Niceness Is Breaking Out All Over

The GOP debate last night lacked the rough-and-tumble of previous such efforts. Moderator Tim Russert, frustrated at his inability to start a skirmish, said afterwards that he felt like the candidates had signed a "non-aggression pact" before the show. This niceness probably helps McCain whose South Carolina victory put him at the front of the pack: usually, nastiness is directed at the front-runner. The polls are close in Florida with Romney leading in two polls conducted this week, and McCain in four. As predicted here earlier, Giuliani is fading, a victim of his own strategy of ignoring the earlier states. That will help McCain but don’t count out Romney who is using his personal fortune to make his presence felt on the airwaves in Florida and beyond. Huckabee has become an also-ran. On the Democratic side, niceness started to break through the soil like a springtime crocus, at least among the candidates. Hillary Clinton pulled a radio spot that misrepresented comments by Obama and which had become a source of controversy. Obama, who has been on the receiving end of some nasty attacks from Bill Clinton, said that the former president "is entirely justified in wanting to promote his wife’s candidacy." Indeed, Obama claimed such attacks should be a "source of pride" among his supporters, arguing that "It means I might win this thing. When I was 20 points down, I was a ’person of good character’ and my health-care plan was ’universal.’" It is less clear whether the ill will among the candidates’ supporters will be swept up in all this niceness. My post yesterday earned me some angry emails from friends who like Clinton and who contend the media generated all the focus on race, not Bill and Hillary Clinton. I find this dubious: I am not sure the Clintons ever do anything that is not intentional. So, I did an informal (and completely unscientific) survey of my priest friends, men who listen to confessions for a living and who must assess the moral character of penitents. With caveats about not having heard the confessions of either Clinton, they nonetheless unanimously concluded that the race card did not find itself on the table by accident or by media manipulation. This morning’s Washington Post has an important story on the fallout from the Clinton attacks. The biggest question coming out of South Carolina will be how Obama does among white voters, specifically white evangelicals. Back in October, Obama spoke at an unlikely venue, the Redemption World Outreach Center, a megachurch in Greenville, South Carolina. (More info on the visit here.) Greenville is also home to Bob Jones University and the surrounding upstate region is a must-stop for GOP candidates but rarely on Democrats’ itineraries. Going after these pockets of new, unlikely voters brought Obama victory in Iowa. We will know tomorrow if it works against the aggressive, traditional Clinton ground game. Michael Sean Winters
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