(CNN) - Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court has reached a 5-4 decision with Justice Anthony Kennedy as the decisive swing vote.
The latest case involves the right to own a handgun in the District of Columbia. In this case, Kennedy went with the conservatives, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas. The majority concluded that the D.C. law violated the Second Amendment to the Constitution – the right to bear arms.
But Kennedy sided with the liberals in two other major 5-4 decisions, including Wednesday’s ruling that the death penalty could not apply to child rape victims. Last week, he sided with his liberal colleagues, Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens in concluding that terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention center have certain legal rights to stand trial.
All of which once again underscores the fragile balance of the court and the fact that the next president probably will have an impressive opportunity to change that balance for the next 20 or 30 years.
As I have pointed out before, John McCain says he likes justices like Roberts and Alito. Barack Obama says he likes justices like Ginsburg and Breyer.
This will be a major issue in the election for lots of Democrats and Republicans. The ramifications on a whole host of issues, not just abortion rights for women, are enormous.
(CNN) - There are two intriguing third party candidates running for president his year: Ralph Nader and Bob Barr. Both are well known here in Washington. But will they have an impact around the country if the election between Barack Obama and John McCain is close?
Nader, a long time populist and liberal consumer advocate, has been here before. He won more than 90,000 votes in the Florida election in 2000 and was widely accused of helping George W. Bush beat Al Gore by just more than 500 votes in the state. Gore’s supporters believe that he would have won the state and the election if Nader had stayed out. Nader denies that, insisting he took votes from both Democrats and Republicans.
Barr is a former Republican Congressman from Georgia and is now running on the Libertarian Party ticket. In the House of Representatives, he was always an outspoken conservative. He took the lead in initiating impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton.
Given that conservative track record, he is likely to take votes away from McCain, especially in Georgia where he is relatively well-known.
Obama’s supporters are hoping he does. They believe Georgia is fertile ground for the Democratic candidate, especially if the Democrats can register hundreds of thousands of new young and African American voters in the state.
So let’s see how Nader and Barr do this time around.
(CNN)–Barack Obama says he’s going to run a 50-state race for the White House. His aides say he will aggressively seek to make inroads in some of the traditionally Republican presidential states. It’s an ambitious quest but one that would be made easier if he raises hundreds of millions of dollars.
We’ll see in the coming weeks and months how that works out. My instinct tells me he won’t be spending lots of time in Utah and Wyoming, for example.
Still, I do think Obama will campaign actively in North Carolina and Georgia – two states with large numbers of African Americans. His campaign as well as the Democratic National Committee will try to get hundreds of thousands of new voters registered, especially African-Americans and young people. That is potentially very fertile ground for Obama and could make a critical difference in November.
Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, was criticized in recent years by some fellow Democrats for spending scarce DNC money in some of the Republican states. He said he wanted the Democratic Party active across the United States. His critics thought that was a waste of money and time.
But now, that investment seems to have paid off. Witness the recent Democratic successes in those three special Congressional elections in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois where seats long held by Republicans, including the former Speaker Dennis Hastert, were captured by Democrats.
(CNN) - In some of the more recent public opinion polls, Barack Obama comes out doing much better than John McCain on several domestic issues. McCain, on the other hand, does better when it comes to the war on terror.
The latest USA Today-Gallup Poll, for example, shows that Obama is seen as doing a better job than McCain on health care (51 percent to 26 percent), the economy (48 percent to 32 percent), energy (47 percent to 28 percent), and taxes (44 percent to 35 percent).
In this same poll, they basically tie on such matters as the war in Iraq (43 percent to 43 percent), moral values (40 percent to 39 percent) and illegal immigration (34 percent to 36 percent).
But it’s a totally different situation when it comes to the war on terror. McCain is seen as doing a better job by a 52 percent to 33 percent margin.
All of which suggests that Obama probably would win the election if the biggest issues involve the economy and other domestic matters. But that could change if the war on terror were to emerge as issue number one. Under that circumstance, voters might flock toward McCain.
It’s a fascinating insight into the minds of voters – but remember: it’s only a current snapshot. Things can easily change between now and November 4. They always do.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - There’s nothing wrong with people changing their minds. We all do it – all the time. But as Luke Russert reminded us at his father’s funeral this week, politicians have a hard time admitting that they ever change their minds. They are apparently afraid that they will be accused of flip-flopping, which supposedly is bad for a politician.
Luke said that Tim Russert would also point out that the Americans are a very forgiving people. They will certainly accept politicians changing their minds as long as they are up front about it. What’s wrong with political leaders simply saying they’ve had a change of heart? “I used to think one way, but now think another.”
I was reminded of this when Barack Obama announced this week that he was opting out of the public financing of his general election campaign despite earlier expressing support for the public finance system. His decision certainly made financial sense, given that he could probably raise at least $300 million for the campaign compared to the roughly $85 million available in public financing.
In explaining his decision, Obama insisted the current presidential general election finance system was “broken,” something Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, a leader in campaign finance reform, denied. Would it have been so bad politically for Obama if he would have just said: “The country needs me in the White House and this decision will help make that happen. We can’t take any chances. As a result, I changed my mind”?
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Bill and Hillary Clinton attended the memorial service for Tim Russert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington on Thursday. That was the first time I have seen them since Senator Clinton dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed Barack Obama. She was very enthusiastic that day. It dawned on me yesterday that we still haven’t heard the former President formally endorse Senator Obama. I am sure he will be on the Obama bandwagon openly and energetically fairly soon. But I wonder what’s taking so long. Then again, is it really all that long?
As our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville has pointed out, it was only the other day when Al Gore endorsed Obama. We shouldn’t be surprised that Bill Clinton is waiting for the right moment to deliver his big endorsement speech. And having covered the Clinton White House, I can predict that it will be a major media event when he does. Bill Clinton is just one of those remarkable political figures. When he wants to do something, he has a knack of doing it in a spectacular way.
But after that big endorsement is made, how active will the former President be on the campaign trail?
Watch CNN's Wolf Blitzer and David Bohrman discuss what transpired between Sens. Obama and McCain at Tim Russert's funeral mass Wednesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was a pretty amazing sight. John McCain and Barack Obama came to Tim Russert’s funeral mass today here in Washington. The fact that they took time out from their campaigns to do so was already impressive, and certainly a lovely tribute to Tim. But they also did more. They wound up sitting right next to each other during the 90 minute service.
Before the service started, they were chatting rather amiably and intensely for 15-20 minutes. Those of us who were invited to the Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown were impressed that Tim, even in his tragic and untimely death, was able to bring these two presidential candidates together.
It was a powerful statement of Tim’s unique role here in Washington.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who presided over the gathering, warmly welcomed McCain and Obama. He spoke eloquently about Tim’s faith, family and journalistic profession.
So did Tim’s remarkable 22-year-old son, Luke, who delivered some beautiful Words of Remembrance. He told them what his dad would have told them: the American public wants their presidential candidates to discuss the most important issues of the day and not get bogged down with trivial personal attacks.
Luke also said that his dad was often so irritated when politicians refused to acknowledge they had changed their minds on important policy issues. There’s nothing wrong, Luke said, in someone’s changing his or her mind. He’s right of course. Obama and McCain were clearly paying attention.
I suspect those strong words will have an impact on these two presidential candidates in the coming weeks and months.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - When it comes to tax policy, John McCain and Barack Obama have very different views.
Take the matter of corporate tax rates. McCain wants to reduce that rate. He says that would make American companies more competitive around the world since the U.S. has one of the highest corporate rates. He notes that Ireland used to be an economic basket case until it reduced its corporate rates. As a result, investors from around the world began to flock to Ireland for business deals. That created lots of jobs in Ireland, which now has a strong economy.
Obama wants a windfall profits tax on Exxon-Mobil and the other big oil companies. They have been making record profits as the price of oil has skyrocketed. According to recent polls, most Americans blame big oil for their pain at the pump. McCain opposes such a windfall profits tax. But he goes one step further. Under McCain’s proposed corporate tax rate cut, Exxon-Mobil and other big oil companies would have even larger profits. That’s because McCain has no exemption for the big oil companies.
This is but one tax issue on the table right now. The two presidential candidates disagree on several others. Obama has proposed a $1,000 tax cut for middle class workers.
But the big issue for both will be whether to roll back the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. McCain originally voted against them but now supports them. Obama wants the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year eliminated. He wants to go back to the tax rates that existed during the Clinton administration. This will be a huge fight in the campaign.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The debate between John McCain and Barack Obama over the war in Iraq boils down to a few critical differences.
In a nutshell, McCain says the military surge in Iraq finally is working and insists Obama was totally wrong to oppose it. He says Obama also has been wrong in not visiting Iraq in more than two years and in not sitting down with Gen. David Petraeus, the outgoing U.S. military commander in Iraq, for a private briefing.
Obama says McCain’s judgment is flawed because he was among those who voted to authorize the war back in 2002 and pushed for the invasion. Obama, an Illinois state senator at the time, opposed the war from the start. Obama also says McCain doesn’t discuss the approximately $10 billion a month that the U.S. is spending on the war – money, Obama says, could be better spent here at home.
McCain says the U.S. can win in Iraq and return home with honor if it keeps troops there. Obama says that that the only way the Iraqis themselves will step up to the plate is to give them a timetable for a troop withdrawal.
The polls show the state of the economy is the most pressing issue for most voters right now. I have no doubt about that. Still, what happens over the next five months on the ground in Iraq will have an enormous impact on the presidential election. I have no doubt about that either.
(CNN) - The latest five-to-four decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the status of terror suspects at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba once again underscores the deeply divided nature of the court and the huge stakes in the presidential election.
The court broke up largely along the liberal-conservative makeup – with the traditional swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, once again breaking the tie.
In the majority were the liberals – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.
In the minority were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
The next president of the United States probably will be in a position to nominate at least one and maybe more Justices. John McCain says he would nominate conservatives like Roberts and Alito; Barack Obama says he prefers liberals like Ginsburg and Breyer.
So just as there are stark differences between the two candidates on foreign and domestic policy, there are also stark differences on the future of the Supreme Court. And placing new justices on the court will have an impact for a lot more than just four or eight years. It’s something to think about during this political season.