Thursday, January 31, 2008

Edwards' Endorsement

Another prediction, since I'm on such a roll: Hillary will get Edwards' endorsement. She has more to offer him in terms of perks--including, obviously, running mate. I don't know that he'd go for it, but Obama can't make that offer (he doesn't need another young, largely inexperienced guy on the ticket). Maybe I'm just paranoid.

Give Up?--Never!

Of course, I was joking about that "giving up" the blog comment. How could I?--the pay's too good.

Anyway, one other note, for those of you who haven't stumbled on George Packer's nice piece (mainly) on Hillary in last week's New Yorker (I'm still trying to catch up after the Hawaii backlog). It's a strangely compelling portrait of her that persuades me to think even less of her as a candidate while simultaneously causing me to wish a little more that she'd win. For example:
During the debate in Las Vegas, she tried to explain her commitment to social change by talking about herself, not about the people she wants to help: “It is really my life’s work. It is something that comes out of my own experience, both in my family and in my church—that, you know, I’ve been blessed.” Her response displayed the awkwardness that comes from a lifelong habit of self-concealment in the face of exposure, and toughness in the face of hurt. It’s a little sad and painful that this enormously accomplished and capable woman, in her sixty-first year, had to bring her mother and daughter on a “likability tour” in the days before the Iowa caucus, and found her voice—as she put it—only on the night of her upset win in New Hampshire.
It's a portrait that also characterizes her opponent as an almost transcendentally cool figure--like she's running against a combo John Lennon and JFK:

The next morning, Obama was scheduled to appear before an overflow crowd at the opera house in Lebanon. When he walked onto the stage, which was framed by giant vertical banners proclaiming “HOPE,” his liquid stride and handshake-hugs suggested a man completely at ease.

“I decided to run because of you,” he told the crowd. “I’m betting on you. I think the American people are honest and generous and less divided than our politics suggests.” He mocked the response to his campaign from “Washington,” which everyone in the room understood to be Clinton, who had warned in the debate two nights before against “false hopes”: “No, no, no! You can’t do that, you’re not allowed. Obama may be inspiring to you, but here’s the problem—Obama has not been in Washington enough. He needs to be stewed and seasoned a little more, we need to boil the hope out of him until he sounds like us—then he will be ready.”

The opera house exploded in laughter. “We love you,” a woman shouted.

“I love you back,” he said, feeding off the adoration that he had summoned without breaking a sweat. “This change thing is catching on, because everybody’s talking about change. ‘I’m for change.’ ‘Put me down for change.’ ‘I’m a change person, too.’ ”

From time to time, I stop to think what an important moment this is in American history. There have been moments like it before--1932, 1941, 1968--and I've wondered, "did people realize what a big deal it was at the time?" It's an article that can make you stop and think and appreciate the enormity of this moment in American politics. No matter what happens, remember these days--we'll be talking about them for the rest of our lives.

Or Maybe Not, Part 2

I have a friend who used to joke--rather more derisively than I liked, "wow, a blog!--they don't just let anyone have those, you know." (Needless to say, he is now a blogger.) But he may have had a point. Only days after I sagely predicted that Tsunami Tuesday* would depend on a surrogate race that Hillary would surely win (wrong) since they couldn't possibly afford to advertise in all states, I am proven wrong yet again:
The Obama campaign confirms that it raised an astonishing $32 million -- in the month of January alone.... Obama will reportedly go on the air in all the states with primaries on February 9th, 10th, and 12th. Sizable amounts of money have already been plunked down for ads in just about every Feb. 5th state. (Itals mine.)
I give up. They should never have given me this blog.

*Can we improve on this? I mean, even the MSM hasn't managed to cohere on a name for Feb 5, which goes to show how lame "Tsunami," "Super," and "Super Duper" are.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Out, Rudy too

Interesting. Maybe the talk of being relegated to "kingmaker" role bothered the populist.
NEW ORLEANS — John Edwards, the progressive Democratic candidate who made his populist, anti-poverty message a centerpiece of his campaign, has decided to drop out of the presidential primary race, and is to give a speech this afternoon at the same place where he began his campaign — in New Orleans.
He is apparently not going to endorse anyone, which is probably fine. Endorsing Obama wouldn't particularly boost him among the white men he could use, I expect. (Might help Hillary if he endorsed her--and it would be a huge shocker to boot.)

The biggie is Richardson, who will either make an endorsement later this week or blow it off completely. That would be a huge boon to Obama--he needs some cred in the Latino community.

Also, adieu to Rudy, whose campaign was spectacular in its anemia. Looks like we're going to get McCain, whom no Dem wanted, but whom I think we can pretty handily beat (more on that later, probably lots more). (Also interesting: the likelihood that the next president will be a senator approaches 100%.) Fun times...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SotU by the Numbers: 2008 Edition

In an annual tradition (see 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007), perhaps the last of its kind, I offer you George W. Bush's 2008 State of the Union speech by the numbers.

Length: 5700 words
Applause lines: 71

Portion devoted to ...

Domestic policy - 42%Sotu_2008

Economic problems - 5%
Taxes, tax cuts – 3%
Earmarks and spending – 6%
Health Care – 3%
Education – 5%
Trade policy – 5%
Energy independence – 4%
Science policy – 4%
Immigration – 3%

Iraq - 21%
Terrorism - 14%
Foreign policy initiatives - 7%
Middle East issues - 6%

Times Bush used the following words...

Iraq, Iraqi, Iraqis - 39
Afghan(i) (stan) - 8
Iran - 7
War - 10
Peace - 9
Free, freedom - 22
Victory - 0
Defeat - 5
Hope - 13

Terror, terrorism, terrorists - 23
Osama bin Laden - 1
al Qaida - 10

Tax(es) - 16
Job(s) - 6
Health care - 2
Earmark(s) - 4
Number of times "earmarks" has appeared in six SOTUs prior to Democrats taking control of Congress: 1 (2006)

Full text of the speech here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Predictions: Where Obama Stands

I have run the numbers, juggled the variables, adjusted for change, and this is what I've come down to. On February 6, this is where the delegates will stand (minus Superdelegates):
2025 - Needed for the nomination
1114 - Hillary Clinton
_971 - Barack Obama
_139 - John Edwards
Okay, obviously this is a wild-ass guess. Bill might end up so alienating people that Obama wins California--who can honestly say at this point? However, I did actually dig into things pretty seriously, and came up with totals based on current polling. You know, the polling that served us so well in NH and SC. But hey, in the absence of anything more accurate, it's all we've got (except in the eight states where's it's not available).

I calculated the proportion each candidate would receive based on these totals. (All Democratic primaries are proportional.) In some cases where earlier polling was available and a trend was evident, I adjusted accordingly. Finally, I docked both Barack and Hillary 5% each and gave them to Edwards, who apparently plans to stay in the race through Feb 5. He received 10% of the post-Iowa states, and my hunch is that his voters are about split between Hillary- and Obama-leaners. Unlike the major media outlets, I excluded Superdelegates, which are highly unpredictable (see here) and mutable.

Of course, all of this will change each day as we get closer. Those Massachusetts numbers, for example, may well come down. But, since everyone keeps wondering what will happen on Super Tuesday and where we'll stand and (most pointedly for Obamaniacs like me) what Obama can expect even if he doesn't get a bumb from SC, it's a reasonable place to start.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Or Maybe Not

What was I saying about Clinton getting the institutional backing?
Neither candidate has the money or time to campaign in all the states, so they'll choose the ones they think they can win and depend on surrogates to do the campaigning for them in states they can't visit/place ads in.... They will have the juice to flip surrogates, in large part because everyone will see the same numbers I do for Feb 5.
Umm, never mind:
Rejecting a personal entreaty from President Bill Clinton, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) plans to endorse Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president in a joint appearance on Monday, Democratic sources said. [link]

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) will deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union on Monday. And then Tuesday or Wednesday, she plans to endorse Barack Obama, numerous Democratic sources said. [link]

The disclosure also comes the same weekend that the House's highest-ranking Latino, California Rep. Xavier Becerra, also announced that he is backing Obama. [link]
I will say this: the zaniness of polls does suggest that something bizarre is afoot. People are not behaving like they say they'll behave. They're erratic, volatile, and sentimental. All of that is good news for Obama. If he's got any shot, it has to be an outlier year. Any more of this high-profile endorsing business, and I'll actually start to believe the guy's got a shot. (Then doom befalls us.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

SC: Don't Get Excited Yet

I'm listening to Obama speak now as I start this post, and I've been skimming some of the blogospheric reaction. Lots of good, happy feelings now. Obama makes people feel good, and everyone seems to get it. But before we start breaking out the champagne, let's remember that this is an election, not a reality show. Everyone knew Obama was going to win in SC and while the margin was surprising, this doesn't change anything.

Everyone has the same data: California (Hillary up by 15%), NY (+25%), and NJ (+22%) are looming in Tsunami Tuesday. Hillary won't have to break a sweat to win the lion(ess)'s share of the delegates there. And, much as Iowa is a distant memory, so too will be this glowing moment in South Carolina. The meme will change course faster than a school of fish (but in no less synchronicity).

Neither candidate has the money or time to campaign in all the states, so they'll choose the ones they think they can win and depend on surrogates to do the campaigning for them in states they can't visit/place ads in. And since surrogates--elected governors, mayors, congresspeople--will be looking to curry favor with the ultimate nominee, they'll blanch at the feel-good story of '08. HIllary and Bill are the Democratic Party. They will have the juice to flip surrogates, in large part because everyone will see the same numbers I do for Feb 5. And those surrogates will be important and effective. I'll look at the numbers tomorrow or Monday so you can see why I'm alarmed.

Obama has some cards left to play. But South Carolina is no "game changer" (as Sullivan calls it). This is business as usual.


I'm back. Obama has won South Carolina. Can we just freeze things at this moment? I don't want to consider the prospect of Hillary mounting her inevitable, Bill-aided comeback. But for now:
(Updated: 1:46 am Eastern time, 99% reporting)

55% - Obama (25 delegates)
27% - Clinton (12 del)
18% - Edwards (8 del)
Two things to watch: 1) what will Edwards do if these numbers hold up, 2) how did Obama do among whites?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Well, screw it. I'm so disgruntled by this Obama news I'm off to Hawaii. Actually, the two events are not related, but it's a sweet coincidence. No better way to nurse your sorrows than gazing through plexiglass into turquoise waters at tropical fish and the stray sea turtle. The occasion is the demise of my youth, perhaps referenced here. I go a thirty-something and return a forty-year-old.

I'm likely to keep abreast of what's going on and may well continue to blog irregularly--which by this point means regularly. Or maybe not. We'll see.

In any case, keep the faith--

Darkness Falls

I am low on analysis this morning. The truth is that we have very little idea what happened, though it may get pieced together over time. My sense is that this is a very volatile election, and Dems are feeling a little plucky and les timid than they were in '04 when they took a dull, safe candidate. I work in an office with mostly women, and they were buoyant this morning, so perhaps that suggests a trend.

For me, it was like a gut shot. I almost would have preferred that Obama lost Iowa so that my hopes wouldn't have gone so high. While the media is describing this as a horse race now, and many are still predicting an Obama win, I don't buy it. He needed to win in NH, and to definitely close Hillary out, he needed to do it convincingly. I have always been of the mind that she could weather a series of hits. Now Obama will have to justify his campaign, and that will be far harder to do in the minds of casual, uninformed voters than it was for Hillary. Electorally, he'll have to do decently in Nevada (even after Iowa he was trailing by eight) win South Carolina, and then hope against hope for some big upsets on Super Tuesday. Hillary's path is far easier. Going into Super Tuesday, she'll have wins in NH, Nevada, and Florida (not to mention Michigan--which she will mention), and Obama will be sitting on Iowa and South Carolina.

Here are the states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah. You'd imagine that Hillary will win CA, NY, NJ, CN, DE and split some of the rest. Those states alone are worth 932 delegates--almost half on offer for the day. Splitting the rest puts her in a massive lead.

Things are too weird to get overly exercised about it, I guess, but this is a troubling day for the Obama campaign.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Iowa's influence. Something to behold. (All data from

South Carolina (Rasmussen)
Obama 42%
Hillary 30%

National (USA Today/Gallup)
Obama 33%
Hillary 33%
Edwards 20%
(Pre-Iowa, it was mid-40s for Hillary to mid-20s for Obama)

New Hampshire, post-Iowa (6 polls)
Obama 37%
Hillary 29.2%
Edwards 18.6%

Rich Media and Party Brand

I pity the fools who sat through the agonizing four hour debate on Saturday night. I am one. There was almost nothing to learn, and surely a far better way to spend a Saturday night. However, two things did jump out.

1. Rich media.
In a revealing exchange, Charlie Gibson illustrated how the media is unknowingly biased. The candidates were talking about repealing the Bush tax cuts and whacking the rich.

CLINTON: Yes, but, Charlie, the tax cuts on the wealthiest of Americans; not the middle-class tax cuts. One of the problems with George Bush's tax policy has been the way he has tilted it for the wealthy and the well-connected.

GIBSON: If you take a family of two professors, here at Saint Anselm, they're going to be in the $200,000 category that you're talking about lifting the taxes on.


That laughter was at Charlie, for seriously over-estimating what a professor earned. Baffled, Charlie tried to dig his way out of it, but just had to move on as everyone in the audience and on stage laughed at him. Here's what I think happened. Gibson was trying to make the point that repealing the Bush tax cuts will hurt the middle class and pulled what he thought was a reasonable example of that out of the air. But the median income was $48k for a two-income family in 2006--a quarter of Gibson's guess. Gibson, who earns millions a year and lives Manhattan and socializes with other extremely rich people, doesn't have a clue what "middle class" is ($200k puts you in the 96th percentile).

It's no wonder the news does a bad job capturing what average Americans face economically. They are a species unseen to the media.

2. Party Brand
The other thing I couldn't help but notice in contrast was the state of the GOP and Dem brands. The Republicans fought like a sack-full of cats, visciously raking each other over the coals. The Dems, on the other hand, did snipe from time to time, but they all reiterated throughout the debate how they were all pretty much good on the issues and in agreement, and how any would offer a huge improvement over Republican rule. If you were undecided going in, wondering which party you should support, you would have recoiled in horror from the GOP.

It's no wonder that the two guys leading that race are both the rejects from the party establishment. Being a good party guy is a bad thing in '08 if you're a Republican.

Assorted Rants

Will Somebody PLEASE challenge Hillary on this 35-year claim? ("I'm not just running on a promise of change, I'm running on 35 years of change.")

Thirty-five years ago (1973), Hillary a the newly-minted lawyer following Bill to Arkansas. She was a lawyer until '93, when the Clintons moved North. She was apparently a pretty cool lawyer, and did some nice pro bono work for nonprofits. She has long been an advocate for kids. From '93-'01, she was the first lady, and she was elected to office for the first time in 2000. She may well have been "fighting for change for 35 years," but she did so as a powerful lawyer in a very high income bracket.

Barack Obama, by comparison, was actually fighting for change quite a bit earlier. He was a community organizer in Chicago from '83 to '88 before attending law school. Returning from Harvard in '91, Obama continued to lead, organizing a voter-registration drive. Then, while employed as a Constitutional law prof, he first ran for and won office in '96--four years before Hillary.

I don't ding Hillary for being inexperienced--she's done a lot. But she didn't actually do much "fighting" until the new millenium, and the record she's running on is entirely her husband's. She has 35 years of experience in the manner that all good liberals have a lifetime's experience--we "fight" the good fight in our own, unelected ways.

Partisan ≠ Liberal
Obama has run a remarkably non-partisan campaign, in the sense that he has not appealed to the Democratic base. That is a style of compaigning and is uncorrelated with liberalness. Hillary has been running a highly partisan campaign which is similarly uncorrelated with liberalness. Yet almost everyone in the country seems to think that because Obama proposes to be a uniter, he must be a moderate (including the scads of independents who are lining up behind his liberal platform and eschewing Hillary's more moderate one). It is not so. His style is a breath of fresh air, but magnificently, his politics are progressive. For good lefties like me, this is a joy to behold, because liberal policies get passed a whole lot quicker when members of the other team are clamoring to associate themselves with this style, thus endorsing his politics.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Huckleberry and Rudy

Two more paragraphs, this time on the GOP, and then I'll call it quits on Iowa analysis.

Although it's becoming conventional wisdom to think that Rudy's done, I think the overall weakness of the field and the inevitable backlash against Huckabee (already the vitriol is profound) means another challenger will rise. Can a 71-year-old candidate who's never been loved by money-cons (see McCain-Feingold) or Christian conservatives fill the void? Perhaps, but Rudy's humiliation may be more of a flesh wound that a mortal injury. If Huckleberry falters in the face of institutional pressure, as surely he must, someone's got to rise. Rudy still seems the most plausible.

So, what explains Huckleberry? I think this phenomenon is the reaction of an increasingly poor electorate. The media empires and GOP mandarins have spent seven years offering bogus stats to deny it, but most Americans are hurting. Huckabee is the perfect wedge candidate because he appeals to Southern and rurl working-class Christian conservatives--exactly the demographic who continued to prop up the plutocratic Bush regime. If we can take a lesson from Iowa (and that's probably unwise, but how can we help ourselves?), it's that the poor and middle class are jumping off the Good Ship GOP.


How Hillary Wins

By the way, I don't consider Hillary done--and I doubt anyone in the Obama camp does, either. Her path to nomination just got narrower, but unlike poor John Edwards, it hasn't vanished entirely. She plans to go negative, and she has buckets of cash to dump in these campaigns. She was hoping to save the money for Super Tuesday, but hey, smoke 'em if you got 'em, right? (Right, says John Edwards, sadly.) So let's assume she can blunt the Obama charge a bit. Let's look at the schedule.

First of all, before Iowa she had a 10-point lead on Obama in New Hampshire. What she needs to do there is hang on for a win or finish a respectable second (that is to say, closer than she did in Iowa--should be no problem). Her current trend in Nevada, based on admittedly scant data, is a trend double Obama's at 44%. If she can even finish second in NH, she might hang on to a win there. I think South Carolina may be beyond her, but in Florida, she's got a 29-point advantage. So, going into Super Tuesday, she could have as many as three states, and at least two.

Given her strength in NY (+32%), NJ, and California (+27%), she could pluck the biggest prizes without breaking a sweat. You see--she's back in the game pretty easily. And, if she emerges from Super Tuesday with a lead, the Obama hope may be dying and we could be back to talking about Hillary's amazing resilience. It's far, far from over.

(Unless, of course, Obama wins big in NH, in which case I delete this post from the permanent records.)

What Iowa Means

Conventional wisdom, like nature, abhors a vacuum. We're less than than 24 hours after the election, and already the narrative has been written. To step back for a moment into a little meta-analysis--this is remarkable. For months, states have been jockeying to get in closer to the front of the line with the hopes of having some influence. Yet that front-loading focus seemed only to heighten, not mitigate, Iowa's influence.

Since we live in such a media-saturated environment, memes travel instantly and storylines emerge with far greater ferocity than in years past. Already, this is the final recap: it's a change election; Obama's appeal is as broad as it is deep; Huckabee's win shows a deeply fractured GOP; Edwards is out, Hillary on life support. None of these stories reflects reality--350,000 Iowans have only as much influence as the rest of the country gives them--but they can create reality, and apparently have. Once the votes get cast, campaigns totally lose control of the storyline.

Hillary and Giuliani both made strategic miscalculations on this front. Both knew they couldn't do well in Iowa and so took different tactics. Rudy tried a stealth campaign, never visiting, but putting a lot of money into ground troops and advertising. He was hoping for a respectable third or fourth. He finished sixth, though, and no one could miss the fact that he got only a third the vote of the fifth-place finisher, Ron Paul. Hillary knew she couldn't win last summer, but rather than drive down expectations, she competed for the win. Had she publically shot for second, a virtual tie with Edwards could have been spun as a win. Instead, she'll be held hostage by headlines describing this as a personal rebuke to her campaign. Both New Yorkers underestimated the impact of Iowa on the race: Rudy should have spent more time there, Hillary less. Now they know.

Unconventional Wisdom
Obama's win was impressive because he won so fully across demographics--women, the poor, Democrats (whom Hillary was supposed to dominate), everyone under 45 years old. And of course, he won mainly because 52% of the people who showed up to the caucuses wanted change, and half of them voted for Obama (Hillary and Edwards got less than a fifth of that vote each).

But the thing that really lept out at me was the difference in voter composition between GOP caucus-goers and Dems: those who went to the Democratic side were far more diverse, both in terms of party identification and political ideology. Fewer people turned out for the GOP caucuses, and they were overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. Half the people who turned out to the Democratic caucuses were moderate, and a quarter were not Democrats. Since it's just a single election, and a caucus at that, it's not worth spending too much time talking about the trend toward Dems and what kind of huge coattail effect this might have on congressional races. But still.

Here is ideological identification:
Republican Caucus-goers (125,000)
45% - Very conservative
43% - Somewhat conservative
88% - Total conservative
12% - Moderate and liberal

Dem Caucus-goers (232,000)
18% - Very liberal
36% - Somewhat liberal
54% - Total
46% - Moderate and conservative

And here's party ID:
Republican Caucus-goers
86% - Republican
_1% - Democrat
14% - Independent and other

Dem Caucus-goers
76% - Democrat
_3% - Republican
22% - Independent and other
I'll probably continue to comment throughout the day, but this is the one point I wanted to highlight from the outset.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa Results


With 99% of precincts reporting:

38% Barack Obama (931)
30% John Edwards (740)
29% Hillary Clinton (731)


Imagining myself like a member of the Rebel Alliance, cheering all good news from the front. Two bits.

From the Iowa Independent:
[Exclusive] Gov. Bill Richardson's campaign is expected to direct its supporters to caucus for Sen. Barack Obama in the second round of voting at Thursday's caucuses in precincts where he is not viable. Two sources familiar with the plan told Iowa Independent that the New Mexico governor's organizers have been instructed to direct supporters to Obama in the places where they have not reached the 15 percent threshold for viability.
[Update. Richardson, Obama camps deny the report.]

From Intrade:
Current markets on Intrade--Obama's trading at 70 and Hillary at 20 on the Intrade market. Edwards is running third at 17. Huckleberry is fairly thumping Romney, too, 70 to 29. Weirdly enough, McCain is out in front on the overal nomination trading. Hillary still leads the Dem pack, though that may change once Obama wins Iowa!

Just 3.45 hours to kickoff...

Who Wins Iowa?

Dear reader (and of course I mean that in the literal sense), how is Iowa going down? You have until about 7 pm Pacific time to lodge your prediction.

The Ron Paul Phenomenon

It is perhaps strange to write about an also-ran in the Republican primary here on the historic day of the Iowa Caucuses (when, perhaps, 150,000 Iowans will select then ext president), but he's on my mind. Yesterday on BlueOregon, I wrote another Iowa post (Obama now in first in the Power Rankings!) and off-handedly mentioned that Ron Paul had no chance in Iowa. There's been some blogo-buzz that he may sneak in for third place, based solely on the fervor of his backers. Naturally, a few Paulies found the site within minutes to refute this single sentence, ignoring the rest of the post. Those who read blogs have seen this phenomenon elsewhere--some happless blogger offers some analysis about Paul and is inundated by his supporters.

Paul's candidacy offers and interesting sociological/political case study. His is far from unique--every election has at least one, and some, like Ralph Nader and Ross Perot, go on to influence the election (as Paul may yet do). It doesn't really matter what their politics are--there are some common elements to all of them. Their rhetorical style is almost uniformly a cut-through-the-BS style. They can afford not to alienate and offend because first they have to attract attention. Therefore, Paul has been able to say things like this, from Sunday's Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: How many troops do we have overseas right now?

REP. PAUL: I don't know the exact number, but more than we need. We don't need any.

MR. RUSSERT: It's 572,000. And you'd bring them all home?

REP. PAUL: As quickly as possible. We--they will not serve our interests to be overseas. They get us into trouble. And we can defend this country without troops in Germany, troops in Japan. How do they help our national defense? Doesn't make any sense to me. Troops in Korea since I've been in high school?

This typical Russert gotcha--trying to embarrass a candidate by seeing if he knows some stray fact--could sink a serious campaign. But Paul can dodge it easily by throwing it back in Russert's face: who cares? He ups the ante by saying he doesn't see how international troops help our national security. For casually-interested voters, this seems bracingly honest and fresh. Paul looks like a truth-teller, never mind that the truth he's offering is that he doesn't understand foreign policy.

Fringe candidates also have a kind of messianic hubris that allows them to turn their lack of experience and knowledge into the very thing that recommends them for the post. It's their anti-Washington cred.

Guys like this always attract a fervent fringe. They are seductive because they offer a simplistic, back-of-the-napkin sense of politics (which, after all, is all most voters have). It seems to transcend Washington. People who become supporters of these candidates--or at least the majority of the supporters, the ones who make the candidates a phenomenon--are usually political novices with an unsophisticated sense of how laws get made. And this is why the simple appeal attracts--in their ignorance, they think a guy like Paul can sweep into Washington with his bootstraps philosophy and shape things up.

Then the phenomenon snowballs because all the people who support Paul inhabit a bubble where they all see the same simple logic and hear it repeated back. Like conspiracists, whenever someone from outside the bubble tries to suggest an alternate, more complex view, it feeds the sense that they are right. The nonbelievers just don't get it.

Full disclosure: I am susceptible to fringe candidates. I voted Nader and would have voted Kucinich. I tell myself that I did so because these kind of candidates help break up the extremely rigid world of Washington's conventional wisdom, but that's only part of it. The other part is that I, like the Paulies of '08, really like backing a slightly crazy radical.