Live chat with Peter Wallsten

Diana Swartz: Welcome, everyone, to today’s chat with politics writer Peter Wallsten. I’m Diana Swartz, the web deputy for the paper’s politics coverage. Let’s get things started. Please submit your questions and comments.

meg: Hello! I haven’t seen any posting yet? Has this blog started?

Administrator2: Hi Meg, we’re starting now!

Johanna: Were you surprised that McCain won? Seems so amazing after his collapse last summer.

Peter Wallsten: I am no longer surprised by anything in this campaign, Johanna. It makes sense if you look at the poll -- the voters really like McCain as a person whereas they have not taken a shine to Romney.

Administrator2: How shocking is it that John Edwards is ending his campaign? Did most people expect him to remain in the race at least until Super Tuesday?

meg: I’m sorry that Edwards is bowing out already. I had really hoped he’d campaign in CA.

Peter Wallsten: Thanks for that question. Many people had taken Edwards at his word that he would remain in the race at least through Feb. 5. But he obviously decided that bowing out now with dignity was probably better than getting clobbered next week.

allison: Yes, I agree Meg. I had hoped to see him in the CA debates tomorrow for the Dems.

meg: I’m thinking that Obama might tap him for VP, but somehow, I doubt that Hillary would.

Johanna: Peter who gets the Edwards voters?

Peter Wallsten: Meg and Alison, I’m sure many Edwards backers and Dems feel the way you do. But this will dramatically change the tenor of the debate in California, giving voters their first chance to see a true one-on-one affair.

Diana Swartz: Anyone care to venture a guess on who Edwards will endorse?

meg: My guess, Diana, is that he’ll endorse Obama. He’s seemed more supportive of Obama, and more contentious with Hillary.

Peter Wallsten: Johanna - that’s the question of the day! Our polling shows that Edwards had been winning support from constituencies that typically go to both Clinton and Obama. The men who had been supporting Edwards could well go to Obama while the lower-income worker types could well go to Clinton.

Peter Wallsten: We could see an endorsement of some kind from Edwards before Feb. 5, but he is remaining coy. I talked today to one of his strategists who said he has no idea, but he hopes it’s “anyone but Hillary.”

allison: And by the way, for you LA Times staff, any ideas about what’s on the slate for the debates this week? What are the hot topics?

Peter Wallsten: You’ll have to tune into the debate to find out! It’s sponsored by the LATimes, among others. What do you think we should ask?

Karen: i cant decide between clinton and obama. help

Peter Wallsten: All I can recommend is to read the LATimes every day to inform yourself with our unique insights and reportage.

allison: Well, Peter, I was looking through the questions at, and I was actually really interested in the questions about marriage and divorce.

Administrator2: Any of you chatters have suggestions for Karen? Have you made up your minds about your primary votes yet?

allison: I am an aide at an elementary school, and I’ve observed firsthand the consequences to kids when their families are broken up.

Johanna: peter you just got back from florida...what’s the mood there among voters? is this an exciting election for them as well as for us junkies?

meg: Yes, I noticed there are a lot of questions about marriage--and how divorce costs the government so much in social services. Much more than I’d imagined.

allison: It seems like their parents’ marriages have so much impact on how they do in school, and socially as well. I’d like to see what the candidates have to say about that.

Peter Wallsten: Turnout in Florida was huge and voters there are keenly interested. Even Democrats, whose votes were less important because they did not determine any delegates, turned out in big numbers. I do think the Dems may have hurt themselves strategically by ceding the last few weeks of campaigning to the Republicans and allowing the GOP governor’s machine down there to lift McCain.

Peter Wallsten: Can we please stop all of the talk about divorce? I’m a newlywed!

Johanna: peter what did you think of the romney vs. mccain slugfest? it was amazing to me how ugly it got, so quickly

allison: Me too, Peter!

Peter Wallsten: Yes Romney and McCain really do not seem to like each other. Funny moment yesterday at a Romney event when GOP strategist Ralph Reed popped in and suggested that a McCain-Romney ticket was not out of the question. He likened the tension between the two candidates to the sore feelings between Bush I and Reagan in 1980. Not sure if that’s true, nor was it clear why the heck Ralph Reed was even at a Romney event in Tampa, Fla.

meg: No body wants to talk about divorce! But I think it’s one of the hugely important causes of many social problems--affecting health, workplace productivity, kids’ achievement in school, etc.

Johanna: but don’t clinton and obama also have a tense relationship? i mean was that a snub at the state of the union address? and could all of these odd couples live together as a ticket -- Clinton/Obama v. McCain/Romney?

allison: Yes, Johanna, sounds like a soap opera for sure.

Peter Wallsten: I interviewed a number of Dem voters yesterday who wanted a McCain-Obama ticket.As for the snub, I can’t say. Obama denies it, and Clinton in a TV interview last night was not rushing to correct anyone’s impressions.

allison: Thanks, Meg. That’s what I was trying to get at.

Tommy: Who does Edwards like better on a personal level? Obama or Clinton. And on a political level, to further his own future goals, would he gain more by endorsing Obama or Clinton

meg: I can see McCain/Romney or vice versa “living together” better than Clinton/Obama. Besides, I think that if Hillary gets the nod that she’ll need to “balance” with someone who’s not another “first” on the ticket--e.g., someone who’s not the first black VP. Although, II like personally like Obama a lot.

Peter Wallsten: Tommy -- He’d gain the most by endorsing whoever wins. But I guess that’s obvious. As for who he likes, his rhetoric seems similar at times to each Clinton and Obama, and I’m not sure he likes either of them particularly much.

Jim: Here’s a question for you all: if Obama wins, who’s his running mate? Likewise, Clinton? McCain? Romney? I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts about future strategy for the general.

meg: For Obama, I see Edwards. For Clinton, maybe Richardson or Biden. McCain and Romney I think could pair with each other, either way.

Peter Wallsten: I heard an interesting rumor that Obama might look for someone older and more experienced on national security. Perhaps Sam Nunn, the former Ga. senator.

Johanna: and what about bill clinton -- do you think hillary will muzzle him or let him run wild?

Peter Wallsten: For Clinton,it’ll be interesting to see who wants that job given a certain spouse who may have a great deal of power around the White House.

Johanna: Meg, I’m thinking McCain reaches out to Haley Barbour, gov of Mississippi. Gives him the South. Not sure what Romney does for him.

meg: Yes, Sam Nunn would bring in the experience, which would add a lot to the ticket. But, he’s a figure that’s not been on the public stage for a while... low voter appeal, perhaps.

allison: And that may be a good move for him (Obama), since one of the major criticisms with him is his inexperience in that area.

Peter Wallsten: OK, perhaps Sam Nunn is in the chat room? If he is, Sam, please wigh in.

meg: Another thing I’m surprised about with the Dems is that they haven’t been addressing some important social issues. Seems they’re trying to sound more like Republicans, and I’d sure like them to get back to their core values more!

Peter Wallsten: It is true that Democrats, in order to win certain states, have to find ways to appeal to independents and some Republicans, and sometimes that requires a moderated tone.

Johanna: do you think ron paul will play any role at the gop convention?

meg: I understand the concern to “moderate” themselves, Peter. Yet, as a Dem, I wish I felt they acted more like Dems themselves.

Peter Wallsten: Ron Paul. Who is that again?

Peter Wallsten: To the millions of Ron Paul fans out there, I was joking. Can’t say what role he’ll have at the Republican convention. But I would bet that if he gets a speaking time, it might be late late in the night.

Administrator2: And what about Giuliani? Are those in the know expecting him to end his campaign soon, in a similar fashion to Edwards? Or do you think he’ll stick it out until the end, even though he doesn’t seem to be getting much traction?

Administrator2: (Or have much money...)

Peter Wallsten: Funny you should ask -- he’s backing out today and endorsing McCain.

Johanna: is nancy reagan going to endorse mccain today too?

Administrator2: Gooootcha.

Peter Wallsten: That would make things fun if she did.

Jim: I have a feeling if Clinton got the nom., she might ask Jim Webb of VA.

Peter Wallsten: Still waiting on Sam Nunn’s response.

Administrator2: And McCain also has a supporter in Joe Lieberman, right? He seems to be raking in the endorsements.

allison: Peter, I’ve got Sam on the phone and he says he’d be happy to take the position

Peter Wallsten: That’s an interesting thought on Webb. Southerner, consistency on the war, a tough guy who knows how to shoot guns. That’d be an intriguing choice.

Johanna: it’s interesting to me that we have all these front runners who are senators...used to be that to win you have to be a governor

Jim: Webb would provide cover for Clinton on the war, and stabilize a potential shaky position in the “South.”

Peter Wallsten: Yes, it seems that senators always vote for things before they vote against them.

Peter Wallsten: Is that ‘Jim,’ as in Jim Webb -- with us here in the chat room?

Jim: Ah, Peter, can’t we all just be ourselves?

meg: I’d still like to see the Dems differentiate themselves from the Repubs by talking more about social issues.

Peter Wallsten: JIm, how many guns do you own?

Johanna: did you see any cool campaign buttons while you were in florida?

allison: I agree, Meg. I want to see more about health care, social security, social programs like marriage education, anti-poverty programs, etc.

Peter Wallsten: One said: “Do you Miss Clinton? Vote for Mrs. Clinton.”

Administrator2: Hahahaha!

Jim: Legally? Um... Seriously, folks. Meg: I think one of the probs. is that there aren’t hugely visible social movements that are giving wind to the Dems’ sails. The movements of the 50s and 60s forced the Dems to identify themselves with these social issues.

meg: I think if the Dems talked about these that it would resonate strongly with voters. Maybe especially marriage education, because it was one of the top questions raised again and again in the listing of questions for the candidates.

Johanna: has everyone forgotten about huckabee? do you think he’ll play a role down the road?

Jim: I was thinking as McCain’s VP.

Peter Wallsten: He’ll definitely play a role, especially in southern primaries on Feb. 5. There were mixed results in Fla. about whether he took more voters from Romney or McCain. But it’s clear that Huck likes McCain and does not like Romney, so if he decides it’d help McCain to stay in the race -- expect him to remain in the race. And then a McCain veep slot is possible.

Administrator2: Peter, how much of an impact do you think the end of the Edwards campaign will have on California’s primary? It sounds like his voters will likely split fairly evenly between Obama and Clinton, but could an Edwards endorsement of either one between now and Tuesday really make a BIG difference?

Peter Wallsten: An Edwards endorsement would help becuase it would garner a lot of media attention -- free media that is precious in an expensive state like California.

Tommy: you’ve written about how the Feb. 5 primaries favor Clinton b/c they feature states loyal to her, and play to her organizing strength. What about for the Republicans? Who benefits from the super tuesday structure more, McCain or Romney?

meg: Yes, Peter, I agree with whoever it was that said Edwards might play an important role in swinging votes either to HC or BO.

Peter Wallsten: At the moment it appears the structure helps McCain. The GOP primaries tend to be winner-take-all, and McCain will benefit from the Fla. bump.

Administrator2: Hey folks, Peter is working on deadline and will have to go in a few send your final questions now!

Administrator2: Is it true that Mike Gravel is actually still IN the race? :) There was a big hubbub when Kucinich was excluded from the Nevada debate, but I have heard nary a peep from Gravel.

Peter Wallsten: That’s a good question. I’m actually pretty convinced that Mike Gravel is here in the chat room. Perhaps he could tell us?

Jim: Any predictions for Tuesday on the Dem side? State by state?

Administrator2: Truth be told, Peter...I AM Mike Gravel...and I approve this chat.

Peter Wallsten: I have learned not to make any predictions. But I will go out on a limb and say that Gravel will not win any delegates. Sorry Mike!

Administrator2: Oh, man!!!

Chris: Clinton v. McCain who wins? And Obama v. McCain, who wins?

Jim: Oh, just one prediction. Go out on a limb.

Chris: Oops. You don’t make predictions. How about strengths/weaknesses.

Peter Wallsten: Chris -- that’s a terrific question. Again, I don’t do predictions. But I will offer this bit of insight: We’re seeing that voters appreciate authenticity and candor. Polls show that McCain scores high marks in these categories, and Clinton does not always do as well.

Johanna: what did you guys think about the kennedy endorsement of obama?

meg: Johanna, I think the Kennedy endorsement is potentially very powerful for obama, if he uses it strategically.

Peter Wallsten: Johanna -- another terrific question. The Kennedys will help Obama among liberal and older voters who might have been inclined to back Clinton only because they knew her better and didn’t know whether to trust Obama. It will also help with Latinos, who are absolutely crucial on Feb. 5.

bucky: Will Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement as well as the multiple female governors help him cut into Hillary’s lead among women voters. I think they should all do a women’s caravan for Obama.

meg: Again, Peter, with the Hispanic vote being critical in CA, I think the DEMS need to focus on social issues!

Jim: What happens if there is no clear nominee by the end of all this? Will we still be seeing ads in the summer, on the eve of convention?

Peter Wallsten: OK, let’s mark meg down as someone who cares about social issues. Bucky: Obama is making progress among female voters, for sure, but he can use all the help he can get in that category.

obama08: Is there evidence of the Kennedy enforsement having an incremental effect on Obama’s support in the Latino community?

Johanna: what’s the worst thing aside from burping that either clinton or obama could do at the debate tomorrow night?

Peter Wallsten: Jim, as a superdelegate yourself you must know that there are hundreds of so-called superdelegates who are free to choose their own loyalties. If by the spring there is no nominee, those special delegates could make the difference.

Tommy: We haven’t heard much about the Latino vote effect. What do the polls show about Latinos and Obama? And Latinos and McCain? There doesn’t seem to be a natural ‘home’ for the Latino vote this year.

Jim: Hmmm. Now we have super duper Tuesday. Are there super duper delegates? And if so, can I be one?

Peter Wallsten: There are a lot of questions about Latinos. It’s very interesting because the GOP has done a great job in the past courting Latinos -- but now the Democrats are surpassing them. This is due largely to the immigraiton debate over the past year, but also due to the fact that Democrats realize they cannot hope to win key states out west without Latinos in their camp. Both Clinton and Obama are going after themn aggressively with unpreecedented amounts of Spanish-language advertising.

bucky: Peter, do you sense a shift in the polls that have had Hillary with a double digit lead? 0Peter Wallsten: Bucky, there has been a definite shift over the past few months. It’s a winnable race for either Clinton or Obama.

Tony: Do polls show what percentage of Americans would never vote for a black or a female presidential candidate?

bucky: I’m referring to California polls specifically.

Peter Wallsten: Tony: Polls do show that a certain small number of voters would refuse to back a woman or a black candidate. I don’t have those numbers handy. That’s a key question, though, because as of today, there is no white male candidate for the Dem presidential nomination.

Diana Swartz: It’s not too late to submit questions to the candidates in the Times-CNN-Politico debates. Republicans take the podium at 5 p.m. today; Democrats start their debate at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Just tell our friends at Politico what’s on your mind at this address

Johanna: but peter there is a white male in jim webb don’t forget

Jim: What about campaign coffers? Which are in better position to survive after Tuesday?

Peter Wallsten: Bucky: Clinton still has a double-digit lead in Calif. But I’ll remind you that, even on the last day of campaigning in NH, Obama had a double digit lead there.

Peter Wallsten: Both Clinton and Obama have enough money to compete, at least that’s what the campaigns are telling us. Then again, Edwards said the same thing a few days ago.

rdxtion: Sorry I don’t know if this has been asked yet, but I would like to know if you think that it is likely that a large chunk of Edwards supporters will not vote now that he has dropped out?

Jim: Thanks all. This was a fun break. But alas ... hi ho hi ho....

Peter Wallsten: rd, that’s a great question. I can’t say for sure.

Administrator2: Thank you all for coming! If you missed any of today’s chat, a transcript will be available later today at

Administrator2: And don’t forget to join Top of the Ticket coauthors Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm for a Super Tuesday wrap-up chat next Wednesday-- same time, same place.

Administrator2: (11 am Pacific at

Peter Wallsten: Thanks to everyone for your questions. Feel free to email me at But please -- no marriage or divorce questions!

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