One of the staples of campaigning in the "early states" is the tradition of candidates delivering remarks, and then taking questions from the audience.
In Newton, Iowa, the other day. Senator Hillary Clinton was doing just that. She made her remarks at a biodiesel plant and then asked for questions.
She called on a student from Grinnell University who asked her about global warming. Clinton warming to the subject, launched into her standard I'm-Greener-Than-Al-Gore riff.
Trouble is, the student reported to her university newspaper that a Clinton staffer had provided her with the question and then placed her in a position where Mrs. Clinton was likely to call on her.
Which, I'm surprised to report, Clinton did.
The Clinton campaign said "It's not a practice of our campaign to ask people to ask specific questions," which is a standard Clintonian non-denial-denial.
Later, of course, the campaign had to 'fess up because the Grinnell student had spilled the beans.
Fox News' Major Garrett called upon the John Edwards campaign to get its reaction to Plant-Gate. Edwards' communications director said:
"In light of a weak debate performance, not to mention a persistent inability to answer the tough questions, it appears the Clinton campaign has adopted a new strategy of planting questions.
"It's what the Clinton campaign calls the politics of planting."
Which is a pretty good line.
To show how closely Iowans pay attention to this stuff, it was mentioned at both campaign stops last night. A man prefaced a question about education policy by saying the Thompson campaign had not planted it. And at the second stop, the woman who acted as MC asked for "non-planted questions" at the appropriate point in the program.
Hearty laughs all around.
While candidates planting their own questions with their own questioners is looked down upon, we had an occasion last week in New Hampshire when a questioner pointed out that Fred Thompson had once been a lobbyist and asked if he was still registered as a lobbyist in Washington, DC.
Thompson responded, "No one's offered me any work in that area, so the answer is no."
Then last night another plant, reading from a piece of paper, said that he was going to join the Peace Corps after college and wanted to know Thompson's position on AIDS in Africa.
Thompson answered and then thanked the student for his "spontaneous question."
Hearty laughs all around.
We assume those questioners - each of whom had planted himself in a front-row seat - had been sent by one of our rival campaigns.