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