NEW YORK (CNN) - Conservative talk radio host Armstrong Williams has never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate. In fact, he says he has never even thought about the opposition. But this year – as Williams told me on today’s American Morning - things might be different. At the very least, he is thinking about the opposition. A lot. “You cannot help but look at and realize,” he told me, “that if Senator Obama wins, it’ll be the first time that someone would occupy the White House other than white men of America.”
For many Americans, that’s a heady thought – one that could be transformational in so many ways. Yet at the same time, Williams insists, Obama’s race is not a factor in his seesawing political emotions. “There’s no way I could vote for a candidate because of his race”, Williams said, “because it would contradict everything I’ve ever written and said in the past about racial politics. But, I’m open”.
So can we believe that race isn’t a factor in this rock-ribbed Republican’s potential conversion, particularly since Williams says about Obama’s policies “there’s not much I can embrace now”? Let’s consider former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts’ thoughts on the matter. Watts is one of a number of “Obamacons” – conservatives, including many African-Americans, who are giving the Senator a good, hard look. Obamacons believe he may be the best-equipped to take on poverty and urban policy, issues that are as important to them as low taxes and constructionist judges. Williams told me today “It would be foolish of me to say you cannot look at his candidacy and realize there’s something here that not only America but the world is ecstatic about.”
Obamacons believe he may be good for what ails the nation and the world.
As enticing as it might seem, the Obama medicine would be tough for Republicans to swallow. Pundits joke that the Senator’s policies make Ted Kennedy look like a conservative. Could they really set aside his views on taxes and abortion? Could they ignore the type of judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court? At this point, Williams isn’t sure. He hopes Obama might make enough progress on issues like capital gains and partial birth abortion to make him comfortable, but so far, there’s no suggestion of that. But William’s 82 year-old mother is committed. “She’s determined, and she’s voting for him,” he told me. “She never thought she would live to see the day that she would see the progress of America where we could show people that we’ve moved beyond this silly issue of race.” And for Obamacons, that may be the deciding factor.
(CNN) - For rogue nations pursuing nuclear weapons, the huge hurdle - and therefore the saving grace of the rest of the world - has been the challenge to build a device that can be mounted atop a missile. Plans that had been peddled by the infamous A.Q. Khan network - while potentially devastating in their destructive power - by and large had been thought to be rather primitive in their construction and unwieldy in their delivery capability.
Now, however, comes word from former UN weapons inspector David Albright that the Khan network had plans for an advanced weapons system that might fit onto the sort of missiles possessed by North Korea and Iran.
Albright told me this morning that the blueprints were "Quite advanced. Basically designs from Pakistan's nuclear arsenal". And, says Albright, the type of designs Pakistan insisted Khan did not take from that nation's nuclear arsenal.
(CNN) - When Karl Rove was first asked about the incendiary allegations in former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s new book ‘What Happened,’ he said it was ‘irresponsible’ for McClellan to assume that a meeting between him and Scooter Libby was about getting their stories straight regarding the Valerie Plame leak.
And when current Press Secretary Dana Perino, who cut her teeth in McClellan’s press shop said the White House was ‘puzzled’ by McClellan’s assertions, and repeated what now appears to be the official White House line on this latest turncoat - “not the Scott McClellan we knew”.
Who is the Scott McClellan I knew? I spent 6 years at the White House for CBS News. I first met Scott as the deputy to Ari Fleischer and got to know him pretty well. He was a good guy, though something of a tightwad with information - always frustrating when your job is to pry tangy little nuggets of news out of the Administration. He was a man of good humor, fair and loyal to a fault. I had never known him to cross anyone in the White House, or break a confidence. I think you would hear the same from my former colleagues.
But something changed when McClellan found out he had been duped by Rove and Libby in his October of 2003 assertion that they had not been involved in the Valerie Plame leak. I talked to him about it in his office one day, and while he didn’t give away outward emotion, I could see in his eyes that something had shifted. He had been hung out to dry and he did not appreciate it one bit. McClellan remained the loyal soldier, but from that day forward, you could see that he no longer believed.
(CNN) - It's no secret that John McCain has trouble raising money. At least the kind of cash that his earlier Republican rivals did - and the amounts his likely competitor for the White House, Barack Obama can.
In the month of April, McCain took in nearly $18 million - an impressive amount to be sure, and a personal best - but Obama's haul was a whopping $31 million. It's because of a major Democratic breakthrough: a fundraising base of individual small donors.
But ask McCain adviser Carly Fiorina why he can't generate the same campaign cash of his rivals, and you get the sort of sleight-of-hand answer she gave us today on American Morning. "The RNC raised over $40 million in April, which is ten times the rate of the Democratic National Committee and that's important because Senator McCain has access to those total funds", said Fiorina. "That's true," I responded, "the RNC has a lot of cash." But why is it that McCain can't attract the same response among individual donors that his predecessors did?
Fiorina: "Well, I hate to keep correcting you, but in truth, the RNC is raising money very specifically for the presidential campaign, and by the rules, the money that the RNC raises can be used for the presidential campaign."
It's the type of non-answer we may expect to hear more as McCain will clearly have to rely on the awesome fundraising power of the Republican National Committee to help him keep pace with the Democratic nominee.
(CNN) - Hidden Valley Ranch. It’s a famous salad dressing, and there’s plenty of talk that John McCain will be looking to dress up the fall ticket at his Sedona, Arizona property that bears the same name. He is assembling three potential running mates at Hidden Valley this weekend. It’s a chance to grill for some good political friends, his campaign insists, but there’s no question that in terms of election year optics, it sure looks like he’s seeing how well they play together in social situations.
McCain certainly loves to grill. Steak, chicken, ribs (though purists will say you smoke ribs). He once even fired up the bar-b-que for the boys and girls on the bus, hosting the traveling press corps one recent weekend. But is this Memorial Day grill-up really just a social event? One man who should know is Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. He attended just such an event on February 29th. This morning Pawlenty told me his weekend was “largely social." I asked him “do you talk a lot of politics? Do you get a sense he’s feeling you out?” “Mostly what you see is John McCain in a relaxed setting," he said. Ha! “Largely” and “mostly”. So he IS kicking the tires on potential running mates!
Every four years we play this parlor game of ‘veepstakes.' But who does have what McCain wants and needs? Pawlenty offered some insight this morning.
“A governor," he said “would bring executive experience, domestic experience, health care reform” “Any decision will be based on geography and politics and credentials."
WARREN, Michigan (CNN) - Good morning from the National Coney Island Diner in Warren, Michigan. It’s just after 3 a.m., and it’s still three hours until the diner opens, but already there is a buzz in the air that goes beyond the neon lights that entice you to try “Coca-Cola,” “Beer and Wine” and “Sweets.”
This year, for the Republicans at least, Michigan’s contest takes on an importance rarely seen before. By moving up the date of the primary, Michigan - once little more than an afterthought in the nominating process - has become an active player, at least on the Republican side.
The state today has the potential to make or break the candidacy of native son Mitt Romney, was born in Michigan, where his father was a popular three-term term governor. He needs to do well, but John McCain has the electoral history in Michigan, having won the primary in 2000. The two candidates are taking contrasting message on the trail here. Mitt Romney says he believes he can bring back lost jobs in the auto industry and is pledging that in the first 100 days of his presidency, he would convene a summit to rebuild the Big Three automakers. McCain, on the other hand, believes many of those jobs are gone forever, and would focus instead on retraining for jobs of the future. Whose vision will Michigan Republicans buy?
There’s a wild card here, though. In 2000, an estimated 52 percent of voters in the GOP primary were not Republicans: Michigan has an “open” system, and Democrats and independents regularly participate in that party's contest. With the top three Democratic candidates not campaigning here because of Democratic National Committee sanctions - and, in fact, only Hillary Clinton's name on the ballot - there’s a good chance Democrats who want to make their vote count might vote in the Republican primary.
Is Michigan completely irrelevant for the Democrats? Not according to the state's governor, Jennifer Granholm. Though the state lost all of its party delegates when it moved the primary up before the February 5 cutoff date set by the DNC, Granholm believes the early position has focused new attention on Michigan’s economic woes - attention it would have never received had it s voters gone to the polls on or after February 5. Certainly, it does seem that we have been paying more attention to the auto industry and job losses in Michigan than in years past.
For decades, the media has trended toward covering the horserace rather than the issues. CNN has made a major commitment to change that mindset. We believe the way we can best serve our valued viewers is to help them make up their minds about the candidates by providing them with information. So, for the next month, as we take American Morning on the road to the early primary states, expect a lot of substance in our coverage. We hope you enjoy the change!
–CNN American Morning Anchor John Roberts