ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, CARLISLE, Arkansas (CNN) - Christine Bageant is likely smiling. Rick McKay is definitely frowning.
News of the bipartisan stimulus package reached Thursday in Washington means different things to different people. Bageant owns a Sonic tucked off of I-40 east of Little Rock. McKay is the proprietor of an auto repair collision shop in Searcy, northeast of this state’s capital city.
For Bageant, the measure likely means more hungry travelers, more burgers flipped, and more cash register rings. McKay, whose business is not necessarily dictated by short-term economic fixes, thinks the agreement reached by President Bush and congressional leaders is fruitless.
We spoke to both of these small business owners Wednesday as the CNN Election Express motored through Arkansas on a six-day cross-country tour to talk to voters about what are their most pressing concerns.
McKay said he would rather see a long-term fix to the nation’s economic woes. And he wants a tax cut.
“I don’t know that we need to throw a bunch of money, several billion dollars to prop up the economy,” he said, as political leaders were in the middle of hammering out final details of the plan. “Does it need to be propped up? Give me something that is going to help me in the long run. Reduce our taxes. I own my own business. If I had a tax break or if I knew I was going to pay less taxes then I would start looking at how I was going to use that money to grow my business.”
On the other hand, Bageant told us that her business is struggling, and this type of rebate plan is needed.
“If they are not spending money we are not making money,” she said. “I am a small business owner. We are struggling to pay bills month to month just like anyone else.”
But Bageant and McKay do agree on one thing: the lawmakers back in Washington need to work together to find solutions.
“Stop arguing,” she said. “You are acting like children.”
McKay added, “They are bickering. Nothing is happening in Washington. We just have nothing going on. I don’t know why these guys are even up there.”
(CNN) - Get ready for a wild ride - the next few days are going to be intense.
We have the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary on Saturday, followed by President Bush’s State of the Union Address before Congress Monday, and the Republican primary in Florida the very next night. Those will be big stories for us to cover, and we're gearing up big time. I will be heading up to New York to anchor our coverage from the CNN Election Center.
At the same time, we're already getting ready for some more big nights to follow. The Republican candidates will gather at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley next Wednesday, January 30, for their debate, moderated by Anderson Cooper. I will moderate the Democratic debate the next night at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. Both are being co-sponsored with The Los Angeles Times and Politico.com, and begin at 8 p.m. ET.
The elections in two dozen states will follow less than a week later on Super Tuesday, February 5 - which means the stakes for the candidates will be huge in both debates.
I am sure most of you saw our Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this week - the most widely watched presidential primary debate ever seen on cable television. If you think that was a lively session, I suspect the next two debates will be even more intense.
Heading into the primary season's home stretch, the candidates will have a huge interest in laying out their respective differences. Some of the White House hopefuls will be more forceful – and perhaps more effective – than the others. And as we learned at this Monday's debate: with fewer candidates left on the stage, they will have more time to do precisely that.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Fred Thompson's former top fundraiser has signed on with John McCain, the Arizona senator's presidential campaign announced Thursday.
In a statement released by McCain's campaign, Scooter Clippard, Thompson's former national fundraising chairman, hailed McCain for his "commitment to the conservative principles we hold dear."
"For more than two decades, John McCain has taken on the system in Washington, fought to lower taxes, to defend the traditional values that made our nation strong, and to keep our families safe from the enemies of freedom," said Clippard.
Thompson formally bowed out of the White House race Tuesday, following a poor third-place showing in South Carolina - a state where the former Tennessee senator expected to do well. Though he enjoys a close relationship with McCain, Thompson has not endorsed any remaining Republican candidate.
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney
(CNN) - For months, Chelsea Clinton was a silent presence on the campaign trail as her parents commanded center stage.
But since voting began, she’s begun to take tentative steps on the trail on her own, at events where she commands solo billing – without her mother, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, or her father, former President Bill Clinton.
She’s visited campaign offices and casinos, cafes and even a cosmetology school. Wednesday night, she campaigned for her mother at Spelman College in Atlanta, a historically black women’s college – at a time when her mother is in a critical battle for black women voters.
"I want you to think of me as your peer, even though I am 27," Chelsea Clinton told the college students. "I want to talk to you about why you should vote for my mom."
The younger Clinton – who has been a much more low-key trail presence than her famous parents – took questions on topics as varied the environment, health care, government spending and waste.
She discussed her own work experiences, saying "I work in finance, I am a numbers dork."
But she also ventured away from the safest topics, endorsing condom distribution in schools, and telling the crowd she was proud of her mother for fighting for over-the-counter distribution of the morning-after pill.
Black women are a key voting bloc in many upcoming Democratic primaries, and Hillary Clinton has been in a battle for their votes with her chief presidential rival, Barack Obama.
"I don't think you should vote for her or against her because she is a woman," but because she’s been "working on these challenges for more than 25 years."
"I think she came off very down to earth, she answered and welcomed everyone's
question and I really appreciated that." said Spelman junior Janelle Richards. The former First Daughter even made a stop in the school cafeteria, walking by tables and introducing herself to students as they were eating.
At a later stop at downtown Atlanta’s Luckie Lounge one supporter asked her to reveal something that nobody else knew about her. Chelsea responded that she’d love to - if all the cameras weren't around.
- CNN's Trisha Henry and Rebecca Sinderbrand
Rudy Giuliani is slipping in the state considered "crucial" to his presidential chances.
An average of three polls taken in Florida show Giuliani in third place. John McCain and Mitt Romney are neck-and-neck at 27% and 25%. Giuliani is way back at 16%... practically tied with Mike Huckabee, who gets 15%. It's looking more and more like Giuliani's dream of being president is headed for the scrap heap. Two months ago Giuliani was the prohibitive favorite in Florida at 38% to 17% for Mitt Romney and 11% for John McCain.
One pollster is quoted by the Miami Herald saying Giuliani has "virtually no chance to win in Florida." Another says, "If he can't make it there in Florida, he can't make it anywhere." Guess the words of that famous song don't always ring true. And Florida is winner take all…if you don't finish first you don't get a single delegate.
Giuliani's campaign, of course, disputes all this, insisting he'll win. He argues his message just needs a little more time to sink in.
To read more and contribute to the Cafferty File discussion click here
(CNN) - Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary – who had harsh words for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton last month – is now criticizing his former boss for recent rhetoric on the trail, saying that the former president’s attacks on Barack Obama are “patently untrue,” and that he is injecting race into the campaign.
The comments came as the Obama campaign directed a new wave of attacks at former President Clinton Thursday.
“I write this more out of sadness than anger,” said Robert Reich in a Thursday post on his blog. “Bill Clinton’s ill-tempered and ill-founded attacks on Barack Obama are doing no credit to the former president, his legacy, or his wife’s campaign. Nor are they helping the Democratic Party.
“While it may be that all is fair in love, war, and politics, it’s not fair – indeed, it’s demeaning – for a former president to say things that are patently untrue… or to insinuate that Obama is injecting race into the race when the former president is himself doing it,” he added. “Now, sadly, we’re witnessing a smear campaign against Obama that employs some of the worst aspects of the old politics.”
Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer responded: “Robert Reich has a long history of false and negative attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton. This is nothing new.”
The ad highlights Obama's recent interview with a Nevada newspaper in which he said, "The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years.”
"Really? Aren’t those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we’re in today? Ideas like special tax breaks for Wall Street," the ad's narrator asked. "Running up a $9 trillion debt. Refusing to raise the minimum wage or deal with the housing crisis. Are those the ideas Barack Obama’s talking about?"
The ad immediately drew sharp criticism from the Illinois senator's campaign. Obama spokesman Bill Burton denounced the spot as a "negative, dishonest attack," and later said they were planning on running a response ad that said Clinton "will say anything to get elected."
Clinton's campaign maintained its ad was "straightforward."
Clinton's South Carolina spokesman did not provide a reason why the ad was pulled, saying only, "we are on schedule with our "Closer" ads starting."
UPDATE: Clinton's campaign has announced the release of a new radio ad, called "Closer," that features Bill Clinton touting his wife's ability to battle the country's economic problems.
- CNN's Peter Hamby and Alex Mooney
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A third straight poll shows Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain neck-and-neck in the Florida primary race, with Rudy Giuliani in the third spot.
In a just released MSNBC/McClatchey/Mason Dixon poll, Romney drew 30 percent of support among likely Republican Primary voters while John McCain drew 26 percent. Given the poll’s 5 point margin of error, the two candidates are statistically tied ahead of the state's vot next Tuesday.
Rudy Giuliani, who has focused almost entirely on Florida for the past few weeks, is at 18 percent, and Mike Huckabee has 13 percent.
The poll surveyed 400 likely Republican voters and was conducted January 22-23.
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney
(CNN) – Amid reports that GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee's campaign is running low on cash and making cutbacks, embedded CNN photojournalists Derek Davis and Jung Park filed this diary entry just days before the campaign announced it would no longer give journalists an opportunity to buy a ticket and travel with the candidate. This week, the campaign grounded its chartered press airplanes entirely.
A ton of gear, a non-stop schedule, and constant airplane travel. If you’re a CNN photojournalist like me who’s embedded with a presidential campaign, those things are part of a typical day.
Not so typical: an afternoon riding a toilet seat in a propeller plane over South Carolina.
Late last week, we were with the former Arkansas governor as he campaigned in South Carolina in his final push before the GOP primary.
As photographers for CNN, we have the opportunity to witness politics up close, literally to have a front row seat to history in the making. But, politics also means something else to people like us in the trenches: It’s physical. It’s exciting. It’s tough.
(CNN) – Some unlikely faces make an appearance in a new Web ad from Republican John McCain: Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama.
In the spot, all of them mention the Arizona senator's name, while the on-screen text asks: "What keeps Democrats up at night?"
It also scrolls through clips of various pundits who say the Democratic Party most fears McCain as the Republican nominee.
The ad comes on the heels of this week’s CNN Democratic in South Carolina debate, where McCain’s name was frequently invoked on stage.
"Democrat Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards said John McCain's name 15 times during the course of their hour and a half-long debate this week," McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in statement. "Why? They fear John McCain most because he's the one candidate who can rally the conservative Reagan Coalition while appealing to independent voters to win in November."
In the most recent CNN poll of hypothetical general election matchups, McCain was the Republican who performed best against any of the major Democratic candidates - in a statistical tie with either of the party’s presidential frontrunners, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney