He can't drive, but once gave chase

Every presidential campaign wants to turn its candidate into a likable human being, someone you'd like to hang out with as a pal. One way to do this is to plop the candidate on TV shows with Ellen and Oprah and Tyra and the chatty gals over at "The View." Another way to reveal the human side is to dispatch a spouse to the same venues, unless the spouse's name is Bill.

Last fall we learned from Michelle Obama that Barack tends to leave his socks and underwear around the house and doesn't smell too great first thing in the morning.

Last week, John McCain's campaign sent wife Cindy off to "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" to win the millions of hearts of those sleepy American voters about to go to bed six months before the election.

She did get in that her husband is so healthy he's going to hike the Grand Canyon again this summer. The Arizona politician's wife also revealed that:

Her 71-year-old husband is "not the best of drivers," so she takes the wheel most times.

When they met at a party, both lied about their ages, McCain subtracting four years and Cindy adding four. And neither discovered the real 18-year difference until a newspaper published details from their marriage license.

At that same party, the Navy flier kind of followed her -- she used the word "chased" -- around the hors d'oeuvres table, and the possible future first lady thought to herself: "This guy's kind of weird."

Tough times for Bill

Bill Clinton is destined to be disgruntled no matter how Campaign '08 turns out. At least that is the conclusion veteran political analyst Albert R. Hunt reaches in his column for Bloomberg News.

Hunt pulls no punches in assessing how the ex-president's efforts, which many have seen as ham-handed, to promote Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy have done her little good and deeply bruised his own reputation. "The most talented and resilient politician of this generation," Hunt writes, "has damaged his standing with gaffes, political miscalculations and a series of paranoiac, volcanic eruptions.

"A common question these days among political heavyweights -- including longtime Clinton devotees -- is this: How can a guy this smart act so dumb?"

What most intrigued us, though, was Hunt's view of how the three possible November outcomes would affect the former White House occupant.

Least surprising is the GOP victory scenario: "Although he has a decent relationship with John McCain, given the continuing partisan resentment of Bill Clinton, he would remain largely in exile under a Republican president."

Most surprising is this: "If Hillary Clinton upsets the odds and wins the presidency, it's likely to prove an unhappy time for her husband. He would be scrutinized, politically and personally; political strains between the president and first spouse would emerge."

And then there is this: "A President [Barack] Obama would drive him crazy. If not irrelevant, it would make Clinton a secondary figure within his own country and party.

"There is little that would make him more frustrated or angrier."

Working off energy

Roy Williams, one of the most successful coaches in college basketball, has taken a shot at political prognostication.

"You've got the future president of the United States wide open," he shouted at one point to present and past University of North Carolina basketball players who were part of a pickup game Tuesday that included Obama (and apparently they weren't as willing as they should have been to pass to him).

The coaching tip from Williams, who won the national championship at UNC a few years back and led the Tar Heels to the Final Four this spring, earned him "quote of the day" honors from ABC's daily political note (no small achievement, given the sound bites Obama provided later at his news conference denouncing his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.).

If ever a politician needed to work off some nervous energy with a game of hoops, we imagine it was Obama as he grappled with the Wright controversy. Still, in the modern world it seems that even a little bit of recreation is no simple matter.

The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., reports that "an NCAA rule appears to have been broken" by the coach's presence at the game. The good news? According to the paper, "the NCAA is apparently going to ignore it."

Debate is a non-starter

Any time you hear a candidate in American politics propose a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate, you know he or she is losing.

Hillary Clinton is making that proposal daily. She knows Obama is not going to accept. He's said that many times, including on national TV to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," where he appeared after two years of delays.

He's got nothing to gain by accepting -- give in and give her more TV face time with voters when, frankly, debating hasn't been his strong suit.

Obama says he wants to spend his time meeting real voters and hearing and addressing their genuine concerns. He says he recalls from school days that the toughest playground talker wasn't always so tough.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were seven encounters around the state of Illinois in 1858 as Abraham Lincoln, still two years away from prime-time and seven years from assassination, argued with Stephen Douglas in a U.S. Senate race for three hours at a time. With no microphones, mind you. It was Lincoln's last election loss.

Candidates who are behind bring up those debates when they want to throw down a high-minded-sounding challenge. Clinton's proposal is for a 90-minute encounter with her Senate colleague, no moderator, just each one asking the other tough questions. Let the voters see for themselves, don't you know.

She'll drive this point home endlessly to feed the worry that Obama is not a tough enough fighter for the fall general election campaign.

Some columnists have recently suggested that Obama's above-the-fray attitude is wearing thin, raising concerns among some Democrats, contrasted with Clinton's scrappy gut-fighting. If he's afraid of debating a fellow Democrat, what's he gonna do when he confronts the former fighter pilot?

Since Clinton can't really catch Obama mathematically in regular delegates, her best hope is to feed doubts in the minds of superdelegates so that come the primaries' end in June, they'll disregard the numbers and go for the tougher-looking and more electable candidate, namely her.


Excerpted from The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www.latimes.com/


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