The Filter: 1.22.08

A round-up of this morning's must-read stories.

(Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone) 

Stripped of its prognosticating element, most campaign journalism is essentially a clerical job, and not a particularly noble one at that. On the trail, we reporters aren't watching politics in action: The real stuff happens behind closed doors, where armies of faceless fund-raising pros are glad-handing equally faceless members of the political donor class, collecting hundreds of millions of dollars that will be paid off in very specific favors over the course of the next four years. That's the real high-stakes poker game in this business, and we don't get to sit at that table. Instead, we get to be herded day after day into one completely controlled environment after another, where we listen to an array of ideologically similar politicians deliver professionally crafted advertising messages that we, in turn, have the privilege of delivering to the public free of charge. We rarely get to ask the candidates real questions, and even when we do, they almost never answer. If you could train a chimpanzee to sit still through a Joe Biden speech, it could probably do the job.

(Matthew Mosk, Washington Post) 

With their campaign treasuries running on empty and only weeks to attract support in the nearly two dozen states that will cast ballots on Feb. 5, candidates for president are scrambling to find creative and unorthodox ways to grab the attention of voters with the funds they have remaining. At least two of the 2008 presidential contenders, seeking bang for their buck, have privately discussed bypassing a barrage of targeted local ads in favor of buying a spot with potentially more impact to run during the Feb. 3 Super Bowl broadcast, at a cost of about $2.7 million. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) yesterday became the first to make a nationwide cable television advertising buy, and several candidates were devoting resources to new methods of targeting absentee voters.

(Jackie Calmes, Wall Street Journal)

With no presidential front-runner in either party after two more state contests over the weekend, Democrats and Republicans are mobilizing for what few have confronted: fighting delegate by delegate instead of state by state, in a battle that could grind on to the late-summer conventions.

(Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times)

If the debate was full of memorable moments — Mrs. Clinton accusing Mr. Obama of associating with a “slum landlord,” Mr. Obama saying he felt as if he were running against both Hillary and Bill Clinton, the two candidates talking over each other — the totality of the attacks also laid bare the ill will and competitive ferocity that has been simmering between them for weeks... Both candidates believe the Democratic nomination could be sealed in the next six weeks, and they used this debate, the second-to-last one of the primary season, to unload their best opposition research and sound bites against each other. In some cases, it was the first time the candidates had personally confronted each other on potentially embarrassing points.

(George Packer, The New Yorker)

The alternatives facing Democratic voters have been characterized variously as a choice between experience and change, between an insider and an outsider, and between two firsts—a woman and a black man. But perhaps the most important difference between these two politicians—whose policy views, after all, are almost indistinguishable—lies in their rival conceptions of the Presidency. Obama offers himself as a catalyst by which disenchanted Americans can overcome two decades of vicious partisanship, energize our democracy, and restore faith in government. Clinton presents politics as the art of the possible, with change coming incrementally through good governance, a skill that she has honed in her career as advocate, First Lady, and senator.

(Ben Smith, Politico)

After two weeks of reports on the former president's temper, the former first lady's supposed inability to keep him on script, and the ostensibly dire impact on his legacy, Hillary Rodham Clinton has won two straight primaries.  If there are Democratic voters who share the assessment that he's a "liability" to the campaign — a term floated by outlets from The New York Times to the London Telegraph — this reporter and many others seem not to have found many of them. And though Clinton's original, improvised attacks on Sen. Barack Obama discomfited some inside his wife's campaign, they also seemed to hit their mark.  The campaign has settled on a new strategy: Turn Bill loose.

BILL STUMPS FOR HILL IN S.C.: In S. Carolina, It's Obama Vs. Clinton. That's Bill Clinton. (Patrick Healy, New York Times)
BILL AND THE DEBATE: The Other Clinton Is an Absent Presence (Dan Balz, Washington Post)

(Jonathan Kaufman, Wall Street Journal)

Even as Mr. Obama is promising to bring America together, his candidacy is casting new light on the mounting class divide in the black community -- and the debate among blacks about how to get ahead. The expanding black middle class -- accounting for about 40% of the black population -- see in Mr. Obama a validation of the choices they have made: attending largely white colleges, working in predominantly white companies and government offices, climbing up the ladder of American success. For African-Americans living in the inner city -- where most children are being raised by single mothers, male unemployment in some cities tops 50% and 40% of young black men are either in jail, awaiting trial or on probation -- the view of Mr. Obama is much more skeptical.

(E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post)

The persistence of McCain's maverick image suggests he may be the one Republican who can rescue his party from the undertow of the Bush years. In a matchup against Barack Obama, McCain would emphasize his foreign policy experience and military background. Obama has shown particular weakness among older voters in the Democratic contests so far. Those voters were key to Hillary Clinton's victory on Saturday in the Nevada caucuses. The experience argument may have something to do with this, and it could work for McCain as it has for Clinton. For her part, Clinton has found her base among more partisan Democrats. McCain's perceived independence would help him with swing voters, while conservatives who dislike him would rally to his candidacy as the one roadblock to a Clinton restoration. But this is also what makes the next stage of the Republican contest so perilous for McCain. In many of the states that vote next -- notably Florida, which casts ballots next Tuesday -- independents will not be able to come to McCain's aid. In such closed primaries, he will have to emphasize his fealty to traditional conservatism and use his strong support for the Iraq war as a Republican credential. Yet the more McCain tries to look like a typical Republican, the more he threatens his standing with middle-of-the-road voters. Florida will be especially complicated because Rudy Giuliani, who has hung back from the competition so far, is fiercely contesting McCain for moderate voters.

(Michael Powell and Russ Buettner, New York Times)

Mr. Giuliani was a pugilist in a city of political brawlers. But far more than his predecessors, historians and politicians say, his toughness edged toward ruthlessnessand became a defining aspect of his mayoralty.

(Jonathan Martin, Politico)

As long as Huckabee is campaigning vigorously, he is likely to draw a sizable bloc of social conservatives — and deny former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the direct one-on-one contest he is hoping for against McCain. Could Huckabee be angling for the No. 2 spot on McCain’s ticket, or a Cabinet position in a McCain administration? ... “It’s pure mathematics,” observed GOP consultant Chris LaCivita, who is also uncommitted in the race. “You’ve got three competing for one group and one competing for the other,” he said of the split competition for conservatives and McCain’s sole claim on moderates.

MORE HUCK: Huckabee Skimps on Fla. for Georgia (Marc Caputo, Miami Herald)