One big bag of tricks

What's McCain denying? Who's Tancredo endorsing? Is the Clinton camp trying to fool Iowans?

By Tim Grieve

Published December 20, 2007 9:19PM (EST)

The presidential campaign may be starting to pack up for Christmas, but the tidings of comfort and joy -- nice cross, Huck! -- haven't stopped a whole flurry of weirdness from coming across the transom this afternoon.

We begin on the front page of the Drudge Report, where a worried-looking John McCain is said to be working furiously to keep the New York Times from publishing a "high-impact report involving key telecom legislation before the Senate Commerce Committee." Like the folks at the Hotline, we wouldn't think much of this -- when you've got Matt Drudge quoting folks identified as "newsroom insiders," some degree of skepticism is certainly in order -- except that the McCain campaign has seen fit to issue a denial. "It is unfortunate that rumor and gossip enter into political campaigns," the campaign says in a statement. "John McCain has a 24-year record of serving this country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the important issues facing our country."

Is the campaign denying that it's trying to keep the Times from publishing? Denying that the Times is working on a story? Or denying the underlying allegations that such a story might or might not make?

We're not sure that we know. What we do know -- because ABC News tells us so -- is that the Hillary Clinton campaign, which has been raising questions about Barack Obama having voted "present" occasionally as an Illinois state senator, has registered the domain names of two sites it might use to attack Obama further. There's nothing on or just yet, but ABC says the domains are hosted by the same I.P. address as some official Clinton Web sites and that the campaign intends to use them to paint Obama as "cowardly." Team Clinton went down that road earlier today, when it had Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Anthony Weiner host a conference call with reporters to accuse Obama of taking the easy way out on tough votes in Illinois.

Meanwhile, John Edwards' campaign is complaining that it's at the receiving end of a dirty trick from the Clinton-endorsing American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. A flier from the group uses Edwards' words to criticize Obama's healthcare plan, maybe leaving voters with the message that the attack on Obama is coming from Edwards rather than from an organization aligned with Clinton. "Either they are trying to trick people, or they've realized that on health care, John Edwards is the candidate who speaks honestly about what it really costs and what will be required to have truly universal coverage," Edwards' Iowa state director says in a statement. "It's fine to have an honest debate about policy, but Iowans deserve better than planted questions and campaign fliers designed to fool them."

We're in no position to say what Iowans do or don't deserve -- that's a job for someone else -- but what Mitt Romney apparently deserves is the endorsement of Tom Tancredo. The Colorado representative, who dropped out of the race today, said that staying in might have split the vote among immigration hard-liners and allowed Mike Huckabee or John McCain to secure the Republican presidential nomination. Tancredo may be overstating his stature as a vote-splitting threat: In most national polls, he was drawing all of 1 percent of the vote.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve