John Gizzi Reports from the Twin Cities: Lieberman Thanks "My Base"

Lieberman Thanks “My Base”

St. Paul, Minn. — As it settled down to its daily breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Maple Grove, Minnesota, Connecticut’s delegation to the Republican National Convention had a surprise visitor Thursday.  The state’s Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, in town to address the convention and boost John McCain, decided to drop by and say hello to the GOPers from his home state.

The 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president, who remains in tune with his party on just about every issue but the U.S. action in Iraq, nonetheless had warm words for Republicans from his home state.  He recalled how in 1988, many of them (notably the late William F. Buckley, he mentioned) crossed over to help him win his first term in a race against Sen. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., easily one of the most obnoxious liberal Republicans anywhere.

“And I was reading some statistics about the last election,” Lieberman said, recalling the ’06 campaign in which he was defeated in the Democratic primary by antiwar candidate Ned Lamont but roared back to win a three-way race in the fall as an independent, “In November, I got more than 70% of the Republican vote, 55% of the independents, and perhaps a third of the Democrats.  So you could say I’m here to thank my base.”

Although he felt saddened by the fact that the Democratic Party has apparently made a “litmus test” out of the Iraqi war issue, Lieberman did say that “had I been re-elected in the normal way, it would have been far more difficult to come over and back John McCain this year.”

Lieberman went on to praise Sarah Pallin’s convention speech as “spectacular” and said that the vice presidential hopeful reminded him of the title of a book about a baseball great:  The Natural, by Bernard Malamud.
As the senator left the breakfast, I asked him why, with his very warm relations with Republicans, he doesn’t simply change parties.  He chuckled, smiled, and began to say “Harry Reid — ” and then he stopped whatever he intended to say about the Senate Democratic leader and moved on.  

Conservative Base to McCain: All is Forgiven

Human Events political editor John Gizzi with Gene and Connie Nicholas.

St. Paul, Minn.–Walking into the Xcel Center here before the Republican National Convention commenced on Wednesday, I spotted someone who clearly had hoped to be here in a capacity other than that of convention speaker that evening.

“Did you like the choice of Gov. Palin for vice president?” I asked Mitt Romney,

Yes,” replied one of John McCain’s leading opponents for nomination, “And, boy, is she energizing the base of the party!”

Did he regret he wasn’t tapped as McCain’s running mate?

“I’m dee-lighted with the choice he made,” Romney shot back with a grin.

Stepping out for something to eat later that evening, I caught up with another “veepstakes” possibility for McCain, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. He wouldn’t do anything beyond chuckle at my question of regret. But Cantor did say a lot about McCain’s choice of Palin.

“He’s doing a lot to excite the conservative base of the party,” Cantor told me, “and his choice of Gov. Palin had a lot to do with that. She’s a solid conservative on all issues — abortion, rolling back spending, energy. And her choice means we’re reaching out to a lot of women, women who work and raise a family at the same time, and not just Hillary Clinton supporters. This was a great choice.”

The verdict from this conservative conclave was unanimous. Although many had difficulties in the past and some had dearly wished for another nominee, all is now forgiven, and Sarah Palin was the catalyst (although more than a few cited McCain’s statements on offshore drilling and naming strict constructionist Supreme Court justices as examples that he was reaching out to them).

Former State Rep. Randy Graf, who had led a successful effort behind an initiative in Arizona to deny services to illegal immigrants, had clashed with McCain on this issue. McCain has long been at dagger’s ends with illegal immigration foes such as Graf, who won the nomination for the U.S. House seat along the border in ’06 but lost in November.

“A lot of us had had trouble with John, although I have to say he did support me when I won the primary for Congress,” Graf told me, “But now, these same people at home who had argued with him are coming into the headquarters and volunteering to work — a lot of people, in fact, in my home county of Pima. Now I was very moved by [McCain’s] appearance with Pastor Rick Warren, but the fact that he chose Sarah Palin was really key to getting over problems with him.”

Graf freely admitted that he did not know where the vice presidential candidate stood on illegal immigration and conceded to my colleague James Coomarasamy of the BBC and me that “you don’t hear as much about that issue this year, although the [Republican] platform has some strong language on border security.” But he did say that “I know where she stands on social issues and spending and I like it.”

Graf’s story was confirmed to me by Arizona’s GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, who pointed out that “Sarah Palin is exciting the conservative base and even the most diehard [McCain enemies] are now on board.”

Perhaps the most erudite remark came from Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, formerly a strong Romney backer. When he spotted Graf, Coomarasamy and me outside the BBC convention outlet, he asked if we knew what happened to him on Friday. When we said we didn’t, Rev. Sheldon volunteered that after he learned of McCain tapping Palin, “I died and went to heaven.”

The President of Alaska

St. Paul, Minn. — “Wow! It’s as though Sarah Palin was president of her own country!” is what Connecticut’s Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Fedele exclaimed this morning after I showed him a study of just what power the Republican vice presidential hopeful holds as governor of Alaska.

At a time when political opponents and the liberal media are belittling Palin’s credentials and experience, the best rebuttal is from a recent study of the Alaskan Constitution in the Journal of the American Bar Association. According to the ABA study, “Perhaps none of the states possesses a stronger executive branch than the Alaska Constitution provides.”

Like every predecessor since Democratic William Egan (the first elected governor after Alaska became a state in 1959), Palin has power that dwarfs that of George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas and Bill Clinton when he sat in the Arkansas governor’s chair. Connecticut’s Fedele is not far off the mark when he likens Palin to the president of her own country. Indeed, “[t]here are no independently elected officers and the Governor of Alaska will be held wholly responsible for the conduct of stae administration during his [or her] four-year term,” according to the ABA Journal.

The secretary of state is elected jointly with the governor, the attorney general serves at the will of the governor, and twenty executive department heads are hired and fired by the governor. And the buck truly stops with her because the state Constitution limits the number of departments to twenty. If the governor does not like the way a department is operating, she (or he) has the discretion to “re-organize departments and transfer functions among them,” the ABA Journal tells us.

The Alaska governor also oversees reapportionment every decade — albeit acting on the advice of an independent board — and may declare martial law but not “for longer than twenty days without the approval of a majority of the members of the legislature in joint session.” The Constitution also does away with earmarked funds.

The “muscular governor” was enacted as a reaction to the lack of authority during territorial days, when minutae of government was dictated by faraway Washington bureaucrats. The Alaskan model was strongly touted by one of Palin’s most famous predecesors, Walter J. Hickel, who held the governorship as a Republican and later a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. When I spoke to him on his 88th birthday a year ago, Hickel was still going strong and advocating that his state’s model be adopted by other countries.

So when the skeptics say that Sarah Palin has no experience, the best rejoinder of her supporters might be: “No experience? Read the Constitution. She’s President of Alaska!”

If Only Thompson Had Done This A Year Ago

St. Paul, Minn. — “You remember that speech Fred Thompson gave when we were at [the] Mackinac [Republican] Conference last fall?” Northville (Michigan) Township Trustee Christopher Roosen told me as we walked out of the Xcel Center last night after the Republican National Convention adjourned. “If Fred gave the speech he did tonight at Mackinac [in September of ’07], he’d would have been accepting the nomination for president tonight.”

Heading for the exit of the convention center, I spotted Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy. Last summer, Healy scored a coup when he secured Thompson as the speaker at the Nutmeg State Republican Party’s annual banquet. The hotel ballroom was packed, the guests were excited about the former Tennessee senator, he made a speech — “and it was a dud,” according to Connecticut GOP National Committeewoman Pat Longo.

“He was great!” was Healy’s reaction to Thompson’s convention address last night. “Why didn’t he make a speech like that when he came to our dinner? History might have been different.”

“I wish Fred Thompson was like that when he was a candidate,” chorused Prince William County (Virginia) Supervisor John Stirrup when we spoke on the convention floor amid wild cheers for the Tennessean.

You get the picture. Over and over again, on the convention floor during Thompson’s address and in the aisles of the Excel Center after, this mantra was repeated: had only Fred Thompson made speeches the way he did on behalf of John McCain in St. Paul on Tuesday, he might well be standing where McCain will stand in St. Paul on Thursday.

From hushing the audience with an account of McCain’s torture and heroism as a prisoner-of-war to red-meat denunications of Barack Obama as “the most liberal, most inexperienced Democratic nominee for President in history” and the vow that “the right to life would not be above [McCain’s] pay grade,” Thompson was every inch a star. After so many speeches on his own behalf that fell flat, the onetime star of TV’s Law And Order made one stirring address on behalf of someone else and, in the process, restored much of his former glow.

And that may well explain a lot. When others boomed him for president and encouraged a candidacy, the Tennessean who starred in so many movies and television shows was considered by many “the next Reagan.” Given a build-up like that — not to mention the fact that he finally entered the Republican race later than most of the other candidates — it was very hard for Fred Thompson to live up to the advance “hype.”

Last night, Fred Thompson took a huge first step toward being a political star once again. Fans of his such as Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the first elected official outside Tennessee to endorse Thompson for president, have already secured him for campaign appearances this fall. After last night, McCain will surely deploy his old friend and Senate colleague on the stump. We haven’t heard the last of Fred Thompson.

House GOP Campaign Chief Says Palin Pick Puts “Intensity Up”

St. Paul, Minn.– When I interviewed Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.) a few months ago as the financial scandal involving the National Republican Congressional Committee he chaired was unraveling, the Oklahoman tried to put on the best face in an election year that seemed to portend major losses for the minority GOP in the House. As he told me, “It doesn’t help things when you have a treasurer who’s a crook.”

When I ran into Cole at the Republican National Convention yesterday, he was a changed man, thanks to Sarah Palin.

“The intensity is up among the grass-roots,” the NRCC chief told me, “She’s a reformer and it reinforces the things we are trying to do in the House, and she covers all the issues that cause us to lose support from our base in 2006 [when Democrats took the House after twelve years].”

Cole also said that Palin’s choice as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate and the resultant fervor among Republicans “is a contrast to the civil war that is going on in the Democratic Party. There are a lot of Democratic women who left Denver still saying ‘why didn’t Hillary get the nod? [as Barack Obama’s running mate].”

“Our ‘Inchon landing’ — catching the Democrats off guard” is how Cole characterized McCain’s surprise decision to pick Palin, likening it to the military maneuver of General Douglas MacArthur that caught North Koreans by surprise in 1950.

He also praised Palin’s background as a forceful advocate on the energy issue, saying “she will articulate the issue that we have been trying to push in the House.”

Putting on his hat as a top political strategist for House Republicans, Cole said Palin’s energizing the conservative base would help House candidates in competitive districts in the South. He specifically cited the now-open House seats of Rep. Bud Cramer (D.-Ala.) and Terry Everett (R.-Ala.) and that of Rep. Jim McCrery (R.-La.) as cases of conservatives energized by Palin and thus making races Democrats had high hopes of winning more competitive for the GOP.

“I’m so excited to have her on the ticket with John McCain,” Cole said.

First Critical Word From Right On Palin Comes From Bob Barr

St. Paul, Minn. — The first unkind word about Sarah Palin I have heard from a conservative came yesterday, shortly after I finished lunch at the Holiday Inn near the Excel Convention Center here. The Palin critic appeared to be an incongruous figure at the Republican National Convention: Bob Barr, renegade Republican and former Georgia U.S. Representative (1994-2002) and now the Libertarian Party nominee for President.

“I’m sure she’s a very nice person,” said Barr, in response to my query about the Alaska governor and vice presidential hopeful. “But she might be a little short in the qualifications department. Her resume is slim, so it’s hard to have an opinion about her.”

Since he left the Republican Party to become a Libertarian, Barr has caused some jitters among Republicans. The former congressman and Clinton impeachment manager’s high name recognition and conservative disenchanment with McCain has led to Barr scoring in high single digits in states such as his home state of Georgia.

But since McCain tapped the conservative Alaskan as his running mate Friday, conservatives at all levels have expressed enthusiasm and begun to rally to the GOP ticket. Lew Moore, campaign manager for Ron Paul’s late Presidential campaign, told me on Monday that he and his wife would vote for McCain because they are enthusiastic about Palin.

Barr would not comment on whether Palin was winning conservatives from him back to the Republican Party. Rather, he underscored his view that Palin has slim credentials for the vice presidency. “We used to insist that nominees had a strong background for a national ticket,” he said.

Ron Paul Manager Is Big Palin Fan

St. Paul, Minn. — The manager of Ron Paul’s late campaign for the Republican presidential nomination told me yesterday that he “loves” John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate and that he will vote for the Republican ticket. However, he quickly added, his former candidate Paul talked to him recently and will not endorse anyone for president in ’08.

When I encountered former Paul manager Lew Moore on the floor of the Republican National Convention yesterday, the Washington State resident said he “loves” the news that McCain selected Palin to run with him. In Moore’s eyes, Palin shares the strong adherence to the Constitution that was a hallmark of Ron Paul’s philosophy and that of Moore’s onetime boss, the late Rep. Jack Metcalf (R.-Wash).

“And my wife Maureen can’t stop talking about Palin,” Moore told me. “She’s from Alaska!” But Moore, who was Ron Paul’s campaign manager in the presidential nomination battle this year, stopped short of saying his presidential favorite would join him in voting for McCain.

“Ron and I talk fairly regularlly and he made it clear he’s not going to endorse anyone,” said Moore.

Antiwar Demonstrators Assault Connecticut Delegation


St. Paul Police treat Fred Biebel, former Connecticut Republican State Chairman, following assault with Chlorox from antiwar demonstrators

St. Paul, Minn. — Riding back to the Holiday Inn in Maple Grove (Minn.) from the Republican National Convention last night, there was only one topic of discussion among the Connecticut delegation throughout the 45-minute bus ride: the assault against them earlier that day by anti-war demonstrators shouting foul-mouthed slogans and bearing “Obama” signs. More than simply shouting at the delegates from the Nutmeg State, 100-plus protesters tried to tear the credentials from around the neck of the oldest member of the delegation and tossed bleach at the delegates trying to enter the Excel convention center.

“The only convention I’ve attended where anything worse than this took place was Miami in 1968, where the marchers smashed the windows on our bus and forced my young daughters to lie on the floor,” recalled former Connecticut State GOP Chairman Fred Biebel, who has attended every national Republican convention since 1968. At 83, Biebel was the oldest member of his state’s delegation and, for whatever reason, a particular target of the demonstrators. They tore from his neck the credentials needed to get into the convention, which several of the delegates felt was a strong sign the demonstrators were trying to bring their mayhem into the GOP conclave. (When police came in and arrested some of the assailants, Biebel’s credentials were recovered and returned to him).

“Women and older delegates were the targets of these creeps,” delegate Mike Garrett of Bridgeport angrily told me when we arrived back at the hotel.

Like Biebel, who suffers from breathing difficulties, Mrs. Lila Healy, mother of State GOP Chairman Chris Healy, had chlorox and water bottles tossed at her when she and the Connecticut group tried to enter the Excel convention center. Former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons was another target of the bottles tossed by the marchers who yelled “What are you killers going to tell your children?”

“This just took me back to the 1970’s,” decorated Vietnam veteran Simmons told me in the hotel dining room, “We were attacked by anarchists on the streets of St. Paul.” Police later treated Biebel, Mrs. Healy, and Simmons with water for possible burns and swelling in the eyes from the chlorox bottles.

So far, the reasons for the antiwar demonstrators focusing their fury on the 29 Connecticut delegates who went to the convention center after lunch is unknown. Biebel’s grandson, Stratford (Conn.) policeman Jim Wiltsie (“my bodyguard,” quipped Biebel as he introduced us) later told me that the marchers were wearing sunglasses almost as if to prepare for a strike from police water cannons.

Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly how Chairman Healy had planned to celebrate his 51st birthday today. As delegates talked about the assault once they were back at their hotel, Healy found himself getting calls from the Hartford Courant, top-rated Hartford TV anchor Dennis House, and other media outlets back in Connecticut. But, as he often does, the party leader demonstrated that his quick Irish wit had not been dimmed by the day’s events. Summarzing the afternoon’s events, Healy told me: “As Republicans, we believe in free speech but no bleach!”

GOP Delegates Rally to Palin After News of Daughter’s Pregnancy

St. Paul, Minn. — Although the concern about Hurricane Gustav shortened what was to be the opening day of the Republican National Convention and next to no business was conducted on the floor of the Xcel Convention Center, the revelation by Sarah Palin that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant was discussed with me quite freely by delegates and other Republican officials.

To a person, the GOP members I spoke to hailed the vice presidential candidate’s highly personal disclosure of daughter Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy and that she had discussed the family situation with John McCain when he first spoke to Palin about being his running mate. All of the conventioneers agreed that this would not be a campaign problem for Palin.

“We could all be in that situation,” former Virginia Attorney General and ’05 gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore told me. “Children don’t ask to be put in situations like that. We should all let the family deal with it.”

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R.-Minn.), a strong pro-family lawmaker who had met Palin on a trip to Alaska earlier this year, agreed. In her words, “The fact that [Palin’s] daughter will have the baby demonstrates the family’s commitment to life. I’m very supportive of Gov. Palin.”

“Those things happen and they happen to a lot of families,” echoed South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster. He went on to praise McCain’s choice of Palin, saying the Alaska governor is “a remarkable person, an extraordinary person whose life is a genuine Cinderella story. I sense a high degree of energy since Senator McCain picked Gov. Palin.” Recalling a meeting of the RNC Rules Committee soon after Palin’s selection, McMaster pointed out that “people at the meeting were standing on chairs cheering — and those are people not accustomed to standing on chairs!”

Others I spoke to praise Palin being forthright about her daughter’s pregnancy and Bristol’s intention to marry the young man who is the father of her child. In the words of Indiana delegate Luke Messer, former state legislator and past executive director of the state party, “My mother was 19 when I was born and Barack Obama’s mother was 18 when he was born. This is a situation that many American families face and it’s never wrong to do the right thing.”

Former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg, who argued his state’s ban on partial birth abortion to the Supreme Court, was even more succinct: “It’s a non-issue.”

Almost everyone I spoke to at the convention yesterday also warned that if Democrats attempted to inject Palin’s situation into the campaign, it would arouse the governor’s increasingly fervent following among the GOP base and anger the voting public. As Luke Messer put it, “If the Democrats want to go down that path, we’ll win 40 states!”

North Carolinians Excited Over Palin

Gastonia, N.C. — With a three-hour layover in Charlotte, N.C. before my flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul last night, I called Republican State Rep. Bill Current to find out what I could do while in the Tarheel State. He didn’t disappoint: Bill took me to his district in neighboring Gastonia for a unique ritual that opens the dove season the following day.

As they have for the past decade, fifty-plus friends of Dr. Bill Jarman gathered at his barn for barbeque and “the blessing of the pig.” Presbyterian minister John Freye offered blessings before a pig is eaten by local hunters over the next few days and the dove-hunting begins.

As you may have guessed, this was a pretty conservative crowd gathered in the Jarman barn. Many believe gun control means “how straight is your aim.” A number made it clear to me that before the Repubican primary here, they were at best “lukewarm” about John McCain.

But, as I learned Sunday night, all of that changed dramatically two days before. Almost to a person, the crowd at the “pig blessing” were now madly for McCain. Why? Because he picked Sarah Palin as a running mate and, from what they have seen and heard of the Alaska governor so far, the North Carolinians love her.

“McCain couldn’t have made a smarter move!” exclaimed Frank Sell, “I’m absolutelly excited about her.” Wife Peggy Sell, whose son is Republican State Rep. Will Newman, agreed: “All the women at Beverly’s Nails yesterday were talking about Palin and wild about her on the ticket. One Democrat told me she was now going to vote Republican for the first time in her life. Another said she was a Libertarian but would vote Republican because of Palin.”

Was it solely Palin’s gender that was generating this excitement? Hardly. As host and avid hunter Jarmin put it, “She’s someone who knows the outdoors and understands the energy issue. And she has an outstanding family.”

North Carolina is going to be a key battleground this fall. Although a Public Policy Polling survey shows McCain leading Barack Obama by a margin of 45% to 42% statewide, the Obama camp has made it clear it is going to go all out to win the Tarheel State. Moreover, the same survey showed Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole (about whom I repeatedly heard “we never see her” from guests in the barn) trailing Democratic opponent Kay Hagan by 42% to 39% statewide. And the local congressman, Republican Patrick McHenry, finds himself in an unusually competitive race in what is considered one of the safest of GOP districts in the state.

So someone who can energize conservatives about the top of the ticket becomes an invaluable property for Republicans in North Carolina. From what I saw at the Jarman barn, Sarah Palin appears to fit that bill nicely. Mary Aycock and husband Bill made it clear to me that they were strong Mitt Romney backers in the primary, that they had only been “lukewarm” about McCain.

But all that changed for them with McCain’s dramatic announcement of the 44-year-old Palin as his running mate. As Mary Aycock put it, “I saw here, I liked her, she has no baggage and she’s not afraid of bucking the Establishment.”