride from the Sun-Times at 350 N. Orleans to O'Hare took 40 minutes (leaving) at about 3:30 p.m......security only 15 minutes or less. I'm headed to Washington D.C. on a United flight.

United has a very good system for keeping a passenger informed of changes--that is, if you have a cell phone and a blackberry or a way of constantly checking your e-mail. And you need to be when you fly United, especially from O'Hare on a Friday.

CHICAGO--Barack Obama defends his "present' votes while a state senator and says negative campaigning is not going to work in the 2008 cycle.

(my comment: except when it does.)

" You know, the same style of negative campaigning, trying to undermine folks because your message may not be resonating, I think that's not going to work in this kind of election, because people understand we've got some grave concerns.."

CHICAGO--To be president--or to run for the White House, one needs to know everything, such as why da Bears blew the season. During an interview on MSNBC Friday morning, "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough asked presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) "what the hell happened to the Bears this year."

"You know, it starts with the defense. We had some injuries, and the D collapsed. And that's how we won last year," Obama said.

Sweet: Mitt Romney new ad.

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CHICAGO--Mitt Romney released a new spot on Friday.

click below for script

CHICAGO--The Clinton campaign stepped up its criticism of White House hopeful Barack Obama for nearly 130 "present" votes he took in the state senate -- seeking to dilute his leadership claims -- while Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Obama was using strategy "widely accepted" in Springfield.

Three lawmakers backing Hillary Rodham Clinton -- Rep. Stephanie Tubb Jones (D-Ohio), Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) -- said in a conference call Thursday organized by the Clinton campaign that a string of "present" votes Obama cast while an Illinois lawmaker showed Obama avoided tough stands.

iowamap credit: Google Maps

CHICAGO---With 14 days left to the Iowa campaign, a CNN/Opinion Research released Thursday puts the Democratic race at a dead heat. LINK

Dems
Clinton 30
Obama 28
Edwards 26
Richardson 7
all others less

plus or minus 4 points.

click below for GOP contenders

CHICAGO--President Bush slammed the Democratic led Congress at a press conference Thursday morning for sending him a massive spending bill with 9,800 earmarks. He also resisted being dragged into commenting on the 2008 presidential race.

On earmarks: "And they made some progress and there's more transparency in the process, but they have not made enough progress. The bill they just passed includes about 9,800 earmarks. Together with the previously passed defense spending bill, that means Congress has approved about 11,900 earmarks this year. And so I'm instructing Budget Director Jim Nussle to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill."

click below for transcript...

Sweet: New Chris Dodd Ad

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CHICAGO---Latest spot from presidential campaign of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.)

CHICAGO--I'm starting to post political spots. Here's the latest from GOP hopeful Mitt Romney.

CHICAGO--With the holiday season started, the presidential campaigns in Iowa want to keep pushing--but not intrude. It is a delicate balance. The Obama campaign on Wednesday released this holiday greeting from the Obama family. Last week, the Clinton team produced an ad featuring Clinton, her mother Dorothy Rodham and her daughter Chelsea.


DES MOINES, IA.—“I think Obama shooting at us says everything,” Dave “Mudcat” Saunders is telling me on Tuesday.

Saunders is the rural strategist for former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) who now is seen as having found new momentum in Iowa, where Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) are deadlocked.

IMG_3012
Theater marquee at Sioux City Obama rally (photo by Lynn Sweet)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- As the Democratic presidential front-runners stumped in Iowa on Monday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) released new ads -- Clinton's touted her Des Moines Register endorsement;

CHEROKEE, IA.—The Barack Obama campaign just staged a photo op where the traveling press with cameras were “allowed” by his staff to take a picture of him getting off his bus as he entered the Washington High School for a town hall meeting. He pretended not to notice the gaggle of cameras a few feet from him.

SPENCER, IA.— Question for Monday: how will Barack Obama handle John Edwards showing strength—a stream of media attention finally and the cover of Newsweek with the headline “Sleeper.” An endorsement from the wife of the Iowa governor today.

Answer, as of 10:27 a.m. central time is that Obama is getting tougher against Edwards. Talking about the problem with “special interests,” Obama, speaking in the auditorium at Spencer High School, said, “everybody now in the campaign talks about how I am going to fight for you."

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa --Stumping across the same snow-covered Iowa countryside, Democratic primary rivals Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards clashed over a philosophical divide toward governance: Is it better to have a fighter or a pragmatist in the White House?

The question, being raised by Edwards in Sunday show interviews and in recent days, comes as Obama and Edwards are engaging with each other -- not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- with the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus looming.

SPENCER, IA.--Morning reading and viewing

My Sun-Times colleague Abdon Pallasch has a piece about Obama's years in Chicago as a lawyer. LINK

Key finding: "A search of all the cases in Cook County Circuit Court in which Obama made an appearance since he graduated from Harvard in 1991 shows: Zero.

His practice was confined mainly to federal court in Chicago, where he made formal appearances in.... a total of 10 cases..

MASON CITY, IA.---White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) attended a church service Sunday here at the First Congregational United Church of Christ—his denomination—and from the pulpit talked about how he came to find Christ and join a church in Chicago with a social action agenda.

Through the course of Obama’s presidential campaign, in targeted paid radio advertising and in some public appearences, Obama has stressed his Christianity. There are a few reasons why it is reasonable for Obama to talk about faith: It is a part of this life. People have questions about his faith because he has Muslim relatives. A faith-based appeal is part of his campaign. He has been reaching out to a demographic slice of faith-based “values voters” who care a lot about religion.

So Obama’s worship Sunday at the UCC church, where he was asked to do a reading from the pulpit, seemed a logical booking . He delivered a variation of his stump speech at the church (transcript below) and made good use of his time in a rural part of Iowa where a lot of people would be at church in the morning anyway.

MASON CITY, IA.—In this city, the birthplace of Meredith Willson, who wrote “The Music Man,” which debuted on Broadway 50 years ago on Wednesday, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) attended church and told the people sitting on the wood pews, “You don’t have to run for president to make a difference.”

He also took part in the church annual mitten toss.

The Obama press corps covered, heading to the First Congregational United Church of Christ here in this north central Iowa community, where news that Obama would attend a church service here and offer opening remarks made the front page, below the fold of the Sunday Globe Gazette.

MASON CITY, Iowa -- White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was forced to revise a critical stump line of his on Saturday -- a flat declaration that lobbyists "won't work in my White House" after it turned out his own written plan says they could, with some restrictions.


(an abbreviated report today because Obama just had a press conference)


INDEPENDENCE, IA.—The march to the bus over the crunchy snow started a little after 8 a.m. on Saturday, when Falcon Bulldog, (not his real name) the Secret Service representative minding the press on the Barack Obama bus said it was time to load up.


Last night, the Obama traveling press stayed at a Country Inn & Suites, very decent no-frills place with added plus of being a no-smoking facility and having Pantene shampoo and cream rinse.

INDEPENDENCE, IA.—The power of product advertising is such that everyone here just knew the punchline this Saturday morning without White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama having to say a thing.

Here’s the set-up to a communal moment.


OELWEIN, IA.—A confident Barack Obama was predicting Friday that “we might just win this thing” as the former community organizer methodically focused on moving undecided voters to his side.

MONTICELLO, IA.---As the sun was rising over the snow covered Iowa farmland, dotted with rolled bales of hay or straw (Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times kindly briefed me on the difference), the bus carrying reporters covering presidential candidate Barack Obama was headed towards Friday’s first campaign stop.

This is the first of a series of reports letting you ride along with me on the Obama bus tour that started on Thursday after the Democratic debate near Des Moines and wraps up there on Tuesday. You’ll meet among other people a Secret Service representative on the bus with us I am code-naming Falcon Bulldog, since I have promised to protect his identity. This is the backstage stuff; click elsewhere for my serious campaign columns.


MAQUOKETA, Iowa -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) personally apologized to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Thursday for comments one of her presidential campaign co-chairmen made about Obama's youthful drug experimentation, as Obama warned her not to engage in negative tactics.

This extraordinary exchange, lasting about 10 minutes, according to Obama chief strategist David Axelrod, came on the tarmac at Reagan National Airport, where charter planes for the senators were waiting to fly them to Iowa for the final Democratic debate before the Jan. 3 caucus.

Reporting from the Obama campaign, the presidential contender spoke to kids in a New Hampshire high school about his days as a student and his experimentation with drugs and alcohol. To watch Sweet Video, click here.

JOHNSTON, IA.--Hillary Rodjam Clinton's co-chair Bill Shaheen stepped down Thursday after he made comments about Barack Obama's youthful drug use. Obama received a personal apology from Clinton on the tarmac at Reagan National Airport where their charter planes were waiting side-by-side to take them to the Democratic debate here, the last before the Jan. 3 caucus.

Obama campaign top strategist David Axelrod said the apoloigy was a "nice gesture" as far as it went" and suggested the Clinton campaign needed to send a "strong signal" about negative campaigning.

Jay Carson, a Clinton spokesman said she told Obama, "I think you want to hear this from me," as she told him she did not condone bringing up Obama's drug use he wrote about in his memoir and has discussed--though rarely--on the campaign trail.

As Axelrod was speaking, the Clinton campaign was preparing to send out news of Shaheens resignation.

click below for statement

DES MOINES--Hours before the start of the final Democratic debate before the Jan. 3 caucus here, the Barack Obama campaign is making a fund-raising appeal based off of a Clinton backer bringing up Obama's past experimentation with drugs.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe writes in a pitch for $25 donations, "On Wednesday, their top advisor in New Hampshire tried to recycle old news by smearing Barack for experimenting with drugs as a young man -- something Barack candidly wrote about years ago in his memoir and has since talked about with young people in an effort to teach them the lessons he learned from his mistakes."

The Clinton campaign said it did not condone the comments of New Hampshire Clinton co-chair Bill Shaheen. The Clinton operation was not looking to stir up controversy the day before a big debate. Shaheen said he was not talking on behalf of the campaign. This episode shows how just a few words can quickly change the dynamic of a race and inject new narratives into the campaign storyline.

Click below for Plouffe letter...

DENVER--UPDATE The Clinton campaign issued a strong statement distancing the candidate from comments New Hampshire Democrat Bill Shaheen a Clinton campaign co-chair made about Barack Obama's experiments with drugs while a youth. "Senator Clinton is out every day talking about the issues that matter to the American people. These comments were not authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way."
UPDATE
“I deeply regret the comments I made today and they were not authorized by the campaign in any way,” said Bill Shaheen.

OLD
It's happened.
In New Hampshire, the Hillary Clinton campaign has raised questions about whether Barack Obama's admission of youthful drug experimentation will provide fodder for Republicans--and make his less electable.

Raising this electability argument now is being done because New Hampshire and Iowa voters are thought to often make up their minds not so much who they personally like--but who they think may be the strongest Democrat to win the general election.


Obama campaign manger David Plouffe says it is a "desperate effort" coming in the wake of Clinton's drop in the polls.

LOS ANGELES -- As Sen. Barack Obama shows increasing strength in the early presidential voting states -- making it more likely he will win the Democratic nomination despite trailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in national polls -- their campaigns sparred Tuesday over who was better positioned to win a general election.

The backdrop to this debate is polling data that shows all the three top Democrats -- Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards -- are in a strong position to beat any of the Republicans running. Edwards' prospects against a GOP contender are the best, according to the latest CNN poll.

LOS ANGELES---Here's what you need to know to view or listen real time or on repeats the Wednesday GOP presidential debate in Iowa and the Democratic debate on Thursday.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CALIF.--Back in December, 2003, Barack Obama, running for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois, filled out an extensive questionnaire from the unabashed liberal Independent Voters of Illinois – Independent Precinct Organization.

In the past months of the campaign, I have referred to Obama's answers in the questionnaire when various topics have been in the news and Obama's current positions were presented in a different light in the past.

But the spotlight is growing more intense as the crucial Jan. 3 Iowa caucus is just days away.

The IVI-IPO paper trail is being looked today in a story at Mike Allen and Ben Smith at Politico.com. They pored over the 1996 IVI-IPO questionnaire Obamal submitted when he was running for a state senate seat from Hyde Park, one of the most liberal enclaves in Illinois. The Allen-Smith lede stresss Obama's stands in 1996 and now.

When Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was seeking state office a dozen years ago, he took unabashedly liberal positions: flatly opposed to capital punishment, in support of a federal single-payer health plan, against any restrictions on abortion, and in support of state laws to ban the manufacture, sale and even possession of handguns.
LINK

UNIVERSAL CITY, CALIF.---Actor James Whitmore portrayed Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman and on Monday night, at a fund-raiser for Barack Obama he took to the stage again to say the Illinois senator had the “wisdom” to lead the nation.

From Whitmore to actor Kal Penn (who is volunteering in Des Moines for the campaign), singer Ne-You, the Goo Goo Dolls and the former Chicago television journalist Giselle Fernandez now living in Los Angeles, a friend of Obama's, the personalities took the stage at the Gibson Amphitheater here as warm-up acts for Obama, fresh from a weekend swing with Oprah Winfrey.

“After Oprah, that’s a whole other story,” Obama told the crowd, who gave him a thunderous reception.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CALIF.—At an amphitheater next to the lots and sets of Universal Studios, and fresh from a weekend swing with Oprah Winfrey, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Monday again used the lure of celebrity to generate support and cash for his campaign.

From comedian Chris Rock at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem last month, to singer Macy Gray and other artists at Chicago’s Riveria Theater in Uptown on Friday, to Winfrey in three crucial early voting states, Obama wraps up a string of coast-to-coast events spiced by celebrities with a concert where Ne-You and the Goo Goo Dolls were expected to perform.

MANCHESTER, N.H.—Oprah Winfrey, after two days on the presidential campaign trail for pal Barack Obama on Sunday was home on the stump, delivering the fourth political speech of her life, flying here from a rally in South Carolina.

“You know, we started out in Iowa last night, I was a little nervous,” said Winfrey to an audience of about 8,500 at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

“I’m beginning to like this. I’m beginning to like this. I’m beginning to like it because I can feel that you are ready for a change.”

MANCHESTER, N.H.--Oprah Winfrey, Day 2. A crowd is filling the Verizon Wireless Arena. The program will start in about 30 minutes. Guesstimate now on attendance is 10,000, better figures to come later. Will Barack Obama, who is seeking the support of organized labor, an influential force in Democratic politics, mention how the stagehands union is trying to organize here? The Obama campaign got a waiver from the NH AFL-CIO to book the rally here without pickets.

For a summary of the labor dispute surrounding the Verizon arena, Boston Globe story LINK

MANCHESTER, N.H.--Oprah Winfrey stars in a double feature Sunday, stumping in South Carolina and New Hampshire for White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Obama caught flak for booking his event here in a non-union venue, the Verizon Center. Labor in an important part of the Democratic primary base vote.

My colleague Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell is in South Carolina; her blog reports LINK


DES MOINES, IA.—A nervous Oprah Winfrey left the comfort zone of the media empire she rules to deliver the first political speech of her life for her friend, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), telling thousands of Iowa voters, “At last, I’m here.’’

SOMEWHERE ON RTE. 80 EN ROUTE TO CEDAR RAPIDS, IA.--I'm typing using a camping headlamp, in a car as we're driving in an ice storm from Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, where Oprah Winfrey will make her second stump appearence for White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

Below are excerpts from Winfrey's speech I just transcribed.

“….No, I’ve never done this before. And it feels like I am out of my pew, I’m out of my terrain. Backstage somebody said, ‘Are you nervous?’

“I said, ‘You’re damn right I’m nervous. Yes I am because I’ve never done this before.

DES MOINES, IA.--Someone in this packed hall here yelled out "Oprah for vice president."

"You want Oprah as vice president?" says Obama. "That would be a demotion, you understand that."

Obama is speaking now, and Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama are sitting on stolls listening as Obama paces the platform. Winfrey seemed to be reading from notes; Obama is not. After all, he's been hosting campaign rallies since February. This matinee performance is extraordinary because Winfrey, who is used to controlling every aspect of her public appearences is making her first-ever political speech.

Obama is thanking Winfrey for coming out for him. She's never endorsed, much less campaign for a candidate.

It was "hard," Obama said, "for her to take the risk of her stepping out of her comfort zone. That takes an act of courage."

DES MOINES, IA.-A thunder of applause greets Oprah Winfrey as she takes the stage, then silence as people hang on her words. Oprah Winfrey is making her first political stump speech for her friend, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

Winfrey says she knows why she's here. She says that this political rally for Obama is not the same as her book-club or her give-away shows.

DES MOINES, IA.--Michelle Obama just starting speaking to a sardine-packed Hy-Vee Hall here. She jokes, "So Oprah and Barack could not be here.I 'm sorry. I'm going to sing for you for the next hour."

Could be as many as 18,000 in this hall...no firm estimates

By the numbers...tickets in Des Moines distributed by the campaign...12,000
Tickets printed online....11,000

...There are a lot of you here!Thousand of people are packing the floor of t

DES MOINES---The Clinton campaign has come up with a counter-programming move to drag press attention away from the Obama/Oprah rallies in Iowa Saturday, by finally bringing on the stump Chelsea Clinton.

Just think...on a day when Obama has Oprah Winfrey helping him the all important undecided female voters, there will be three generations of Clinton women on a stage.

The debut of Chelsea, who works in New York, has been anticipated for a long time. She is appearing with her grandmother, Dorothy Rodham at three stops in Iowa. Former President Bill Clinton is in South Carolina.

Just think...on a day when Obama has Oprah Winfrey helping him the all important undecided female voters, there will be three generations of Clinton women on a stage.

Chelsea is not planning to speak. A campaign staffer, aware that this is Oprah day, said Chelsea is suddenly appearing because "She wanted to spend the day campaigning with her mother and grandmother."

DES MOINES, IA.--Des Moines television station WHO is reporting Saturday morning that there are stil tickets available for the Oprah Winfrey/Barack-Michelle Obama rally here this afternoon.

Obama has at least three tv spots on right now, and I've seen them all at least twice since I checked in my hotel last night. Mitt Romney spots have popped up. Not seen anything for Hillary Clinton.

UPDATE--Just saw an Edwards spot. Aspirational in concept, just as Obama's ads. Not as effective because Edwards is talking to the camera and Obama is shown speaking at a rally.

DES MOINES--Barack Obama is in Chicago Friday night, for a low-dollar funder concert at the Riveria in Uptown. For a report from the front, Sun-Times political writer Abdon Pallasch LINK

For the live blog rockology of the concert with Macy Gray, Jeff Tweedy, Jill Sobule, Stephan Jenkins and Leo Kremer by Sun-Times webster Mark Bieganski LIVE BLOG LINK

DES MOINES, IA.—“Oprah and I were in Baltimore together,” Sen. Barbara Mikulsi (D-Md.) is telling me as we are waiting to board a plane to fly from Washington to Des Moines. Winfrey left a Baltimore television station in 1983 for Chicago.

“I was in the Baltimore City Council when Oprah was making her way on Baltimore TV. And we shared some of the limelight and some of the same diet doctors. So I have counted calories with Oprah, but now I am counting votes for Hillary,” Mikulski said.

This report by Abdon M. Pallasch, Sun-Times political writer...

CHICAGO--Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani preached free-market economics to the annual meeting of the Illinois Manufacturers Association in Chicago Friday: Lower taxes; elimination of the inheritance or “death tax”; lowering of the capital gains tax; and restircting lawsuits and large verdicts against businesses are all part of Giuliani’s plan to keep America’s economy strong.

WASHINGTON—Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign booked the main hall of Union Station here for a fund-raiser that yielded some $1 million dollars attended by 1,200 people, not counting Frosty, the Snowman and Rudolph, the reindeer.

Dear Frank,

I never thought I’d be covering you again, not after your exit as president of the CTA.

(Now I may not be paying you much attention for awhile because I am preoccupied with the presidential campaign. But we do go back—to the 1980s when you were with then Cook County States Attorney Richard M. Daley and I was covering Cook County and the Daley Center courts and the 1990s, when you were in the Transportation Department in Washington and then when you returned home with the city-federal aviation portfolio.)

Was I ever surprised that Mayor Daley tapped you on Thursday to be the city’s federal lobbyist in Washington given the circumstances of your departure from the CTA, which Sun-Times City Hall ace Fran Spielman details in her story. LINK

WASHINGTON--The Obama campaign has been making a big push for younger supporters--their votes and their donations, even if they are on the low dollar side. What better way to capture the I-pod vote--"Generation Obama" than to provide tunes at a political rally.

The campaign, which almost never publicizes high dollar events, is splashing the headliners for two funders coming up, at the Riviera in Chicago near Lawrence and Racine and on Monday in Universal City near Los Angeles.

The Riviera, once a great movie theater in the mighty B&K chain, will host Macy Gray--just added to the show on Thursday LINK TO LISTEN as well as Jeff Tweedy, Jill Sobule, Stephan Jenkins and Leo Kremer.

At Universal City, the musical guests include Goo Goo Dolls and Ne-Yo.

These funders bracket the Iowa-South Carolina-New Hampshire swing the Obamas are taking with Oprah Winfrey--or as the Obama campaign calls her, Ms. Oprah Winfrey.

WASHINGTON--For Iowa watchers, check out Politico's roll-over Iowa map pop-out graphic detailing the visits Obama, Clinton and Edwards have made to each of Iowa's 99 counties. LINK

Obama, Clinton and Edwards all have videos explaining how to caucus. To view Edwards' new caucus video VIDEO LINK


WASHINGTON--GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addressed his Mormon faith on Thursday in a speech designed to quiet concerns among Christian evangelical voters who have questions about his religion. (previous post LINK


He invoked the name of John F. Kennedy, who in 1960 gave a speech about what he called this "so-called religious issue" at a time when no Catholic had been elected president. and Kennedy battled anti-Catholic sentiment.

Click below for Kennedy speech and link to listen, courtesy of JFK presidential library...

WASHINGTON—GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney is at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas to talk about faith in America. But a broad sweep regarding religion is not what is supposed to be offered in the speech; rather, Romney is addressing his Mormon religion. In the GOP primary, some evangelical voters, a critical base vote, have reservations about the Mormon candidate.

The speech just started. " If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
Romney said.

"I believe that Jesus Christ is the savior and the son of God."

WASHINGTON---From the Rudy Giuliani campaign....

"..On Friday, Mayor Giuliani will make his eight campaign trip to the state, delivering remarks to the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association’s Annual Meeting and holding a town hall meeting with Illinois voters in the Chicago area."

WASHINGTON--The latestDemocratic poll from New Hampshire by ABC News and the Washington Post.

Hillary Clinton 35%,
Barack Obama 29%
John Edwards 17%
Bill Richardson 10%
Dennis Kucinich 3%
Joe Biden 2%
Chris Dodd 1%

WASHINGTON—Demand for tickets to see Oprah Winfrey appear with White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in South Carolina on Sunday is so high that the campaign moved the event to an 80,250-seat football stadium.

The Obama team and is doing away with tickets because of the strong demand and switching the event to the Williams-Brice Stadium, the home to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. This was the biggest venue the campaign could find in Columbia.

WASHINGTON--There is an intersection between show business and politics where political and entertainment celebrities mix. And on Wednesday, Ellen DeGeneres parked herself on that corner when she interviewed one of the first daughters, Jenna Bush.

Turns out Jenna she wants to meet Chelsea Clinton. (Who is expected to surface any week now to stump for her mom.)

Said Jenna, on a book tour, "maybe we'll go get a cup of coffee in New York when this is all over." Said Ellen, "we should have coffee too. I'll be your friend."

for fun reading, click below...

WASHINGTON—That a 2008 Democratic presidential rival would make an issue of Sen. Barack Obama’s present votes while an Illinois state senator could not have been a big surprise to Obama’s campaign, especially given who a key staffer is on the rival Clinton team.

Obama’s present votes were used against him when he ran for U.S. Senate in the 2004 Democratic Illinois primary, in one of the few negative hits aimed at him in that contest.

NPR NEWS AND IOWA PUBLIC RADIO DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: COMPLETE
RUSH TRANSCRIPT

Below is a complete rush transcript of the NPR News and Iowa Public
Radio national Democratic Presidential debate. All excerpts must be
credited to "NPR News." Television usage must include on-screen NPR News
credit with NPR logo.

WASHINGTON---Gov. Blagojevich set the dates to replace former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) who quit the House last month before the end of his term.

election to fill Hastert's remaining time in current term
primary Feb. 5
general March 8
winner will serve out term ending Jan., 2009

election to fill 4th congressional district seat
primary Feb. 5
general November.
winner will start two-year term in Jan., 2009

WASHINGTON--Barack Obama hit Boston for fund-raisers and a visit with the Boston Globe. Report on Boston Globe blog LINK

WASHINGTON--Barack Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe is sending out a call Monday for supporters to be on the alert for, and to report, anything they see that can be construed as a negative hit from chief rival Hillary Clinton. New Hillary Clinton Obama site. LINK

" We're asking all of you to be vigilant and notify us immediately of any attacks from Senator Clinton or her supporters as soon as you see them so that we can respond with the truth swiftly and forcefully," Plouffe writes.

WASHINGTON — Contradicting his father, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) writes in a Sun-Times column running Monday on the paper’s editorial pages that White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is a “powerful, consistent and effective” advocate for African Americans. LINK
(full version below)

WASHINGTON--A new Des Moines Register poll out Saturday will drive a lot of the storyline going in the next week as Democrat Barack Obama grabs the lead in Iowa getting more female support at this point than chief rival Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Meanwhile, at a debate Saturday in Des Moines, the Clinton camp gave former Illinois state Sen. Alice Palmer a seat next to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Why Palmer? Palmer--who is running as a Clinton delegate in Chicago--was knocked off the ballot by Obama when he first ran for state senator, his first elected position. Obama challenged Palmers' petition signatures. If the thought was to rattle Obama, his camp said it did not work.

The Des Moines Register top line

It's Obama 28
Clinton 25
Edwards 23
all others below 20 percent

WASHINGTON--A Barack Obama campaign plan to encourage Iowa college students who are not from Iowa to caucus for him Jan. 3--especially those from neighboring Illinois--was spanked Saturday by Iowa's leading political columnist. (UPDATE--Response from Obama campaign below)

While a scheme to make local someone from out-of-state (or from another district or ward) is business as usual in Chicago--textbook Illinois and Chicago politics---someone raised without a Chicago political sensibility may find this tactic offensive. It backfired into a negative column from Iowa's influential David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register.

In a column headlined "The Illinois Caucus," Yepsen writes, "No presidential campaign in memory has ever made such a large, open attempt to encourage students from out of state, many of whom pay out-of-state tuition, to participate in the caucuses. No other campaign appears to be doing it in this campaign cycle."

The Chris Dodd Iowa campaign sent out a release with the headline "New Politics shouldn't be about scheming to evade spirit of caucuses" and the Clinton Iowa campaign was also circulating the Yepsen column.

NEW YORK -- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who is running for president, breakfasted early Friday at a coffee shop here with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is eyeing an Independent White House bid. VIDEO LINK

Obama picked up the tab for the billionaire Bloomberg, paying in cash and leaving a $10 tip on the $17.34 check.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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