Live chat with Doyle McManus, Aaron Zitner and Janet Hook

Administrator2: Welcome, everyone, to today's chat on Campaign '08. We have Washington, D.C., bureau Chief Doyle McManus, Politics Editor Aaron Zitner and veteran politics writer Janet Hook ready to take your questions.

andy: Andy of from Kenya - I admire the way Americans go about in voting for their leaders - it's a process that eventually weans those that cannot serve at the top. This is in contrast here in Kenya - where even delayed announcements of poll results lead to skirmishes and the like. Kudod guys!

wallace: If and when Ron Paul doesn't win the nomination, do you think he'll run as an independent? And if so, how can we convince him to run as far, far away from here as possible? I find his candidacy bizartre. Have you, in your experience, ever seen anything like it? Ross Perot? John Anderson?

sudan: Hello all.

Kyle: Hello, thanks for hosting this discussion. Mr. Zitner, I'm curious about the conspicuous lack of press given by the Times to Ron Paul. Specifically, in the "Snapshots of the Candidates" feature. It seems very odd that you would exclude him given his popularity, his success in early primaries and his impressive debate performances.

davenj: Did anyone read Taylor Marsh's piece on Huffington Post

davenj: It was very enlightening

iheartcampaign08: what do you think the odds are that huckabee, giuliani and ron paul will remain in the race after super tuesday?

iheartcampaign08: would you say that, at this point in the race, john edwards is essentially running for vice president?

Janet Hook: Andy thanks for your comments on the contrast between our politics and those of other nations, like Kenya. What's been the reaction to Barack Obama's candidacy

Rita: Yes, I do think that Edwards is headed toward the VP spot.

Doyle McManus: Wallace, good question on Ron Paul. Congressman Paul has been asked this question and has said no, he won't run as an independent -- not even as a libertarian (they do have their own party, you know). His candidacy is unusual but not all that bizarre. The outlying fringes of each major party often produce a candidate or two, especially in a wide-open race like this one. It's a good way for unconventional ideas to get a national airing, if nothing else.

mark: Huckabee will stay in - so that he has a "voice" but he already knows that he will not be nominated for the Presidency.

wallace: What role has blogging played in this year's presidential election as compared to the last time around?

Janet Hook: Dear Iheartcampaign08, on John Edwards, I think yes that he's playing for influence, whether the vice presidency or some other role -- like kingmaker -- remainis to be seen. To say nothing of keeping the campaign interesting.

Rita: What can we do to get the Dems to speak more about social concerns? I'm shocked, for instance, that they seem to have ceded "family values" matters to Republicans.

Aaron Zitner: Hello all. Regarding Ron Paul: We have written several stories about Dr. Paul. In addition, we have covered him extensively on our politics blog, Top of the Ticket, where we have tracked where he has opened offices, which debates he has been admitted to and barred from, etc. We are aware that Dr. Paul has done better in several of the early primaries and caucuses than have Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson (he placed second in Nevada, behind Mitt Romney). Many factors go into our coverage decisions, and Dr. Paul's performance in the early contests will certainly be one of those factors.

Doyle McManus: Iheartcampaign08, I like your screen name! On your Super Tuesday question, I'd guess that there's an even chance that Huckabee and/or Giuliani will at least suspend campaigning if they don't do well, because they're running out of money. Ron Paul is more of a "message" candidate; I'd expect him to stay in to keep delivering his points anywhere he can.

iheartcampaign08: thank you janet, he definitely has made it interesting!

iheartcampaign08: thank you doyle-- that makes sense. and i like my screen name too! : )

iheartcampaign08: so doyle-- if dr. paul is a "message candidate"-- do you think the other "message candidate", kucinich, will stay in as well, even up to the convention?

Kyle: Mr. Zitner, agreed. Top of the Ticket has been a voice in the wilderness in terms of campaign coverage.

mark: Actually, Doyle, I believe that Huckabee is now running as a message candidate as well.

Doyle McManus: Rita, I don't think the Democrats would agree with you that they have "ceded" family values. You can expect all the Democratic candidates to talk a lot about jobs, unemployment insurance, home heating prices and mortgage foreclosures as what they will call "family values" too.

Kyle: Doyle, by "message" candidate do you mean not a "personality" candidate?

Doyle McManus: Mark, I'm going to stand up for Governor Huckabee; he came in second in SC, he's got a shot at winning Florida. And there's nothing wrong with being a "message" candidate. If a candidate doesn't have a message, he/she isn't going to get very far. One of Mitt Romney's problems has been that a lot of Republicans aren't sure just what his message is.

Kyle: This is not American Idol, what's wrong with a "message?"

Janet Hook: I keep wondering if the rancorous duel between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will hurt the Democrats in the long run. I wonder what my colleagues here, and our readers, think about that.

Rita: Yes, Doyle, they are dealing with those kinds of social values. But, not so much re the family values... e.g., huge breakdown of families through divorce--with tremendous associated costs.

pedro k-town: Wonder if Clinton's own a bottle of a1982 LaFite Rothschild

iheartcampaign08: mitt romney's message-- feathery hair for all americans!

Kyle: Janet, the Obama/Clinton feud is doing a great job highlighting how these candidates are the same in so many ways.

Doyle McManus: Kyle, my point exactly! But what I meant about Ron Paul as a "message" candidate was that he's likely to stay in there to talk about his message whether he has a realistic chance at winning the job or not.

mark: Doyle, according the news articles yesteday, Huckabee has suspended TV ads in Florida - to concentrate on greener pastures. And I wasn't being critical of Huckabee by referring to him as a message candidate - he has a number of strong affirming messages that I believe that he is using his candidacy to promote.

Aaron Zitner: Hi Wallace: I do think blogging has come to play a role in the election, in several ways. First, blogs run by motivated observers of the process -- some of them highly partisan -- have added to the discussion and made the whole campaign more interesting. The campaign is such a blizzard of information -- it's hard to track such a large number of candidates in depth -- and these blogs have helped to focus attention on candidate statements and actions that might otherwise escape notice. And blogs run by the mainstream media, including our Top of the Ticket blog, have become an additional way to bring the campaign to our readers. Sometimes, these are short items that do not appear in print and so would never reach our readers. The blog is also a way to bring readers the videos, campaign ads and similar material that can best be seen online. There is no doubt that, within the newspaper here, the blog is proving that our reporting has to be focused on the Web site as well as on our print edition.

Janet Hook: Kyle, do you mean that Obama and Clinton are alike in tactics?

pedro k-town: I wonder how close the Clinton's were with Mr. Hillraiser Norman Y. Hsu and how a FELON like him flew under the radar of the FBI , SECRET SERVICE , & CIA?

Kyle: peace and friendship with all nations, entangling aliances with none. how's that for a message

mark: Rita, I agree with you - it seems strange to me that with all the emphasis that the Democrats place on poverty, that they are ignoring the fact that family breakdown is probably the largest single cause of poverty in America.

Doyle McManus: Kyle, nice message. Was that George Washington?

Kyle: Janet, that's true, but no, I mean that in terms of policy positions and actual voting record, they are almost identical. for example, Obama's voting record on the iraq war is almost identical to clinton's. And yet we're supposed to believe that he is ant-war?

mark: Kyle, that's way too polyanna sounding for my tastes.

Kyle: Jefferson

Doyle McManus: Everyone, just so you know, we have a new LATimes/Bloomberg poll coming out tonight. It'll be on our website about 4 pm Pacific time. We're still analyzing the data, but I think I can give you this small preview: the Republican race is still wide open.

Rita: Really, Mark! Divorce costs state and federal government a lot! More families on the welfare, health problems, problems at work. People don't realize how much family breakdown is costing our nation!

mark: Kyle, Jefferson's times were far different than ours - we are much more interdependent now.

Janet Hook: Mark, no better example than the recent global stock market crash, don't you think?

Kyle: Doyle, I think polls are anti-democratic. They do not guage public opinion so much as they try to shape it. besides, people lie. I lie to pollsters all the time. it's fun. I wish everyone would just jang up on them when they call.

mark: Yes, Janet, I totally agree with you.

Rita: Not at all unsolvable, Mark. Marriage Education programs can be very effective in helping couples stay together.

iheartcampaign08: a lot has been said about the "experience vs. change" thing-- but who would you say is REALLY the most experienced candidate? mccain? i don't object to hillary, but i don't really see her as the most experienced of the pack, no matter what she says.

Aaron Zitner: Hello, Pedro. Norman Hsu was a leading fund-raiser for the Clinton campaign. He seemed to be a fan on of the political game, someone who enjoyed being around powerful politicians. I'd refer you to our coverage of Mr. Hsu to determine for yourself how close he was to the Clintons. As to how he flew under the radar of the FBI and CIA: the criminal case that Mr. Hsu evaded for many years was a state case.

mark: Rita, what do you mean by "Marriage Education programs"? Are you referring to marrriage counseling?

mark: Heart, I LOVE Romney's real-world practical experience - I would love to see him put that experience to work in the White House.

Rita: Marriage Education classes are different than counseling. They teach couples skills for getting along. However, most people don't know much about them, even though the government has actually started funding them, because they cost a lot less than the cost of cleaning up after divorce.

Doyle McManus: Rita, one thing Bill Clinton always tried to do was frame Democratic proposals in terms of supporting working families. You'r right that the Democrats this year, including Hillary Clinton, haven't put much emphasis on it -- yet. But I'll bet they will once they'rerunning against a Republican nominee.

mark: Rita, is there any evidence that these Marriage Education programs actually work?

Kyle: are you people serious? government-run-marraige education?

Janet Hook: Mark -- That's the heart of Romney's pitch, especially now that voters are getting so much more concerned about the economy, he argues that his business experience will help him manage the economy

Rita: Yes, Doyle, one of the best ways to help working families is to help them make the family structure work well for them. That, once again, can be done by marriage ed. And, Mark, YES, there is a lot of evidence that marriage ed works--or else the federal government wouldn't have decided to fund it.

Kyle: marriage, whatever. I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone.

Doyle McManus: Speakiing of marriage, does anyone think Giuliani's history of marriages will hurt him?

Kyle: How about we stop dropping bombs on brown people, then work on family life.

mark: Kyle, get out of the twilight zone - most people I know get married....and their marriages are pretty darned important to them!

Clare: If Guiliani is the nominee against the Clinton's, I think it's a draw.

Aaron Zitner: Hi iheartcampaign: Yes, what counts as experience has been a central question in the campaign. It has been fascinating on the Republican side, where McCain's national security experience, Romney's business experience and Huckabee's religious background have won each of them a distinct and solid block of Republican voters. On the Democratic side, voters are being asked to decide whether Barack Obama's untraditional background, including his time growing up in Indonesia and his work in community organizing, are as useful as preparation for the presidency as are Hillary Clinton's long work in government and her stint as first lady.

Rita: Yes, I do think that Giuliani's marital history is a factor for him. If you can't succeed in your marriage, maybe you can't succeed in establishing other successful relationships... You gotta think about that as a factor when you assess his capacities.

Doyle McManus: Clare, you may be right. Too much dirt on both sides to throw any more?

mark: Hello Aaron; yes, I agree - but overall it looks to me that the Republican candidates will definitely win the Experience battle against ANY of the Democratic candidates.

Aaron Zitner: Hi Mark. Experience cuts both ways. It will be interesting to see, for example, whether opponents will try to highlight the business deals in which Mitt Romney had a hand that resulted in job layoffs or business closings.

mark: That's true, Rita - I think the "family values" Republicans will MUCH prefer Romney or Huckabee over Giuliani for this very reason. Both Huckabee and Romney send clear pro-family and pro-marriage messages that are VERY appealing to the general population.

Clare: I think most voters will always be interested in the personal lives of the candidates, but in a face off with the Clintons it would be hard to hold Giuliani's personal life against him. The issue that interests me more and more -- and I don't think the country has really settled down to ponder it, is what a dual-presidency would look like. I mean, does anyone really believe that Bill Clinton is not going to be involved if Hillary is elected?

Kyle: I know, lets

Kyle: start a "war on divorce"

Aaron Zitner: May I ask: What do people think of Rudy Giuliani's chances of rebounding and winning this thing?

Kyle: you know like the war on terror or the war on drugs

mark: Yes, Aaraon, I'm sure they will. As a matter of fact I believe that is what Huckabee was referring to when he asked about voting for someone who "looks like the guy who laid you off".

Rita: Yes, mark, but what I don't like about the typical way Republicans talk about "Family Values" is that they make it seem like all you need to do is "value the family", when our 50% divorce rate--acrossl political affiliations--makes it clear that "values" isn't enough. People need to learn what it takes to create and sustain an in-tact family.

Kyle: too bad the drug war is working so well cause I could really use a bong rip right now

mark: Aaron, I think Giuliani is "done". It looks to me like he will lose both Florida AND New York (both winner-take-all states). After that, he'll be in pretty sad shape.

Doyle McManus: To everyone, do you think immigration will return as an issue in the campaign? Could it be the sleeper issue?

Rita: Actually, Kyle, I like your idea of a "War on Divorce"! Let's declare it, and fight the war with knowledge!!

Aaron Zitner: Kyle: That's a good point. Huckabee's line was rapier-sharp. He said that most people want a president who looks like the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off. That was a very succinct way of pointing out that Romney's finance firm was responsible for layoffs as well as for some well-known successes, such as the Staples office supply stores, which have created jobs.

mark: Rita, I guess you have a point. As I think about it, I realize that the main reason families break apart is because the parents break up - so I guess if you can keep the parents together you'll keep the families together. You may be on to something there.....

Clare: By the way, I want to take this opportunity to say how much I enjoy this blog -- the Top of the Ticket. I particularly enjoy the writings of the two lead bloggers: Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm. They have very different styles and make a good balance -- although I also enjoy the other postings.

Janet Hook: Doyle, I don't think immigration has disappeared as a campaign issue. Candidates of both parties are asked about it all the time in town hall meetings. And I think as the economy worsens, anxiety about immigration might get exacerbated

Aaron Zitner: Mark and others: How do you like Huckabee's chances?

Aaron Zitner: Clare: Thanks for the endorsement of Top of the Ticket! Click early and often!

Rita: Aaron--I think Huckabee is toast. Marginalized himself too much right from the start.

Clare: Personally, the more I learn about Huckabee, the less attractive I find him. I think there is something in the water in Arkansas.

Kyle: second the praise for TOT

mark: Aaron, I think Huckabee has excellent chances - of being drafted as McCain's VP candidate if McCain gets the nomination. I actually believe that the "2 men standing" after Super Tuesday will be McCain and Romney. BTW, I look for Romney to take Florida by AT LEAST 5 points.

Janet Hook: Rita -- It's hard to see how Huckabee will come back from his money woes. Does anyone see any statees on Super Tuesday that Huckabee might take?

Clare: I just really like Don and Andrew's writing voices.

Aaron Zitner: Mark: If it comes down to McCain versus Romney, who do you think will win, and why?

Kyle: I only wish TOT got more exposure on the main pages of the TImes.

mark: Janet, I think Huckabee might take a few of the Southern states.

Clare: Am I the only one who feels Romney is just coming into his own?

mark: Aaron, I think Romney will beat McCain. In a war of attrition, bet on the candidate that has a war-chest.

Janet Hook: Mark -- the problem for huckabee is that super tuesday campaigning is going to be so driven by advertising (i.e. money). Huckabee can't be everywhere the way he was in Iowa.

Rita: The polls are showing Hillary in the lead, but somehow I feel it's going to be Obama, and with Edwards as his VP. Does anyone else agree with me.

Clare: Also, in McCain vs Romney...I think the preponderance of states remaining have primaries run by the parties, and GOPers will vote for Romney over McCain.

Clare: Elephants have long memories!

Aaron Zitner: Hi Clare: I can see why you would say Romney is coming into his own. For months, he was trying to turn himself into the conservative's conservative. That was tying him in knots. Each time he adopted a conservative position, he was confronted by more moderate or liberal things he had said in the past. Now, Romney seems to be running on his business experience and casting himself as a competent manager. With anxiety about the economy now skyrocketing, that may be a great strategy.

mark: Janet, I agree. I also think that Huckabee's suspending TV advertising in Florida at the same time that Thompson dropped out will provide a HUGE benefit to Romney. He stands as the lone Conservative in Florida while Giuliani and McCain will have to split the more moderate Republicans.

Janet Hook: Kyle -- You are such a fan of TOT -- are you a relative of Andrew's????

Aaron Zitner: Rita, just curious. Why do you believe that Obama will make up his gap with Clinton?

mark: Yes, Aaron, and if Romney can combine his business experience with "family values" - based upon his strong family and marriage, he might be able to put together a significant coalition of voters.

Janet Hook: Mark -- Romney's money is especially useful in Florida, because the media is so expensive there. Do you think Thompson might endorse McCain before Florida votes?

Rita: Aaron, I think Hillary's current "grouchiness" with Obama feeds into the public perception of her as unattractive--vs. the time in NH when she softened and won that primary. And, somehow her current posturing seems defensive.

Clare: I missed the beginning of this chat so perhaps this issue was raised -- but I really think Obama's voting record -- voting "present" so foten -- will come back to bite him. And it should. It raises a lot of questions. Why won't he vote up or down, why won't he put himself on the record?

mark: Janet, he might. But that's all I can say on that question. Unfortunately my crystal ball is rather cloudy on that one.

Kyle: Janet: no. Where is he anyway?

Janet Hook: Clare -- Apparently the voting`present' thing was common in the Illinois legislature. It does pose a real problem explaining it outside Springfield. Its like members of Congress having to explain why they are absent for roll calls -- no explanation ever quite satisfies.

Kyle: I'm still a little miffed at them anyway for publishing "Excerpts from the Blogs" on Sunday making no mention of Paul or his supporters even

mark: Janet, if I am correct that Romney takes Florida, then I believe that he feel quite comfortable investing quite a bit more of his money in preparation for Super Tuesday. I think that he will see that as as real opportunity to put "delegate distance" between himself and McCain - who is his only real competition at this stage of the game.

Kyle: though the Paul related blog posts routinely

Janet Hook: Kyle--Just kidding. Andrew works out of Los Angeles. Don Frederick is here in Washington

Aaron Zitner: Ah, it looks like Rita and Clare see the Democratic race differently! Rita raises a good issue in Clinton's ``grouchiness.'' She has been effective in recent days in putting negative information about Obama into the news stream -- his ``present'' votes in the Illinois state senate, as Clare notes, and his ties to the troubled Chicago figure ``Tony'' Rezko. I guess the question is which is the more likely result: That Clinton is seen in a negative light for raising these issues, or that Obama is perceived as just another politician, not the special, transformative figure he is trying to be.

Kyle: draw 300 or 400 positive, well reasoned, and articulate comments.

Doyle McManus: Thank you all for joining our chat today. Please join us next week at this time when we talk about the results of the Florida primary. What a remarkable year. Thank you for joining us on the journey.

Clare: My understanding is he has voted 'present' in the Congress a good deal, too. Or am I wrong? And don't mistake my line of questioning, by the way. I think he is a helluva lot more attractive than Hillary Clinton. I think she and her husband are thoroughly corrupt.

Administrator2: Thank you for your time, Doyle, Aaron and Janet, and thanks to everyone who participated. Please check later today for a transcript of today's chat.

Kyle: yeah nice talkin to ya. Peace!

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