Tribal Warfare

John McCaslin

11/29/2007 11:02:24 AM - John McCaslin

Terry McAuliffe left Washington yesterday, bound for Iowa — again.

"I'm always in Iowa, I'm living in Iowa," the chairman of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign tells Inside the Beltway. "And I'll be in Iowa from here on out: 35 more days."

Until the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucus, that is, the first major contest of the 2008 presidential election. Mr. McAuliffe remains "upbeat" about Mrs. Clinton's chances for what would be her first primary victory over her closest Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whose candidacy is suddenly further illuminated by the star power of Oprah Winfrey. Whatever support in Iowa Mrs. Clinton can't muster for herself, the New York senator will rely on her husband, former President Clinton, to counter Miss Winfrey's cheerleading.

Then there's the continuous presence in the Hawkeye state of Mr. McAuliffe, no stranger to stumping, having spent several years as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Meanwhile, the statewide parties in Iowa are readying 99 precincts for the country's first-in-the-nation "caucus," a North American Indian word presumed to be of Algonquin origin and meaning a gathering of the ruling tribal chiefs.

Oprah factor

Given that Oprah Winfrey ranks as among the most influential women in the country, how will her support of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama likely affect the January 3 Iowa Caucus?

"Because of her crossover appeal with white females, Oprah Winfrey"s support for Barack Obama has the potential to affect the outcome," says Duke University political science professor Paula McClain.

"Her audience base is far more white female than black female, and her campaigning for Obama will at least make some white women, who might not have been inclined to vote for a black candidate, look closer at Obama," says the professor of political science, public policy and African and African-American studies.

And Miss Winfrey won't be going home after Iowa, as she intends to appeal to women on behalf of Mr. Obama in other early-voting states, including New Hampshire and South Carolina.

"Oprah does not have to move a lot of women, just enough to pull the margin of victory away from Clinton," says Miss McClain, who notes that this is the first time Miss Winfrey has endorsed a candidate. "For those who are wavering, Oprah could make the difference."

Macaca moments

"Smile, you're on YouTube." Or so reads the headline above the Washingtonian article adapted from Garrett M. Graff's just-released book, "The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House."

As the editor at large of the magazine writes: "The lesson of the new campaign is similar to the Miranda warning offered in the United States to suspects placed under arrest: Anything you say can and will be used against you."

"It's a different campaign," Mr. Graff said yesterday, "in that every single moment of these candidates' campaigns are taped and recorded, and the juiciest parts are then turned around and broadcast to the entire world. We had the case just this past week of the John McCain video — recorded at a private event, in a private home — where a lady asked him how are we going to stop this '[expletive],' referring to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton."

"It's now reached the point where reporters from The Washington Post are carrying video cameras with them, as are reporters from the New York Times," adds Mr. Graff, as the traditional media is trying to keep up with the growing popularity of Internet-based journalism.

On a more positive note, candidates themselves are realizing the tremendous power of the Web. The Internet has even changed the debating format. Consider last night's Republican YouTube debate.

"I argue in the book that the Republicans badly need to understand this new online campaigning, and that their participation in the debate is a sign they're coming around," Mr. Graff told Inside the Beltway yesterday.

Avenue Q

There was a standing ovation at Tuesday night's opening of "Avenue Q" at the National Theatre.

A word of caution, however: Don't bring children along to this easily R-rated Sesame Street-style performance that includes puppet characters who, living as neighbors on Avenue Q, struggle to search for the elusive purpose of life.

Not to worry, or so the motley cast finally concludes. After all, nothing lasts forever, they sing, including — to the overwhelming approval of the raucous audience — the reign of George W. Bush.