CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) - Trying to boost his support in South Carolina, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney ended his summer with a two-day swing through the Palmetto state.
Romney currently leads in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, but has been struggling in South Carolina. In the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, he earned just 6 percent of the vote — significantly less than Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Fred Thompson.
CNN Chief National Correspondent John King covered Romney on the trail and had an exclusive interview.
Compiled by Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau
Making news today...
* A U.S. military plane carrying Rep. Bud Cramer (D-AL) and Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Mel Martinez (R-FL) and James Inhofe (R-OK) came under rocket fire while leaving Baghdad, Iraq, for Amman, Jordan, Thursday night and had to take evasive maneuvers.
* "U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's support among key party leaders weakened Thursday, leaving Idaho facing diminished clout in Congress whether the embattled Idaho Republican stays or quits." (Idaho Statesman)
* Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson will officially announce his candidacy for president on the Web next Thursday, September 6, sources working on the actor's formal entry into the race told CNN.
The announcement video will be posted at 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday at www.imwithfred.com.
Full story on The Ticker
"Finally, the Fredheads can breathe." (The Hill)
Some political analysts "questioned whether Thompson's late entry will dilute his impact." (Boston Globe)
The "slow rollout of his candidacy has been plagued by staff shakeups, slower-than-anticipated fundraising and unexplained delays in the announcement of his bid." (Washington Post)
The almost-candidate will not appear at a September 5 GOP debate in New Hampshire, but "Thompson's campaign and NBC are trying to arrange an appearance by Thompson on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno'" the same night. "[A] Thompson appearance on the Leno show could eclipse the debate, and give the candidate an enormous audience in a friendly entertainment venue." (Los Angeles Times)
* To see Sen. Hillary Clinton's Top Ten campaign promises, click here.
* And who, according to the Washington Post, is the "cuddly antidote" to an "awfully tough-talking Republican field?" Find out in Hot Topics below!
* President Bush makes an 11:10 am ET statement on homeownership financing in the Rose Garden.
At 1:20 pm ET, the president meets with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.
Also on the Political Radar:
* The Republican Party of Texas begins a 2-day straw poll event in Fort Worth.
* Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) meets Iowa Dems in Webster City (8:30 am ET), Fort Dodge (10:30 am ET), Algona (1:30 pm ET), and Mason City (6:30 pm ET).
* Mitt Romney takes the Mitt Mobile to Aiken, SC, for an 8 am ET "Ask Mitt Anything" event. He later holds a 10:15 am ET meet and greet in Newberry, SC, and another "Ask Mitt Anything" event at 12:15 pm ET in Greenville, SC.
* Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) takes his IAFF endorsement rollout tour to New Hampshire with a 10 am ET stop at Station 7 in Manchester.
* Bill Richardson delivers a 9 pm ET speech at the Odessa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce installation banquet in Odessa, TX.
* Mike Gravel appears on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."
Political Hot Topics
(Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)
REID SAYS HE'S WILLING TO COMPROMISE ON TROOP DEPLOYMENTS: Saying the coming weeks will be "one of the last opportunities" to alter the course of the war, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he is now willing to compromise with Republicans to find ways to limit troop deployments in Iraq. Reid acknowledged that his previous firm demand for a spring withdrawal deadline had become an obstacle for a small but growing number of Republicans who have said they want to end the war but have been unwilling to set a timeline. "I don't think we have to think that our way is the only way," Reid said of specific dates during an interview in his office here. "I'm not saying, 'Republicans, do what we want to do.' Just give me something that you think you would like to do, that accomplishes some or all of what I want to do." Washington Post: Reid Opens Door to Pact With Antiwar Republicans
GILLESPIE CITES PROGRESS IN SWAYING OPINION ON WAR: The White House believes it has made significant progress over the past month in swaying public and political opinion toward supporting a continued U.S. military effort in Iraq, one of President Bush's closest advisers said in an interview. "The end of the August feels a lot better than the beginning of August when it comes to where we are relative to perceptions of our Iraq policy and what is working," said Ed Gillespie, counselor to the president. Washington Times: Bush's war support rising?
ALLAWI LEADS CAMPAIGN FOR NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE ON MALIKI: A mixed group of moderate Iraqi politicians is trying to rally support in the parliament for a no-confidence vote that would unseat unpopular Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The effort is led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who served as interim prime minister of Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005. It is unclear whether Allawi, who spends most of his time in Jordan, can muster enough parliamentary votes or popular support to be a viable alternative to al-Maliki. Allawi wouldn't say whether he wants to become prime minister if he succeeds in engineering al-Maliki's ouster. Allawi said any parliamentary move to push aside al-Maliki would likely not occur until after September. USA Today: Effort to oust al-Maliki charges on
U.S. SAYS COMPANY PAID BRIBES FOR IRAQ CONTRACTS: An American-owned company operating from Kuwait paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to American contracting officers in efforts to win more than $11 million in contracts, the government says in court documents. The Army last month suspended the company, Lee Dynamics International, from doing business with the government, and the case now appears to be at the center of a contracting fraud scandal that prompted Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to dispatch the Pentagon inspector general to Iraq to investigate... A lawyer for the company denied the accusations. New York Times: U.S. Says Company Bribed Officers for Work in Iraq
SLEW OF OPEN JOBS AT 1600 PENN. AVE: Wanted: Legal experience. Must be willing to undergo extensive media scrutiny, a comprehensive FBI background check, and potentially hostile questions from senators of an opposing political party. These are some of the qualities President Bush is looking for in a new attorney general to replace Alberto Gonzales. The search to fill the Cabinet post is only one of many openings Bush will try to fill during the last 17 months of his presidency. Like its predecessors, the Bush administration faces a large number of vacancies in its last months, as political appointees explore opportunities in the private sector. Finding replacements won't be so easy, analysts say, especially given the conflict between the Republican White House and the Democratic Senate that must confirm Bush's picks. USA Today: Warner says today if he'll run
WH TO OFFER HELP FOR LOW-INCOME HOMEOWNERS: President Bush, in his first response to families hit by the subprime mortgage crisis, plans to announce several steps Friday to help Americans who have credit problems meet the rising cost of their housing loans, administration officials said Thursday. The officials said Mr. Bush would call for the Federal Housing Administration to change its federal mortgage insurance program in a way that would let an additional 80,000 homeowners with spotty credit records sign up, beyond the 160,000 likely to use it this year and next. New York Times: Bush Will Offer Relief for Some on Home Loans
WHETHER HE STAYS OR GOES, CRAIG SCANDAL HURTS IDAHO CLOUT: U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's support among key party leaders weakened Thursday, leaving Idaho facing diminished clout in Congress whether the embattled Idaho Republican stays or quits. Republican leaders stepped up pressure on Craig as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called his conduct "unforgivable" and the chairman of the Senate Republican re-election committee suggested that Craig should resign. McConnell also said many Republican senators now want Craig to go. Both senators stopped short of calling for Craig's resignation, but their prominence in the Senate Republican leadership gave their comments added weight. Idaho Statesman: GOP support for Sen. Larry Craig dwindles
WHAT SENATE RULES DID CRAIG BREAK? The Senate GOP leadership's call this week for an ethics investigation into Sen. Larry Craig's (R-Idaho) arrest and guilty plea in the wake of a June incident in the Minneapolis airport bathroom raises significant questions about just what, if any, Senate rules Craig may have violated. In their Aug. 29 letter to the Senate Ethics Committee, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and four other Senate GOP leaders refer only to the fact that Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in asking the panel to look at potential ethics violations. But because Craig's admitted offense is considered a minor crime, a handful of current and former Senate aides are questioning the leadership's rationale for requesting a probe of a crime that does not appear to be related to Craig's "official" Senate duties. Roll Call: Ethics Panel Investigation of Craig Has Little Precedent
DOJ IG INVESTIGATING THE DEPARTING AG: The Justice Department's inspector general indicated yesterday that he is investigating whether departing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales gave false or misleading testimony to Congress, including whether he lied under oath about warrantless surveillance and the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. The disclosure by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine in a letter to Congress signals an expansion of the department's internal investigations into Gonzales's troubled tenure, probes that were not previously known to be focused so sharply on the attorney general and his testimony. Washington Post: Justice Dept. Probing Whether Gonzales Lied
ADMIN USING "STATE SECRETS" PRIVILEGE TO FIGHT SWIFT SUIT: The Bush administration is signaling that it plans to turn again to a legal tool, the "state secrets" privilege, to try to stop a suit against a Belgian banking cooperative that secretly supplied millions of private financial records to the United States government, court documents show. The suit against the consortium, known as Swift, threatens to disrupt the operations of a vital national security program and to disclose "highly classified information" if it continues, the Justice Department has said in court filings. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Friday in federal court in Alexandria, Va. New York Times: U.S. Cites 'Secrets' Privilege as It Tries to Stop Suit on Banking Records
INFANT FORMULA LOBBY HELPED CHANGE HHS AD CAMPAIGN: In an attempt to raise the nation's historically low rate of breast-feeding, federal health officials commissioned an attention-grabbing advertising campaign a few years ago to convince mothers that their babies faced real health risks if they did not breast-feed. It featured striking photos of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples. Plans to run these blunt ads infuriated the politically powerful infant formula industry, which hired a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former top regulatory official to lobby the Health and Human Services Department. Not long afterward, department political appointees toned down the campaign. Washington Post: HHS Toned Down Breast-Feeding Ads
WILL WARNER RUN AGAIN? ANNOUNCEMENT TODAY: Sen. John W. Warner may launch another chapter in an almost storybook political career today - or start planning its conclusion. Warner, 80, has served 28 years in the Senate. He won election in 1978 after the initial GOP nominee was killed in a plane crash. The millionaire politician rose from a freshman, husband of actress Elizabeth Taylor and lampooned for dilettantism, to become a highly influential senator on defense. Today Warner plans to announce his intention on seeking election in 2008 to a sixth term. He is Virginia's second-longest serving U.S. senator, behind Harry F. Byrd who served more than 32 years. Richmond Times-Dispatch: Warner says today if he'll run
JUDGE DISMISSES SUIT AIMING TO LIMIT 527s: A district court judge Thursday dismissed a case against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that would have compelled the agency to set rules for outside 527 groups. The ruling places the burden back on Congress to impose new constraints on the powerful groups before the 2008 election season begins in earnest. Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), who brought the suit against the FEC with former Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), expressed disappointment in the decision and called on Congress to pass a bill limiting the activities of 527s as soon possible despite a crowded fall congressional calendar. The Hill: Judge dismisses Shays, Meehan 527 suit
HSU'S "SHADOWY BUSINESSES" AND "UNSAVORY EPISODES": Money has brought both trappings and trouble for Norman Hsu. Major contributions to the campaigns of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and other candidates have made the apparel executive an insider in elite political circles. He shows up in cozy pictures with politicians, at lavish fundraising events, and on the boards of prestigious organizations. But Hsu's history includes more unsavory episodes and associations. In 1990, he allegedly was kidnapped by Chinese gang members in San Francisco as part of an apparent effort to collect a debt. A year and a half later, he pleaded no contest to a charge of fleecing investors in what authorities called a Ponzi scheme of fraud. Along the way, he left a bankruptcy filing and bitter investors who accused him of making off with their savings. Los Angeles Times: Wealth, mystery surround donor Hsu
FOR OBAMA, VICTORY IN IA OR NH NECESSARY TO WIN OVER SC'S BLACK VOTERS: Sen. Barack Obama's campaign says he must win either the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire's primary to show black voters influential in ensuing primaries that he's a legitimate candidate. Victory in the predominantly white states would energize blacks in early primary states such as South Carolina, where black voters make up nearly half of the Democratic electorate, and help undermine efforts by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign to lock down black voters historically fond of former President Bill Clinton. Washington Times: Obama needs early win to get black vote
"CUDDLY" HUCKABEE'S BIG "MEDIA HUG": [H]ip is precisely what Huckabee has become in the weeks since he placed second in the Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 11. Indeed, since walking into the media filing room that night and being swarmed by the media as if he were - these are his words - "Britney Spears being released from prison," Huckabee has been seen as the cuddly antidote to what has been an awfully tough-talking Republican field. He's the affable, compassionate, good guy and rock-and-roll evangelical who plays guitar and wants to hang with the Rolling Stones. It's hard to think of a candidate in recent political history who felt such a bounce and media hug after a second-place finish in a nonbinding contest where three of the top-tier candidates or almost-candidates - John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson - didn't bother to show. But man, is he working it. Washington Post: Music to His Ears
BIDEN BOOK #15, BRIEFLY, ON NYT BEST-SELLER LIST: While his bottom-tier showing in the national polls pales in comparison to his lengthy tenure in the Senate, Biden's recent success with a New York Times best seller has given him a new source of esteem. At one point this month, "Promises" ranked directly behind runaway favorite "Freakonomics" in the non-fiction category. To be sure, total sales somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 copies don't promise an uptick in opinion polls. Prominent friends and longtime colleagues have helped to promote the book by hosting parties, promotion events where local booksellers typically offer copies for purchase. But an appearance at No. 15 on the New York Times best-seller list is a valuable achievement for the marketing of a book—and a candidate—even if it did only last for one week before dropping several slots. Chicago Tribune: Book a new source of esteem for Biden
BIDEN GETS HIS JEANS DIRTY AT CEDAR RAPIDS MIDDLE SCHOOL: After a day at work with a presidential candidate by his side, Marshall Clemons was impressed. Sure, he said, he liked what Delaware Sen. Joe Biden had to say about issues that affect him and his family — like fixing the nation's broken health care system and boosting pay for teachers. In fact, the head building engineer at Harding Middle School is no longer undecided come caucus time. But the veteran politician could also really turn a wrench. "I was impressed by the way he grabbed it and just turned those bolts like he'd been working on it forever," laughed Clemons, 36, who stood atop a ladder next to Biden. Teachers gave bewildered smiles from their desks, likely at the fact that one of the candidates vying to be the next leader of the free world was replacing their air conditioning filters. Des Moines Register: Biden gets down, dirty in C.R. visit
Hillary Clinton will donate contributions from Norman Hsu
NEW YORK (CNN) - The campaigns for a number of Democrats, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, said Thursday they have returned or given to charity donations from fund-raiser Norman Hsu, who has an open bench warrant for his arrest in California.
"Obviously, we were all surprised by this news," the junior senator from New York said during a news conference with Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose campaign confirmed that he too returned donations from Hsu.
Clinton said the news was unexpected. "I think it's fair to say we were all very surprised by this," she said about the $23,000 her campaign received.
Hsu came under scrutiny after news reports questioned his fund-raising and revealed he has a criminal record.
Mitt Romney in 2004 at a press conference regarding same-sex marriage in Massachusetts
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who faced the issue as governor of Massachusetts, criticized an Iowa district court ruling Thursday that said same-sex couples have the right to marry.
A judge in Polk County, Iowa, said gay couples must be allowed to get married because of the state constitution's guarantee of equal treatment. The judge also struck a state law that banned same-sex marriages and said valid marriage is only between a male and a female. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by six gay couples seeking permission to marry, and will now go to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Romney, leading in the Iowa polls after courting conservative support, was the first candidate to react to the decision. In a statement, he said, "The ruling is Iowa today is another example of an activist court and unelected judges trying to define marriage and disregard the will of the people as expressed through Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act. This once again highlights the need for a Federal Marriage Amendment to protect the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman."
Romney, who was governor when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages in 2004, did approve certificates allowing gay couples to marry. But he worked with other opponents in an effort to overturn the state law, and has pushed for a national ban.
–CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson will officially announce his candidacy for president on the Web next Thursday, September 6, sources working on the actor's formal entry into the race told CNN Thursday.
The announcement video will be posted at 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday at www.imwithfred.com.
The sources said Thompson would travel and campaign in key primary states following the Internet announcement.
The Web announcement will not take place before Wednesday's GOP debate in New Hampshire, the sources said, adding they did not expect Thompson to attend.
Early this week, the New Hampshire Union-Leader called on Thompson to attend the debate.
"If Thompson announces before the debate, New Hampshire voters will expect him to be at the University of New Hampshire with the other announced candidates," the newspaper said. "A no-show will be counted here as a snub.
"If Thompson waits until after the debate to make his announcement, it will appear to some as if he timed the announcement just to avoid the New Hampshire debate. That would give his foes the chance to say he is either not serious about running for the nomination or is too unprepared to be considered a credible candidate."
Thompson created a fundraising committee that allowed him to begin raising money for a possible presidential campaign on June 1.
An actor best known for his role as District Attorney Arthur Branch in NBC's "Law & Order," Thompson was elected to the Senate in 1994 and served there for eight years.
– CNN's John King and Candy Crowley
Will an endorsement from a firefighters union help Chris Dodd like it helped John Kerry?
IOWA CITY, Iowa (CNN) - Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd called Thursday one of the best days he's had on the trail so far. Of course, for a man who's polling as low as he is, "best" is relative.
The senator from Connecticut stood on stage for what could eventually prove to be a helpful photo op. Holding his hand under the lights was the man often credited with lifting John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid to a new level. That man is Harold Schaitberger.
Schaitberger is the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, a union representing 281,000 full-time professional fire fighters.
Wednesday he announced the IAFF is throwing all of its support behind long-shot candidate Chris Dodd.
"I have committed myself to this campaign...until we get to the White House," Schaitberger said.
"One of the things I admire about fire fighters," Dodd said, "[is] they don't sit around and just say 'who's winning?' They ask themselves 'who should win?'"
And according to today's polls, Dodd certainly isn't winning. But even though he argued that "poll numbers in August mean nothing," you can't ignore the fact that he's consistently coming in at around 1 percent.
Now the question is, could this endorsement change anything?
Let's rewind four years. Sen. John Kerry, then seen as a long-shot for the Democratic presidential nominee, was given this very same endorsement.
BOISE, Idaho (CNN) – Idaho’s Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Thursday said to CNN Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash that Sen. Craig was in a "tough spot" and indicated that the senator’s loss of key Senate committee assignments could be “problematic” for Idaho residents.
"Obviously, some of his colleagues in the Senate are calling for his resignation but, once again, Larry's going to have to work that out himself," said Otter. "Nobody likes these kind of problems, these kind of problems you just can't…. get rid of with a simple explanation. It takes a long time, and then you never really unring the bell. So, as we go forward, I suspect there's going to have to be additional consideration by Larry and his family on where exactly to go."
Are you essentially saying it’s time for Sen. Craig to resign? Bash followed-up.
“What I said was it's a tough spot for Larry, and it's a tough spot for his family, and as this thing drags on, and we already know that there's going to be congressional hearings on it, ethics committee - as is appropriate and proper - that it takes a long, long time for these things to work themselves out,” he said.
When Bash asked the governor if the senator's political career would be able to withstand the storm, the governor simply replied, "I'm not going to go there."
– CNN's Dana Bash and Sareena Dalla
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards will be endorsed by a major carpenters' union at a rally next week, the Edwards campaign announced Thursday.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters, a union representing more than 500,000 carpenters and tradespeople, did not endorse anyone during the last presidential election. The union's executive board chose to support Edwards after meeting with him in Las Vegas last week.
"Our endorsement is based on the Senator's outspoken support for all of organized labor and his focus on America's working families," Carpenters' President Douglas J. McCarron said. "In addition to his support for labor, our leadership was particularly impressed with the Senator's strong stand on trade."
Edwards has been focusing on what he calls building "One America," which would strengthen the middle class by increasing wages, establishing universal health care and protecting unions.
"I am honored to receive the support of the Carpenters Union," said Edwards. "For more than a century, they have been fighting for working Americans and standing up for the values that have made our country great – hard work, responsibility, and fairness. America was built by men and women who worked with their hands, and it's labor that made our country great."
The union will formally endorse Edwards at a rally in New Hampshire on September 8.
–CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich
Sen. Warner will announce if he's running for a sixth term on Friday
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Virginia Sen. John Warner, the influential former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will announce his decision on whether or not he will seek re-election at the University of Virginia on Friday.
The five-term senator, considered an authority in the Senate on military and national security issues, broke away last week from President Bush's Iraq war policy and started to demand that troops start to come home by September.
Warner, 80, has been mulling retirement for some time. He talked about his decision-making on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
"I'm confident that I can run a good, strong campaign," Warner said. "But then I've got to also say to Virginia, ‘On the eve of my 88th birthday, I'm still going seven days, seven nights with full steam.’ I might be able to do it."
–CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich
WASHINGTON (CNN) – White House hopeful Mitt Romney told CNN Thursday Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's alleged behavior was "disgraceful," but the Massachusetts Republican stopped short of calling for his one-time Senate supporter to resign.
"I think at this stage, the right course is for him to make this decision looking at his own conscience, talking to the people of Idaho, talking to his colleagues in the Senate," Romney told CNN's John King in South Carolina. "I'm not one of those. I'm going to let him make that decision."
Craig stepped down his post as one of Romney's Senate liaisons Monday night - shortly after news surfaced he was arrested in an airport bathroom and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Romney's GOP presidential rival, John McCain, told CNN Wednesday he thinks Craig should step down. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, have also called on Craig to resign.
Related Video: Romney asks supporters to create his next campaign ad