President to address convention Wednesday


President Barack Obama will headline the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday.

He will have do well indeed to top the bar set by First Lady Michelle Obama Monday night; her speech won plaudits from Republicans as well as the Democratic faithful.

Vice President Joe Biden will also address the convention, as will vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine; other speakers include former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, retired Navy Rear Admiral John Hutson, and Jesse Jackson.

Actress Sigourney Weaver will speak, as will Angela Bassett, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. Lenny Kravitz will perform.

The theme for the evening is “Working Together: A Clear Choice.”

The roster of non-celebrity speakers includes Erica Smegielski, whose mother was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary and was killed while trying to protect her students; Felicia Sanders & Polly Sheppard, two of the three survivors of the Mother Emanuel Church shooting; and Jamie Dorff, whose husband – an Army helicopter pilot – died while on a search and rescue mission in northern Iraq.

This story was posted Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

Hillary ‘feeling the Bern’ in Iowa and New Hampshire polls

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a news conference after he announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 30, 2015.  (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a news conference after he announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 30, 2015. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)


Hillary Clinton is quite literally feeling the burn of her closest competitor, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as he side swipes her in both Iowa and New Hampshire in polls released today.

The Vermont socialist jumped ahead of the former Secretary of State in the latest Quinnipiac Poll, marking the first time he has captured the lead in Iowa – the numbers showed Sanders with 49 percent of likely caucus goers’ support compared to Clinton’s 44.

His surge marks a 9-point gain, with Clinton experiencing a 7 percentage point drop in support. In September he held a 1 point lead over Clinton, 41 to 40 — another 12 percent said they would support Vice President Joe Biden.

There was even a more seismic shift in support towards Sanders in New Hampshire, where he is leading by 14 points: a new poll from Monmouth University shows Sanders with 53 percent towering over Clinton’s 39.

Both polls show a sharp sift in support both towards Sanders and away from Clinton. Both polls show former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, the only other candidate competing for the Democrat nomination, holding steady at 4 or 5 percent.

In 2008, ten days before the first caucus in Iowa, Clinton’s early double digit lead had evaporated under sharp attacks from then-senators Barack Obama and John Edwards. Obama won the caucuses. Edwards came in second, and Clinton came in a humiliating third place. She boarded a plane at midnight the night of the contest, and headed straight to New Hampshire, where she battled back and a week later squeaked out a victory.

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden piled on a bit with the Clinton discomfort by praising Sanders for understanding voters’ frustration on the growing income inequality.

“Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real, and he has credibility on it,” Biden said during an interview on CNN Monday evening. “And that is the absolute enormous concentration of wealth in a small group of people with the new class now being able to be shown being left out.”

He added that Clinton hasn’t been as focused on income inequity as long as Sanders had: “It’s relatively new for Hillary to talk about that,” Biden said. “Hillary’s focus has been other things up to now, and that’s been Bernie’s. No one questions Bernie’s authenticity on those issues.”

Debate: Clinton shines because all the other stones are dull


Bernie Sanders won a moral victory, Hillary Clinton won on points, but the real winner of the Democrats’ first debate was Joe Biden, said Bruce Haynes, media strategist at Purple Strategies in Washington.

Clinton confidently took to the stage last night in Las Vegas with rivals Sanders, a Vermont socialist U.S. Senator, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chaffee, former governors of Maryland and Rhode Island respectively, and former Virginia U.S. Senator Jim Webb.

“Clinton managed her way nicely through a field of lesser candidates,” said Haynes. “She showed passion at times and a greater depth on the issues than her opponents.”

But the main thing you felt watching this debate was that Hillary needs an actual opponent.

“The Democratic party needs Joe Biden in this race – not because he would win, although he might, but because Clinton needs a real challenge,” said Haynes.

Throughout the debate Clinton transmitted through her poise and moderate answers that she would not be challenged by the four men on stage and that she was making her argument for her general election Republican opponent. In short, she had no competition on the stage that would challenge her – great for the moment, but bad for the long game and bad for the Democrat Party as a whole.

Her only stumbles were her answers on the most important foreign policy issues facing the country right now (she stuttered a lot) and on what separated her from Obama (she answered that it was “obviously” her gender).

Webb spent more time making the point that he was not getting fair air time than actually making a point. Chaffee compared himself to a block of granite and excused one of his votes by claiming he’d only been in the senate a short time. O’Malley spent a lot of time talking about how much the N.R.A. hates him.

Clinton shined because all of the other stones were dull.

“The nomination of your party is something you should have to compete for, not just collect,” said Haynes. “It would be good for the Democrats and good for America if Biden would get in the game and be that competition.”

Haynes said Martin O’Malley was the loser: “He had one job: find a way to stand out.  Instead, he mistakenly thought this debate was about telling his uninspiring story – over and over and over.”

Thanks for stopping by the booth Governor. We have a lovely parting gift for you on your way back to Baltimore.

At one point Sanders gave Clinton a solid by saying even he was sick and tired of the email questions, while Clinton continued the tack her surrogates had taken on social media, blaming the email scandal on the Republican witch hunters.

 The underreported story of this debate is going to be that socialism stood as an essentially uncontested and acceptable idea for the night.

Tension and uncertainty in Las Vegas before Democratic debate

“A little bit of this town goes a very long way.” – Hunter S. Thompson


It’s show time (again) folks: this time the debate is among Democrats, and it’s being held in Vegas; the city of gambling, showgirls, lounge acts, aging musicians and all around sin.

Hosted by CNN and Facebook, the first debate for the Democrats will have five candidates on the stage: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island and former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb.

“Viewership for the first two GOP debates was an anomaly in a highly unusual Republican nomination cycle. While I won’t predict ratings for this debate, we expect the audience to be significantly smaller,” said CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist pre-gaming the ratings let down (in comparison to the Republican debate).

CNN enjoyed 23 million viewers last month when they hosted the Republicans at the Ronald Reagan Library in California; Fox News had 24 million viewers a few weeks earlier at the first GOP debate in Cleveland.

The Democratic debate also has the unfortunate timing of running at the same time as two Major League baseball games (Cardinals v Cubs and Mets v Dodgers).

It also does not have Donald – as in Donald Trump, the entertainer turned presidential candidate currently leading in the polls over GOP rivals.

The Democratic debate may or may not have Vice President Joe Biden. CNN has left the door open for him should he declare before the moderator lobs out the first question. CNN has even tweeted photos of the extra podium for Biden.

Whether or not he jumps into the race, Biden’s presence will be felt.

Iowa State political science professor Steffen Schmidt went wild with the thought of that happening, saying, “nothing could match Vice President Joe Biden suddenly popping in on the first Democratic Debate, hugging and kissing Hillary, high fiving Bernie, and back slapping whoever the other ghosts in the debate are. NOT even Donald Trump could match that! A game changer!” 

The CNN moderator will be Anderson Cooper; anchor Don Lemon, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Español anchor Juan Carlos will be asking questions.

“I think it is going be interesting debate,” said Steve Jarding, legendary Democratic strategist and Harvard public policy professor. “On one hand  you have Hillary Clinton believing she has to be cautious, but on the other hand she knows with her dip in the polls she really has to shake things up.”

Jarding said, “I suspect she is going into this debate wondering ‘How cautious should I be? Do I remain resistant to being  pushed too far left?’ While she has to be careful, she has to also be willing to draw contrasts between herself and her rivals.”

The key to the debate and what makes it interesting, Jarding said, is that Clinton has so many different variables to deal with – not just Benghazi and questions over her use of a private email server while Secretary of State,  but what does she stand for?

“You’ve got Bernie Sanders. How does he introduce himself to America? ‘Hello, oh by the way, I am a socialist?’ He is promising voters the moon – how will answer when he explains how you pay for free college and everything else he proposes?” asked Jarding.

The three undercards are also going to be a bit of unknown territory, said Jarding: “If I had to guess, I don’t see Chaffee going crazy and I suspect O’Malley is going to try to make a name for himself – but how?”

Webb becomes the wild card, or does he?  Does he go after Hillary?

“The bottom line is at the end of the debate we’ll probably see everyone walk this weird tightrope, and I don’t think voters will be an inch further than they were when the debate started,” said Jarding.

“I don’t have great expectations either way,” he said.

Here are the players:

Hillary Clinton:

After months of nonstop stories, apologies, and unintentional self destruction centered on her private email server and the consequences of that unfolding story (dropping poll numbers, the very real threat of Vice President Joe Biden jumping in and a loss of public trust), Hillary Clinton can finally get out from under running against herself and run against her rivals in a public setting.

Her issues will still be there, and all four of her rivals are looking for a moment to shine, so don’t expect Clinton to get a pass, but at least this time she’s battling real people not battling herself (to whom she loses every time).

Joe Biden

Probably not going to be physically up on that stage, but everyone there is prepared to go after him if he is, and to praise him if he’s not. It’s tricky line to navigate because attacking Biden attacks President Barack Obama, who is still wildly popular with the Democratic base.

Bernie Sanders

Feel the burn. Or something like that. Bernie Sanders, the socialist (small s) from Vermont who is drawing YUGE crowds in the early primary states and beyond, is pulling his competitor Clinton probably further left than she’d like – and it all hinges on a populist current running through both political parties right now. Cranky, blunt, and temperamental, Sanders makes the last Vermont Democrat who ran for president, Howard Dean, look like a soft spoken pussycat. This is the insurgent candidate’s national debut, and while he won’t draw the numbers Trump the GOP insurgent does, he is similarly the wild card on the stage.

Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee

Of the three, O’Malley has invested the most personal time, professional staff and energy into emerging as “that guy” who could emerge as an alternative to Clinton. In an interview with the Trib on the day he announced, O’Malley talked about his connection to the regular guy and his executive experience as part of the many contrasts distinguishing him from the other candidates, especially Clinton.

He also has advocated strongly for more than the handful of debates scheduled by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, charging in another interview with the Tribune-Review that the small number was designed to benefit Clinton

Webb has an impressive resume: a Vietnam combat veteran who earned two purple hearts during the conflict and went on to serve as Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan and then held the Virginia U.S. Senate seat as a Democrat for one term. He comes to the stage with respected military experience and foreign policy street cred.

A classic moderate Democrat, Webb laid out in detail during an interview with the Tribune review his appeal in the interior of the country, but he has failed to catch fire – either because he has none or because he has been overshadowed by Sanders and Clinton.

Chafee, the former senator and governor from Rhode Island who has been a Republican, Independent and Democrat, has offered no strong reason to be in the race, other than he likes the attention.

And don’t think it’ll only be Democrats watching the show.

“All eyes will be on Hillary,” said Sean Spicer, chief strategist for the Republican National Committee. “Anything less than perfection will be a failure and further entice the Vice President into the race. She is an experienced debater standing on stage with four other people that couldn’t win a student council race, so it truly is hers to lose.”

Joe Biden and Paul Ryan: why good men pause

Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin shake hands after the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin shake hands after the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)


Vice-president Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan – two of the best in American politics, held in high regard for their work ethic and deal making abilities by both their  peers and their constituents – find themselves sharing the same public and private concern about making a step that will forever impact their families.

Biden has been conducting a very public and emotional journey to decide whether he will seek the Democrat nomination for president. Ryan, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and 2012 Republican Veep nominee, is being called on to run for Speaker of the House after current Speaker John Boehner’s heir apparent withdrew from the race.

Biden and Ryan both have unique personal concerns that are giving them pause said Bruce Haynes, a Washington-based GOP media expert at Purple Strategies.

“One hesitates because of the grief of a family broken by loss, the other because of the commitment to a new family’s bright future,” Haynes said, adding both are good and noble reasons for reluctance.

At the same time, these hesitations, coming from both sides of the aisle, serve as glaring symbols of another problem: Too many good people don’t want to be in politics anymore.

Haynes said that’s because they are turned off by what they see and hear.

The best do not want to put their families through the over-reactive, faux outrage ridiculousness of social media, which too often bleeds into regular media coverage.

If you look at someone cross-eyed, it’s going to become a thing.

The zealots – both on the hard right and the hard left – are intent upon destroying anyone for anything that might be considered a slight to their cause. This all-or-nothing online thuggery expects every candidate to agree all of the time – and it’s ruining governing for us all.

Governing actually does matter.

Our system no longer bestows distinction upon those who serve.  It devours them.

The result is that our good people increasingly want no part of governing, no part of our divisive, ugly, “icky” politics, said Haynes.

“Instead, they stay in business, they join non-profits, they choose other outlets to try to serve and create change,” he said.

They gravitate to places where one can work joyfully, without fear of blogs, networks, consultants and shadowy minions filleting one’s every move, to places many believe more effective at creating change in today’s society than our seemingly broken political process.

Biden and Ryan are two of the quintessential good guys in American politics, said Haynes: “Politics aside, no one questions whether or not they are good people.”

They are the kind of good people we want to run into the fire and help.

There was a time in this country when folks like this set aside personal considerations and accepted what they believed to be the honor of serving.

But the personal considerations have become more fraught. The take-no-prisoners mentality evident among the zealots on both sides extends past once-common professional boundaries. The honor of serving may now be counterbalanced by the burden of almost certain character assassination and unwarranted family stress.

Good people have reason to pause.

That, perhaps, is the greatest indictment of our system today.

Build-up for Biden from PA Democrats


A few Pennsylvania Democrats are ginned up by the prospect of Joe Biden’s potential presidential run.

The Draft Biden 2016 campaign sent out a press release Thursday afternoon highlighting words of encouragement for the vice president’s potential campaign from Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn and Roger Lund, chair of the party’s South Central Caucus.

Their words come four days before Biden marches in the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade. Of course,  it’s worth nothing that by the time primary season rolls around, Burn will no longer head up the state party; in July he announced he will resign from the post.  Montgomery County chairman Marcel Groen is running for the job, to be voted on during the party’s fall meeting in Gettysburg next weekend.

From Burn:

“I am very excited about the possibility of Vice President Biden entering the race for President,” Burn said. “Vice President Biden has connected with America on both a personal and professional level throughout his remarkable career as a public servant.  A bridge builder throughout his time in the Senate and as Vice President, Joe Biden is a strong leader Americans can connect with and trust in to speak from the heart.”

From Lund:

“I have been a supporter of the Vice President for decades, particularly because of his exemplary record fighting for women’s rights and commitment to ensuring equality for all,” Lund said. “Carrying on the legacy of the Obama administration and all its accomplishments is of vital importance, and Vice President Biden, with all his direct experience in this administration has, with no doubt, the best chance to achieve those goals.”

Draft Biden 2016 is a superPAC looking to support a Biden run, though it is not authorized by him or his campaign committee.

Hillary’s polls a ‘leaky faucet,’ Biden just as good, poll shows


Vice President Biden does just as well and sometimes even better than  Hillary Clinton against top 2016 Republicans in the three key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the latest Quinnipiac poll released Thursday morning

“Vice President Joseph Biden, who is spending his time in seclusion, contemplating whether to take on Secretary Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries for president, has some new information to consider,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll said in a statement.

The news is likely to ramp up the probability that Biden will jump in the race sometime near Labor Day.

In a match-up with Donald Trump in Pennsylvania Biden, born in Scranton, bests the entertainer by 8 percentage points, but loses to Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. The same for Florida. In Ohio he beats all three Republicans.

Clinton is still on top for Democrat primary voters in the Keystone State, Florida and Ohio, and Trump is running on top for the Republicans, but both have terrible favorability ratings and trustworthiness scores compared to everyone else.

Both Bush and Rubio best Clinton in general-election matchups in Florida (their home state). Rubio is the only one who beats Clinton in a head-to-head matchup in Ohio.

In a head to head with Clinton in Pennsylvania, Rubio and Bush top Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers are like a leaky faucet: drip…drip… drip,” said Brown. “In Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania she averages a negative 37 – 55 percent favorability. Donald Trump is in the same leaky boat, averaging a negative 34 – 53 percent favorability.”

Biden’s trust and favorability numbers are solid in all three states–the survey involved 3,274 voters —more than 1,000 in each state — and was conducted from Aug. 7 to 18.

Bernie bests Hillary: a presidential polling first

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a news conference after he announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 30, 2015.  (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a news conference after he announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 30, 2015. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)


Call it Bernie-mentum.

Hillary Clinton currently comes in second behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, the first primary state, according to a Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll released late Tuesday.

Sanders bested Clinton 44% – 37% among likely Democratic primary voters – a feat none of the other Democrats have come close to since the contest began in earnest this spring.

Jumping Joe Biden, also known as the Vice President, who on Labor Day will make his decision whether to enter the race would begin the race with 9 percentage points of support, according to the poll.

Sanders has been on a roll for a month now, gaining traction in every national and early state poll, but this is the first time he has exceeded the former First Lady, Secretary of State and U.S. Senator from New York.

Clinton has suffered from the beginning with “trustworthiness” issues according to polls, which has caused experts to predict a vulnerability that Biden could take advantage of.

The Quinnipiac University national poll at the end of July showed that nearly four in 10 voters say that the most important personal trait they are looking for in a 2016 candidate is being “honest and trustworthy” – nearly six in ten of those polled said they believe Clinton lacks both of those two qualities.

Sanders, who lives in nearby Vermont, took advantage of that Clinton weakness in this latest poll.

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island are gasping with with 1% or less of likely Democratic primary voters.

The Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll, which was conducted August 7-10, surveyed 442 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7%.

Biden: Will he or won’t he?

Vice President Joe Biden (center) pauses alongside his family as they prepare to enter a funeral visitation for his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, on June 4. (AP)


Vice President Joe Biden isn’t talking, but his staff and advisers are – and the conversation is centered on him jumping into the Democratic primary process for president and possibly making him the oldest president ever elected to a first term.

The New York Times and Associated Press have reported Biden’s staff has reached out to Democratic leaders and donors to test the waters.

Central to the Biden motivation is that his late son Beau urged him in the final weeks of his life to make the run.

Beau died from brain cancer in May. He and his brother Hunter survived a car accident as young children that took the life of their mother and 13 month old sister just months before then 29-year-old Joe was to be sworn in as a Delaware Senator.

Biden, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, often referred to himself as the ‘third U.S. Senator’ from Pennsylvania when he was in the upper chamber representing Delaware. He has twice unsuccessfully sought the highest office, once in 1988 and again in 2008.

Biden has never ruled out the possibility of a 2016 run; in fact, he left the door wide open with several candid quips, including saying on the View late last year that he truly hasn’t made up his mind: “The good news is everything I think I would have to do to be a viable candidate is the same thing I think I should be doing to be the best vice president I can possibly be.”

Biden has said repeatedly he would decide by the end of this summer if he would run.

The downside for Biden is big: no grassroots infrastructure in early primary states, a huge disadvantage in fundraising compared to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and getting delegate pledges lined up to catch up with Clinton’s growing list.

Upside? While his reputation as a gaffe machine is so dominant even he takes an occasional jab at himself for saying the wrong things, Biden is viewed as authentic and scores high on trust with voters, something Clinton has struggled with.

Also, he is the sitting Vice-President. While Al Gore failed sufficiently to capitalize on that position for the Democrats in 2000 when running against George W. Bush, Biden is a political animal who would make no such mistake.

UPDATE: Democracy For America welcomes Biden

“Should he decide to run, we’ll be looking forward to hearing more about Vice President Biden’s vision for the future of our country and, in particular, how he plans to address our nation’s income inequality crisis by standing up to the wealthy and powerful interests on Wall Street and elsewhere that dominate our political process,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, the political action committee founded by former presidential candidate and Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean.

“A strong primary with a number of seasoned challengers, including Vice President Biden, will only leave the Democratic Party stronger in 2016 and our nation more likely to be led by a President with a proven commitment to addressing the moral crisis of income inequality and the culture of structural racism that’s fundamental and foundational to it,” Sroka said in an email to Off Road Politics.