(CNN) - The GOP race is up for grabs heading into the first southern primary this Saturday. CNN's Dana Bash reports the result in South Carolina could narrow the field, or only make it more muddled.
Related video: Jumbled GOP field heads south
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - For at least the fourth time in recent weeks, mysterious fliers accusing Mike Huckabee of being too liberal for Republican primary voters have appeared in South Carolina.
This time, they were left on nearly one hundred car windshields outside of Hampton Park Baptist Church in Greenville on Wednesday night.
"Don't be fooled by that smooth voice!" says the flier.
Under the banner, "Mike Huckabee – a 'True' Conservative?" the printout hammers Huckabee on immigration and taxes, and accuses the former Arkansas governor of "lying" about his role in the Wayne Dumond parole controversy.
It quotes a 2005 Arkansas News article that paraphrased Huckabee as saying, "Arkansas needs to make the transition from a traditional Southern state to one that recognizes and cherishes diversity and culture."
"Is something wrong with our Southern Christian culture?" the leaflet asks. [Read it here.]
The fliers are simple 8×10 printouts with bullet points attacking Huckabee's record, with particular focus on the Dumond case.
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) - The conservative-leaning editorial board Nevada’s biggest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has endorsed Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama, but the latter very half-heartedly.
On Thursday, the Review-Journal’s editorial board praised Romney’s business background saying, “Mr. Romney has extensive experience in the private sector, which is unusual for far too many politicians.”
“[E]ach GOP candidate can make - and has made - a reasonable case that he's best suited to ensure the party again embraces the ideas and concepts that made this nation a beacon of freedom and economic opportunity," reads the editorial. "But in our opinion, the viable candidate most likely to lead Republicans in such a direction is Mitt Romney.”
The Review-Journal’s Wednesday endorsement of Barack Obama, however, is far less glowing, the editorial board seeming to perceive Obama as the lesser of three evils.
After a lengthy criticism of Hillary Clinton and a one-sentence swipe at John Edwards’ “anti-capitalist populism,” the article asks, “Is Barack Obama, then, the ideal Democratic candidate for president? Hardly.”
The editorial criticizes his lack of experience and dismisses his message of change. “His policy recommendations - when he can be convinced to get any more specific than "I represent change" - are the opposite of "change." They're old-line, welfare-state solutions that haven't spent enough time in the microwave to appear even superficially appetizing.
Of the four paragraphs that actually address Obama directly, only one compliments him. “Barack Obama is, at least, likeable,” adding, “he is a good politician, in the non-insulting sense that he knows how to speak to individual Americans and give them the feeling he cares about their concerns.”
Where the last line of the Romney endorsement urges caucus-goers to support Romney, Obama’s concludes by telling readers they’re “better off” backing Obama if they don’t want to see “a re-run of the horror movie ‘It Came From Little Rock.’"
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Despite it being one of their top priorities, congressional Republicans won’t push to make permanent many of the expiring tax cuts enacted in President Bush’s first term as part of an upcoming economic stimulus package, two Senate Republican leadership aides told CNN.
“I don’t think we can get 10 Democrats to support it,” said one of the aides who noted that such meager Democratic support would keep the proposal from getting the 60 votes it needs to pass the Senate.
In early positioning over the issue, Democrats had bluntly warned Republicans making permanent the controversial tax cuts was a non-starter and that a protracted battle over the issue could stall speedy passage of a stimulus package.
“Renewing the Bush tax cuts, which don’t expire until the end of 2010, should be off the table because they will thwart any chance of passing any stimulus,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, a leading Democrat on the issue.
Republicans won’t abandon their efforts to make permanent the cuts, the aides said, but will wait for another day to make their case. Without congressional action, several tax rates will go up beginning in 2009 including rates on income taxes, dividends, capital gains, and the estate tax.
–CNN's Ted Barrett, Brianna Keilar and Deirdre Walsh
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) - In her most cheerful flight attendant voice, Hillary Clinton Wednesday night welcomed the press on the maiden voyage of a charter jet her campaign has dubbed 'Hill Force 1'.
"Hi my name is Hillary, and I am pleased to have most of you on board," she chirped over the PA system.
Prior to Wednesday the press and Clinton usually flew in separate airplanes.
Departing Las Vegas en route to Reno, Clinton warned the press not to use electronic devices that could "transmit a negative story."
And she urged the press to keep seat belts fastened because, "I have learned lately that things can get awfully bumpy."
Clinton, seeming to read off a provided script, added, "that in the event of an unexpected drop in the poll numbers" the plane would be diverted to New Hampshire.
In flight entertainment, the New York Democrat said, would consist of her stump speech.
And she told passengers that if they looked out the right of the plane they would see an "America saddled with tax cuts for the wealthiest and a war without end," and if they looked out the left they would, "see an America with a strong middle class at home and a strong reputation in the world."
She ended her welcome by saying, "We know you have a choice when you fly - so we are grateful that you have chosen the plane with the most experienced candidate."
- CNN Political Producer Mike Roselli
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/17/art.leahy.gi.jpg caption=" Sen. Patrick Leahy is backing Obama."] LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) - Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will back Sen. Barack Obama’s bid for president, three Democratic sources familiar with the pending endorsement tell CNN - the Illinois senator's fourth Senate endorsement in a week.
Leahy, first elected in 1974, is charged with vetting nominees to the federal bench, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Pat Leahy is one of the finest members of the U.S. Senate, and he sees the kind of possibilities that Barack Obama can bring to effect change to this country and world,” said one of the sources.
UPDATE: On a conference call with reporters, Leahy said he endorsed Obama because he believes he can bring reform to the nation's health care system and schools, and end the Iraq war. "Barack Obama gives us that hope," he said, saying the Illinois senator "represents the America we once were, and want to be again."
"We need a president who can reintroduce America to the world, actually reintroduce America to ourselves. I believe Barack Obama is the best person to do that," said Leahy.
He also said that "My endorsement is not in opposition to either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Edwards, both of whom I know and admire. I'm looking at who can do this best, and I believe Barack Obama can."
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/17/art.clintonjohnson.ap.jpg caption="The Obama campaign took issue with Johnson’s comments."](CNN) - High-profile Hillary Clinton supporter Bob Johnson is apologizing to Barack Obama for comments he made last week regarding the Illinois senator's acknowledged drug use as a teenager. Johnson said he sent a letter to Obama Thursday morning and said he was also reaching out by phone.
The founder and former chief executive officer of Black Entertainment Television created a stir and drew wide criticism after a Clinton campaign stop in Columbia, South Carolina January 13 when, in defending the Clintons' record on civil rights, he said, "to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood - and I wont say what he was doing, but he said it in the book - when they have been involved."
Many felt that Johnson was referring to Obama's drug use, which the senator wrote about in his memoirs.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton told CNN that "Obama accepts the apology. We're going to leave it at that."
In December, former New Hampshire Clinton campaign official Bill Shaheen resigned after he publicly suggested that Republicans would probably use Obama's past drug use against him.
Shortly after Johnson made the remarks, the Clinton campaign released a statement from him saying he had been “referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."
The Obama campaign did not accept his explanation. Campaign spokesman Bill Burton said: "His tortured explanation doesn't hold up against his original statement. And it's troubling that neither the campaign nor Senator Clinton – who was there as the remark was made – is willing to condemn it as they did when another prominent supporter recently said a similar thing."
The billionaire Johnson is not a paid staffer, but a high-profile volunteer and wealthy fundraiser. When asked at a Vegas debate whether Johnson would have to go because of his comments, Hillary Clinton distanced herself from Johnson's remarks, saying, "Well, Bob has put out a statement saying what he was trying to say, and what he thought he had said. And we accept him on his word on that."
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/16/art.rove.gi.jpg caption= "Karl Rove took aim at Clinton and Obama Wednesday."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Karl Rove dismissed Hillary Clinton’s Michigan primary win Wednesday, telling a group of Republican party leaders that her victory showed signs of weakness.
Clinton, the only major candidate to appear on the Democratic presidential primary ballot, received roughly 55 percent of the vote. About 40 percent of those voting in the primary opted for the “uncommitted” option, and 5 percent of the vote went to other candidates, including Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and Mike Gravel.
“Think about that. She’s running against ‘nobody’ and ‘nobody’ gets 40 percent of the vote,” said Rove. “The other 5 percent of the vote went to three other people: 27,924 votes went to the guy who believes in UFOs, the guy who dropped out and the guy who last held public office somewhere around 1855.”
He also said the New York senator should release documents in the Clinton presidential library that relate to her time in the White House during the administration of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
But the former adviser to President Bush didn’t reserve all his criticism for Hillary Clinton, taking aim at her chief Democratic rival, Barack Obama, as well. He echoed recent Clinton campaign criticism of the Illinois senator’s “present” votes as a state representative and doubts about his relative lack of national experience. He also blasted him for a voting record that he described as “more liberal” than Clinton’s – “and that’s hard to do.”
The political strategist also had some advice for the Republicans in the race. As soon as the party has a nominee, said Rove, the candidate will have to “introduce themselves to the American people,” focus on “kitchen table” domestic issues like jobs and healthcare, “campaign aggressively in places where Republicans don't usually campaign” (including efforts to reach black, Latino and union voters), and present a positive vision on Iraq and the surge.
–CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - The balmy South Carolina campaign trail may be getting unusually frosty for GOP Sen. John McCain as rival Republican strategists offer fresh criticisms of his campaign's tactics.
Over the last week, McCain's South Carolina "Truth Squad" has arranged multiple conference calls to defend its candidate from negative campaigning.
But opponents say his campaign has been exaggerating the attacks against him - taking advantage of the ghosts of 2000 in a bid to win sympathy from the media and voters.
In 2000, McCain was the target of a whisper campaign alleging that he fathered a black child while married to his wife, Cindy. The truth was McCain and his wife had adopted their daughter, Bridget, from Bangladesh.
In 2008, the Arizona senator's staff is "trying to make McCain the victim," said senior Thompson adviser Rich Galen.
"But 'the victim of what?' is, I think, a legitimate question. His victimhood is kind of empty," Galen said.
Click here to read the rest of this story.
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby
WASHINGTON (CNN) - When is an endorsement not quite an endorsement? When it reads anything like yesterday’s tepid backing of Obama in the conservative-leaning Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“Is Barack Obama, then, the ideal Democratic candidate for president? Hardly,” it began, calling his policy proposals “old-line, welfare-state solutions that haven't spent enough time in the microwave to appear even superficially appetizing.” And in a reprise of recent primary-season attacks on Obama’s bid, it dubbed the candidate himself “a relatively young man with relatively little of the kind of real-world experience that prepares a candidate” for major crises.
But, they concluded, “Barack Obama is, at least, likeable.” Better than the alternative, sure, but still: not a line likely to make it into his campaign ads anytime soon.
Vegas is turning into a tough town for the Illinois senator. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton took a recent, much-used Obama line – in which he lightheartedly describes himself as a disorganized, big-picture kind of guy – and used it to question his management ability.
Meanwhile, her campaign is sending out a mailer, a holdover from New Hampshire, that attacks Obama on taxes and Social Security – a huge issue in this retiree-heavy state. So Obama found himself forced to spend time on the campaign trail Wednesday on the defensive, yet again.
This morning, the Review-Journal backed Mitt Romney in his party’s caucuses. But the real action on the Republican side is back East, where just about everyone in South Carolina’s GOP contest is spending more time talking about their opponents than they are about themselves.
John McCain is finding the South Carolina campaign trail unexpectedly chilly in more ways than one. Tuesday night, close friend Fred Thompson went on the attack. Just a day later, it seemed anti-Romney ally Mike Huckabee, a major rival for evangelical votes in South Carolina, might be ready to turn on his former comrade-in-arms.
A senior Huckabee adviser told the Christian Broadcasting Network late Wednesday that “the free pass for McCain is over. The next few days in South Carolina will be rough and tumble. Although we will continue to take the high road, I think you will see a message develop; us vs. them. …”
For their part, opponents grumble that McCain’s campaign – which recently sent out a release trumpeting the debut of its South Carolina “truth squad” – is trying to use the ghosts of 2000 to attract sympathetic coverage in what had been, at least until this week, one of the mildest primary battles in South Carolina history.
It all makes for an edgy Republican field - but at least one GOP candidate has a smile on his face as he stumps in South Carolina today: Ron Paul, whose cash-rich campaign boasted Wednesday that he had beaten Rudy Giuliani in Michigan and Fred Thompson in New Hampshire – and had, in the process, drawn 30,000 more primary votes in total than either man. Today, the Texas congressman makes the pilgrimage to Bob Jones University.
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand